Monday, August 8, 2011


Here we are on August 8 - in Chinese it's "ba-ba" the eighth of the eighth, and so it's father's day (a familiar word for father being roughly "baba"). In Burma it's a whole other thing, 8-8, for it's the anniversary of the "four-eights" or 8-8-88, when the democracy uprisings that started with the students in 1988 became full-on in Burma.

Twenty-three years later the rest of the world is watching the struggles of the Syrian people against a harsh and unjust regime, and hoping the outcome is happier and more fruitful than the result of 8-8-88 in Burma. There, the people having lost their fear and demonstrated, the crackdown by the authorities was harsh and bloody. And when elections were held two years later, the opposition, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, stunned the government by winning.

The government's solution? To refuse to hand over power.

And so we celebrate and talk about 8-8-88 outside Burma, while inside the country a date that marks an important anniversary in the history of Burma is buried in government silence and, dare I say it? fear of people-power. Maybe next time there are demonstrations, maybe tomorrow, somehow, by some magic, the government will become more reasonable, and then open discussion and consultation and disagreement will be possible. But for now freedom of speech and dissent and political discussion are luxuries enjoyed by relatively few people in the world, none of them in Burma.

[And a quick update: I'm working on a short history section, to go in the back of RIVERS OF FLAVOR. The photos are now sorted and just needing some captions and a little tidying. I'll send in about 450 I think. All these are late baby-steps in getting the manuscript turned into a book. I am so lucky to be working with Trent Duffy and Ann Bramson at Artisan.]

I've been out on my bicycle a couple of evenings recently in the hot humid air, soft with moisture but also laden with every smell. It's so strange, and familiar, the way humidity makes sounds carry, and smells too. I feel I can smell a french fry cooking three blocks away when the air is this heavy. And I kind of like it, as a marker of the season. No, I agree, a lot of the now-intense smells aren't pretty, or even nice as reminders, but they are for sure part of the fabric of summer, especially as we move into August.

Those bike outings are thrilling in many ways: I love the whooshing through the dark, the competitive edge I can get as I race to make a light before it turns, the hyper-alert state that is so intense with adrenalin as I pedal fast along a busy street, ringing my little jangly bell occasionally to warn pedestrians or hopefully prevent a driver from opening a car door in my path. So far so good.

This juice, this thrill-seeking, is pretty juvenile, or un-grown-up, or something, of me. Maybe it's newly possible now that my kids are grown and I don't feel so directly responsible for them? Are there other mothers reading this who have been able to move into a freer more risk-taking frame of mind once the kids are grown?

Talk about life cycles! I never expected to be "back" here in thrill-seeking territory. What a treat.

My recent evening outings have been fun, and unexpected too. I went to a short play on Friday, part of Summerfest. I Tweeted about it later, because it was so fluent and seamless and terrifically written and acted. The play is Hannah's Turn, by Richard Sanger. Do go see it if you have the chance. It demands skilled actors, and we had those too..

Another outing was to hear music, this evening, a house concert of fiddle music, some Franco-Quebecois and -Ontarian, some from down East and more celtic. The fiddler was Pierre Shryer, a master fiddler; on guitar was Andy Hillhouse; Joe Phillips played a huge resonant double bass.

We were all delighted, not just by the music but by the collegial joy and engagement we shared with the musicians. As one of them said after, it's so different from playing on a main stage at a festival, where it's hard to hear yourself, and there are time pressures and other constraints. Here the musicians could work by feel, and we were all the richer for that (though the money they took home cannot be nearly what they'd get for a big event of course, so perhaps I'm only speaking metaphorically when I speak of being all the richer? It's too easy to take an artist for granted.)

A conversation with a friend at a dancing party she gave this weekend is still resonating with me. She and I talked about reflecting on things, and the fact that as we get older, it becomes more possible, a greater pleasure, and hopefully also more fruitful. She has been writing poetry, that's where her thoughts and reflections have taken her. I end up writing here, in this blog, trying to carve my thoughts out of the strands of musing in my head, and shape them onto this virtual page.

Many thanks for your patience as I bumble along!

And to finish, a suggestion for a summer soup: My CSA delivery last week included a lot of largish patty-pans (those flattish knobby yellow and gold squashes). I chopped them coarsely into a large pot, added one chopped onion and a little water, then boiled them with the lid on until they were softened, about fifteen minutes. I was surprised at how much flavour they had, once they'd been pureed in the processor to a thick smooth potage. All it needed was some mustard seed, nigella, and fennel seed heated in olive oil (with a pinch of turmeric, now my ingrained habit since working with recipes from Burma); as well as some salt, a dash of soy sauce, and a little rice vinegar, just a touch (or you could use some wine).

Torn basil leaves, pungent and intense these days, from the back garden, were a good addition on the soup with a little more olive oil (when are they NOT a good addition). I made rice, so we poured soup over the rice and voila, a taste of summer, with no sweat. Soup is such a good way of dealing with an excess of any summer squash, from patty-pans to zucchini. And then there are the soup possibilities for all those extra leafy greens. That's for another day...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I find myself in a free-er state of mind right now as well, enjoying doing things I had long-forgotten I enjoyed. My life has turned around 360 degrees since last Fall when my husband of over 30 years passed away. My children are grown with their own families, and I am living alone for the first time in my life, and as I said I am rediscovering old interests and finding new ones.
Sorry, I didn't meant to write a book here, just wanted to let you know I understand about your risk-taking.