I Don’t Like Nostalgia Unless It’s Mine (Lou Reed)
A couple of summers ago Lori convinced me to accompany her to the town of Ithaca in upstate New York. The purpose of our sojourn was to pay homage to the legendary vegetarian restaurant, The Moosewood. If your memory somehow needs refreshing, The Moosewood was a groundbreaking meatless restaurant that opened its doors to the public in 1973. Bon Appétit magazine named this iconic eatery one of the 13 most influential restaurants of the 20th century. Personally, I can’t vouch for such a prestigious claim – our fare that day merely consisted of coffees and cold drinks. But we weren’t there for the food; we were there to soak up the vibes.
The Moosewood Cookbook has adorned our bookshelf pretty much from the day we got married, which by the way, is coming up onto 35 years. That’s a lot of years of good eating of which a sizeable chunk can be attributed to the Moosewood. Our original copy is still sort of intact. The binding is non-existent, the pages are dog-eared and splattered with food stains, yet we see no reason to replace it. It has served us well. The Hungarian Mushroom Soup and the Vegetarian Chili are still family favourites. And that is what is so endearing about the Moosewood – even a meat and potatoes kind of person can still appreciate its bountiful offering of eclectic, wholesome recipes.
Back in the late 70’s when I worked in an upscale bookshop in Toronto, we were hard pressed to keep The Moosewood Cookbook in stock. Looking back, its hard to fathom why that was – the book itself is no aesthetic gem, what with its hand-drawn black and white illustrations, and its hand-lettered text. It was definitely something of a publishing oddity, but it was definitely hip to own a copy. To a certain extent that cookbook defined our generation.
This past summer it was my turn to rendezvous with one of the more significant landmarks of my adolescence. That would be Woodstock – as in Woodstock, Bethel, New York; as in Woodstock, the site of the most inspiring, influential music festival of probably any time in recorded history. At least that’s how I remember it. Not that I actually attended the concert in person, I was all of 13 years in the summer of 1969. But I certainly wasted no time in getting my hands on the three-record album as soon as it was released. Three records!! Unheard of. I must have worn out a few good needles on our stereo set, not to mention wearing out my parents’ long-suffering patience. And let’s not forget the movie. Exhilarating, shocking, inspiring, it was definitely an eye-opener for a young, impressionable lad growing up in Hamilton. But the bottom line was, is and always will be the music. Even my children’s’ own taste in music can trace its roots to the sounds of that mythical summer of peace, love and music.
Mind you, I had some serious reservations about visiting Max Yasgur’s farm. Better, I reckoned, to keep my own idealized memories intact, rather than expose them to some crass, commercialized, reality-show type imitation of the real thing. I find it sad and somewhat pathetic whenever I come across individuals who try to replicate the flower generation just because they were unfortunate enough to miss the boat. Yet, immediately upon entering the doors of the museum, I sensed that I was in safe hands. Careful to preserve the festival as the central theme of the museum, the exhibit succeeds in placing that memorable summer in the wider context of that volatile decade of the 1960s: its politics, culture, media, and social mores. Anyway you cut it, 1969 was a big year for our planet, and Woodstock was a very big headliner.
This brings me to my own, personal take on nostalgia. We can, and we should pay tribute to the spirit of the past, but we should be very wary about trying to relive it. You cannot step twice into the same stream – even back then in the times of the ancients, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus warned against the pitfalls of misplaced sentiment. Fortunately, for a few brief hours this past summer, Lori and I managed to come pretty darn close to going home again…..