Rained out

It was rainy on Friday, and since I had the car and was going to be driving everyone back to the garden, we decided that it might be better to see how things looked on Saturday. It was pretty demoralizing, so when we awoke to clearer weather on Saturday morning, I wasted no time in packing everyone into the car and heading for the hills.
It wasn’t a very clear day, but in between rain showers I was able to fertilize the vegetable beds and pull the odd weed. We have a lot of great salad material in the garden now, and I even pulled up a beet and a carrot to make a little dish for Kaya that we call “Rooty Tooty” (one carot + one beet: boil and blend). I read somewhere that beets can be a useful indicator of how long it takes for food to make its way through a baby, but even aside from that, it’s a nice dish because Kaya adores it. He looks a bit scary when he’s eating it though, with bright red dribble everywhere.
It poured rain all night on Saturday, and when I awoke it was to a garden bejeweled by raindrops catching the sun. As I knocked the previous day’s coffee grounds into the compost bucket, I looked up and saw a huge rainbow against the dark grey clouds. It was such a lovely morning, and a great affirmation of our choice to spend what time we could there this weekend.
Ali went to check the road while I made breakfast, and reported that it was bone dry. A few hours later, though, I heard the roar of water, and took my mom and Lulu to investigate. This is what we found:

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In other words, no road. Lulu was completely freaked out. Luckily, one of our neighbors opened up another road a while back that we can use to go down in these circumstances (not up, though; it’s only a road in the loosest sense of the word). So we had our lunch and headed out. Next weekend we’ll be in Istanbul for Christmas.

Forgotten pleasure

Every weekend since she’s gotten here, my mother has commented on how lucky I am to have the garden to return to after a week in the city. I had been looking at the whole arrangement differently, seeing it more as an exile from the garden. Last weekend, I decided to try on my mother’s way of looking at things instead, and found it much more agreeable. Thank heaven for optimists!
The mornings are cool now, about 8 C (high 40s F). The first thing we do is start a fire in the water heater and then head out to the kitchen to make coffee. On Saturday morning as I was carrying the coffee pot over to the kitchen, I came across a letter I’d received on Friday, sitting in the box if cloth diapers we’d brought along. It was actually better than just a letter; it was a surprise package with a letter inside: the mail trifecta. A dear friend had sent us a little wooden Christmas tree from Muji.

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I stood reading it and was instantly absorbed. For me, reading a hand written letter is completely immersive, a far more intimate experience than the typed word. And as I read it, I realized that although this was a letter from a very dear friend whom I have known for almost 20 years, this was the first time I had seen her handwriting. I felt I had somehow gotten to know her better in the moments that I has stood there, one hand still on the coffee pot, reading her letter.
It is of course literally an intimate experience to read or to write a letter. You hold one person on your mind and you can pour your heart out without fear of interruption, or you are the lucky recipient of such focused attention. Having taken up this blog as a form of wholesale correspondence, it seems an extravagantly generous act to write a letter (not to mention taking the trouble to post it). To think that we once performed these acts without a second thought; I have boxes of letters from my school days, some of them from only passing acquaintances that I struck up correspondence with. Here’s to the forgotten pleasure of a handwritten letter, and to being reminded of it.

Marketing

When I was teaching in Harbin, I used to get up at 5 to do Tai Chi with a group of retirees in the university parking lot, and then we would all wander off to do some marketing. At that hour, the elderly pretty much had the run of the neighborhood, buying fresh milk off the back of a tractor, sheets of doufu off the back of a motorcycle, or blocks of doufu from steaming trays, and haggling over the price of vegetables kept, during the bitter cold of winter, inside styrofoam coolers under thick blankets to keep them from freezing on the spot.

When Ali joined me in Harbin, he was surprised that the markets were held every day, since he was used to weekly markets. And when I moved back to Istanbul, I did my marketing once a week a few blocks from the house, as streets were transformed into lanes of busy stalls. Then we moved down here, and in our first year here, with Baki not yet going to school, sometimes the only reason we left the garden was for our weekly trip to the Friday market in Kumluca. That was some high-stakes marketing because if you forgot something, you were sunk for a week without it.

When we moved in to Antalya in September, I was initially bummed because the market day in this neighborhood is Saturday, and we are never here on weekends. But I did find a Thursday market not too far away. A few weeks ago, I was buying some apples when I saw chestnuts and realized that Thanksgiving was just one week away. I bought half a kilo on the spot.

Later that day, I sat at the kitchen table scoring the chestnut shells to get them ready to cook. It is a job I have done dozens of times, and to be honest it is not one of my favorites. As I sat there, though, settling into the rhythm of the work, I felt the echo of all the other times I had sat down to do just this. It reminded me of the surprise I always feel when I mimic the dishes I grew up eating and they taste right. I remembered the first time I made Jai for Chinese New Year, soaking dried vegetables and cooking them with fermented bean curd and slab sugar, tasting along the way until it tasted as I had remembered.

So what I realized through all of this is that it is not the meals that make holidays special to me. I do not really remember sitting down to all of those dinners; I remember cooking them. And this year as I repeat those countless gestures, I will be celebrating the joy in their accumulation.