26 April 2010

I love...

Mongolian barbecue, originally uploaded by Shanti, shanti.
...Mongolian barbecue.

(This one was on N. Sepulveda Blvd. in Manhattan Beach, CA)

23 April 2010

Love, roses and books

I’ve never quite been able to put a finger on why I have a slight aversion to St. Valentine’s Day. I’ve tried to like it, really. Maybe it’s the forced aspect and thinking it’s all about marketing like many of our festivals. I do like chocolate…but then I can eat chocolate any day.

Having lived in England for many years, to me St. George's day has sort of a vague definition as a holiday. While Wales, Ireland (Northern and Southern), and Scotland all have their proudly celebrated Saint’s days, people in England were never really big on St. George’s day. You might see a few places flying the St. Georges cross, or the odd person or two wearing a ribbon or some other vague reference, but it’s pretty much business as usual. This could be owing to the debate as to whether St. George was actually born in England, as some believe his place of birth to have been Turkey. I suppose that one needs some investigating.

Little did I know, however (with my enormous ignorance of all things saint-y), that St. George is someone who is celebrated in many other European countries with festivals falling on either the date of his birth or that of his death. Countries included are Spain, and here is the good part, where the saint is associated with roses, love and, books. A festival about love and books? Now that I can get into.Throw in the fact that both Cervantes and Shakespeare died on the 23rd of April and you have a nice little group of literary and romantic heroes to honour in celebration. Just don’t forget to get the roses after the arduous task of choosing just the right book for your love.

21 April 2010

Simple recipes

Flour, water, salt. It seems like a recipe would need more than this. Are my readers going to believe that this is all it takes? Perhaps I’ll add something at the end. Nothing tastes exactly the same as it does in situ, but the anticipation I feel during this meditative action of kneading certainly takes me back to a cold hillside where nothing is more welcoming than steaming, hot bread. Are three simple ingredients enough to transport my readers?

Although my eyes took a while to adjust to the darkness of the room, and I immediately had to get my layers of down off for fear of melting in the smoky warmth, I knew my husband and I had happened upon one of the best places in Darjeeling. I could just sense it. Nothing was pretentious. The walls were wooden, the floor too. Even the tables and chairs were made of wood which, of course is not very unusual, but I’m guessing they were handmade. And then, the all-encompassing wool. Wool embroidered with wool became oval-shaped, carpets on the floor. The same carpets were used as chair covers or formed into cushions in the window seat for lounging on. The draughts from the door were caught by the felted woollen blanket that was tacked up haphazardly with rusty drawing pins so that you had to open the door from the outside while simultaneously pushing through the musty curtain in order to enter. What else? Buddhas. The end wall had a thanka, the Mahayana Buddhist tapestry, which just about covered it while exchanging grain for golden threads.

As I was looking for a tissue for my, now running unstoppably, nose came the deliverance of flatbreads to our table by a woman with very old looking turquoise and amber hanging from her ears and around her neck and just about everywhere else. In her free hand was a bowl of something white.

“Do you like yak cheese? Put inside, you’ll like it.”

That we did. And we did.

The next day, while visiting a Tibetan women’s collective I spotted a woollen rug that would fit nicely in my backpack. I couldn’t take home a kind-faced Tibetan woman, or fresh bread and yak cheese, nor a smoky, wooden room but a lightweight rug would be just right. It would be a souvenir that would not only serve as a good memory for me, but also as a donation to the collective.

I carried that little rug all the way home from the Himalayas and now it’s covered in flour. The only reason I can think of for keeping my treasured rug on the floor of my kitchen rather than preserved somewhere safe is that I wanted it to be alive and used as a part of my life like it would’ve been in its ancestral home. What good is it preserved forever if I can’t look at it and enjoy it and drop flour on it? A lesson in impermanence.

My water highly treated, straight from the tap and the flour bought pre-ground from a supermarket. I don’t even know where the salt came from, perhaps the New Zealand briny.

Her water fetched from the well and boiled, flour brought up from the Indian plains on over-decorated noisy trucks threatening to tip over the edge at every turn. Himalayan salt, a very grey variety.

Flour, water, salt. Wood, wool, Buddhas. Most of the recipes I write have more details, but I don’t think I’ll add anything.

You can find another version of this story as well as the recipe here.

20 April 2010

I love...

looking out, originally uploaded by Shanti, shanti.
sneaky-peek views.

16 April 2010

Words that refuse to be written

My brain is working already but I refuse to open my eyes and commit to the day until my alarm goes off. The flood of ideas begins as it does every morning. Sometimes it is things I would like to make or places I could go to compose a photo, but mostly it’s ideas for writing and I’m already mourning those that will never be written.

Some stories are able to be jotted down in skeletal form and revisited later to be built and nurtured into existence. Some are just topics that may turn into any number of possibilities, but there are others that I know will never exist outside of my mind in this moment in my sheets. Those are the ones I am sad about.

When these ideas come to life, they are in full colour and I can see the actions happening as if I am there. I may feel calm or my heart may race depending on what’s happening, or I may even feel the emotion of the situation and wonder if tears will well up. Sadly I know that these words are so perfect that I will not be able to recreate them with my fingers along the keyboard. They are asking to be enjoyed now.

There is no time to get a computer or even paper. To do that would be to interrupt the story and lose the ending forever. Computers have to power up, which takes an eternity when you want to get something down. And to start to write would be to distract my brain with details such as crispness of paper, graphite against white, or curly lettering that encourages my mind to drift towards images of feathers or dog tails.

I thought I’d come to a conclusion that I am meant to be writing this stuff down. After all these years of writing for myself and suffering somewhat ill-fitting careers I finally had the epiphany that this is what I was meant to be doing. The words have been trying to tell me this, but I haven’t listened until now. Now I am listening. I’ve shifted my entire life’s vantage point and have given up a regular income. All these sacrifices have felt so right, so why wouldn’t all of the words want to be written? What is the purpose of these stories that refuse to let me reproduce them? Is it the brain still dreaming from the previous night? Is it just processing and filing thoughts and the format just happens to be beautiful? Is this my brain’s way of saying, “Don’t get too cocky! You don’t get to show everyone the best stuff, you know.” ? Perhaps they are only gifts intended for me. How wonderful a notion.

I won’t be dissuaded. I’ll continue on with writing those things that want to be written. I feel rewarded by those good little stories that comply with the physical conventions of my life. Should I mourn the others? I somehow feel there is a different lesson to learn from those, but I haven’t found out what it is yet.

12 April 2010

I love...

being home after a long flight and seeing the sun set between the houses.