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Margaret Visser complete collection

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Margaret Visser is a Canadian "anthropologist of the everyday" who popularizes the history, anthropology, and mythology of everyday life. Her forte is to take the ordinary and turn it into the extraordinary by providing a cultural history of its evolution. Originally a professor of Greek and Latin at York University in Toronto, she made the transition to writing after her regular appearances on the CBC's radio program Morningside in conversations with Peter Gzowski.

If you like Desmond Morris or or Diane Ackerman you will like Visser.

Her early works focus on the history and mysteries of food but I am primarily interested in sharing her work, "The Geometry of Love: Space, Time, Mystery, and Meaning in an Ordinary Church". If you like the alchemist Fulcanelli, I think you will find this work illuminating. She brings her precise and focused analysis of the ordinary to the study of a small Italian church to produce a clear-eyed, generous introduction to Christianity as it has existed in time and aspires to eternity. Sant Agnese Furore le Mure (St. Agnes Outside the Walls) is a very old church in Rome that has been open to worshipers for more than 1,350 years. Within it are buried the remains of Saint Agnes, a twelve-year-old girl who died a martyr's death in 305 C.E. for refusing to marry the governor of Rome. Visser provides a deep consideration not only of the church itself, but of the history, ritual, and meaning of Catholic religion, and what the architecture of the church can reveal to a modern pilgrim who experiences it. She describes the layout of the church and the various sections within, such as the nave, and what they mean in the context of Catholicism in particular and religion in general. She explains the meaning of the catacombs and Christian burial traditions, the power of relics and martyrs, the origins of words relevant to Christian religion, and the symbolism represented by depictions of St. Agnes and the structural elements of the church. Visser brings an enormous breadth—literary, archaeological, anthropological, theological—to her study. 

I also include the 2006 documentary adaptation of this by Canadian filmmaker Paul Carval.

Other works include:

"Much Depends on Dinner"
A supermarket is market place, temple, palace, and parade all rolled into one. For food lovers of all kinds, unexpectedly entertaining book is a treasure of information.

"The driving wheel of the supermarket is...is American corn, or maize. You cannot buy anything at all in a North American supermarket which has been untouched by corn, with the occasional and single exception of fresh fish-- and even that has almost certainly been delivered to the store in cartons or wrappings which are partially created out of corn. Meat is largely corn. So is milk: American livestock and poultry is fed and fattened on corn and cornstalks. Frozen meat and fish has a light corn starch coating on it to prevent excessive drying. The brown and golden colouring which constitutes the visual appeal of many soft drinks and puddings comes from corn. All canned foods are bathed in liquid containing corn. Every carton, every wrapping, every plastic container depends on corn products - indeed all modern paper and cardboard, with the exception of newspaper and tissue, is coated in corn.
Corn oil is an essential ingredient in soap, in insecticides (all vegetables and fruits in a supermarket have been treated with insecticides), and of course in such factory-made products as mayonnaise and salad dressings. The taste-bud sensitizer, monosodium glutamate or MSG is commonly made of corn protein. Corn syrup - viscous, cheap, not too sweet - is the very basis of candy, ketchup, and commercial ice cream. It is used in processed meats, condensed milk, soft drinks, many modern beers, gin, and vodka. It even goes into the purple marks stamped on meat and other foods. Corn syrup provides body where "body" is lacking, in sauces and soups for instance (the trade says it adds "mouth-feel"). It prevents crystallization and discolouring; it makes foods hold their shape, prevents ingredients from separating, and stabilizes moisture content. It is extremely useful when long shelf-life is the goal. Corn starch is to be found in baby foods, jams, pickles, vinegar, yeast. It serves as a carrier for the bubbling agents in baking powder; is mixed in with table salt, sugar (especially icing sugar), and many instant coffees in order to promote easy pouring. It is essential in anything dehydrated, such as milk (already corn, of course) or instant potato flakes. Corn starch is white, odourless, tasteless, and easily moulded. It is the invisible coating and the universal neutral carrier for the active ingredients in thousands of products, from headache tablets, toothpastes, and cosmetics to detergents, dog food, match heads, and charcoal briquettes. All textiles, all leathers are covered in corn. Corn is used when making things stick (adhesives all contain corn) - and also whenever it is necessary that things should not stick: candy is dusted or coated with corn, all kinds of metal and plastic moulds use corn. North Americans eat only one-tenth of the corn their countries produce, but that tenth amounts to one and a third kilograms (3 Lb.) of corn - in milk, poultry, cheese, meat, butter, and the rest - per person per day..."

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"The Rituals of Dinner: The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities, and Meaning of Table Manners"

Devoted to the mystery and menace of entertaining, the politics that underlie each decision confronting a host, the risks borne in each seemingly innocent gesture of hospitality.

"At family festal dinners, fathers may still be called upon to stand and divide the turkey or the joint. Very often family traditions are adhered to, such as the ceremonial sharpening of the carving knife; ritual questions about preferences, asked in a hierarchical order; joking phrases: “Little fat, Mummy?”; and “red gravy” from a spoon for the smallest child at the very end. But such occasions are rare. Indeed, they tend to be kept for festivals, precisely because festivals demand unusual, though traditional, behaviour. Families are mostly too small nowadays regularly to require large joints of meat; festivals bring together the numbers, making it worthwhile (it being a holiday) to take the time and trouble roasting, gravy-making, baking, and attending to ceremony..."

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"The Way We Are" 
A compilation of about fifty short essays previously published in the popular Canadian magazine Saturday Night. 

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"Beyond Fate"
Visser delivered the 2002 CBC Massey Lectures. Her topic was why people feel so fatalistic today -- helpless, constrained, and often afflicted with a sense that they cannot change things for the better. Her answer suggests possible ways out of this feeling by observing how fatalism expresses itself in our daily lives, in everything from table manners and shopping to sport. Having learned to detect the signs by which fatalism begins to manifest itself, we can go on to consider how to limit its influence over us, thereby gaining a new perspective on our lives and our cultures.

I also include the original audio broadcasts of the lectures.

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"The Gift of Thanks: The Roots and Rituals of Gratitude"
A scholarly, many-angled examination of what gratitude is and how it functions in our lives. The notion that we should thank others is not hard-wired into our brains, but learned from our parents. For a child, she writes, “the first unprompted ‘thank you’ is momentous enough to count as a kind of initiation into a new level of human consciousness.” In people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, little words like “thanks,” she notes, “often survive the shipwreck of all other memories.”

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