Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Here it is, Bloomsday... I remember the year CBC-radio ran a continuous broadcast of a reading of the whole of Ulysses. It took twelve hours? more? and ran all night. I didn't stay up, but remember waking early and turning on the radio just in time luckily to hear the whole of the Molly Bloom soliloquay chapter. Fabulous.

I'm thinking of Bloomsday partly because it's been a week of performances here, still ongoing. I managed to get to a remarkable theatre event last, night, the first performance of the Africa Trilogy, part of the Luminato Festival (art, drama, books, cross-artform events, music... an amazing festival). Theatre sure has changed, from the literal and true-to-life-at-all-costs model, to another level of allegory and nuance. Amazing. I felt lucky to be there.

Life presented itself in new ways earlier in the day too. I'd planned a day of work: figuring out more recipes for more dishes from Burma, that was my goal. But instead, because a friend was visiting from Halifax in pursuit of World Cup tales and experiences for an intense week in Toronto, I ended up watching half the Portugal- Cote d'Ivoire match (a draw) at a churrasquerria on College, on the outside terrace; and then from there moving to Lula Lounge for the Brazil-North Korea game. It was fun. And now I think I understand more about the game, so I watch it with fresh eyes.

Across the street from Lula is a Brazilian bakery, so that's where a couple of us headed for a bite of lunch before the game. A hot pork sandwich with onions was my choice; my companion had the veal sandwich. And of course we bought a load of custard tarts to take back for game-watching. They went well with coffee, with sangria, with the game and the vibe, for sure.
They reminded me to get back into making them at home from time to time. They're easy. And there's a terrific recipe in HomeBaking, that grew out of time I spent with a baker named Teresa in Portugal's Minho. Give it a try...

Back to soccer: The World Cup has many people watching soccer who otherwise aren't fans. They are caught up in the now-ness of it all. it's also true that many people here in Toronto are happy to have soccer as a way of getting to know the cafes and bars and hang-outs of many of the cultural communities here, from Chilenos to Brasilians to Ghanaians and Koreans. Most of us like the feeling of belonging or participating, and the World Cup is a chance to feel that way while you're in a roomful of fans cheering on a team.

Looked at as a democratizing process, a chance for people to be included rather than excluded from each other's cultures, this whole month of World Cup action in Toronto is very attractive. But there's another more disturbing aspect to it too. All this joining in, this enthusiastic cheering for a national team, this identifying with a group, taking a side, echoes all the us-and- them of jingoism or Dr Seuss's "better-butter" wars or any other version of mass hysteria. And we know where that has lead and can lead. There's a fine line between genuine enthusiasm and learned copycat joining-in behaviour that can soon turn strident and ugly. The rah-rah of partisans always has a disturbing element.

I was happy happy to be out in a crowd of people watching soccer and learning about the game and coming to appreciate the amazing grace and skill of some of the players (the camera-work is so much better now, and the ability to play slow-mo replays enhances it all so much, especially for beginners like me). I didn't and don't feel like a blind or mindless joiner-in. I felt lucky to be able to participate in a small way.

On balance the surges of enthusiasm for the game, and the chance this month to switch allegiances, rather than clinging like grim death to one allegiance or one strictly defined "us", is a hopeful positive thing, a dissolving of differences, if only for a moment, in favour of shared excitement and enthusiasm.

But where in all this, you say, did work go? What abut those Burma recipes?

Well, I had a good day today, to make up for my delinquency yesterday. There's a wonderfully simple dosa-like rice flour crepe that's a streetfood in some markets. I came across it first in Myitkyina, capital of Kachin State, in the far north of Burma. The batter makes a lacy fine pancake that's topped with a little chopped tomato, chile, coriander leaf, and more... After some tossed efforts I finally figured out the skillet temperature and batter texture and then there they were... beautiful lacy rice crepes with crispy edges. The other big leap forward today was in a pork dish, pork slices simmered in a little broth and flavoured with star anise and other oddments, with a smoky depth of flavour that I can taste still in my mind's eye, or wherever tasting resides in our imaginations! Today's effort came very close. I'm thrilled.

The skies opened off and on all day, leaving the tall blue-tinged-with-mauve delphiniums in the back garden over-burdened. I shook a lot of the rainwater off them and then looped string around the tallest spires to tie them to some ivy and hopefully hold them upright. This precious flowering season in June is so short; I want these glorious blooms to last and last. And after them, in fact starting already, come the lilies, in their rich yellows and golds and oranges and dark reds. Can't wait!

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