Monday, September 21, 2015


 He took me to a place under brilliant blue skies, surrounded by deep blue waters. We spent mornings wandering the streets of old villages under a blazing sun, burning stone streets, burnished stone reflecting centuries of unchanging traditions. We picked our way through meandering back streets, barren of life, admiring tumbles of earthenware, terra cotta crudely shaped, rough, matte terra cotta spilling from small shops with no one in sight. Chicken wire stretched across frames on every back and front porch displayed rows of tomatoes and grapes drying in the sun, broiling, withering, baking. 

 Afternoons, we would amble to the seaside, sit on the warm rocks that jutted out into the blue, sapphire and turquoise and azure blue that stretched forever. My toes would skim the chilly blue, neither the daring nor the desire to bathe as he did. Burning passion. His eyes so blue burned into mine.

 Dinners would find us at noisy family-style bistros, the sun still high, small tables lined up elbow to elbow under a colorful canopy where we would order brochettes of lamb drizzled with yogurt or fish from the sea broiled or grilled.

 He feeds me when I’m blue. Tiny sardines no longer than his hand, bright, lustrous blue, shimmering. He would slice a thin blade up each sardine and clean them one by one. Onions, garlic, parsley, spices redolent of North Africa, breadcrumbs if he feels like it. And he stuffs this mixture inside each blue sardine until bursting (but not quite). Then he weaves each blue sardine onto a brochette to hold it together. Broil. Until blistered and bubbling. Two on a plate. Bliss. Blessed.

 Black. San Lorenzo, la notte delle stelle filanti, the night of the shooting stars. We lived in the city where buildings and city lights allowed no night sky to filter through, no brilliance of stars, the starlight lost in the muted, muddy black of the night, in the bright city lights. But the Night of San Lorenzo, the Night of the Shooting Stars, we embarked on an adventure, bundling babies and parents into the car and winding up the mountainside, climbing away and above the city. We first stopped for dinner at an ancient convent which had become a restaurant. Rows of tables were lined up in the open courtyard in the center of the convent. A giant wood-burning barbecue grill held pride of place in the middle. Flames shooting skyward. Women scurried between the tables hefting bulky trays brimming with platters of grilled meats, bowls of creamy herbed polenta, salvers of French fries. And we dined until bursting.

 Back in the car, we climbed higher and higher until we couldn’t go any higher, and we pulled over onto the shoulder of the road, the edge dropping away into black nothingness. We got out of the car and looked up, heavenward, into the inky blackness. Black dotted, speckled with stars, white on black. There, look! Guarda! One would point up. And we would see a sudden movement, a streak, a smear, a blur of white against black and in a flash it would be gone. There, look! Another one! And there! Excited voices yet hushed as if any noise we made would stop the magic, chase away those stars like angels scattering. We stood breathless, watching, in awe, a touch of bewilderment, the shooting stars. Black speckled with white as far as we could see, a black so deep, so profound, so thick. Sprinkled with a mosaic of white.

 Foraging blackberries along the dirt paths that edged the village where his parents lived. A tangle, a snarl of blackberry bushes perched above the verge. Tiny berries black yet not, a bluish black the color of wine, nestled rather defiantly (boisterous) among the thorny (brutish) barren branches, beckoning. We would grab at them hungrily yet learning to bridle our enthusiasm and greed with the first bite of barb. A bit of blood. Then reaching in cautiously to pluck each berry and dropping them into our basket.

 We picked those blackberries eagerly imagining the pies that we would bake. But behold, these blackberries were hard, tiny things, all bumps and hardness that stuck in the teeth. We would pop a few in our mouths, bite and suck out the bit of flavorful juice but that was all these berries were worth. Bamboozled. Betrayed by beauty.

 Years later, a beautiful, breezy summer day, a country walk through fields and what do we spy but blackberries! Not hard little things but plump beauties, juicy and tender blackberries glistening like black baubles among the lush greenery. Lips, fingers stained black. A dusting of powdered sugar, white on black, like snow on charcoal.

 Standing in the kitchen on a blustery day. Staring out the window as the rain slithers down the pane and the world is a blur. A film of gloom, a mist clings to the glass as my eyes strain to catch movement, color outside, to little avail. Everything is a blur. Rain. People scurry by down in the street below and I see them swimming by, streaks of color wash across the sidewalk, the tram a smear of silver.

 A misty morning, the fog covers the countryside, damp clings to my skin, my hair, the ground, my shoes squelch, I am swallowed up by a fog that swallows up buildings, humans, the little I can see into a shroud, a blur of white. Ghosts dance on the horizon, trees, their bare branches stretched heavenwards like arms held high, swaying in the wind, movement, phantoms in the gray obscurity. Headlights poke through the fog suddenly and flash past, blindingly bright for a mere second, with barely a whisper, sounds muffled in the cotton clouds. Everything else is a blur.

 Or maybe it is just tears that blur the world around me. Soft and indistinct. Tears of pain, tears of laughter, the world is a blur, oblivious.

 I lift the lid of the pot and a geyser of steam assails me, blast, blitz. Eyeglasses fog and the world is a blur. I stare down into the pot bubble bubble and can’t for the life of me see what is down there behind the veil of vapor, the haze, and I wait for it to clear. I pull open the oven door and am enveloped in brume. I blink, trying to clear my vision but it is all a blur. Bedazzled. Squinting at labels, directions printed on packages, lists of ingredients, and it is all a blur. When oh when did this happen?

 Old eyes, blurred photos. Old black and white snapshots edged in white are faded with time yet captured a family in blurry shades of gray a lifetime ago. Someone held the camera with a shaky hand, excited by the moment; children squiggle and squirm and just won’t stand still so out of focus, forever a blur. Or maybe it is my old eyes squinting, searching for detail in the vagueness, voices in the silence. The past is all a blur.

 Life passes in a blur, a lifetime of meals cooked and eaten, remembered or forgotten. Life passes in a blur, one day you are young, eating peanut butter sandwiches in the front yard with your kid brother, the next you are preparing peanut butter sandwiches for your sons. One day your sons are cooking for you, blanquette de veau and boudin blanc and moules frites and they are all grown up. And I watch them, men now, cooking together for us and suddenly they are a blur….

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  1. Oh what a joy to see you back and watch and read again your mesmerising stories!

  2. You weave a trance with your words and I ascended into the blackberries Bushes. Only to be jolted by my pressure cooker whistle.

  3. Really looking forward to following this 'alphabet' series! As always, the words and photos weave a magical spell.