Eating like in the 80s

It was great William Faulkner, who probably would have been very unhappy about the fact that his saying “ The past is not dead. It’s not even the past now, is ubiquitous quoted everywhere. But especially for Ireland it is inevitably true and this dear reader, I do not only say this out of the midst of a very small village, where the clocks tend to tick slower as elsewhere but with a very good reason. The Irish eat as if the 1970s and 1980s were still alive and in fact here they are. When you ever crave for a chicken Kiev, please book your next flight immediately, every pub on the country roads will serve this dish containing  garlic for a lifetime with proud as well as you will find it served with piles of mashed potatoes even at Fallon and Byrne. And of course Chicken Kiev was the first dish introduced in Great Britain as a ready meal by Marks and Spencer and I swear to you, if you queue at Tesco or Supervalu you will see it in every second basket or if you make your way to my village, at the still existing grocer’s store you can have a try. And of course, dear reader you know your Faulkner much better than I did, when I came to Ireland, inviting neighbors and colleagues for a get together in my house, serving Risotto with mushrooms, a green salad containing dried tomatoes, naan- bread with hummus and lemon trifle, wondering more and more while everybody drank but nobody ate anything or even dared to try a bit of this or that. But then one of the gusts invited asked me shyly and not without blushing, if I did not have any Scotch eggs or cheese crackers? Scotch eggs, echoed I, wondering what this might be. And my vis- à vis gave me up as a totally hopeless case without any culinary understanding. In the village I live in, I am known since then as the women- who does- not- eat- pork- but- gave- us-salad- to-starve. Humm, you know what Scotch Eggs are, did I ask the grocer’s wife on the next morning, who knows everyone and everything and after a long minute of shocked silence, she told me the secret of eggs being wrapped in a sausage, coated in bread crumbs and baked. Oh dear, she said looking at me as I would be standing orphaned and alone in the world. But you dear reader, who secretly dreams of potatoes with baked- beans, waffles with bacon, sandwiches filled with tuna and corn or chicken, ham and egg- mayonnaise, grilled cheese toast and mushy peas, you will not be disappointed but warmly welcomed among us. No, you will not be starved here, tortured with couscous, carpaccio or yoghurt mousse on a variation of forest fruits, here you will be feed as if the good old times would have ever existed, parachute pants were ever stylish and Milli Vanilli could really sing. Be welcome and give my warm regards to the grocer’s wife.

A great book to leave Faulkner behind as quote deliverer and discover the great writer he has undoubtedly been, “ As I lay dying“ is a great start.

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The train stops in Modena. A place I have never been to before. Only one other traveller leaves the train with me. A noble man, suggest I because the people who wait outside of the train station lower their gaze as he passes by, accompanied only by a dog of indifferent colors. I decide to take a walk along the river but while crossing the central campo I see that the man and his dog obviously follow me and while I wander along the riverbank, I can see from time to time an ear of a dog flattering in the wind or the edge of a cloak, long and heavy passing by, always remaining in distance,  but do I decide to look at the water, both dog and man also stop, the man looking in the deep, blue and green water as I do, the dog trying to catch flies. When I slowly return to the city, the man and his dog walk silent behind me, but while crossing the market where fishmongers and butchers offer me large and silver salmons and small but red mutton legs, I’ll lose sight of the man and his companion. Many hours later, sitting in a café drinking a juice of indefinite color, I recognize the man beyond a newspaper, while the dogs sleeps at his feet. A pale waiter arrives from time to time at the man’s table, lowering his gaze as the other inhabitants of the city did at the station, while offering the man, on a silver plate a large, white egg, that he cracks between his long and elegant fingers with no ring on them, to drink the egg yolk and egg white as it were a very good and very old wine, carefully placing the egg-shell in a nearby silver- basket. When I woke up, the man was opening as careful as ever his thirtieth egg, looking just over the edge of his paper in my direction, just as to reassure that I would look back at him, with my eyes both open.

The smell of the diaspora

I grew up in a world called the diaspora. But on Friday Mornings the Diaspora smelled outrageously good. My grandmother got up very early to make challah. And I got up very early too, to assist her making the challah. I was allowed to measure the flour, to stir the ingredients together and often I ran forth and back to look if the dough slept well under the massive white bed of my grandparents, covered with a huge white cushion and a hot bottle, but I was not allowed to lift up the cushion, because the dough had to rest. After hours of impatient waiting my grandmother brought the dough back to the kitchen table and I was allowed to help her braiding the challah and together with the cat sat in front of the oven, impatiently waiting till the time came and the challah was to be taken out of the oven, at least two loafs of bread. The town where my grandparents lived in had no synagogue anymore because it was a town in Germany and Germany was worse than living in the diaspora, but on Friday Mornings,in a small town in Germany when my grandmother opened the window, and you could smell the challah all over the street, Germany smelled as it were still a country where jewish life took place, even if it didn’t. Shabbat began when I was allowed to interrupt my grandfather listening to the radio on every Friday night. Then he took me upon his shoulders, running down the long floor, to the bathroom, where he shaved and told me all his secrets and I sat upon the bathroom table and hold the box with cufflinks and chose my favorite pair, so my grandfather could greet the bride shabbat with a pair of special cufflinks and then I went to my grandmother, and got dressed up too, I was very keen to get a a long colorful necklace to wear from her and she always gave the most colorful necklace she owned to me. On Friday evening we always had visitors coming over to shabbat, they came from other towns, similar to those my grandparents lived in, with no synagogues or jews left, while many jewish children were brought up with Kedem grape juice I was brought upon with grape juice from an organic shop and I believed for many years that the sweet and thick juice was real red wine. My grandfather was responsible for the prayers, my grandmother did not care for the prayers very much, she was to jeckish after all, but she cared for the visitors and on every shabbat night, we heard the stories of the death. Death fathers, sisters, lovers, mothers, cousins and aunts, we heard the stories of the sunken worlds of Budapest and Prague and Shabbat evening never came as a joyous bride to us but as a jilted and hurt part of our life. But still shabbat smelled good and as an assistant challah baker I also became an assistant to my grandfather, being allowed to hold the heavy shabbat knife with the blue and green stones on its handle. Gut shabbes, did everyone say to its neighbor and I failed in escaping the wet kisses of the visitors on the shabbat table of my grandparents house.

I still live in the diaspora and I still start every Friday morning with baking challah, thinking of my grandmother standing in the kitchen very early on every Friday morning. In Ireland, Judaism is nearly invisible and nearly everything is made of pork. Even very harmless things like eggs. It would be to much to call Ireland the diaspora, because there is no one there to be count towards such a phenomenon. Living as jew here is much different than in all the other diaspora places I have known and lived in. There are no phone calls here on a Thursday evening: What are you doing for Shabbes? Where are you going to Shabbes? What do you cook for Shabbes? I don’t mind the calls much, but I miss the planning, the get together, I miss the newest gossip of L. jilted for D., of fabulous friend B. fabulous new job but horrible boss and all the other little bits and pieces brought upon the table for shabbos. Went I went to the synagogue here, I wondered that no one washed the hands before eating the challah after the service.  I don’t believe washing hands makes you a good or a better or not a jew at all, but I miss the old tin jug in my grand-parents house and the silence between the washing of the hands and the serving of the bread. It is not that I think challah-baking or using defrosted challah makes you a good or a bad or a jew at all, but I still miss the feeling of a certain consciousness that even we in the diaspora between Dublin, Marseille and Hongkong still know the same stories, share the same songs, quarrel about the the same things and still know that in a world called diaspora, a Friday can smell outrageously good and its maybe in the diaspora where we are asked when and how the Shabbat shall begin.

Three Jews, Four Opinions offers insights and more than opinions on various themes, approached from various angles to read on.

Beyond the tree

Only very few people know the old castle and the garden behind the castle is long forgotten. But in the village one still tells the story of the old lady, sitting on the same place for more than hundred years, reading in the same book, looking at the same page. The ivy grew over the lady and the book, so maybe she can’t read anymore but guess a single character there or reach for the end of a verb. Sometimes when the wind is blowing through the ivy and reaches the book, the pages are turned over, but the very old lady does not care very much. She just sits there, searching for the end of a sentence, never spoken in the beginning.

I still can see my grandmother many, many years later sitting in a chair under the old pear tree in her garden, where never a castle stood, with a book on her knees, staring for hours at the very same page, no one was able to reach her within these hours, not the wind, not me trying to show her a flower I had never seen before or a snail I found within the strawberry bed. The telephone could ring, she would not get up, not the ringing bell at the door could disturb her in these hours, where she got lost not in the book but in the memories, that were unescapable strong.

Today, the garden of my grandmother does not exist any more, my grandmother is long dead, the pear tree was chopped down by the new owners, as well as the gigantic hazelnut, the rose hedges, the flower beds and also the strawberries left for a new car parking space. No one sits anymore in the garden, and only very few people know the old village and the old garden behind the gates of the castle, where a very old lady sits, turned into stone, overgrown with ivy, not able to turn the pages or to escape the memories.


The village of mine

Where I live the sky is always colored.  Deep blue and black is the sky before an upcoming storm. Fire red and orange in the first hours of a day, most often grey. The seagulls within the clouds only visible as dots, white as chalk. White hollyhocks in summer and all year green doors here and green gates there. Sometimes a blue painted shutter. Never a day  windless, some days clear, the trees old and discreet. Water lilies- pink and violet in the river, next to weather- beaten paddocks. Sheep’s wool within the fence, a late relic from the summer. Colored but slow moves the world here in the village where I live and sometimes on a late afternoon the world stops, and you who are a visitor among us may stop for a moment  to see a picture before you, where you may find nothing special but some, which is unforgettable. 587 souls has the village I live in, but this means not to count the sheeps, cows, pigs, ducks, gooses, ponies, dogs and cats, which are the majority among us. But no one speaks from animal souls, even if everyone knows that the sheep have constitutional rights here since the early medieval ages. The sheep, themselves tend to look forgiving at us and our poor souls. Most houses are homesteads but few inhabitants claim to be farmers. But after work there are always cows to milk or sheep to shear. In the village where I live, we have fisherman here, their boats are old but never sink. Some fisherman have the right to trawl out on the sea but this right as old as it is, won’t be renewed. But the fisherman hope one of their grand-sons or great- grand daughters will someday take over the trawl. The fisherman and the sheep are the closest among us. The souls, who live here are a gentry of their own. Any is its own emperor on his tractor and even Louis XIV. could never been walking more majestic than my neighbor does with a bag of hay on his back. In the village where I live we have a pork- butcher and a lamb- butcher, both are proud of their bloody aprons and decorate their shop windows with extreme care and always the best ham. Often you can spot the pork- butcher in front of the sheep, talking to them tenderly and for hours. The grocer knows everyone and knows everything before anyone, only the sheeps know more but they tend not speak as loud as the grocer or better the grocer’s wife does. The grocer’s wife would give a lot to the sheeps if they would tell her, what the pork- butcher tells them. But the sheep remain silent, they have a constitution, we not and the sheep know, that we know this fact very well. It is not known if the lamb- butcher has a similar fondness for pigs. Where we are, it rained on the morning and the leaves are dripping till it rains again in the evening. In the middle of the village there is an old water- pump with a head of lion. The cats of the village like to meet there on the long summer evenings, probably telling the old tale of the long forgotten times, where all cats were lions, dangerously and wild, not even thinking of milk as an acceptable meal. But this at least changed. Many things did not change and will never do so. In the summer the children, jump over the fence, to steal the apples, the best apples of course has the priest. But the priest is old but the church is older and I can hear the organ on every Sunday morning. In the summer the storks are coming, you are never coming to church says the grocer’s wife to me. But then the telephone rings and her sister, the baker’s wife tells her that the vet was seen with a woman never seen before here, which is indeed bad news for the grocer’s wife, whereas her daughter has had some hopes concerning the vet. But we will see. In the meantime the cows are getting out on their grasslands, the sheep will follow soon, it is time for the priest to cut the apple-trees, soon the wild chervil will be back, the sun will be seen from time to time, the next storm will follow, the lambs will be sheep by then, already briefed in the questions of the old constitution, it will rain and the first chill will come when it is time and isn’t this the car of the vet, over there? But he will need some more time until he arrives at the village where I live, because the black horse of the man everyone calls the rich man, is lame, told me the grocer’s wife, who knows everything and everyone here. But where we are, we have time and the sheep have constitutional rights.