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Sep 11, 2021
After the tough 18 months the world’s just had, and on this somber anniversary, we thought our readers could do with a little extra reflection and self-care. This weekend, soothe your body and mind with our recommendations for wellness rituals from around the world, as well as some beautiful books on grief and healing. Plus, busy yourself in the kitchen rustling up a special meal for your favorite bookworm as we introduce you to lavish literary feasts you can recreate at home. You see, none of this is to forget the solemnity of the weekend that marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. Rather, it is to remind you that through two decades of deep grief and deeper communal healing, you have tried, in your own way, to emerge stronger. For that and for so much else, you deserve love, big and incandescent. From yourself to your self.
Fiction based on 9/11 is tricky territory because of the complex emotions attached to an event so heinous it’s difficult to put into words. But Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close treats the subject matter with respect, steering clear of pontification and instead taking you on an engaging journey as his child narrator searches for the truth in the wake of tragedy. Precocious 9-year-old Oskar Schell, whose father is killed in the attack on the World Trade Center, discovers a key in his closet that sucks him into the lives and losses of strangers across New York City’s five boroughs. So begins grieving Oskar’s metaphysical journey toward acceptance. At times it is easy to be suspicious of Safran Foer’s quippy, digressive style — is it too flippant? But the pathos, humor and humanity evident throughout make this one of the classic reads of the post-9/11 era.
2 - ‘Ordinary Heroes: A Memoir of 9/11’
If you lean more toward nonfiction, pick up a copy of a newly released account of the 9/11 attacks by Joseph Pfeifer, the New York City Fire Department chief and battalion leader who was the first firefighter to arrive at the twin towers. While this strong, stoic man spends much of the book recounting in cold hard facts the details of what he and his battalion did in the hours, days and months after the towers came down, his own grief is still evident, both as a first responder who witnessed things no person should ever have to see and as a brother. Pfeifer’s younger sibling Kevin was also a firefighter, and it was the author who ordered his brother up the stairs of the north tower to help evacuate people. It was the last time they ever saw each other. “On the worst day of my life, I was profoundly alone,” Pfeifer, whose brother’s remains were eventually recovered, writes in confronting his own trauma two decades later.
3 - ‘Cry Heart, But Never Break’
Among those who turn to the written word in times of grief, few will seek solace in a children’s picture book. ButCry Heart, But Never Break, by Danish author Glenn Ringtved, is for both children struggling to understand loss and adults still grappling with it. Gorgeously illustrated by Charlotte Pardi, it tells the story of four young siblings whose beloved grandma receives an unwelcome visitor — Death. In the illustrations, Death wears his black cloak like an unwanted uniform and looks downcast, like someone stuck at a rotten job. In a small but thoughtful gesture, he leaves his scythe behind at the door because he’d really rather not scare the young. Playing into the children’s plan to stall him, he even sits down with them . . . and a conversation ensues. Some parts might strike you as a bit too Panglossian in a moment of personal pain but, as it’s intended for children, the frightful force that will touch all our lives is depicted here in soft strokes.
4 - ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’
Joan Didion’s searing memoir of loss will have you gasping for breath. The great American author and journalist describes having to cope with the sudden death of her husband of nearly 40 years — at the same time as their only child lay in an induced coma. The book has been variously described as raw, honest and even the holy grail of grief, butThe Year of Magical Thinking is also a testament to the curious power of the human brain and the human heart. The powerful writing steers clear of self-help cliches as welive through the author’s trauma and it’s also doused with the deadpan humor that’s essential to survival. Didion manages her grief through “magical thinking:” an altered state of mind “that cut loose any fixed idea I had ever had about death, about illness, about probability and luck, about good fortune and bad, about marriage and children and memory, about grief, about the ways in which people do and do not deal with the fact that life ends, about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself.” Her devastating but powerful follow-up book, Blue Nights, sees Didion trying to come to terms with her 39-year-old daughter’s death.
5 - ‘Lead Me Home’
Death is the great equalizer, but as a Black woman in America, author Carleen Brice grieves differently than most. Her eye-opening book, subtitled “An African American’s Guide Through the Grief Journey,” makes no bones about the anguishing experiences that have shaped her complicated understanding of grief. It is anger and confusion that’s shared by so many others from her community who grieve with the knowledge that “Black men and women have a greater chance of dying from major common diseases than their white counterparts.” But through her own account of loss and recovery, as well as the accounts of others, Brice pulls you away from the crashing waves of chaos and onto the shore, leaving you with the strength not just to look for answers, but also to ask the uncomfortable questions.
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Can you take an anxious mind and tired body and hit the refresh button on both? Native Hawaiians have the soul-groundinghi’uwai and e ala e ceremonies by the sea, and Iceland treasures its centuries-old bathing ritual with alternating soaks in chilly and warm water pools.But one of the oldest self-care therapies is gua sha, which roughlytranslates as “scratch” and “sand,” an acupressure massage technique from China. Dating back to the Ming Dynasty, gua sha is trending on the internet these days as a new skin care fad. But in traditional Chinese medicine, the goal isn’t beauty oriented at all. A flat tool — not just the favored jade or rose quartz but even a simple spoon — is used to apply pressure to specific parts of the body. The long, purposeful strokes aim to unblock your stagnant qi (pronounced chi), or energy, by improving blood circulation and tissue drainage. Besides pain and tight muscles, it is said to relieveanxiety, fatigue and insomnia. The scraping can cause minor bruising and redness, so leaving it to your acupuncturist is a good idea. Eager to experiment anyway? Follow thesesteps.
2 - Ubuntu, Southern Africa
Ubuntu, a philosophy of “oneness,” takes a communal path to personal well-being. It essentially places a person in relation to their widercommunity, and the individual draws meaning from that relationship with others. From the strident individualism of contemporary Western societies to the notion that “I am because we are” is quite a jump. But try it and you might find that the principles of love, empathy and interconnectedness can positively impact not only your emotional well-being but even your business practices. Sometimes, pitching in time and labor for a community project or simply helping out a loved one might be the best way to help yourself. If it was good enough for Nelson Mandela, it’s good enough for you.
3 - Parenie, Russia
My friendAjay Kamalakaran, an Indian journalist who grew up in America and then, without much prelude, moved to Russia, speaks fondly of his first time inside a banya. The best way to describe it is a communal bathhouse or sauna that’s typically made of wood. For him, theRussian-Slavic ritual of taking a steam bath was an actual warm welcome into the culture of the country he was about to adopt as his second home. And why not? The age-old tradition is as much about community and connection as it is about cleansing — both body and mind.Parenie, usually performed in a banya, is a detoxifying thermal treatment in which birch, oak and eucalyptus twigs and leaves are used to lightly beat your body. That’s followed by a bucket shower and, finally, a brave dunk in an ice plunge pool. Often paired with salt or coffee scrub treatments, the aim is to release bodily toxins, improve blood circulation and wash away stress.
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You might be too late for the start-of-school feast at Hogwarts, but with your old copies ofHarry Potter at hand, you can still concoct a magical meal straight out of the Great Hall. Just picture four long tables, generously laden with Yorkshire pudding, mince pies, pork chops, golden roasted potatoes and flagons of coldpumpkin juice! At the end of the term and on special occasions, these banquets might also feature bouillabaisse, a French seafood stew, or a decadent chocolate cake — even if Harry would prefer second helpings of sticky treacle tart. Use theserecipes or — swish and flick — these vegan options to whip up some Potter staples. Equally English and no less enchanting are the picnics featured in The Famous Five, Enid Blyton’s adventure series where Julian, Anne, Dick, George and Timmy the dog are sustained by food that’s humble yet hearty. Think hard-boiled eggs, ham sandwiches, freshly baked scones, tinned sardines and “lashings of ginger beer”— austerewartime fare turned sumptuous with a side of sun and sea.Here’s what to pack into your picnic basket.
2 - With Love, From Mexico
In Like Water for Chocolate, Mexican novelist Laura Esquivel spins the tale of young star-crossed lovers Tita and Pedro. Set in rural Mexico during the revolution in the early 1900s, the novel treats social and political upheaval as a powerful, altering element, just like the tumultuous, forbidden love at the center of the story. My love of the book comes from its buffet of emotions, but I suggest you not read it on an empty stomach because it’s also interwoven with descriptions of old-timey dishes like champandongo andquail in rose petal sauce that will make your mouth water. In keeping with the novel’s magical realism, Tita is endowed with the power to transmit her feelings of affection, heartache, anger or loneliness into the food she cooks. Which means the same dish can taste wildly different, depending on the day and her mood.
3 - All-American Treats
While taking American literature classes at university, I’d constantly be looking forward to lunch. Not because I wasn’t madly in love with the authors we studied — I was — but because their descriptions of food made me so peckish. Take, for instance, the apple pie and ice cream in Jack Kerouac’s Beat Generation classic On the Road, the all-American dish that the author “ate all the way across the country.” Then there’s F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Doomed Jazz Age romance is great and all, but what does a kid with boring old okra for dinner do with aparagraphon “buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors d’oeuvre,spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold”? As Daisy speaks of the genteel Southern cocktail mint julep, I could almost hear the clink of glasses and the breezy laughter of a 1920s soiree. With this beautiful lemon cake recipe inspired by the novel, you too can escape to another era.
Feeling inspired by gua sha but don’t love the sound of the scraping part? Get hold of this rose quartz, dual-ended roller from Knesko’s Rose Quartz Antioxidant Collection; it’s the perfect tool if you’d like to add a gentle daily massage to your skin care routine. Sleek with rose gold trimmings, it claims to reduce puffiness and fine lines while boosting circulation.
2 - Confident in Your Own Skin
Are midnight deadlines cutting short your sleep and making your skin sallow? Fatigue and a flat-out lifestyle can leave you jaded, evidenced by dull skin. But don't stress — at least on this account — for Idéalia Radiance Serum has got your back! The antioxidant face serum was conceived after Vichy Laboratories, a skin care brand dedicated to skin health and science, explored the effect of common contemporary stressors on the skin. No matter how chaotic your day might look, using this lightweight easy-absorption serum promises to undo the worst of your skin sins. It not only improves uneven skin tone, but also refines texture and reduces the look of pores. Damage control never looked prettier.
3 - Soft and Safe
Few things are as relaxing as a long soak in the tub, preferably replete with candles, music and bubble bath. Make post-bath me-time a little more special by adding this Glow Gang towel wrapinto the mix. Bundle yourself up in the pretty pink wrap so soft that it feels like a loving hug against your skin. It comes with a velcro closure to secure it snug. Care tips: Machine wash cold, tumble dry low.
Check out the brand new podcast Some of My Best Friends Are... from Pushkin. The show explores the absurdities and intricacies of race in America. Hosts Khalil Muhammad and Ben Austen, two best friends who grew up together on the South Side of Chicago in the ’80s, explore how race has affected their friendships and their work, using pop culture and history to guide listeners in identifying their own experiences of racism. Mixing anecdotes, entertaining storytelling and thoughtful debate, the show helps listeners make sense of a deeply divided country.
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