The other day, I went into a bar and ordered a Ramos Gin Fizz. And as I was drinking it, I thought, ďYou know, this really is such an odd taste.Ē What if I had just ordered a gin drink with a little less egg in it, like a Tom Collins? Then I thought, ďNo, wait. I have to drink this. This is cool. Here I am in this town which could be called New Orleans, and by God, I should be having this Ramos Gin Fizz.Ē


Some things you do just because theyíre cool. Obviously, you must exercise judgment. Eating ortolan. Hunting rhinoceros. Maybe that is going too far. Foie Gras? You decide. Saying the N word in your comedy routine. Not my call. Thank God.


Iím sure we can all think of many traditions which have been softened up or even deleted for modern civilization. And thatís fine. But when you can have a tradition that is acceptable to modern sensibilities, then by God you better not let go.


Maybe the very definition of tradition is that which is done because it was done before. And if it werenít handed down, probably nobody would be starting doing it now. Probably because there are plenty of reasons not to do it. In the case of a Ramos Gin Fizz, there are several. Eggs can give you salmonella. Youíre on a diet. Or the most insidious of all, ďWhy bother?Ē Since you like the taste of a Tom Collins anyway, or even just a gin and tonic for that matter.


But this too is the definition of tradition. Doing that which requires you to give up some of what you perceive as autonomy or comfort in order to participate in something larger and previous to yourself.


Okay, so then what are the rewards? Iím not learned enough to get into big discussions on the role of tradition in society. Thatís what libraries and Germans are for. But for me, I feel that acquiescing to tradition is sort of my form of religion. Itís saying my tastes may not always be the end. You, and by you I mean I, have to figure there was enough impetus and evolutionary pressure to form this tradition in the first place. So surely, itís worth something. Worth a try at least, as long as it doesnít conflict with some greater tradition, like equality among men or what not. And as long as it isnít durian. Durian is just awful. I donít care what that old Malaysian guy tells you. It canít even be smelled, let alone eaten. It just should not exist.


In the culinary field, tradition leads us down time trodden paths to success and pleasure. Prosciutto and cantaloupe (they call it melon) is something I wouldnít have thought of, but itís a traditional combination. And my God, itís delicious. Eggnog at Christmas, fortified of course. Again, I would not have invented that. Hearts for Valentineís Day. Genius. A turkey on thanksgiving.  Itís better not to ask too many questions. Unless thereís a reason to change them, I prefer to embrace traditions and save my thinking for other choices.


In summary, tradition and free thinking need not be mutually exclusive at all. Mindlessly following tradition is bad. But to thoughtfully uphold just traditions and let go of bad ones (with proper hesitation) is to be not only a free, but also a measured thinker.


I used to think neon glowing lights underneath someoneís modified pick-up was tacky. Not anymore. I now see it as part of a tradition of a particular culture from which I did not emanate, but for which I have due respect. The lights are not hurting anyone and the road is not my living room. And even as I say to someone else itís tacky, in my heart, I think itís kind of cool. 



      April 2007