The cultural heritage practices of my people

 

Before traveling to a new place, I like to study the cultural heritage practices of the people who live there—you know, like ceremonies marking the start of harvest season or maybe puppetry performed to ancient poetry. 

Now that I’m in a quarantine with no opportunity to travel in the foreseeable future, I thought this would be a good time to study the cultural practices of my people, though as it turns out this is rather more challenging than expected.  UNESCO doesn’t even list the United States, let alone the Midwest, in its catalog of heritage practices.  Normally, I might try to find a book on the subject, but the libraries in Chicago are closed.  All the local newspapers tell me is that we are simultaneously in the grip of high unemployment, a pandemic and the usual unchecked murder of Black people by police.  

Clearly, I’ll need to do a field study.  This field study, given the present circumstances, will need to focus on tangible cultural artifacts I can readily observe without entering businesses or private residences.

Now that’s decided, let me determine the scope of my study, which will include the following:

  • The feminine beauty ideal, as depicted in the the signage of nail salons and gyro grills
  • Ritual costuming of ceramic geese
  • Documentation of the miraculous dry cleaners who sew without ever looking at their machines

I have seen the feminine ideal, and it is nail salon decals from the 80’s

nagel

Nail salons may be closed, but the essence of the Nail Lady remains.  She is the the archetype of feminine beauty for my people, with her monochromatic skin and hair contrasting with her vivid nails and lips.  Coyly she sniffs a single rose: elegance personified. 

 

You might ask yourself why my people haven’t updated their nail salon signage since the 1980’s, but that is a question for the ages…and clearly the vintage signage is working for food establishments as well.  Witness the

Enduring Appeal of the Vaguely Salacious Gyro Lady

gyromazwell

If you are unfamiliar with gyros, a specialty food of my people, allow me to describe it to you.  We say that a gyro is Greek, but actual Greeks do not eat them.  We consume them here on the north side of Chicago in shops known as grills, where the meat (of unknown animal origin) is roasted for hours, possibly days, on a giant cone and shaved off into pita bread on demand.

If you would like to try this delicacy yourself, look for the symbol of the brown cone impaled on a white stake and if you’re lucky, the Gyro Lady poster won’t be far away.

 

On the left you’ll see one of the rarer Gyro Ladies: 70’s Porn Star Gyro Lady.  As you can imagine, gyro posters from the 1970’s are an endangered cultural artifact and every sighting is treasured by my people.  On the right, the less rare but equally beloved 80’s Gyro Lady, whose wholesome vibe is more suitable for families.

The Ritual Dressing of Geese

In my homeland, one of our more sacred customs is to mark the passage of seasons by ritually dressing statues of geese.  These goose statues, general constructed of ceramic or plastic materials, stand proudly in the windows or front porches of our domestic structures.

On the left, observe a goose decked out in green St. Patrick’s Day finery.  Next to the green goose, two other geese are seen wearing yellow rain gear as totems reacting to the recent heavy rains we’ve been experiencing in Chicago.

You will also note that these geese, which in real life would have wings, have acquired arms.  Consider this artistic license, needed to make the ritual costuming more effective.  

Miraculous images of dry cleaners who sew without breaking eye contact

A traditional skill, little understood outside my homeland, is the ability of dry cleaners to make alterations and repairs without ever looking at their sewing machines.  You will find it documented in many window decals, but the practice itself is transmitted solely from person to person in a sacred, secret apprenticeship. 

Long may the knowledge continue.

A Customary Meal of My People

Since I began writing this post yesterday, there have been fresh challenges to face in this project of documenting the ways of my people: not only are we now in a quarantine in Chicago, we are also in a curfew.

Challenges aside, I can’t conclude a post on heritage practices without cooking and consuming a traditional meal. When we aren’t visiting gyro grills to eat mystery meat shaved from cones, my people frequently enjoy our ancestral cuisine: hamburgers and french fries. HOB and I have recreated this meal in the comfort of our apartment using foods that arrived in our weekly grocery subscription box. (We’ve taken the liberty of substituting hamburger meat with black beans, but rest assured we did not skimp on the ketchup.)

Dear readers: may you treasure and safeguard your own rich cultural heritage. Wishing you peace, good health, and extra ketchup.

36 comments

  1. Glad to see that yiu are bearing up under the strain and continuing to develop your academic interests.
    Is it something European about me that I find the nail ladies look a lot more like tarts than either of the gyro ladies…and I suppose gyros are what I know as doner kabab?
    You have geese…the British have gnomes…in every variety from fishing to giving a bras d’honneur…but no one seems to give them any clothing additional to their painted on long johns and little caps. Must be the lack of a catholic heritge, changing the Virgin’s garments from time to liturgical time.
    I envy the skills of the alteration and repair workers…round here they wisely confine themselves to a hand painted notice on the door of their house…
    Thanks, I enjoyed that post immensely.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you Helen. I think that donor kebabs and gyros are close relatives in that they both feature salty mystery meat roasted on cones.

      In the 1980’s an artist named Patrick Nagel was quite popular in the US. His work featured that tarty nail lady look and was also found on highly coveted home decor, such as mirror prints. Perhaps I owe my signature lipstick (currently covered with a facemask) to his influence….

      I have often seen the VIrgin decorated with seasonal garments and jewelry during the liturgical season in my European travels.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I appreciate my Amish/Mennonite heritage. Nice post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Would love to see a post of your own on your heritage!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I will have to work on that! If you click the tag “Amish” on my site, you will see some of the things that go with the heritage!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Love all your photos of cute Amish kids. Can you speak Pennsylvania Dutch?

        Like

      3. Glad you love the photos of the Amish kids.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Bill Bryson, Michael Palin, move over, a new star is born.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. LOL, hope our exotic midwestern ways entice your armchair travelers. Soon you too will be decorating porch geese!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. “Decorating porch geese” is such an odd word combo, are you sure it’s not a euphemism for some unspeakable eldrich practice from Lovecraft’s Miskatonic region? 🤔

        Liked by 1 person

      2. No, the preferred term here is “Putting the tzatziki sauce on the gyro.”

        Liked by 1 person

      3. More evidence that the Brits and Yanks speak different languages.

        😁

        Liked by 1 person

  4. It all seems quite exotic! We don’t have costumed geese in my neck of the woods. As always, you inspire me to look at things differently. I’ll be on the lookout of nail salon decals.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. In case you want to get the goose costume tradition started in your homeland here’s a resource: https://www.mileskimball.com/shop-goose-outfits

      Like

  5. Wonderful as always and brought me a well needed smile. Although it’s local to you it’s very much still travel writing to me and just as enjoyable.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks so much. This has been a challenging week all around so it is extra nice to hear your kind words!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I did wonder, in my walk up to Andersonville, why there were so many dry cleaners with drawings of people stitching things.

    And… gyros. Mmmmh, gyros. If there’s one thing London is lacking behind the rest of civilised world is decent gyros or decent kebabs. There just isn’t any!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m excited that you visited Andersonville—when was that? I really love looking the terracotta decorations on the buildings there, and I can walk to the neighborhood in about an hour.

      When confronted with eating at a grill, I choose a falafel rather than a kebab or gyro. I don’t care to think what goes into that weird meat cone.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Ah it was a good 2 years ago now, I wrote about in my blog (shameless self plug)… I happened to be there on business as Gay Pride happened.
        I get your point on mystery meat. Like Alex Honnold says about freeclimbing, it’s a high consequences game. Most often you win but when you lose… you lose big!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. The Pride March is cancelled this year, as was my personal favorite, International Mr. Leather. Really sad!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. 😦 supremely sad for Mr. Leather. You’d imagine that latex and all could be quickly disinfected and yet…

        Liked by 1 person

  7. The traditional burger in the McRestaurant of your people in these parts miss out the slice of watermelon. Perhaps the cooks have not been trained in the secret rituals of your people.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My people might also be eating corn on the cob with our burger, though traditionally later in the summer. Can you imagine the horror of McRestaurant corn, though? Gah!!!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I didn’t know that. My people would be eating corn on the cob (rubbed with lime and salt and chili flakes) about the same time. Should try hamburgers with it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The Mexican street corn in my neighborhood is similar (with chili, salt and lime) but with addition of mayonnaise and cojita cheese and maybe cilantro.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Mayonnaise and cheese would be unusual in Indian street food. But otherwise, the parallels between Mexican and Indian foods is something I’ve noticed often.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Counting myself extra fortunate to be able to find both Mexican and Indian cuisine within walking distance of my home (well, when everything opens up again, that it).

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Hope things are better after curfew period, in Chicago.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Curfew only lasted a week and now the quarantine is a little bit relaxed.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for the delightful insight into your cultural practices. The morphological alterations of the goose is most interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you sidran. Over the 4th of July holiday many of our geese were decked out in red, white and blue finery. It was quite a patriotic sight!.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Somehow missed this earlier. I can see this becoming a blogchain, in which we each document our local cultural practice, in the absolute loosest sense of the term. 😊. Im quite certain Northeast FL has a few… must have a think on that.

    The dressed goose (which might have meant something quite different at Christmas dinner in the 1800’s)brought back memories of buying our house. The former owner had white geese on the porch, a mama followed by baby geese as I recall and mama might have had a bonnet or apron like Jemima Puddleduck of Beatrix Potter. Anyway we were house hunting with a three–almost four–year old who cared more about the goose than any other aspect of the house. She was so disappointed when we moved in and the goose was gone!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My goodness–baby geese!?!??! So many costume opportunities, I can’t even.

      Liked by 1 person

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