customs/rituals, folklore, food, good luck/bad luck, Uncategorized

“Next Time, Order the Shrimp!” Fortune Cookie Wisdom

Bowl of opened fortune cookies.  Photo by Mariah Chase.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Bowl of opened fortune cookies. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Even though most of us are aware that fortune cookies are a faux Chinese custom invented in the U.S., we wait in suspense to open these rice cake treats when dining in Chinese restaurants.

Especially for children.  For a while, my husband and I fooled our offspring until they learned to read.  The toddlers would excitedly hand Harold their cookie fortunes and invariably he would pretend to slowly decode them and then intone, “Honor your father and your mother, and you will have good luck.”  We couldn’t get away with that for long.

In Los Angeles, I frequently visited Chinatown and once stopped in at a Chinese Fortune Cookie factory.  The process intrigued me  — batter automatically poured onto small circle griddles and when the fragrant aroma indicated that they were cooked, they were mechanically folded into fortune cookie shapes.  The process mesmerized me, yet I can’t remember at what stage they inserted the fortunes.

Most of us are familiar with the old fashioned predictions, “You will soon take a long journey,” but fortunes like the irreverent one in my title, “Next time, order the shrimp,” cause a vision of Chinese fortune cookie writers going off the deep end.  Or perhaps, the new kinds of fortune cookie writers are simply more daring and realistic.

“There is no problem.  It’s only your stupidity.”

“Keep it simple.  The more you say, the more people won’t remember.”

Even though wer realize that the fortunes are just hokum created by some anonymous writers, more likely based in Brooklyn than Beijing, we have hopes that a startling pronouncement will elate us and renew our optimism about the future.

There’s nothing wrong with that.  That’s why we scan our horoscopes, have our palms read or tarot cards interpreted.

Even on the brink of 83 years, I confess that I still look forward to reading my fortune and grab the cookie that conveys that it is destined only for me.  So far, I have avoided selecting this one of the contemporary variety.

“I cannot help you, for I am just a cookie.”

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who believes that at almost 83, tomorrow still holds promise.

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customs/rituals, folklore, health, Uncategorized

Feed a Cold? Starve a Fever? Something else?

 

When you are sick, do you Google your symptoms for a diagnosis? Do you go to the pharmacy and scan over-the-counter remedies? Do you call a trusted friend or relative for advice? Do you book an appointment with your internist? Or do you go to Urgent Care? To the ER? That is more or less the gamut of options in our contemporary urban culture. But not everyone follows this route.

I attended a conference on Alternative Healing methods at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and was struck by the variety of healing methods utilized by Hispanic people living in rural areas. Since they have limited access to modern healing centers, they rely on multiple traditional modes of treatment.

Healer giving limpia (cleansing) to patient.  ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014
Healer giving limpia (cleansing) to patient. ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014

 

One might go to a curandero/curandera, someone who heals in a time-tested way. They might give you a limpia or cleansing, a common treatment where the healer moves branches or flowers or herbs downward on the body to physically and metaphorically sweep away the sickness. They may also use a raw egg in the same manner. Traditional healers frequently say prayers or light incense during this ritual.

 

Smudging is another popular traditional healing method. Native Americans burn sage, whereas, the Latino population burns copal, the common incense of the Catholic church. In the Mexican tradition, they burn the copal in sahumerios, open ceramic torch-like containers.  The healers pass the copal smoke all around the body to purify it of any maladies.

 

Sahumerio for burning copal incense shown in plastic bag.  ©Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2014.
Sahumerio for burning copal incense shown in plastic bag. ©Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, patients visit a temazcal, a sweat lodge.   Akin to a Native American sweat lodge, it looks more like an oven made of bricks or cement blocks. Inside the pitch blackness, they burn specific herbs for particular problems: eucalyptus for respiratory needs (think Vicks); rose petals for anniversaries and weddings; basil for fertility issues or postpartum depression. Sitting inside the intense heat is similar to being in a sauna where toxins are released through the skin pores.   But unlike the sauna, the temazcal is a sacred experience where participants sing songs calling upon the ancestors for their help.

Prototype of a temazcal. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Prototype of a temazcal. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014

Cupping is another method of removing sickness from the body. The patient lies down and the healer first removes oxygen from glass cups via a flame then quickly inverts the glass cups on specific locations on the patient’s back to create a suction. Most commonly used for respiratory problems, the goal is to bring the toxins to the surface of the skin where they can be released.

Curandera (healer) placing flame in cup to remove oxygen.  Cup placed on patient's back to create suction.  ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014
Curandera (healer) placing flame in cup to remove oxygen. Cup is placed on patient’s back to create suction. ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014

 

This reminds me of how my mother used to make dry mustard plasters and place them on my chest where they would heat up and make my skin turn red. She believed that the hot mustard would draw out and alleviate my bronchitis.

 

 

 

What I took away from this two week conference is that traditional healers spend more time listening to, putting their hands on, and honoring their patients. Through more ritualistic interactions, they involve the mind, body, and spirit of the patient. This is so unlike today’s urban relationships of patients and physicians where time restrictions, testing in locations removed from the healer, and prescription fixes seem to prevail and make it seem impersonal and less satisfying.  This probably explains why many Americans from Latin American and the Caribbean often turn to curanderos even while living in Los Angeles, New York, Miami or El Paso

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who has an appointment today for her flu shot.