Sunday, April 18, 2010


Just thinking about time and space/distance... points in time and the passage of time because this is the week of Rick Smith's birthday, and also of the birthday of my lovely father-in-law Jack Alford, who died in the fall of 2003 and is so missed.

Jack comes up in conversation with the kids quite often, "Grandpa Jack would have loved to see that"..(or" know about that" or...) and always with a fond and regretful smile. And so as we think of him and talk about him we find ways of knitting together the gaps in time between then and now, between here and not-here. With Rick there's a space/distance issue too, for he now lives in southern Spain. He's far away (dare I say, especially this week with access to Europe cut off by plumes of volcanic ash?), but still present in our thoughts, still a subject of conversation from time to time.

In earlier times we could write letters and wait for a reply brought by mail boat from across the seas, or by train across the continent. There was no immediacy to those communications, and telegrams were only for crises, life-and-death events. Now we can be in immediate touch via the internet. But the physical person is still far away, and we still go through that process of imagining absent people, having them in our heads, their image without their actual physical presence. As we use new media to make and strengthen our large farflung networks of friends, and spend hours each day online writing emails or checking Facebook, we're constantly engaging in that act of imagining.

In earlier times we didn't have these daily internet prompts, but we still did the imagining, the conjuring up of people far away in space. And that ability to imagine the absent friend who is far away gives us the muscle to imagine and live with our feelings for and memories of people who are far away in time. We can sift through mental images, slices of life that lie stacked in our memories (haphazardly in mine; some people I am sure have much more organised mental filing cabinets!). It's a gift, and a huge pleasure.

The markers of time include various anniversaries, personal ones like birthdays, and national ones, like new years days, etc. Thai, Burmese, and Cambodian new year was this last week, on April 13-14. Last night I made a feasting supper with a bunch of people who know each other well and are very good company. It was a slightly late Song Kran (Thai new year) feast in spirit, a lot of fun.

We relied on Sanagan's for bavette (flank steak) that ended up grilled and sliced and dressed with sliced shallots and lightly fried winged beans and cucumber and plenty of mint and basil to make a yam neua, or Thai grilled beef salad; for free range chickens that yielded a chicken broth for later and succulent chicken meat for a Vietnamese chicken salad; and for the pork that was part of a green coconut milk curry, with round Thai eggplants and plenty of Thai basil and lime leaves. Akhawenzie's smoked fish was the star of a Cambodian-style green mango and smoked fish salad that helped sustain us as we prepared the main dishes. The other starter was that fabulous Thai-Lao invention, miang, this time a basic miang kham: a pinch each, to taste, of toasted grated coconut, chopped toasted peanut, lime, shallot, dried shrimp, ginger, and hot chile, go onto a lettuce leaf, get drizzled with a salt-sweet-pungent sauce, then folded up and popped into your mouth. It's a very "what could be bad?" combo. All it takes is a little chopping to make the small bowlsful of the ingredients...

I haven't mentioned yet the nam prik num, banana peppers, shallots, tomatoes, garlic, all grilled whole, processed to a coarse paste, and salted with fish sauce, nor the delish extras in the form of sips and tastes of drinks of various kinds: scotch from India and from Scotland, mescal from Oaxaca, Mekong whiskey from Thailand, Singha beer ditto, wine, coffee with sweetened condensed milk, and delicious Toronto tap water to wash it all down.

It was a little hard to imagine the heat of Thailand in April though, with the chilly cold that has been around for a couple of days here. The buds and flowers have all put themselves on hold; "please tell me when it's safe to come out further" you can imagine them murmuring to each other. But we're promised sunshine and slowly rising temperatures this week.

Which leads me back to places and people farther away, space/distance and time again: Catastrophes can be exciting, but let's all hope for an easing of that Icelandic ash plume, so that the painful disruptions of thousands of people's lives can wind down and get sorted out. It must be driving some people crazy, that they are unable to travel to a dying parent's bedside or to get home for the birth of a child or... let alone all the economic and personal plans that have been shattered.

We'll be hearing stories about this event for years. It will become a marker, like the massive electricity outages in the eastern US and Canada or the ice storm or other natural disasters that caused few deaths but managed to change people's lives in ways sometimes harsh and unpredictable.

Mother Nature reminds us from time to time that we are NOT in charge, just here on suffrance. It's up to us to figure out how well we can adapt and tune in to her vagaries and her power and her vulnerabilities.

1 comment:

Duncan said...

Lovely as always Naomi---though I sometimes worry that if I don't see someone for a long long time, the facebook version of them can threaten to replace the flesh and blood, less contained person. It's one of the more bizarre challenges of new media. See you very soon!