Tuesday, August 25, 2009


I had thought, last Thursday, that I would write about the intense day and a half of Indian food cooking that I did last week with Anne MacKenzie, making food to be shot for publicity photos for Cooking with Stella, a film that is being shown at the Toronto International Film Festival.  The film opens in Canada in March 2010; not sure about the US plans.  And yes, it involves lots of food, is set in Delhi, and is a social and cross-cultural comedy.

Well here's a little about that food:  We made Masala Dosa, Sambhar, a Kerala Shrimp Curry, a Mango Salad, some fresh chutneys, and that weird western favorite, Butter Chicken.  Friends stopped by to eat the props, of course, and still there was plenty to feed Dom and Tashi that evening.  I'd made a double batch of dosa batter, so there was some left over.  I put it in the frig and miraculously the fermentation was slowed enough that it made good dosas the following evening.

It was all a reminder that once you embark on it, Indian home-cooking is not difficult, and is in fact very forgiving, as well as delicious.  I expect homestyle dosas will now re-enter our weekly routine.  The kids have already made another batch of the potato masala (boil potatoes, peel off skins, chop; heat oil and drop in mustard seeds, some curry leaves, onions, whatever, then add the potatoes and cook to heat and flavour them; top with coriander leaves).

But food-thoughts were pushed aside a day later.  On Thursday a huge storm came through here, dumping gallons and lakes'-worth of rain (over two inches in an hour) and leaving the sky an emerald green.  Farther north, in Grey County, the storm action was catastrophic, for there a huge tornado came ripping through the town of Durham and up Glenelg Concession Two, tearing roofs off houses and barns, destroying barns and other buildings completely, and killing one eleven year old boy.  We have dear friends whose places are a mess of broken glass, uprooted trees, and wrecked buildings.

This is Kaos, in the Greek sense, out-of-control nature or life, or whatever you want to call it.  There are photos on Facebook, and outpourings of love and concern, and offers of fundraisers, etc.  That's one form of social reknitting, a kind of action at a distance that is warming and important.  The other help and support is the tangible one that has been happening since the tornado:  friends and strangers have come to clear away trees that lie like broken spillikins all over lanes and barnyards, to help pick up debris (pieces of torn metal and splintered beams that lie everywhere) from fields and yards and laneways, to provide food for those who are working at the clean-up....

The help doesn't make the damage disappear, but it does bring some sense of order, and an assertion of order.  It's practical help, in a physical sense, but it's also social and emotional help, for it's community working to try to knit together the social confidence and the fabric of everyday life that the chaos and violence of the tornado tore open.

I am reminded of when I was in Phnom Penh right after the coup that chased Ranariddh out of the country (leaving Hun Sen in control) in the summer of 1997.   There was broken glass in the streets, and most of the foreigner community had fled, but locals were asserting everyday normalcy:  going to the market, carrying on, resisting the impulse to panic or to admit that the fragile society of the country was once more close to unravelling.   

So I guess what I'm saying is that when the tornado hits, or the earthquake, or the political revolution, we are taken to a place where chaos/Kaos rules.  But we are social beings, so we use our best weapon, our sociability, to fight chaos and the panic it makes us feel.  We restore order.

And yet in all this is also the lesson that we are NOT in control.  There are larger forces out there, and we don't know when the chasm will open, so we must live well in the moment, eyes alert to help our neighbours, and hearts grateful for whatever we have of health and happiness.

I'm not trying to preach.  And apologies if it sounds as if I am.  I'm just trying to stay mindful, that everyday obligation!

Two days after the tornado there was a shape-note singing at the Dettweiler Meeting House, south of Kitchener-Waterloo.  People came from Illinois and Pennsylvania, from Wisconsin and Michigan, as well as from Toronto and Durham and London Ontario.  The meeting house is a gorgeous elegant Mennonite stone church built in 1855 and restored now, with lovely acoustics and a peaceful cemetary out back, set outside the hamlet of Roseville.  We sang and sang, and those of us who are not believers in God or Christ or any of the usual gang, sang with just as much feeling and pleasure as those that do call themselves Christians.  

For again it was community, in this case the community of music, the lovely close harmonies, and the feeling of shared harmony, that brought us there and gave us joy.  We paused before the lunch break (an incredible pot-luck spread of summer bounty) to sing for those who were suffering, from illness or tornado loss or other trauma, and also for those who were dead and gone.   It was healing, and uplifting, in all its imperfection and heartfelt intention.  Wonderful.

1 comment:

Tashi Freeman said...

Food, coups, and tornadoes. If you keep outdoing yourself you'll have nowhere left to go!