After I had a long day at work, Jill and I found ourselves driving down College Avenue in Berkeley to a place we had never been before. We have been down College Avenue plenty of times but we had never been to the restaurant Olivetto. Our car passed under the BART tracks and stopped a couple of cars short of the stoplight. Fog glowed orange underneath the street lights. Marines stood at attention as children played Christmas carols underneath a tall pine tree newly lit with holiday lights. As we sat in traffic listening to the off key music, I spotted Olivetto, asked Jill to turn left down Lawton Avenue, and wondered about the American military standing at attention listening to children.
It should always be so. The military listening to children. Perhaps, I’m wrong, but the only resource really worth fighting for is the hope we see in our children, the world, and in our future together.
We walked passed the spot where Edible Complex was until just a few years ago. During the 1970’s the Rockridge area was in a slump. Some say because of the newly created highway 24. A handful of businesses helped pull Rockridge out of that slump and made the area a destination for fine dining and shopping. Edible Complex gave the neighborhood gourmet bagels, hot coffee, and distinctive character. In turn the owners took income from which I imagine they made a life. Sadly, Edible Complex closed its doors. Moved on. I don’t really know what happened. If you do, please let me know. That’s the funny aspect of giving and taking. Hopefully it builds character. In some cases it builds community. Yet, sometimes, a good thing must come to an end.
Carl Johanson had invited us out to dinner at Olivetto with his girlfriend–what’s-her-face. You know, the loud red head. Larissa Kosits. I’m so glad that Carl is dating Larissa because that means we got free food at Olivetto’s. Larissa is one of those church going do-gooders who is always managing to take on way more responsibility than anyone should. She received a gift certificate from the parents of one her students. The parents gave Larissa the certificate as a way of thanking her for the role she played in the lives of their children. Larissa knows a thing or two about children. She knows, at least, that they’re worth fighting for. Perhaps the military should consult with Larissa. Or perhaps with Carl, since he invited us out to dinner with Larissa.
The food at Olivetto’s was insanely good. Easily in the top ten meals I’ve ever eaten at a restaurant. As an appetizer, I had Warm Salad of White Fall Vegetables with ‘Castelmagno’ Cheese. The rest of the crew ate appetizers family style. Being a snob, I wanted what I wanted and I didn’t want what other people wanted. Not so much the giving, this one. The aroma of the Ribolla Gialla Petrucco Friuli 2000 lifted my spirits. That and a strong Italian cocktail. After working a 14 hour day on Wednesday, 12 hour day on Friday and then another busy work day on Saturday, I needed a lift. I had always heard about wines having a bouquet, but in all the years I have been drinking wine none ever captured my imagination as much as this one did. When I smelled it, I felt like I was standing in a meadow of spring flowers. It was insane. It wasn’t like much of the wine–even a ninety dollar bottle of wine–that I have had to date.
While I pulled apart the hazelnut encrusted halibut with my fork, an incredible aroma drifted through the room. A waitress carrying a plate of some yellow goodness had just slipped in between my chair and another server. The halibut had my full attention most of the time. Still, I wondered what could be next in this incredible ensemble of insanely great food. The dessert menu had ice cream. All wrong. Ice cream season is over. Way over when children start playing Christmas carols to marines in the fog. I felt like I needed to be hosed down with chocolate. Like rivers of chocolate gooshing into my mouth. So I ordered one of their standby flourless chocolate cakes for idiots like me who insist that chocolate must be on the dessert menu. When dessert arrived on the table, I smelled that incredible aroma again. Jill had ordered a corn meal cake with dried figs. After a few bites of each dessert, I gave up on the chocolate and decided I needed some of that real corn goodness from Jill.
I’m surprised that Carl and Larissa took us out to dinner. We didn’t deserve it. It was a gift. I’m not particularly good at taking when it comes to food. I usually prefer to do the giving from my kitchen. Maybe that’s the point that they were trying to make. Take. We’re giving today. It’s good for us and it’s good for you.
The season of giving and taking is upon us as Thanksgiving is just moments away and Christmas arrives soon afterwards. Americans, having the strongest economy in the world, are used to taking without even noticing it. If we are good at anything, we are good at consuming the world’s resources. Still, in the midst of a frenzy of eating food and buying gifts, I see people weary of the same old pattern of getting stuff for the sake of getting. I also see people looking for more meaning, more connection. I know I am.
The non-profit organization Trade As One posits that are two worlds: “One where people are poor. The other where people have money to buy things.” The next part of a message like that usually follows with a photograph of an overweight out of work white actress and a starving black child in Africa. The image seeks to manipulate the viewer with pity into giving cash into an unseen hole somewhere out there. I’m not against a little arm twisting. Occasionally a little arm twisting can get me to pay attention to the suffering in the world.
Still, that’s not the message of Trade As One. Trade As One takes the fine craftsmanship of people living in the developing world and sells their goods at a fair rate for their labor. As their site says: “We get beautiful and useful things. They earn a living.” The message as I hear it is: “Most people don’t want hand outs. Most people want to be proud of their accomplishments.” The giving that people want to do in the developing world is the kind of giving that will build character and build neighborhoods.
I guess my question in the midst of this season of give and take is “Will we give and take in such a way that builds character for everyone?” When we take this season, will we be able to say, “It’s good for us and it’s good for you.” It may not be a place we have ever been before. But the aroma smells great from here.