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
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
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.