Saturday, June 21, 2014

bangladeshi stir-fry / intercultural gardening

Any ideas as to what this is? The stalks are two feet in length. R ate a leaf raw and said it tastes like grass.
The woman in the sari from the neighbouring garden plot insisted on giving me some. She couldn't tell me what it was. She said to cook it in "ulive oil" with "ninion" and "garlic". I am not making fun of her accent. I'm thinking her pronunciation might give me a clue as to what the leaves are.
I have red leaf lettuce ready to eat in my garden and offered her some. She shook her head.
I had one hot pepper almost 6" long which I picked and gave her. She smiled but looked pained. "Too..." She held up her arm and circled it with her fingers. "Like this."
The peppers are supposed to get fat as her arm before I pick them??? I didn't know.
"This..." She showed me my pepper. "Not tasty."
I'll bet it's probably as hot as I can tolerate.
So one learns.

P.S. I have since cooked the leaves. They have an interesting texture unlike spinach or sorrel. Rather than wilting as soon as they're in the oil, they get sort of crispy. Thank you to Louise Voyer who identified them as amaranth greens--aka callaloo and many other names throughout the world.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

gaspésie, june 2014

As the days grow longer, I want to go to the sea where I can walk on the beach and see my shadow stretched full-length and then some. 

Here we are six hours northeast out of Montreal, having lunch in Sainte-Flavie. R is not shorter than I am. He's slouched after six hours at the wheel.

The St. Lawrence is still narrow enough here that you can see the shoreline on the other side.
By the time we get to the house (another three hours in the car), the shoreline on the other side no longer exists—or not that we can see it which amounts to the same thing, depending on how philosophical you are about horizons.

These hills are the tail end of the Appalachians, which in this part of the world are called the Chic Chocs. The name comes from the Mi'kmaq "sigsog".

This is the landscape I come for: big hills, big water.

We find the house intact, for which I’m always grateful. It’s left to fend for itself for months at a time. The winter was long here, with a greater than average accumulation of snow. Our neighbour tells us there was snow in the woods as recently as three weeks ago. The dandelions have only just started blooming—in mid-June—making up for their lateness by growing over a foot high. 

Here, we're walking down the cliff across the road from our house. It's low tide.
We go for lots of walks on the beach. Every cove or bay has a different composition of sand, shale, granite, blue mussel shells, white clam shells, no shells at all.

R found a Frida Kahlo driftwood ring he says he'll sand and paint and wear the next time we have a fancy occasion--someone's book launch or a birthday. He will have to wear it because it won't fit anyone's finger but his.

We take pics of rocks, fluorescent algae in low-tide pools, gulls that pose for us, stuff that’s washed ashore.

I think this is a piece of seaweed colonized by mollusks. At first glance I thought it was a pair of ladies’ evening gloves. With too many fingers.   

There's even a bottle with a message!

I manage to scoop the curled, damp piece of paper from the bottle, but it's only a receipt for entrance—to where? unidentified—dated Dec 2013. Too recent to be an artefact. The bottle gets relegated to the category of litter.

Until I was about 40, I’d never heard the word “lichen” said out loud. I thought it was pronounced to rhyme with “kitchen”. Then I got to know some poets and they use the word fairly often. I gather the concept of lichen is weighty with metaphorical significance. They pronounce it with a hard k—a homonym for the verb “liken” (which might be an insider’s joke, you never know with poets)—so that’s how I say it too now.

Here’s the closest village--that blocky squiggle at the base of the hills--which is about a 90-min walk along the beach from our house.  There is no store, no bank, no... name the convenience you can imagine most needing. There is a public telephone which is useful for us as we don’t have a phone at the house.

I asked R to take a picture of me on a boulder but then I had to find one I could manage to clamber onto.

In Mont-Louis we stop at Café L’Arramé, which used to be a hangar or barn, now painted purple and refurbished as an organic café. I take a picture for my collection of interesting bathroom photos.

Yup, that's a functioning sink.

Work on our house is ongoing. The second floor has been gutted and is under construction. Here, just out of the frame, R is sawing ends of floor boards to try to widen the opening so he can get sheets of drywall up that darling, narrow stairway. The house was built at a time when people were shorter, slept in smaller beds, had smaller feet. I wear a size 7 shoe and I have to take the steps at an angle.

R makes a small fire and has a nap while I work on a story.

We go for a walk in the woods.

We poke through memorabilia left in the old shed. There used to be fishing equipment we couldn’t identify. Also carpentry and gardening tools—indestructible, sumo-wrestler versions of tools now made with lighter metals and battery-operated. R kept whatever we might one day use, including the nails that are still nails, even decades old in decades-old containers. Magic Baking Powder from the 1950s!

We sit on the verandah and watch the sunset and I take way too many pictures, though I know my cheap camera will never get the effect. But when I'm back in the city, the pictures will help remind me. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

heron as tree

Glassy grey-green water. Soon it will rain. The heron on the rock has to stand extra-still to convince the fish he's a tree and his long stabbing beak is a branch. He's thinking, Come out, come out, swim by this rock here, there's no danger, just me, a do-nothing tree. If you watch a heron at this act close-up (ie with a zoom on a camera or binoculars), you'll see that now and then the bird even sways a little like a sapling in a breeze.

There is no breeze. The grey-green river is waiting for the rain to start. I'm hoping to get a cycle in before it starts. I know I won't melt in the rain, but until I get windshield wipers on my glasses, I don't like cycling in the rain.

Here's a pic from last Sunday's cycle. No herons on rocks along this stretch because it's the beginning of the rapids. On the horizon, past the islands of trees, lie Mont St Bruno and Mont St Hilaire.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

in the backseat of a car

I'm not about to unveil sexual memories. I have none that are framed by the confines of a car. There was always a bed or a sofa available. Or maybe I was always such a princess-aggravated-by-a-pea that I wasn't tempted unless the space was acceptably roomy. I've had people tell me about sex in cars and I've wondered why knees wedged between seats and door handles was in any way exciting.

My memories of the backseats of cars have to do with childhood. I began thinking about backseats when a friend told me about her son, a single child, ensconced in the backseat of a car with his cousins who began arguing. The effect was such that the next day, when another excursion was planned, the boy cried that he didn't want to go in the car. I don't blame him.

The backseat of a car is an arena for sibling torture--physical, emotional, psychological, perhaps even spiritual. The parents face ahead with their eyes on the road, pretending there's a wall between their kingdom and the peanut gallery behind them. They blank out squabbling and appeals for help, and can even ignore kicks through the upholstery.

The same amount of tension and drama at the table during a meal or in front of the TV in the living room would not be acceptable. For some reason, the rules for the back seat of the car are more lax. Every child with a sibling knows this. The bully becomes more of a bully. The weaker child milks pathos for all it's worth.

A couple of years ago I was in the backseat of a van with two boys, with the other adults and children in the seats ahead. The two boys (both whom I love, I should add) wouldn't stop jabbing and pinching each other. When the elder didn't pick on the younger, the younger needled him with a taunt. It was as vicious as it was childish as it was ongoing as it was stupid as it was cruel. I told them to stop but they knew I wasn't the adult who could punish them. I finally called ahead to the parents in the front seat. Oh yeah, I was the snitch. I'm still not sure if the boys have forgiven me, but gee, they were pushing buttons that had thick, deep-grown roots. I was one among four children. I knew all about backseat torture.

There were a few cars in my childhood. They were secondhand vehicles that my father refurbished, sanded, painted. The first one I remember really well was a Wolseley. I have a picture but it's too faded to scan, so here's a random Wolseley I found on the internet.

Ours was black. The backseat was as roomy as a sofa. I knew it well because I slept there when we did our weekend trips to the cabin. (My parents were European who, like many Europeans who come to Canada, have a fantasy about the Great Canadian North.) I did not like staying in the cabin, which was a single room with a table where we ate, my parents' bed, the sofa, the wood stove. At night, foam mattresses were pulled out for the children to sleep on the floor. I chose the Wolseley. I could read there. I could sleep there. I had no desire or skill at climbing trees or catching bloodsuckers as my siblings did.

When the Wolseley was replaced by a VW bug, which was too cramped for sleeping, I graduated to a tent, but since I didn't take it down between weekends, it got infested with trapped grasshoppers and sometimes snakes.

Four children in the backseat of a VW bug, travelling from the house where they lived to the cabin where they spent the weekend, was a trial--to be relived at the beginning and end of every weekend. This was before the days of booster seats and seat belts. If there had been such contraptions, our backseat scenario would have been illegal. Since I was the eldest, depending on what was packed in the car, I could sit in the compartment behind the back seat. Do you know what I mean? It was just large enough for two suitcases set upright. I had to sit with my legs drawn up--but I preferred it to being jostled, elbows and skinny bums with my siblings.

I mean, can you see us all in the backseat of a small car?