X: Basket

The year is over, so let's go on a picnic.

décadi, the 30th of Fructidor, Year CCXXXI
Woven baskets. Photo by ZACHARY STAINES / Unsplash

Good morning. Today is décadi, the 30th of Fructidor, Year CCXXXI. It is the last day of the French Republican year. What follows are five days that have no day of the week, no month, no year. They just float there as festivals of freedom. Thank you so much for going on this journey with me. We'll shift to a different publishing schedule and slightly revised focus at the beginning of CCXXXII. For today, let's celebrate le panier, a basket made for holding bread.

This is it! The end of the daily postings, at least in this format. I'll spend the next few days reflecting on this project, what it was, what it meant, and what comes next. It will be something but probably not at this blistering (and ultimately impossible) pace. There are 365 essays and card pulls and YouTube videos and factoids all thrown into the basket of this year. We could carry it, or we could put it on a decorative shelf. Some people have suggested compiling a book of these, but that, somehow, even more than waking up every morning to type 800 to 1,000 words, sounds like too much work. But who knows? I hope your Fructidor ends with a bang and not a whimper. See you on the runway to the autumnal equinox.

A lot of French preoccupations spread throughout the world in the wake of the first Revolution. In fact, this calendar was one of the few things that didn't catch on. The metric system, modern political feminism, restaurants, and pants all got a huge boost from the fallout of the Revolution, but one of the most surprising exports was the picnic.

The word itself dates to French burlesque portrayals of voracious eating, and basically translates to what it sounds like: pick and nick your food. While the association with eating outdoors has some murky textual evidence in 18th Century France, it exploded in popularity after the Revolution when nervous royals and sub-royals brought the tradition with them to England and other European hideouts. Eating outside seemed to especially beguile the English, who, as a rule, do not consider "outside" to be a clever option.

At the same time, French farmers were known for using woven baskets to gather their smaller harvests, like nuts and berries and fruits. That, together with the other food thing the French Revolution popularized (baguettes), formed the quintessential picnic basket we still know today. (The cheese, presumably, entered the equation because, duh, France.)

Growing up in Colorado, I associate picnics with mountain tops. Forgoing the basket, we'd pack our food into fanny packs and, after a long hike to some impressive view, reassemble the meal on a blanket someone had tied over the shoulders. One time, as part of a reality TV show that has long been lost to the sands of the past, I was flown on a helicopter to an otherwise inaccessible glacier where the producers brought out the most stereotypical basket imaginable and me and my scene partner pretended to enjoy the catered meal as if we had Martha Stewarted it ourselves.

Picnics are one of the smallest and most accessible adventures we have, being made of nothing more than household snacks, a basket, and a willingness to travel somewhere nearby with no walls. Despite the smallness, picnics have a way of being memorable, of making the destination seem farther away and more exotic than it really is. How does this happen? How does a simple basket full of nibbles make an otherwise dull day in the park something romantic, or special, or fun?

Food is the best, is my answer. Food enhances everything. And food on the road makes life feel a bit more medieval, a bit more like that primitive hunter-gatherer lifestyle that none of us would willingly return to, but all of us feel some affinity for in our DNA.

I love this calendar because it plunks all of its holidays into a time of year otherwise bereft of them. Consider doing the same yourself this weekend. Invent a holiday, pack a basket, and grab someone to get away with. You only live once. Might as well spend part of it on a picnic.

Today's card: Joker!

Joker! From the Zine deck by Shy Brains.
From the Zine deck by Shy Brains.
Décadi: The outcome position, or what we should take away from this entire meditation. Joker: A card of the unknown and chaotic.

We close our very last card reading ever with a warning that all of this is ... well, "for entertainment purposes only" is how it's usually phrased when lawyers get involved. We may think we can create constancy in our lives by surgically removing agents of chaos, but in the end, the energies we receive from the universe rarely align to the energies we put into it, money is a crapshoot, people are unreliable, and no matter what we do, it can end in a dumpster fire. Or be perfectly fine! Constancy is a matter of perspective. You can achieve it only under the very few things, mostly internal, that you control. The rest is a matter of finding serenity with the jokers out there in the rest of the world. I hope that idea serves you well, just as I hope these wild fictional stories may have, from time to time, resonated with something brewing in your actual life. Into the great unknown we go...

Today's song: "where i've been" by Bill Wurtz (3mins)

Can't think of a more appropriate farewell to CCXXXI than this typically bonkers tune by the overly talented Bill Wurtz, who always throws the musical kitchen sink at seemingly every slight idea he has. My kids and I find him irrepressibly delightful. This also feels like my emotional state when I've tried to interpret playing cards all year...

Goodbye trees, goodbye plants, goodbye flowers, goodbye horses...