The Body

The Body
By Pam Blevins Hinkle, Director, Spirit & Place

Pam Blevins Hinkle conducts the Honors Treble Choir, Evansville School Corporation, Jan 15, 2011.

Last month, I was reminded why I like conducting choirs so much. I get to embody the music. My gestures and facial expressions, the solidity or sway of my stance, even my breath … all these shape the sound and coax a nuanced performance from the singers.

There’s a time-honored axiom in conducting: “What they see is what you get.” In other words, the choir’s sound is related to the physical cues and instructions the conductor provides.

It occurs to me that this axiom is about life, too. How does my physical presence influence outcomes? Are my gestures, carriage, and facial energy embodying my vision and passion?

Fascinating. The body not only interprets, but influences experience. This year’s Spirit & Place Festival, scheduled for November 4-13, will explore “The Body.”

What ideas fascinate you?

The year the pilgrims arrived at my house

The year the pilgrims arrived at my house

By David Wantz, University of Indianapolis

My wife, Susan, was a professor at Franklin College of Indiana before becoming a professional photographer. One year, she asked one of the visiting scholars what her family was doing for Thanksgiving. Svetlana said they had no plans, so Susan invited the family to our dinner.

I was anxious. “What’s a few more plates?” she soothed. “We’ll round up another chair or two. It’ll be fine.”

Our Thanksgivings had been hectic affairs with family dropping in and out according to their own busy schedules. Neighbors with no local ties, stray students, widows and orphans, and other folks with no place to go found their way to our house. This would be the first year with actual non-Americans, though.

It’s one thing to have a bunch of Americans at your Thanksgiving table. They understand how to do turkey and dressing. Our new guests, however, were refugees, new to American customs. They had no context for celebrating a happy American Thanksgiving. They didn’t know about the Pilgrims and the Indian corn. Their little boy had never drawn a turkey in the shape of his hand or made a stovepipe hat out of black and white construction paper. They did not know how to “do” Thanksgiving, but they showed up anyway.

The Balkan war had forced them to flee Sarajevo with their entire lives stuffed into a few suitcases. I had no context for understanding what they went through. It must have been terrible hearing the gunfire and explosions in their neighborhood, leaving family behind. They were pilgrims seeking safety from the war and political upheaval in their own country: I was living in my own home, in a wealthy and stable land, with neighbors who did not shoot one another for being of different ancestry. All I could do was open my door and invite them in.

Over the years, more pilgrims, from all over the world, came to our annual feast. They began to bring their own friends to celebrate Thanksgiving: still more pilgrims who knew nothing of cranberries and pumpkins. My Thanksgiving had somehow become their Thanksgiving, too.

And then it happened. One year, we got outnumbered. There were more people from other countries sitting at tables in my home than there were Americans. They spoke languages I did not understand. They brought dishes I had never tasted before. They dressed differently, more formally than the blue-jeaned Americans. Looking around the room, I realized it was like the first Thanksgiving except we were the natives sitting amid a throng of pilgrims.

I never imagined myself as Squanto or Massasoit, welcoming strangers to the new land. As a child playing various roles in the annual fall school pageants, I figured myself to be more the Miles Standish type. I am, as are most Americans, descended from immigrants. At Thanksgiving, though, I am the native American welcoming the pilgrims. Some of these new pilgrims came here under duress, desperately seeking safety. Some of them came to America wanting to study or to find work. They all came seeking something they did not find at home. They keep coming back to my house on the last Thursday of November for a celebration they would not miss. The story of Thanksgiving is their story now, their part in the American epic.

I learned in freshman Biology the phrase, “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny:” the development of the individual retells the story of the development of the species. It’s like that with Thanksgiving now. My little Thanksgiving dinner retells the American myth of that first Thanksgiving. At the beginning, the natives welcomed the strangers who had arrived on their shores. Today, I am the native welcoming other pilgrims. When we open our doors to pilgrims, we retell the story of America—part of it at least.

This little community of immigrants—all of us—feels the circle pulled a little tighter each year as we join with one another. Our traditions have melted together over the years as our lives have grown together. Borrowing a Passover tradition, we now place an Elijah’s glass of wine on the mantle to have a ready welcome for the next pilgrim to join us. The wine glass also reminds us of the ones who celebrated Thanksgiving with us in the past, whose shadows remain in the room. The youngest person among us sets the glass on the mantle; the older ones smile through their tears.

As the number of people from all backgrounds grew, I decided to recite a poem rather than say a prayer. A Thanksgiving prayer is a Collect, of sorts, a prayer that collects the thoughts of many into one utterance. I needed something more powerful than my own words to gather all the sentiments. I read Carl Sandburg’s poem Our Prayer of Thanks. In it Sandburg pauses to think about everything from the sun shining on weeds to a child’s laughter to the dead resting in their silver-handled coffins at the edge of town. For the great and the terrible and everything in between, Sandburg says a spare, yet profound, prayer of thanks.

On that late day in November, when I look around my house and see all those faces, when I hear all those languages and smell all those dishes, it makes me consider the great and the terrible and all things in between. I squeeze the hands holding mine and utter my own word of thanksgiving for that first year when the pilgrims came to my house.

The Thanksgiving dish I hate to love

The Thanksgiving dish I hate to love

By Rebecca Huehls

Mashed sweet potatoes topped with browned marshmallows is a traditional Thanksgiving dish in my family. I remember my grandma carrying the hot, foil-covered, 9-x-13-inch glass baking dish, set in a silver rack with scalloped handles and a filigree pattern around the sides. Each Thanksgiving since my grandma died (when I was 11, almost 12), my mom has made the dishes that my grandma used to bring. The problem for me is that, while I want to keep my grandma’s spirit alive at the Thanksgiving table, I hate this dish (and I’m not alone). It’s too gooey and too sweet. All that sugar seems to ruin a perfectly good root vegetable. My glycemic levels go up and I need a glass of water just thinking about it.

But who am I to break family tradition? Who am I to reject a dish that I loved as a child, idealizing my grandma as a perfect human being full of snuggles and sugary treats who wanted nothing more in life than to read and play board games with me? Maybe my grandma didn’t even like the dish herself, but made it to coax her sugar-crazed children and later grandchildren into eating orange vegetables. Maybe she made it because her own mother made it, her mother whom she lost to cancer when she was only 14 years old, in the middle of the Great Depression, leaving her the only young woman in a house of men, in the middle of horrible acne, in the days of owning only one dress, and planting potatoes in the yard. Maybe something so sugary was a luxury then, a way for her to remain a bit of a kid. (Indeed, innovations in manufacturing marshmallows made them a popular item in 1930s America, especially at potlucks.)

I wish I could ask my grandma about her story with this dish. Instead, this year, I’ll attempt to make it so I can carry on the tradition to my nephew and niece, 9 and 3 years old respectively, and sure to enjoy all that sugar.

Michael Pollan: Food awareness is key

Michael Pollan: Food awareness is key

By Aimee Morgan, BohlsenPR

On Friday, our president (Vicki Bohlsen) and I attended the Michael Pollan event. While I’d done some research on Pollan, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Barbara Lewis’ interview of him.

We were in for a treat.

Pollan shared a wealth of health and food information – but I’d just light to share a few highlights that I continue to roll around in my mind and discuss with my husband, now three day later.

Context of corn
Pollan’s interest in food began in his late 20’s as he learned how to grow vegetables with his grandfather. He pointed out that so much of our food is based on corn – and that much of our food system is hidden from us. Corn has been heavily subsidized by the government and even used to create the dreaded high fructose corn syrup. To make his point, he held up a tub of Cool Whip, describing it as a “miraculous transfiguration of corn.”

Our food makes us fat.
Pollan said that our poor eating is making us fat. Since the 80s the average weight of a man has increased 17 pounds, while women have increased by an average of 19 pounds. (“Sorry ladies,” says Pollan.)

To combat weight gain and other political/moral issues, some resort to vegetarianism. However, I learned that there’s a middle ground: you can become a flexitarian. It’s a person who only eats meat a couple times per week, whereas the average American eats 300 pounds of meat per year. Any flexitarians out there?

Let’s do our part.
In conclusion, Pollan outlined a few things we can do to improve our relationship with food:

1.     Be conscious about our food choices. Eat with awareness.

2.     Shine light on resources around. We have great soil in Indiana.

3.     Support farmers markets. They advance our health and protect our soil.

4.     Help figure out ways to make good, nutritious food accessible to the poor.

I walked away from the event feeling refreshed, informed and empowered to make wise decisions. Pollan blessed us with his easy-going, approachable methods of making good food choices simple for the everyday man and woman. Learn more about him at www.michaelpollan.com.

Bon appétit!

Recipe for one happy mother!

Recipe for one happy mother!

By Melanie Williams, BohlsenPR intern

Last Sunday, Nov. 7, I took my two girls to the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. I had recently visited this museum with a friend and loved the hands-on activities for children. Little did I know we were in for a special treat that day!

Frybread Cook-Off in the courtyard, the paper said. “What is frybread?” I thought. I didn’t know, but didn’t think too much of it either. When you have children you are always looking for free food—educational free food, even better!

As we walked into the courtyard on that beautiful fall day, we saw tables set up in a circle—each one was topped with samples of their very own frybread along with a sign displaying the name of the team who created this delectable treat!

My girls and I walked around the circle, sampling the different types of frybread and acting as though we were long-time frybread connoisseurs. The first table we stopped at I bit into a warm golden brown nugget on a toothpick. “Not too dry, not too moist—perfect consistency!” I thought to myself. My 6-year-old daughter was not so impressed, she handed me her nugget and said “yuck.” We slowly moved on to the next table, looked down at a plate and found what looked like the crumbs or leftovers of what might have been some kind of bread at some point. Now it just looked like something that had been under the heating lamp too long in the deli. “I’ll pass,” I thought to myself and we moved on.

After sampling a few more, we heard the announcer say the results were in for the winner of the Frybread Cook-Off. “And the People’s Choice Award goes to Purdue University,” he said. Cheering, screaming and applauding immediately followed. He explained to us that the other award, the Judge’s Choice Award, was based on specific criteria, such as: color, texture, and taste and is awarded points accordingly. “And the winner is—Purdue University!” Again, applause and excitement followed. Purdue received 46 points, where the other contestants received 41.

“Wow,” I told my girls, “we must try this Purdue frybread!” We quickly walked to the winner’s table where my 13-year-old daughter was given one of the last three pieces in the basket. Not wanting to be selfish or wasteful, I told the lady that we would share it. Two minutes later, my daughters and I were caressing the airy, warm, golden brown piece of bread with honey and powdered sugar and fighting over the last bite! It was obvious who the winner was in our book—Go BOILERMAKERS!

Crying for Pie

Crying for Pie

By Anne Laker, Indianapolis Museum of Art

July 24, 1992.  My first summer out of college.  I’m working at my first real job, on assignment: to traverse the state gathering data about Indiana museums.  While in Bluffton, Indiana, we stop at a restaurant called The Dutch Mill.

At this thoroughly Hoosier establishment, I order a slice of pie.  Coconut custard pie with nuts, to be exact.  The combination of textures–silky custard with crunchy nuts, smooth whipped cream against crumbly crust—makes me crazy with pleasure.  I’m practically laughing with my mouth full.

But by the time the last bite of this confection is down my gullet, tears well in my eyes.  I remember it clearly: I wept with joy because the pie was delightful, like a rich, sweet cloud, like transportation to a creamy heaven.  And then I wept because the slice was gone.

Bite by bite, the bliss dwindled down to an empty plate.

Eating is the fastest passing pleasure.  Thank heaven we usually get to do it three times a day.  Our taste experiences are frequent and sometimes, more than memorable.  As we find with the theme of this year’s Spirit & Place Festival, taste experiences create culture, define place, and feed memories.

I heard the Dutch Mill closed, re-opened, burned down, and re-opened again under new ownership.  I don’t plan to go back to try to find that particular pie; even a new reality could never exceed the memory.  But I hope to have my heart broken again by anything that delicious.

For discussion: Have you ever had a food this deliciously memorable? Please share!

Vienna Vegetable Orchestra fun

Vienna Vegetable Orchestra fun

By Leah Austin, attendee of the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra performance

Gourd-geous isn’t the word for it!  We met at my house and drove to the concert hall at the IMA. It was filling up quickly, so I said, “Lettuce go in and get seats.” It’s a good thing you didn’t turnip to go with us; the place was salad out. We were packed in like peas in a  pod; in fact, we almost got squashed.

The performance was a must for anyone who might carrot all for good music. It was a real pepper upper. Even the most parsnippety people loved the beet of the music, which was created with many different types of veggies, all overflowing in baskets next to the performers.

The musicians were very corn-fident about their instruments, but pearly dressed. One leek at them, and I thought, “They can’t get much of a celery.” Nonetheless, they were very personable, given to  telling radishulous jokes that were only parsley funny.