Monday, July 25, 2016
Smoked Oysters and Quartz
Of course time travel happens through various means of transportation—weathered Norwegian freighters, river barges, donkeys on Santorini, mules with saddlebags full of mangos in the Pololu Valley, ten-seat planes to Key West, an Alpha Romeo convertible headed down to Big Sur, a trolley to Tijuana, the jaunty red Mont-Blanc Express.
One virtual transporting element is songs that take one back instantly to a certain January or return to school or heartbreak in tenth grade or college or at thirty. To a room looking out on a courtyard with stagnant pond, a phone call during a Canasta game, a mattress without bed frame lying on the floor, a bottle of lukewarm Green Hungarian. Other sounds—the temple bell at Tassajara at first light (between the hot springs in the bathhouse and good coffee), or fading away into nothing at the gathering in the quad the week after 9/11. The swoosh of sprinklers on long lazy summer lawns those years ago (when cakes were baked and roses cut and sheets hung out to dry on clotheslines with clean wooden clothespins). The claxon of a taco truck. Smells of resinous Aleppo pine in Mallorca ten years ago or piñon sap in the foothills above our house in Santa Fe more than fifty. The sulfurous black smoke of the snakes lit and curling, ashen, in the back patio on the Fourth of July. Tastes, importantly, like Proust's famous madeleine.
For some reason I've been remembering the smoked octopus I ate as a child. The memory sends me back now to Sombrio Drive, our lamplit living room with vigas kept dusted and lovingly polished, guests come for martinis in a glass pitcher beaded with condensation, tinkling as the glass stick and ice both played against the sides. But at the time the taste made me imagine what, and where? It sent me forwards, outwards, to a world I didn't know (Portugal, Greece), loving with my old soul the myriad associations not yet formed, the far-off places I could not really imagine but for their allowing precious and fantastic things like that, delicious smoky sea creatures that came in little silver tins with keys that wound back their tin lids, unloosing life itself for me to put on a saltine cracker.
I put stones in my mouth as well, those days, out in the garden, tasting the earth. Wanting to have it for my own. To have it part of me. The tastes of octopus and dusty quartz bound me irrevocably somehow to what they invoked, what they spoke for. I've given this urge to Marcella, the main character of my novel Reading the Stones.
“Oh, pithos,” she said aloud, longingly, wanting the entirety of the old storage jar just as badly as she’d wanted those childhood rocks—and the husky raw oats of the Sandoval horses—and the very heart of the late summer apricots, fallen and bruised outside the neighbors’ back fence; she had pounded the apricot pits open with a hammer on the brick under the clothesline to get at the secret inner kernels tasting the way almond extract smelled. The fruit itself wasn’t enough.
Other treats for my senses and awakening imagination were the dragon-like espresso machine (copper, magical, like the beast in the first act of The Magic Flute) at the Three Cities of Spain, on Canyon Road. The Pink Adobe with its Creole spices that I loved as far back as I can remember. The journeys both carried me on, far from my everyday existence (meatloaf, creamed tuna on toast, canned peas or canned green beans, those staples of the 60s).
Travels forwards, travels back. Outwards, inwards, into spellbound foreign and familiar lands.
image: Christie B. Cochrell, Gondolieri, Venezia