Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Thoughts of you unending here in Waterloo


My friend, I draw my strength from my most alone moments.  In the evenings at work people come close, and I embrace them to the most of my abilities.  At night, in stillness, another group comes toward me.  I think of the great figures in their solitude, the poets - my heroes of earthly loneliness: Jesus in the Judean desert, Mohammed alone in his cave, Nietzsche writing the few hours of each day that he could bare the pain of seeing and the nausea of his illness, Cold Mountain on Cold Mountain, Li Po in love with the moon in his cup... In the middle of a blank page, a little pencil sketch of the archetype of a wanderer, flask in hand, rucksack on his back, walking with his back to me into the depth of nothing.

On days of struggle, I recite to myself this little bit of the Hagakure I picked out of a movie about samurai:
The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one's body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one's master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of the way of the samurai.
Standing open in the wind and the sleet at last Saturday's market, soaked to the bone and freezing, I pushed myself into worse areas.  One woman commented to me that I "must keep going with thoughts of a nice warm place."  I told her it was the opposite, that I always think of something far worse.  In matters of small importance, like selling black radish to Eastern Europeans or cooking line on a Wednesday night, I orient myself in the Iliad, in a plain thick with the fog of men's last breaths, dancing always with death.  There is always the frontier of the void.  Bagging kale, unable to feel my fingers, my bones biting with dull cold, I still tell people that I am doing well or even that I am great.  How are you?


Reclined, writing, the kitchen in shambles from last nights company.  Four bottles of whiskey filled with dregs.  A few thoughts after making myself a humble breakfast: a caramelized onion, mustard and hot sauce, wrapped in a steamed tortilla with a piece of salami.  

One must cook true.  I can cook a lot of things, school being the least of my qualifications: the practically-wife and I experiment endlessly in our spare time.  We both work in the restaurant cook our nights, and our days.  Friends come over and we entertain them with a little dinner.  The fare is simple, but we never cook the same things twice.  

I am in love with earthly cuisine. I mean I want to cook for your grandmother, wherever she is from.  My own repertoire has drawn from many sources.  I make ghormeh sabzi, daal chawal, red beans and rice, Irish stew, mole negro, I can cook a steak, many kinds of guts, and I have a bucket of sauerkraut on the go.  Many young cooks I have met dream of innovation.  It would be the highest ideal for them to recast the mold, to re-imagine the whole enterprise of cooking, delighting the wealthy dining class with little flutes of space textures that taste like the moon or whatever.  I tend to like them fine, and I wish them well with their pursuits.  

I cook with memories and I travel the world through cuisine.  Being poor and in debt to a number of institutions from my own negligence coupled with institutional-oppression, I hardly am allowed to travel far or wide.  For someone so broke I think its amazing I have seen as much of the world as I have, across Canada and the United States, into Central America.  Still, those opportunities are hardly regular.  I am forced to bring far away places to me, which is cheaper for sure.  

Its been my fortune to have spent so much time with the ESL crowd.  My closest friends have close ties to another country, or have left a homeland far behind to be here.  Even if people come to Canada escaping war, political crisis, or just seeking better opportunity the homeland weighs heavily on them.  The way things were back home, the way a kitchen smells, the way people greet each other or prepare things, are the palpable expressions of a place, and are tied to the memories that fundamentally comprise their being.  Asking someone from somewhere else to make you a meal, to give you a recipe for something they cook at home, often provokes a kind of spontaneous excitement in them.  It is also my hope that it gives them a real bridge between where they come from and where they are now.  


I can't find the quote, or remember the specific work I read it in, but I often think of my literary hero, Nikos Kazantzakis, responding to criticisms of the sorts of language he used in his writing.  He used the demotic Greek when it was still popular to use Hellenic Greek in all forms of writing.  The academy responded harshly to his language, and his novels were not accepted by the Greek establishment.  Describing his love for the people and the way they speak, the expressions, and the strange words they use he said something to the effect of: "I feel like Noah trying to fill his ark with animals.  I don't want the memories of the people I have met and the things I have seen to die with me."

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