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.