X: Basket

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

X: Basket
Woven baskets. Photo by ZACHARY STAINES / Unsplash

Good morning. Today is Décadi, the 30th of Fructidor CCXXX. 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. For this newsletter, we will use them as a little regrouping time to do some fun and games before CCXXXI begins.

Today's card: 9 of clubs

9 of clubs. From the Poker Tarot deck by Vicente Molina.
From the Poker Tarot deck by Vicente Molina.

Clubs represent the spiritual energy that the universe gives you. If hearts are the ways you express love, clubs are the ways the universe loves back, at least when the pips are good. And a nine is good – very, very good. While the seven gets all the positivity points, I prefer the nine with its pugnacious righteousness, its assurance that you are strong and ready for more. The nine of clubs is a pull that says the world is going to give you strength today, or, as this beautiful mashup of poker and tarot shows, it will fill your cup until it runneth over. The inscription translates to "knowledge through work," and that's what this newsletter has been for me thus far. I couldn't be more grateful to all of you for subscribing and engaging every single day. Seriously, the engagement rates are through the roof, and it's giving me the assurance that this project should keep going, so onward we march.

Today's meditation: Picnic basket

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 video: Dancing with Kim Novak in Picnic (4mins)

I mostly identify with Susan Strasberg pouting under a tree.

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

Can't think of a more appropriate farewell to CCXXX 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.

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