FutuRetro

One of the things I so love about travel and touring is getting a much more powerful sense of history; standing in and on the places where events and lives long past have happened, whether grand or insignificant, utterly changes my understanding of those people and occurrences. My first trip overseas, that Grand Tour I was so privileged to take in college with my older sister, was an awakening I never expected. I hoped the trip would be a cure for my sophomore blues, and indeed it was, beyond anything I could have planned or dreamt before, but more than that I was startled by how connected I felt to history.

The drizzly and cold autumn day when we visited Canterbury Cathedral was atmospheric enough in its way, but I remember standing on stone steps worn into a soft bowl by the thousands of footsteps that had passed over them in the centuries of its existence, looking up into a palely gold ray from a lamp, seeing the motes of dust whirling in it, and feeling that time itself was floating down around me in delicate pieces, that the spirit of every person who had ever set foot on that same smooth hollow in the stone was present there with me in that very moment. It was almost as though I could hear their voices and see the scenes of the past play out in the faint gloom around me, all overlapping and yet perfectly present. I felt my own place in the whole of the human timeline in an entirely different way than I ever expected, tinier than ever, yet surprisingly more concrete and tangible.

This was reinforced later in the same journey many times, as we passed through or visited (not necessarily in this order) England, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland and stood in the very footprints of many a person, going down the winding passages and cobbled side-streets that had seen multitudes of significant moments long since fled. As this was the first time I visited Norway, the rooting ground of my ancestors from every branch of my family tree, it is no surprise in retrospect that many of those potent realizations came to me in that place—but as usual, hindsight is ever so much clearer than was my youthful wisdom in those days. It was moving, more meaningful than I can express, to get to know the relatives in Norway with whom my family had maintained contact: my maternal grandfather’s sisters and brother-in-law, nieces and nephew. These were days before cheap telephonic long distance, let alone email and internet communiqués, so we had only briefly even met most of these people when they visited America once in my younger years, yet they not only took us in as visitors, Tante Anna and Onkel Alf kept my sister and me with them for a full month and took us to see the family’s two longtime farms, the graves where many of our ancestors were sleeping underfoot. This was incredibly touching, a genealogical history lesson, but the more so because it was taught by the eldest of our remaining family there.

What moved me the most, in fact, was when on arriving in Oslo at our mother’s cousin’s home before we even came down south to be with his parents, we explored the great city a little on our own during the days, while he was at work and his wife and children off having their own day of adventures. It was all so humbling and so magical to feel for the first time that I understood a tiny bit more of my own family lineage and how our people fit into the larger world. We did visit many of the obligatory and famous tourist sites, knowing that there was no direct link to our ancestors, only cultural ones. So I was quite stunned when we visited the Viking Ship Museum and, standing before these ancient vessels, I was absolutely electrified with a sense of shared history coursing through my veins. My forebears were undoubtedly humble subsistence farmers, not the bold and violent and adventurous Viking strain we know through film and television, never mind through the great Sagas—but I felt for the first time something connecting me to those long-gone people all the same.
Photo: Enter the Time Machine

By now I have traveled a fair amount more. I have been on this planet more than twice as long, and I think I might even be a little bit wiser through my experiences in that life than I was back then. But I approach every narrow stone passageway, every weathered door, every window with its rippling antique panes presenting everything that’s beyond them like a warped post-impressionist fiction of itself, I expect to learn something not only about what is there in front of me and around me, but what is inside me. And I know that I will learn something, too, about how I fit into that larger, and ever so mysterious, world if I am wise and patient and alert enough to notice it. So much has gone by. So much remains ahead, yet unknown.

Foodie Tuesday: After-Math

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Just for starters…don’t forget that previous meals’ leftovers can be reconstructed into the appetizers for the next meal, like what happened with the remaining bone broth ingredients that lived on after soup-making and made such a nice beef pate for Thanksgiving.

A signature of holiday cooking and eating is, logically, a host of holiday leftovers. After all, we tend to cook and eat more of everything in the first place, when holidays happen, so there’s bound to be more food around, and since most of us do fix more of our favorites on and for celebratory occasions, we’re a bit more likely to want to be careful not to waste them. Holiday leftovers are tastier than everyday ones, aren’t they.

So it is that remnants of glorious sweets will continue to lure us into the ever-so-aptly named larder and the refrigerator will, after Thanksgiving, still have some turkey lurking in it too. While a great turkey sandwich is far from restricted seasonally, the grand whole bird in its pure roasted form is less commonly perched on dinner tables outside of the Big Day, making it anything but boring to have the leftover turkey and its trimmings served without tremendous alteration at least once or twice after the party has passed.

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Red relishes are such a nice touch on holidays that when a friend said she was bringing whole cranberry sauce, I decided to add the jellied kind *and* some home-pickled beets for the trifecta.

This year, Thanksgiving at our house was both traditional and extended. Ten of us sat around the table: our musical friends from Germany (why did I write Austria, then?), Hungary, Canada, Puerto Rico, Estonia and the Netherlands as well as the US gathered with our plates of roasted turkey and a fair assortment of other treats and sweets, and though we had our feast the day before most others’, the ingredients of food, drink, and conviviality were the same, and the leftovers equally profuse. My prepped appetizers, turkey, mashed potatoes, wine/stock gravy, creamed sausage, and buttermilk cornbread (the latter two, parts of the planned southern cornbread dressing, remained separate at my husband’s request) were joined by dishes the others brought–Greek salad, squash puree, homemade whole cranberry sauce, and carrot cake and handmade Hungarian biscuits for dessert. My own dessert offerings were the apple pie and Tarte au Sucre.

The Tarte was not only a good excuse for ingesting vast quantities of fabulous dark maple syrup but, as I discovered, when it’s accompanied by salty roasted pecans it becomes a perfect inversion or deconstruction of pecan pie, another very traditional Thanksgiving treat in many homes. I made my Tarte with a crumb crust of mixed pecans and walnuts, so it was perhaps already a variation on a nut pie before the garnishing pecans even arrived on the scene. In any event, it pleased my maple-fiendish heart.

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Lightly spicy sausage in cream makes a good alternative to gravy for the turkey and potatoes, if you don’t end up putting the sausage into the cornbread dressing as you’d thought you were going to do…

The idea of creating a meal of any sort, let alone a holiday meal, for a group of ten people and coming out with everyone perfectly sated but without a jot of leftovers is, of course, more mythical than mathematical. It’s in fact ludicrously unlikely to happen, even if the ten are all people one knows intimately and whose preferences and appetites never vary–also, to be fair, a virtual impossibility–so the question of how to manage the leftovers with the best grace remains. In our house, that problem is never terribly difficult. First visitation of this year’s re-Thanksgiving was a smaller and simpler version of the original, turkey and mashed potatoes, cornbread and cranberry sauce, with a side of buttered green beans and bacon. Meanwhile, I’d already started a slow cooker full of vegetables and giblets while the turkey was roasting, and added the bones and bits afterward, so there will surely be turkey-noodle soup soon to follow.

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Thanksgiving, Round 2–and only the second of many, perhaps.

What comes after? Probably a little turkey curry or a sandwich or two, but not much more, because having grad students and young, single faculty members at table on the holiday also meant that it was rather important to see that they left with some leftovers of their own to carry them forward. Leftovers, truth be told, are really just a new beginning in their own way. Hospitality, you know, isn’t a solo; it requires participation. One person doing it all, no matter how perfectly, is not a party but a lonely and self-centered business and misses the point of the whole thing.

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Ah, do not let the focus on the main meal eclipse all of the good that can follow: a mere creamy turkey soup is a heartwarming way to honor the memory of the great meal that started it all.

Let others partake, help, contribute. And yes, do give to them: share the feast, both in the party’s environs and in the sharing of all that surpasses what was needed for the moment. And share, first and foremost, your time and attention, your companionship and humor and warmth and love. Then there should be plenty of those for leftovers, too, or all the turkey and potatoes in the world will not be enough. Much better, more filling and fulfilling, to be so hospitable that it spills over everywhere.

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The only thing better than a delicious dessert is just a little too much of it.

Messengers

I admire real journalists and documentarians. Now, I do think that they are a very rare breed among news-people, the rest of whom are too driven by their corporate sponsors’ and their own biases by a long shot, no matter where on the spectrum of politics, religion, personal philosophy or other conviction they fall, but there are those honest characters who, if they do consistently let their beliefs steer their messages, at least recognize those prejudices and are quite open about them and still manage to give air time to opposing or differing points of view.

Still, the ones I really find compelling are a different sort of message bearers. They are harder to recognize, because they can be quite ordinary seeming mortals or wholly incorporeal, quotidian or fantastical, intentional or entirely, serendipitously accidental in their delivery of important news in our lives. Are they strangers we meet by happenstance and happy crossing of paths, like the townspeople in Germany who saw my older sister and me debarking a train after dark and looking around to orient ourselves? The kind couple approached us, told us that Celle (however lovely) was a very small town indeed and that there were few places for visitors to stop overnight but they’d help us find one, gave us directions and set us on the path to a very cozy little bed and breakfast before disappearing into the dark like a mist.

Are the messengers those outstanding teachers who have acted not only as educators in our lives but also as inspiration, as mentors, counselors, guides and friends? Mrs. Willis, Mr. Cunningham, Prof. Keyes: I salute you! Teachers have done as much to bring light to my life as to the dim corners of my mind over the years, and I am grateful for the news and stories and messages they bring. Are there other beings among us able to protect and direct us without our even being aware of it? Of course there are. Some of them are simply gracious fellow humans whose good deeds and kindness will never be seen or fully known and recognized in our lifetimes, either because we are too dim-witted and self-involved to notice as we should or because they merely do their mitzvahs without fanfare, without expecting or needing any recognition and recompense. These we should imitate and their message should be spread further by our going out in turn to do kindnesses for others and requiring no attention or glory.

And I think that–given how beautiful and rich life can be when we do pay attention–there must be others in our midst too; angels or aliens, I don’t much care what we name them, but there must be Love looking out for us to make even the tiniest good possible, let alone the many graces that fill our days if we only look. Their message, I suspect, is nothing more or less than that we are being well looked after, and our little lives recorded no matter how small they may seem to us.pen and ink

You Phony, I Thought You Said You Understood Euphony

digital artwork from a photographAfter Oktoberfest, Paying the Piper

There was a player of the horn who made it so euphonious

That every creature ever born was drawn to hear him play,

Until one sad, hung-over morn, its noise was deemed felonious

And all his beer-braised friends, forlorn, plugged ears and ran away.

The sweet euphonium was heard no more in that green-wooded land–

The deer and nightingale ne’er stirred, and Prost! rang out no more–

His fellow players, quite deterred, closed up their merry oompah band

Like some cage-covered myna bird, and silent, hid full sore.

What have we learned from this sad tale, so stricken, deleterious

And dark as Death’s bleak lowest vale, wherein musick’s so frowned

Upon the hornist sought a gale of storm and rain delirious

And in the deluge, shaking, pale, turn up his horn and drowned?

The moral, though you might just miss it, e’er so hard ye strive to think:

‘Tis sadder to have died like this than surfeited of hoppy drink.

So, prithee, play all on your trumpets, flutes, euphoniums–be not shy–

But keep them quiet, knaves and strumpets, post-drink mornings, lest ye die.digital artwork from a photograph

Clarity (Klart Blikk)

photoLet me make one thing crystal clear: all of my world is seen through my filters, colored by my way of thinking, its perspective all my point of view. And that’s not either strange or bad. It’s how we all operate. It’s just important that I always remember that simple reality.digital image from a photo

I finally had time to sit down today and go through a backlog of seemingly gargantuan proportions in my email inbox. Among the items that were most enjoyable to unearth, there was a note from my sister carrying a link to another blogger’s post about her son’s (our nephew’s) band Honningbarna’s first gig in Dublin, with the requisite embedded YouTube clips of their performance there–which, in turn, linked to other Honningbarna clips, including a couple of very informal interviews between a young journalist in Germany, if I recall, and nephew Christoffer and his bandmate Edvard Valberg, the band’s cellist and frontman. Besides that I get a kick out of seeing our relative as a successful rocker and hearing the band’s wildly kinetic and screamingly energetic punk/metal performances, I am reminded every time I see and hear them that Honningbarna represents a particular brand of cynical idealism that only the irrepressible and wiseacre young can so ably embody.digital image from a photo

Like many a punk band before them, they sing/shout about the wrongs and stupidity and injustice in the world, calling attention to it all and making us want to clarify, if just a little, our own view or stance on such things. One of their biggest hits, to date, is in fact a number called ‘Klart Blikk‘–it translates, approximately, to ‘Clear View’–a call to stop being passive about the world’s imperfections, to get up and ask bold questions, to act. The link on the song title right here is, wonderfully, a Norwegian 5th-graders’ video workshop animation of the song, a perfect (and artfully executed) answer to this very call to intelligent response. And I think it a wonderful, if laughable, serendipity that my computer’s auto-correct recommendation today for ‘properly’ spelling Honningbarna is ‘Housecleaning‘.

Update: blogger/reviewer Andy Barnes has just posted an additional critique of Honningbarna and the band’s debut album, the source of ‘Klart Blikk’.photo

There’s obviously no single thing that can always serve to make any situation clear, let alone ‘cure’ it. Collecting all the facts and information and evidence and being fully honest with them can help, but sometimes perfectly diligent research and full disclosure do not constitute reformation or restitution. We’re all human. And only human. We stay muddled.photo

And some things really are a matter of opinion. The glass is half full; the glass is half empty. I like things the way they are, or I don’t.digital image from a photoNow, occasionally, providing a sharp contrast to the point under debate is just the nudge needed to push our minds toward a firmer understanding or acceptance of the longed-for truth. Sometimes, the discovery of new evidence can shed brighter light and move us to choose and accept a more accurate reality. It’s even possible, from time to time, to elucidate and pinpoint the ‘right’ merely by simplifying–by paring away all that isn’t, bit by bit, with thoughtful and insightful explication.photo

None of that, still, stops us from being opinionated, stubborn, sometimes truly stupid, and occasionally outright determinedly wrong. It’s where we derive a lot of our mortal variety, our strange human brand of exoticism, our color, if you will. It’s okay to be ridiculous and bull-headed, even when the Truth is staring us right in the face and can’t be ignored, because it’s really part of who and what we are.photo

No matter what a charming song it makes, everything does not necessarily look ‘worse in black and white‘–and light and clarity are certainly discernible, even brilliant, when we stop being so saturated with peripheral influences like our feelings and hopes and desires. But there’s so much sheer wonder in our colorful world, I say, Why not revel in it, even if it sometimes distracts us from the seriousness at hand. After all, that will always be with us and will push its way forward again eventually, even if it takes a bunch of young Punks yelling at us to get us to pay attention.digital image from a photo