Can you spare some bread?

At a birthday party, passing out the cake, I asked Madhuri, “How did you celebrate birthdays when you were little?”

Madhuri is from India, born in 1940, and she has spent most of her adult life helping take care of children. She took care of Veronica, and the girl whose birthday we were celebrating this day.

She told me “We would make rice pudding, and neighbors would come get some. We did not make a big deal about birthdays. We did not have cake. We did not have an oven.”

“So, everything was cooked on top of the stove, like in a frying pan? That must be how naan is made, so you had everything you needed without an oven.”

“No, naan is made in a special oven. There was a bakery where people would go for things that must be from an oven.”

And she began to describe with wonderful detail how the family would use the small stove they had to make the food. They would take cow patties and mix it with rice hulls and form balls using their hands, which dried out and could be used as fuel. That would be put in the base of the chimnea-type stove, with small chunks of coal—which they broke themselves. In order to conserve the fuel, all the cooking had to be done at once. So the whole day’s cooking would be done and then that was that.

Later, apparently, they began to use a propane-like gas to fuel the stove. But it was considered very expensive so they conserved it.

“Madhuri, you know that people right now complain that the neighborhood baker is going away because of the big corporate stores. But. We all have ovens in our homes now. We aren’t dependent on a bakery to get bread.”

Suddenly the history of the world (as I know it) flashed before my mind. I hadn’t realized that an oven was a precious commodity. And not just an oven. The butcher on the corner is supplanted by our sub-zero stainless-steel-finish refrigerator.

I think about places like France. Did they not have ovens in France, during the Revolution? When everyone went to pick up their baguettes and croissants everyday? I had a picture of it like it was Disneyland. They went there because they were friends with the baker, or he made better pies then they could. But no! They had no choice.

And an oven was a big investment. You bought an oven, or inherited it, and you were set for life. The whole neighborhood had to come to you if they wanted to eat bread. And a butcher would have set up a place to keep his meat cold enough not to go bad. A root cellar? A supply chain of ice? Either way, this kind of setup would be a very secure middle class business. Back before refrigerators and ovens.

But wait! Russia is famous for peasant houses having enormous stoves. Is that one of their advantages over the other world peasants? And oh yeah! Isn’t Russia obsessed with Bread? As I recall, they have a whole big fetish of bread. Maybe that is in part why. They had the ovens to make the bread.

I would have to spend a long time with Wikipedia to thread out the true history of the oven. But this technological advance of something I take so fully for granted is a huge leg up.

You know what is strange now? I don’t go to a bakery shop to buy my bread. I go to a big corporate store…Target or Vons. And I buy bread that was made a long time ago in a location far far away. But we have figured out how to preserve bread—as well as a thousand other necessary foods—and get them all over the place.

I have lived in this house for 7 years. I have not made bread. I have an oven. But I could probably—no assuredly, I could survive and thrive without using my oven.

America spent some time building infrastructure that Vons and Target takes advantage of. And I take advantage of Target and Vons, so I get the great benefit. AND for a hobby, if I wanted to DIY I could go bake bread.

India is still trying.  I know it is better than when Madhuri was a child. There are a lot of places that have a ways to go with building the systems that can get people what the truly need. But her story made me rethink the world I live in.

And it made me appreciate the cake I was finishing.


still haven’t found what I’m looking for

“Have you seen how many Disney channels there are?”

The Disney channel is now 6 Disney channels. And even so, we are rare among our peers, we have discovered, because Veronica actually has cable tv. Most of the kids her age are DVD-only households, with memberships to Netflix or some such.

There is no shortage of stuff to watch. So why can’t I find anything I like?

It’s not just TV, either. I have the impression that music, movies and books are all in a malaise. My favorite literary podcaster, Michael Silverblatt, expressed a dissatisfaction in current books coming out.

What is happening? There is an avalanche of new content vying for our attention every second. At the same time, there is everything from the past still available.

We need a butler, a curator, to sift through it all and give us what matches our personal taste exactly. Why doesn’t this exist?

But I don’t trust just anyone to advise me. The one who is to select for me, for me only, is probably not trustworthy. Probably he’d be in the pocket of the promoters. I know this racket.

Who could I trust? Some people seem to trust the movie theaters to serve up something close to what they are going to like. They do seem to have a certain sameness to what they provide. Music? The radio stations, with their formats give us a consist product.

So where can I go for something different? There is the catalog that has been around forever–the classics

But the something new. That is what I’m looking for.

I remember a friend, a beautiful Russian Westside girl I used to work with. She bemoaned the lack of smart men. She probably meant rich men. But she wanted them smart for sure: “Tell me something I don’t know!” she complained.

Right. Show me something I don’t know about yet.  The web is laid out like a map for everyone right? Except, it’s a long long way to get from here to there. How do I find the new?

I can. But it takes so much work. Which is why I would like a curator. I want someone to do it for me.

The one place I’ve seen that does curation is job sites. I encountered a site that—for a fee—will serve up exactly the high-paying job I am looking for.

Except I can go find those jobs on my own. It just takes time, and skill I suppose. . Since,I am going to make money if I go find a better job it makes sense to pay for a curator to help.

I need someone to help me find new music, books and stuff to watch. But I don’t think I’m really ready to pay for it. Probably because I’m especially not willing to pay for what it would actually cost to get a good one.

But then again, they say that with enough data, they can find the patterns that predict what I like. But I’d like to think that art is the unpredictable, the thing that doesn’t fit the pattern.

When everything is equally accessible, everything is equally inaccessible. I suppose I have to rely on the new bit of art to be so very different that it shines out of the crowd somehow. and I have to make sure to keep looking.