Well - today was a great day in more ways than one. The weather was absolutely gorgeous. Sunshine, a very light breeze and the wonderful scent of spring permeated the area.
I got out of the house and went to see my buddy Naji at his restaurant. Naji has great food. Period. I actually stopped by because I wanted a cup of Lebanese coffee (also known as Turkish or Middle Eastern coffee) and to say hi to him as it had been quite a while since we'd talked.
Another friend of his dropped by and while we were all talking the place got really busy. So Tony (his friend who is a doctor in the area) and I sat down outside at one of the tables and talked over a meal. Naji was busy fixing food for his customers but still managed to join us for part of the time.
This is Naji's Facebook page where you can see some samples of his wonderful food. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Najis-Mediterranean-Cuisine/237073257877
If you are ever going through Great Barrington Massachusetts on Route 7 and you are north of town keep an eye out and stop in at Naji's Meditterenean Cuisine. You won't regret it. As a matter of fact - if you are in Northern Connecticut, Western Massachusetts or the New York Capital District drive the extra distance to Great Barrington and visit.
Now many of you many not realize how important the tradition of food is in Middle Eastern culture. It is more than just energy for one's body. A traditional meal is the time to talk, get to know others, discuss anything and everything and, in a nutshell, solve the world's problems. (Oh if only the world would put us in power and let us do so!)
The meal (which probably should be referred to as "The Meal") is a time to catch up - even if you were talking just the day before or a few hours before. It's time to tell stories, share anecdotes and much much more. However it is not the place to constantly text, surf the internet, talk on the phone (unless it is a true emergency.) "The Meal" is a time to escape from the problems of everyday life and to enjoy your family, friends and the friends you haven't met yet because they just arrived. You might draw an analogy to "The Meal" and Sunday dinner in the U.S.
Unfortunately it is also a tradition that, in many cultures, is disappearing. Back in the late 1970's when I lived in Israel I loved the idea that one might just show up at your door and could stay for a meal. You weren't phased by it at all. You just made up a little more salad, pulled out some more bread or pita and threw more rice or potatoes into the pot.
When I went back to visit in 1990 I noticed that this was a rapidly disappearing part of the tradition. Personally I blame the telephone. Back in the late 1970's it could take over 7 years to get a telephone. However at one point the telephone was privatized and within a few years and with a lot of financial investment, the new phone company managed to wipe out the backlog. Almost anyone who wanted a phone was able to get one. And people adopted new habits including the one that brought about the question "Why didn't you phone?"
So in 1990 if I showed up at a friend's house I was asked that question. Fortunately for me I had a great answer. "Why didn't you let me know you now had a phone?" However it was evident that a large portion of the old tradition had gone away.
So while we all enjoy the new technologies that make our lives easier, let us also pause for a moment and try to remember the older traditions that made a life worthwhile. Tonight try something new when dinnertime rolls around. Turn off the TV, shut down the cellphone and computer and try to have a meal with a conversation. Live alone? Invite a friend or two to come over and join you.
I know that every year there are movements to do this for a week or a month. But it isn't 100 percent effective. Instead of doing this for a short period of time where you know that it is only temporary, make it a permanent part of your life. Over time your brain and your body will thank you.