Monday, March 26, 2012


Late again with an update. My apologies. Blame it on spring, the equinox, nu-roz (Persian new year; I made sabzi pulao for friends, and lots of green veg, as well as grilled chicken and grilled pork), a lot to get done... Anyway, here I am at last. This last week was my aunt Pen's 90th birthday (March 22); she has dementia, so any love or wishes are kind of without weight for her. Still even those with dementia can surely feel the warmth in the air, the singing of the birds, the feeling of optimism in the air....

Now we're back in some cold weather, crisp and bracing. It's just enough to make us grateful for the warmth that's promised in the next few days. In the back yard the earth got warmed last week, the rye I'd planted as a cover crop, and the clover, are both flourishingly green. So is the flat-leafed parsley that made it through the winter, and the garlic chives, already thrusting up their flat blades.

I had some of the chives, and the parsley, as well as some young dandelion, chopped into the pan a couple of days ago, flavouring some olive oil . The occasion was the visit of Lillian from Grey County. Just before leaving she'd checked her mushroom logs and, astonishingly, there was an early flush of shiitakes. This is a full month earlier than ever before. So she brought some down, moist and full of promise in a brown paper bag. I chopped them coarsely, tossed them in on top of the greens, and then once they'd softened and given off a little moisture, in went four whisked fresh orange-yolked large eggs from a farmer not far away. What a feast. We ate slowly, contemplatively, looking at the promising dark soil in the back yard and getting caught up on each other's news and thoughts and imaginings.

Now I feel that spring really has arrived.

On Saturday afternoon the biting cold wind was a good excuse to head into the warmth and watch a movie, not just any movie, but the brilliant Wim Wenders doc PINA. It’s in 3-D, and if you haven’t seen it, well, keep an eye open and grab a chance when you get it. The film is about the dance of Pina Bausch, a legendary choreographer and dancer, who died just before the film was made, and about the dancers in her company. I’ve now seen it twice (the first time was in January) and would happily go again. Thrilling is the best word for it.

Now the week has started; I should be doing taxes, but have been preparing my talk for the IACP (Int Assoc of Culinary Professionals), where I am giving two small sessions on food and travel. Should be fun. It’s always interesting to hear where people are coming from, what their questions and issues are. My job is to talk, but also to listen; I guess that’s a pretty obvious thing to say, but still very true and important to remember.

My kid Dom says people don’t remember much from talks (or lectures, he says, and he’s doing a PhD, so has some ground for knowing). He says the important thing is to have a basic message or theme that you can keep coming back to…the stories and examples are then embroideries and illustrations, all supporting the basic message. hmm I had thought to show slides (old language for images via power point). There may not be the necessary equipment, and in one way I’d be happy with no images. They can be a distraction when we’re there to talk about ideas.

On the other hand, I love to give people fresh windows for imagining the world, and photographs of daily life in other places are a great way to do that.

It’s in the lap of the gods, the image question. I’m ready for either scenario.

And I’m looking forward to seeing people I haven’t had time with for a long time, all of them coming to NYC for the conference itself and also to take advantage of the gathering of food people from all over.

And on the subject of food, I’ve just finished Empires of Food, by Fraser and Rimaz (published by Counterpoint Press in 2010). It takes a line through history that focusses on the food limits that various empires and societies have hit, and that we are heading for in our turn. The cycle is roughly that a food innovation leads to higher production, population growth etc, but eventually the society hits a ceiling, and then things fall apart or crumble. The first example is Mesopotamia, and it moves forward from there, often gracefully and in interesting ways. But it’s not a dreary march through bad news, it’s somehow fresh and undoctrinaire. Highly recommended.

It’s useful grist for my mill, that these days needs to be grinding through food history (with help also from Charles Mann’s 1493 and other books, and from blogs such as Rachel Laudan’s) to produce six two hour classes in May-June. I’m teaching a course called Foods that Changed the World at the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto. Here's the link. I’ve heard that the students at these courses are an interesting and varied group, so I’m looking forward to it all. I’m hoping to be able to do some tastings with the class. If you know anyone who might be interested, do let them know about the course.

Meantime the BURMA book gets closer and closer. There's a blad that's been designed, (stands for book layout and design, a kind of booklet that gives a feel for the look and content of the book) and the book itself will soon be in second galleys, hurrah! I'll have them sometime next week probably, to correct, and also to annotate with, for example, captions for the photos. And then before the end of April it wings off to the printer.

This project may be close to done, but of course life in Burma continues to unfold in all its complexity. The by-elections are taking place this coming Sunday, April 1, and after that presumably Aung San Suu Kyi will have a seat in parliament. I feel so committed to the place, after these three years of work and paying close attention. It's been extreme immersion, and I am reluctant to step out of it, want to continue my engagement with Burma and the geopolitics as well as the food and culture.

Now we all hope that recent progress continues in establishing real rights and freedoms for the people of Burma and negotiating real settlements with the Karen and Kachin and Mon and Chin and Wa and Shan, etc. It needs to happen. There needs to be a new Panglong-type agreement, to make real and strong the idea that Aung San Suu Kyi's father worked toward and achieved just before his death, of a consensual federation of Burma. Fifty years ago that ideal fell with the coup, in March 1962. Let's hope this really is a new era.

FIngers crossed. And happy spring everyone...

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