28 November 2008

Here's to lots and lots of Thanksgiving leftovers!!!

An inevitable question from a non-American to an American is, “tell me about Thanksgiving, do you really eat a whole turkey, why do you celebrate this, is that all you do, just eat?” Ok, so that’s more than one question, but they all center around the notion of the Thanksgiving that has been portrayed in American movies, TV series etc...it’s something that they feel they know so much, yet so little about. Come to find out when you ask most Americans about Thanksgiving, they too, know so much, yet so very little (on the origins) but friends, family and food come to mind and have become the tradition, and when you think about it, that’s really a universal experience. Perhaps that explains why this year the majority of Thanksgiving greetings that I received and exchanged were between non-Americans. I have been a part of so many people’s ‘first Thanksgivings’ and though I don’t take credit for ever really making the proper feast ....that’s not to say we didn’t have a good time!

Here is a list of sorts, (and because I have a tendency to write a lot, it appears to have taken the shape of a ‘top 10’) of moments from Thanksgivings past, abroad, that are anything but traditional, but are just as meaningful for me and remind me of the people and experiences that truly make me thankful.

1. First Thanksgiving in Paris 2001, not sure what to do after arriving in France only three month earlier. Amie and I wonder the streets of our quartier in search of a way to celebrate.... after much tense discussion and heated debate (haha, seriously!) we ended up in a Chinese restaurant, because we resolved that at this point in the evening, anything family style could potentially resemble a Thanksgiving feast (work with us here). And we salvaged the night, celebrating Thanksgiving amongst oblivious French patrons in a Chinese restaurant somewhere near the corner of place du Mexique in the chic 16eme... and our first of many Thanksgivings abroad, I think we’d both agree was, well, different but deliciously shared.

2. Another year, after being immersed in a very eclectic group of international students (who were to become my dear friends) my roommate L and I (the two California girls at school) decided to show everyone a real Thanksgiving experience, and invited practically the entire school to our one-room appartement, on rue Letellier (our fanatical Greek landlord would have been more than horrified.) Two American friends were visiting at the time and thus the four of us proceeded to fill the table with alcohol, turkey cold cuts, two small poulet rôti (that gave the whole-bird, turkey ‘look’), some sort of red berries that were round but not cranberries, and cookies that were missing an ingredient and were flat and melted together but nonetheless consumed.

3. The details of the rue Letellier ‘real Thanksgiving’ escapades escape me at the moment ;) but I remember music and laughter and socializing with my amazing classmates whose life experiences, didn’t include, perhaps, Thanksgiving, but spanned the globe and brought the world before me. I remember standing in the corner of my bedroom trying to get away from the noise just enough to hear my family on the other end of the phone in California at their more functional, more traditional Thanksgiving feast. I remember someone teaching me how to write my name in Arabic on the back of a paper plate, and I remember getting notes from my French neighbors the day after, in French words of displeasure ....and as the years went by we improved our Thanksgiving festivities, not to say this party wasn’t fun, but until my mom finally came to make a proper feast, I felt I’d let my friends down, fearing they’d forever think that a Thanksgiving feast consisted of alcohol, turkey cold cuts and the excuse to have a party on a Thursday night!

4. In one of my speech classes, I prepared an informational speech on Thanksgiving, in attempt to answer the questions, satisfy the curiosity, and perhaps clear up any confusion we may have caused... and I admit, I even learned quite a lot on the origins of Thanksgiving.

5. A few weeks early, before another approaching Thanksgiving in Paris, my mom, always a cook, always an entertainer, smuggled a frozen turkey, cans of pumpkin, cranberries and countless other items in her suitcase, in the hopes of restoring her daughter’s reputation in international Thanksgiving festivities.

6. Thanksgiving family-style was a real success, and I even gave my Thanksgiving speech again, for those who had missed the debut performance of this brilliant presentation.

7. The pumpkin pie was beyond words, surtout for those of us Americans who had not tasted it in years. Jeff went so far as to eat a piece that had fallen, off of the floor, because we weren’t about to waste one smidge of this taste of home.

8. This same year, on the official Thanksgiving day, W & J hosted a Thanksgiving, in a style that only W & J could fashion. Walter (Chinese, grew up in Brazil, moved to California, then to Paris...one word, amazing) and Jeff (American/French downloaded American TV shows for us and kept us up-to-date on 24, Simple Life etc..) had all of us over for one of their trademark, A-ma-zing parities. There is nothing like a W & J party..nothing. And we had another deliciously fun feast, more pumpkin pies, more whipped cream, on a Thanksgiving evening in Paris, on rue Chapon, where traditional flavors mingled with new traditions chez W & J.

9. Having two Thanksgivings in a row kind of made up for the lackluster festivities in the years to follow in Paris. Not that I didn’t have a wonderful Thanksgiving with my fellow American, Harriet, in her dog bakery/boutique Mon Bon Chien on our rue Mademoiselle, with hors d’œuvres as only Harriet could prepare and champagne (always on hand for impromptu parties in the store) and we had laughs, and a few extra special guests, then went out for pasta (yes, Harriet, oh the memories). More holiday celebrations in Mon Bon Chien would follow over the years, including the infamous Easter/Passover feast!

10. Being home the past two years, and yesterday, taking part once again in not one, but two consecutive Feasts with family, and the traditional Thanksgivings of my childhood, I discovered the delightful warmth of sitting amongst family, somehow finding a place around the same table, rounding up all the chairs in the house, squeezing food into every corner of the kitchen, sharing the same stories and often hearing them for the first time. When she was still with us, my great aunt used to invite everyone to her Thanksgiving, anyone that didn’t have a place to go, and you never knew who would show up each year, we were remembering that last night, and those Thanksgivings were fun and joyous and about spending a delicious moment in the company of others. I’m sure that was what fundamentally made an impression on me, and gave me the desire to share tradition and laughter with others all over the world. What is Thanksgiving all about, come over next year, I’ll show you.

I’m reminded that Thanksgiving has so many definitions. And trying to tell my friends, to answer their questions, becomes nearly impossible, because it’s ultimately an experience. In essence, it’s being together, sharing laughter and conversation, and making new memories while reliving the old. It’s something that should happen more than once a year, and that I found so often in Paris, we were always making an excuse to meet together and celebrate. It’s leftovers and turkey sandwiches in the following weeks, it’s sharing a taste and a story the day after Thanksgiving, and appreciating those around you, as I did, and will do, yesterday, today, and tomorrow... having a day-after Thanksgiving tonight prepared by my mom (this time no suitcase necessary, no smuggling required) with my family, packing tupperware to share new tastes of traditional stuffing and turkey with the Algerian, and with my favorite Mexican (if he can break away from the after-Thanksgiving retail craze) and appreciating those who are here and there but always in our stories this year, last year, and the next.

((the accompanying image, is a painting that I find a delicious compliment to this story, as was the artist/cartoonist/'the real Linus' Linus Maurer to my Thanksgiving yesterday. More stories about him to come very soon, you will love his work.))


Amy said...

It's hard to believe we lived so "bare-boned" in those days. I mean, "family-style," what a stretch! Yet it worked because I was with you, who was essentially my family for those first several months in a foreign place. Thanks for bringing the memories back!

hat said...

Miss you, miss you, miss you.. had a makeshift thanksgiving this year @MBC, time got away from me (shades of chantal!!) and the holiday snuck up on me.. no time to order a turkey so off to the new Picard (across from your old apt) and a leg of lamb it was, of course the wine and champagne flowed so it eased the pain of no marshmallow topping on sweet potatoes. Sophie & Diablo are just finishing wrestling over the bone whole week later... bisous pour Pou.. xoxox hat & the kids