Monday, August 29, 2016

Food is where it begins

At your behest, and with vivid memories of just what it feels like to live without an oven, I went to the kitchen.    

First, I made this.  Sort of.  You know I don't really follow recipes, per se.  So I riffed on the cheese sauce of our childhood and an accidentally generous spoonful of mustard gave it an edge I thoroughly enjoyed.  Mustard is a funny thing.  I periodically rediscover it and the way it can make food - from cheese to meat to salad - taste amazing.  Then I get sick of it and evict it from my repertoire altogether until I discover its magic once again.  I had maybe twice as much veggies for sauce, threw in a CSA zucchini that needed eating and topped it with a veritable salad of chopped fresh parsley.  Was it pasta-less mac and cheese?  No.  But it was delightful.  

Then, I made this.  Because really, if one is to rediscover the joy one has been known to take in filling filling plates and bellies via one's stove, who better to do it with than Deb?  Fresh basil, redolent with memories and fresh from the CSA got tucked under the cheese.  Avery's may not be old enough to entirely appreciate it, but (homemade) pizza and a movie might just need to be regular thing come Friday night at the homestead. 

And then, in anticipation of bubbling fruit goodness under a buttery crust, I went to the mountains.  We filled our buckets with blueberries, lingonberries, and crowberries.  All mixed together, "mountain berry pie" sounds like all it needs is ice cream and a fire in the woodstove to make a perfect winter evening.

Motherhood is a strange mixture of bliss - of overwhelming ecstasy of heartmelting love  and clarity of purpose - and hard, mind numbing work.  It means putting her needs over mine (almost) every time.  Needy little hands that grab for her mother, little arms and legs that propel her to follow me to the toilet, curious busy hands that reach for anything and everything that mama touches.  When the days are harder, I sometimes forget to eat: my energy spirals and I crash.  And so I'm trying to rekindle the romance I once had with my kitchen, with the dance of dough from bowl to oven to mouth, with the melody of greens and heat and herbs, with the communion of bread broken and food shared.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Speaking of numbers of months...

Querida irmã,
Three months ago today I arrived in Lisbon. Today my visa expires (don't worry, I did my paperwork and have my id number for the year during those days in Seville). This is in no way as exciting an anniversary as muffin berry pie's sweet-potato-covered 3/4's day. -/aside/ Speaking of which, on her 9 3/4 birthday, remind me to get her a copy of Sorcerer's Stone of her very own. Maybe in Spanish. Maybe the British version. Maybe kindle will be an implant and reading will have died. /end aside/-

It's quite the mind trip having my department and all of my people back home gearing up for the rapidly-approaching semester that I won't be there for. And having been 'away' for three months and only being at the very tippy toed beginning of the time I'll be on this side of the sea. Not that I'm not stoked to be in the where and when and mind-space that I am inhabiting here. Because I am. I mean, once I post this, I'm probably going to wait for the temperature to drop a bit more, and then wander down to this:
It's impossible to not love this city.
Plus the fact that my Portuguese pronunciation and grammar have com a'roarin' back being here. There is also not much that I would rather be doing than trying to frame off three languages that have so much in common linguistically, historically, morphemically, lexically, etc... without letting them bleed into each other. But that's the goal. And why I am super lucky and grateful to have friends who will talk to me in Galego while I'm here to stop me from drifting too far back in this direction. But still. Roots are a thing that prefer to be buried in soil than to drift in the air (unless you're a spider plant, or lots of vines, or certain kinds of orchids, or... I'm keeping the metaphor). 

When the thought to mark this time-place came to me, the version in my head was a lot less rambley. Let me change tacks. 

Did you know that northern Portugal has crazy numbers of forest fires? I didn't, not in an immediate way, until this week, when the smoke haze lowered over the city and the sky went that sickly yellow color that smells like burnt books. Unlike (the majority of fires in) Alaska, the fires here aren't safely away from people. They also tend to not be accidental/natural: no lightning, but rather intentional starting. Not fact-checked, but several people have told me that about 70% of the seriously numerous summer fires here are set intentionally. The one near here caused two hospitals to be evacuated, and (again, second hand data) a thousand people have lost their homes. Here's Portugal today on satellite view:
Those are not clouds. That is smoke.
Fire season in Fairbanks is so viscerally present, what with being a smoke-collecting bowl of geography and the days of zero visibility due to smoke, that it's oddly deja-vu-ey to find ash particulates everywhere. The Proustian madeline of summer disaster: the smell of burning forests and incinerated dreams. 

I owe you a post about food, and a recipe for a truly wicked (Maine, not Elphaba) summery pasta-ey lemon-ey parsley-ey walnut-ey slaw. Wasn't that one of the things we talked about when we started this - recipes and stuff? 

Wishing you (all) deep breaths of spruce-scented air, jolts of pleasure as your mornings move toward being crisp, and giant smiles with my niesling,
your sister.

ps. She is seriously the most amazing tiny human. *disclaimer* Also biased. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Nine months in, nine months out

Dear sister,

Your niece is the most amazing tiny human that exists in this world.  I might be biased. 

My bundled berry is 9 months old.  That means she has spent as much time oxygenating herself via her lungs as she did receiving oxygen via the placenta from my lungs.

Every so often I am, once again, suddenly struck by the reality that I grew her.

I remember when she was first born, I was so enamored of her elbows.  The first time I ran my fingertips over her bent and pointy tiny newborn elbows, there was an immediate recognition.  I had spent months feeling them from the inside.  My favorite spot moves now, sometimes it is her hairline at the nape of her neck, sometimes her busy curious fingers.  But always it is accompanied with the incredible awe that somehow, through some wisdom so far outside of my conscious control, I provided the building blocks that grew her wee cartilaginous bones, that grew her so soft skin, that grew her toenails, and her eyes that change from her father's brown to my hazel depending on who is looking into them.

She is enamored of food.  And eating more of it every day.  So many foods, though not nut butters yet as I am terrified by the modern epidemic of life-threatening nut allergies.  All the vegetables, all the fruits, yogurt, eggs, bread, beans and rice.  She loves salmon.  Loves it.  And gobbled down a bit of caribou the other night.

As she eats more and more food, I become that much more acutely aware of how up until very recently, it was my body that exclusively nourished her.  First via the placenta.  Then via my milk.  Still via my milk, and still for a long while I will directly nourish her.  But as she takes in nutrients from the world, unfiltered through my body, it somehow puts it in stark relief that until now it has been me.  

I want to ask, incredulous, "how is that even possible?!?!" But I know it in my bones to be the most pragmatic practical normal thing in the world.  And I know it in my heart to be the most miraculous divine mystery in the world.

Nine months.  Three threes.  Triskele upon triskele upon triskele.  Twice over.

love you,

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

it's time to talk about the sea.

Querida irmá,

I left Santiago. And Spain. It broke my heart a bit. Although Porto is mending it preeeeetty well, what with being all lovely and also a return to the land of vinho verde. But more on that a bit later. Right now I'd like to take a minute to talk about the sea. You know how much and forever she is a part of me, well, I took a step in terms of my commitment to that relationship.
Isn't she lovely?
Before I tell you how, though, there's another piece that needs explaining. So here's the lit. nerd and politics of language segment of today's entry. By the mid XIX, Galego had basically disappeared as a written language because of all kinds of linguistic and regional discrimination. It was still the language spoken in Galicia, but was not well regarded and speaking it (or about it) was a major low-class indicator. The language reappeared in a written form, and underwent an aesthetic (and culturo-political) renaissance due in large part to this gal:

Rosalía de Castro: Isn't she lovely too?
Even though it wasn't the first text to be published in Galego, the book of poems published by Rosalía de Castro in 1863, Cantares Gallegos, is the marker that we tend to use as the kickoff of the rexurdimento.  Castro wrote in both Castellano and Galego, and also wrote about Galego and Galicia in Castellano. In a sad (for her presumably, and for us definitely), in 1881 she made a promise to never write again about or in her mother tongue. This promise seems to be based largely on the vituperative response that she got to a particular published article, combined with her desire to be seen as a serious presence in the literary world –something made triply difficult by being both a woman and writing in a subordinated language. 

What she said was this: 
Ni por tres, ni por seis, ni por nueve mil reales volveré a escribir nada en nuestro dialecto, ni acaso tampoco a ocuparme de nada que a nuestro país concierna. 
Not for three, not for six, not for nine thousand reales will I ever again write anything in our tongue, nor even will I occupy myself with anything concerning our country. 
Side note: The article that the public academic consciousness cites as the trigger for this rejection of Galego was a description of a Galician custom, in which families succoring shipwrecked sailors would show so much hospitality that not only would they take them in and feed them and give them a bed to sleep in, that bed and the night passed in it would not be passed in solitude, but rather with one of the women of the house.

In retrospect, there is a reasonably probability that Castro did continue to write in the language that she so clearly loved, although we will never know for sure. When she was dying (at 48 in 1885 of uterine cancer –one of the few things that makes me almost like the century we live in: medical miracles and the ability to fight cancer), she asked her children to burn all of her unpublished writings, and they followed her wishes –an action that hurts the literary critic in me, but that I also get. So really, we'll never know. 

Another thing that we'll never really know brings me back to the sea, and that's death. Her death, and her last words, to be a bit less morbidly vague. The account of Rosalía's death that we have comes (in Castellano) from the lawyer and politician Augusto González Besada. He describes her last moment like this:
 Delirante, y nublada la vista, dijo a su hija Alejandra: «Abre esa ventana, que quiero ver el mar», y cerrando sus ojos para siempre, expiró. 
Delirious, and with her vision clouding, she said to her daughter Alejandra: 'Open that window there, I want to see the sea,' and, closing her eyes for ever, she expired.
Why the Galician lesson if she gave it up and died in Castellano? Well... did she though? González Besada's account would say yes, so too would the fact that she was talking to Alejandra, with whom critical consensus is that she stuck to the more accepted language. But she was dying. Delirious. And in lots of pain. I know how that messes with language production. You know how that messes with language production from listening to my messed up language production. And her friend González Besada would have reported those words in Castellano anyway, to avoid casting a pall on her death by feeding the internet trolls of the politics of language. So does it matter if she said “Abre esa xanela/fiestra, que quero ver o mar” or “Abre esa ventana, que quiero ver el mar”?  Maybe not. But if there hadn't been a stranglehold of negativity on Galego, I bet it would have been the former (in the case of it being the latter). 

Why the deathbed tale and the Galician lesson? Because I want to see the sea. And I want to see it in Galego. 

Hey, it's me! And the sea! And the Cies (islands)!
Before I let you get back to the most adorable baby niece of mine and her perfect first tooth and her angelic almost-pronunciation of 'cat' and the fruit that is probably smeared all over her face right now, there's one more piece to the story. 

Rosalía died in a town called Padrón, which, while the river Sar runs through it, is not on the ocean. Because of this, the virtual library Miguel de Cervantes suggests that the sea in her last words was metaphoric, as the sea had long been for her a temptation to suicide. And yeah, she was a Romantic in all of the ways, but I feel like if you are legit dying of uterine cancer, you're probably not being nostalgic for your depression. And she also loved the sea. Also, they assume that because Padrón is inland, you can't see the sea from there. At the museum that was her house, though, they explain that the water that used to be visible from the window of her room, while not quite at the sea yet (in actuality the lower part of the river Sar), was referred to as such in her time, because it was pretty close to real sea. And since she lived a lot of her life in places that were truly on the sea (girl moved way more than we did, probably even more than dad, which is saying something), making the connection between the two connected bodies of water makes a lot more sense to me, personally. 

This is the Sar as it runs through Santiago. It's way broader, deeper, and faster in Padrón.

Tl;dr: I love the Atlantic, and so did one of my favorite authors. Also I'm morbid as all get out so I wrote her last words on my arm forever. 

 "y ahora subiendo, ahora bajando,
unas veces con luz y otras a ciegas,
cumplimos nuestros días y llegamos
más tarde o más temprano a la ribera"  
"and now rising up, now sinking down again
some times with light and others without seeing
we carry through with our days and then arrive
be it late or be it early, to the shore"-RdC

I love you forever and for always. Swoopy up in the air hugs to my niesling, 
your sister