Sunday, August 19, 2012


It’s early Sunday evening, beautiful outside, with patches of blue sky left from a perfect day, and drifts of grey cloud that let the occasional spatter of rain fall. Perhaps it was a change in air pressure as the clouds arrived, or possibly it's the novel I’ve been reading, but about an hour ago I started to feel an unaccountable anxiety. It grew and grew, until I was moved to say something about it to T.

Always wise, he told me I should go out on my bike, up a steep hill or something... 

[A digression about bicycling: I had my rear tire replaced two days ago. The guy at Urbane Cycle told me my tires had been under-inflated. He pumped them to 80 psi. What a difference! The ride now is really bumpy but a lot faster and less effortful, a totally transformed experience. And it’s a lot more exciting, especially in traffic, because I can be quicker and more flexible in tight situtations.]

So now I’m just back from that short intense excursion. The light across the open grass of U of T’s King’s College Circle was like a dream, focussed by the clouds, and lighting stone buildings against the dark sky. I whizzed around the circle a couple of times (whizz is a relative term on a mountain bike, but still, speedy travel for me on my newly pumped tires) and then headed out on an extended loop of roads. There was little traffic, so I could go for the lights and not worry about much else. 

What a great curative drug adrenaline can be! I feel cleaned out and clear-headed.

I do think the anxious feeling was partly caused by the novel I’ve been reading for the last couple of days: Haruki Marukami’s riveting, un-put-downable 1Q84. I’m now well into the second volume. Sometimes I can hardly breathe from the tension. Sometimes I have to put the book down and do something else for awhile, until I’ve caught my breath.

How does he do it? The story-telling is concise, but there’s also lots of precise detail, sometimes externals, sometimes details of thoughts and reactions of characters, seen from inside their heads.

The story is fantastical and yet somehow pure and true and completely engaging. Though it’s three volumes long, I know by the end I’ll regret that 1Q84 isn’t longer. I’m already regretting the coming end in advance, as one does with a wonderful read.

This is not the first writing Marukami has done about cults, people trapped in their circumstances, men and women, usually young, pushed by their special character to take action, to break out of the narrow and the expected. But in this book almost every character is exceptional by birth and by attributes, larger than life in some way. The story unfolds in episodes. It’s like watching a play in very slow motion or an entrancing ritual dance. I think I know where he’s going, but I can’t stop reading.

Now it’s time to temper the dal I’ve cooked and to make rice, and generally take hold of ordinary things for awhile. That way perhaps I’ll build stamina for the next round of Marukami-induced tension!

AND A FOOD NOTE OR TWO: I was given some arborio rice to try last week by Maria. Last night, cooking at a friend's place, with no broth on hand and wanting to make a risotto, I parboiled some pea tendrils as a vegetable (to go under some grilled sliced Berkshire pork from Grey County, delish), and used the cooking liquid as my broth. Before that though, I cooked some garlic and onion and some of those "King Oyster" (can we not come up with a better name?) mushrooms, sliced, in olive oil, then set them aside while I started the rice in oil. Once I'd added about half the broth, in batches, I added the cooked mushrooms etc back into the rice, along with a little chopped tomato. Once done the risotto, free of cheese and butter, and loaded with flavour, was delicious. And the arborio held up beautifully.  

All this just confirms Nancy Harmon Jenkins' instruction to me, long ago, when I was working on Seductions of Rice and asking her about risotto: "Don't worry, just use your judgement." It's very like bread that way. So if you've had risotto anxieties in the past, let them go.

Ah, here I am back mentioning anxiety. How circular!

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