As the author of the book, Return to Order, I am constantly looking for examples of organic solutions for today’s complicated problems. It is one way I can practically illustrate so many of the ideas found in the book. I look for spontaneous expressions of culture that are often destroyed by today’s mass standardization. I search out that missing human element in society that makes all things warm and inviting.
During a recent visit to Miami, I chanced upon one such example when invited to a good Spanish-Cuban restaurant in Miami’s Little Havana section of town. The place was Spanish enough to represent a taste of all Hispanic countries and Cuban enough to have some connection with the local Cuban community. I unexpectedly found the experience to be one of those “Return to Order” moments where you sense something of what a truly organic Christian society was and might still be.
All too often in restaurants, especially chain restaurants, the food does not reflect the people who originally created it. There are Chinese, Italian, Mexican or so many other ethnic restaurants that offer their distinctive foods, mostly to those outside their communities. And while such dining experiences may represent a change of pace to the cosmopolitan diner, there is no real connection between the food and the person. It’s just another tasty and interesting place to eat.
However, this Spanish-Cuban restaurant was different. No only did the food reflect the people who created it, but also those who ate it. Entering the restaurant, I felt immersed into a Hispanic world where people were enjoying and reveling in their own culture. While not Hispanic myself, I sensed a special connection that resonated and united all and communicated a joy which extended even to me.
I was impressed by the authenticity of the place. Much care was taken to create an atmosphere that spoke of tradition and quality. The walls were full of customary plates and jugs. There were pictures and paintings of hunt scenes and country life. The waiters were actually Spaniards, polite and chivalrous, given to efficient and elegant service. The food was excellent and spicy. The table, with its fine cloth tablecloths and napkins and subdued lighting, invited one to wonderful conversation.
But what really made this dinner special was the overall tone of the place. There was the exuberant conviviality that comes from being Hispanic that permeated the room. Unlike so many places, where each table is as if in a sealed bubble, people connected with one another. One high point in the meal was when three musicians arrived in Spanish garb. One played guitar, another a high-pitched mandolin and the third a tambourine. They played and sang Spanish, Cuban, Mexican and Colombian songs. And the audience sang along with them peppered with cries of “Ole!” As the musicians exited the room, the tambourine man collected donations from satisfied patrons.
In other words, the restaurant satisfied not only our physical appetites but our spiritual ones as well. It created a warm human atmosphere full of marvels and beauty that delighted the soul. It presented a unique menu full of flavor and nuance beyond the standardized fare that makes the eating experience bland and boring. It offered not just distinctive dishes but courtesy, respect and affection to those who entered. In such an atmosphere, the person is invited to excellent conversation with others. The establishment was the expression of a culture and not only that of a bottom line.
While not perfect, the restaurant represented something of that organic Christian society that is essential for a return to order. There was a notion of that close interrelationship that should exist between producers, inhabitants, and the locality to the point that producer and consumer become “co-creators” of goods. There were still remnants of that turning inward by which a people use their own local resources to make products suited to their tastes and oriented towards the perfection of their society.
Above all, there was that human element that delights the soul and makes of an ordinary meal a “return to order” moment.