Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Late last night as my taxi turned down my street, in through the open window came the heady scent of May on Henry Street, a mingling of chestnut blossom (the blossom-candles are out in pinky-whiteness on the towering horse chestnuts all across the city); lilac; and lily of the valley. Parfum de printemps is the name of this scent, intoxicating for sure. The heat has brought everything along quickly, so the blossoms are early. They come early and then as quickly fade. This is spring in fast-forward mode. Blink and it's gone.

Well I did blink. I went to New York City for three days for the James Beard Food Media and Cookbook Awards, now very successfully combined in one gala evening. It turned out to be a great chance to see people I've known for a long time but not embraced for awhile, as well as to meet those I know through their work or the internet, but whom I hadn't seen face-to-face before. It's often a solitary life, writing, and these kinds of events are a treat. For those of us who come in from outside New York, it's also a chance to get energised by New York and reminded that however complicated life seems to be, other people's lives are even busier and tighter and more difficult.

The scenes on the street were wonderfully distracting, with some people out in flip-flops or sandals for the heat, others clinging to "May-appropriate" wear and looking sweaty. It was hard to go inside when the weather and the scene outdoors were so engaging, but I did make it to MOMA for the Marina Ambramovic' show "The Artist is Present". I've been tiresome ever since with friends, urging them all to go and take it in. And now I'm telling you, too: go and see it if you can, right away!. I was stunned by the artist's focussed energy, her urgent insistence on attentiveness and on the present moment. It is shocking and moving and awe-inspiring. The show closes at the end of May.

Speaking of the present, Tashi is in Athens, where there is a general strike on and where people are demonstrating how angry they are. I have sent him an email saying please stay out of crowds and tight corners, but do try to find a vantage point from which you can watch some of what is going on. He is lucky to be there to catch some of what it feels like when politics becomes urgent and people are frustrated.

The calm back-waterish feel of Canadian politics does not give our kids any idea of how different politics can be in other places. I was lucky enough to be in France in the spring of 1968 when les evenements unfolded. It was a crash course in politics for a seventeen-year-old from Ottawa. Through the winter there was the commentary in the French papers about the Vietam war, especially once the PAris Peace talks started. And then in the spring I got to watch the optimism and idealism of the students and some workers and then the undermining of their enterprise by the true hard-core pols from the far left, who preferred to stick with the status quo rather than risking giving any power or legitimacy to other political parties or to the students. It was a lesson in the fundamental conservatism of those who have senior positions in the institutions of government, including the oppostition. Conservatism is not always a bad thing. It does help maintain stability. But it can be such a dead hand, holding back social evolution and dampening hopes for change.

I came home that summer with fresh eyes and with my ears unplugged for the first time. Suddenly media bias and issues around point of view and deeper agendas and all those strands that are now raised in media courses etc, were clearer to me, and that marked the start of my adulthood, I think.

Tashi has had a year (it's such a difficult language!!) of Ancient Greek, which he loves, but he does not know any modern Greek, so he'll be depending on English-language-speakers and -news-coverage. He has a Lonely Planet Greek phrasebook of course. I don't think it stretches to "is the demonstration today peaceful or violent?" or "when will the strike be over?"!!!!

POSTSCRIPT: I had an interesting excursion to Queens yesterday with an eating-explorer friend named Jacob, to eat Malaysian food at a small resto called Good Taste, on 45th Street near the Elmhurst train stop. The bendi belacan (okra in a pungent sauce/coating made of shrimp paste, onion, etc) was outstanding, the Assam laksa not as sour as it might have been, but good, especially once it had cooled to room temp. We were given a taste of beef short ribs in a dark sauce which were fab, succulent and tender. It was a problem being only two; on an excursion like that it's more fun and more satisfying to have a lot of people, so you can really explore the menu. The place is owned by Chinese from Kuala Lumpur. From there it's an easy walk along Broadway to the predominantly South Asian shopping near the Forest Hills station (where I caught the E-train for four stops and then the Air Train to JFK, so easy and inexpensive). I just had time for a superficial look around one large grocery store and a peer in to some shop fronts. It's a great place to explore.

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