29 November, 2008

The kaki tree.

Today we bought a tree. More than one, actually, but this particular one will bear Japanese persimmons, bright-colored globes that hang from the inception of winter onward. They say that the tree that carries the "fruit of the gods" also allows one to actually predict the kind of winter coming, simply by looking at the formations inside the seeds...Hmm. At any rate, we can't plant our first-ever kaki, as the French call it, anywhere near where the car will be: the fallen fruit ruin the finish...

It's such an Asian fruit, to my way of thinking, but you do find them scattered across the atlas. The California Fuyu (kaki) growers even have their own promotional board...what will they choose to be the catchy kaki jingle? I'll keep you posted.

The first time I ever really considered the persimmon was when I was assigned a Li-Young Lee book at school.


In sixth grade Mrs. Walker
slapped the back of my head
and made me stand in the corner
for not knowing the difference
between persimmon and precision.
How to choose

persimmons. This is precision.
Ripe ones are soft and brown-spotted.
Sniff the bottoms. The sweet one
will be fragrant. How to eat:
put the knife away, lay down newspaper.
Peel the skin tenderly, not to tear the meat.
Chew the skin, suck it,
and swallow. Now, eat
the meat of the fruit,
so sweet,
all of it, to the heart.

Donna undresses, her stomach is white.
In the yard, dewy and shivering
with crickets, we lie naked,
face-up, face-down.
I teach her Chinese.
Crickets: chiu chiu. Dew: I’ve forgotten.
Naked: I’ve forgotten.
Ni, wo: you and me.
I part her legs,
remember to tell her
she is beautiful as the moon.

Other words
that got me into trouble were
fight and fright, wren and yarn.
Fight was what I did when I was frightened,
Fright was what I felt when I was fighting.
Wrens are small, plain birds,
yarn is what one knits with.
Wrens are soft as yarn.
My mother made birds out of yarn.
I loved to watch her tie the stuff;
a bird, a rabbit, a wee man.

Mrs. Walker brought a persimmon to class
and cut it up
so everyone could taste
a Chinese apple. Knowing
it wasn’t ripe or sweet, I didn’t eat
but watched the other faces.

My mother said every persimmon has a sun
inside, something golden, glowing,
warm as my face.

Once, in the cellar, I found two wrapped in newspaper,
forgotten and not yet ripe.
I took them and set both on my bedroom windowsill,
where each morning a cardinal
sang, The sun, the sun.

Finally understanding
he was going blind,
my father sat up all one night
waiting for a song, a ghost.
I gave him the persimmons,
swelled, heavy as sadness,
and sweet as love.

This year, in the muddy lighting
of my parents’ cellar, I rummage, looking
for something I lost.
My father sits on the tired, wooden stairs,
black cane between his knees,
hand over hand, gripping the handle.
He’s so happy that I’ve come home.
I ask how his eyes are, a stupid question.
All gone, he answers.

Under some blankets, I find a box.
Inside the box I find three scrolls.
I sit beside him and untie
three paintings by my father:
Hibiscus leaf and a white flower.
Two cats preening.
Two persimmons, so full they want to drop from the cloth.

He raises both hands to touch the cloth,
asks, Which is this?

This is persimmons, Father.

Oh, the feel of the wolftail on the silk,
the strength, the tense
precision in the wrist.
I painted them hundreds of times
eyes closed. These I painted blind.
Some things never leave a person:
scent of the hair of one you love,
the texture of persimmons,
in your palm, the ripe weight.

--Li-Young Lee

...Anyone have a persimmon recipe to spare?

24 November, 2008

Market day.

The Cevennes benefit from an AOC (Apellation d'Origine Controlee, or, roughly speaking, "controlled term of origin") for the sweet onions grown here. That is, they are granted a special, federally-managed certification, as are French cheeses and wines. The onions are that good. I always have a basketful on hand, and they don't have time to sprout, unlike my potatoes, in less regular menu rotation...

For every day of the week there is an outdoor market in a surrounding village or town. Creature of habit (aren't we all just a bit, despite ourselves?), I nearly always go to the two same ones, which means that Monday mornings, come what may, I am in among the (local, organic and conventional) produce sellers; the knife sharpener with his spinning, wet wheel; the weaver (who repairs chairs); the man with the startling bowl haircut who sells living trout out of the back of his specially modified pickup truck; the beekeeper with the unkempt hair like milkweed; the cheese guy from whom I also get fresh butter--sliced from a big yellow mound as I watch; the jovial butcher (photo), who also sells free-range chicken with the claws and head still attached, so the customer can see what breed it is--which of course affects taste--bien sur! (and as one of the unofficial village characters, is always ready with an enormous succulent bone for the dog to demolish); the sausage specialist, with easily two dozen different types on hand (I'm a little awed by the donkey sausage); the garlic and olive seller...
And of course the sellers present depend upon the season. Right now I am buying up the sweet, sweet parsnips, just-pulled beets (picture), turnips, pumpkin and squash(es), all produced down the road from us.After a stop at the bakery and then the Tabac for my news fix, Dakar the Weimaraner and I head for a rest at the cafe-bar. This purely in the interest of exposing a young pup to all the places French dogs are expected to frequent calmly, mind you...And if I order a noisette (an expresso with a smidge of milk) while there, it's just for authenticity.

This morning's market run went slightly less smoothly than usual: I tied Dakar to a sign while I snapped photos (what a tourist!). This was good only in principle, as, having seen another dog, Dakar dragged the sign crashing down, thereby scaring the daylights out of everyone, especially himself. This led (inevitably) to more running away, with the only problem being that the sign and its apparatus remained attached to the poor dog...with me in hot, if somewhat delayed, pursuit.

23 November, 2008

Weather permitting.

Our house is heated by old cast-iron radiators, which are heated in turn by a fire that I feed with brush and logs collected from the surrounding forest. (I didn't do the collecting.) Rather than the simple business of adjusting one single little well-designed electronic dial like I used to in Amsterdam, I find myself going through the house twice daily loosening and tightening all the overly sensitive knobs. It makes me notice the changing weather more. The wind blows, and some of the rickety shutters groan on their hinges. In our bedroom, the northwest Tramontaine--the less famous cousin to the Mistral--moans and howls through a side crack of the window. Max points with delight at the scudding clouds (which race like in that Madonna video, where she goes all mystical and witchy, with her hennaed swerving fingers). Same wind slices through Sophie, that little person who barely ever willingly wore a coat far further north. She wants to find her heavy woolen scarf. Let's see, which unmarked box would that be in? I refuse to put on gloves just yet! We live in a place where the long parched summer can be followed by a monsoon of an autumn. The degree of moisture makes you consider taking up boat-building. On the way to the village, at least three stone walls have crumbled into the road. There is now a gully going through our "drive"-way... The wisteria has given up the ghost, the terrace is barer for it. The seat cushions are back in the attic. The lemon treelets have been hibernating in the orangeraie. What are we still doing here?
Oh, yes. We've got that view. Just have to enjoy it from inside the kitchen for a bit.

21 November, 2008

Music for dreaming.

The first post.

That we weren't living in Amsterdam anymore seemed clear when I was helping to make a gigantic vat of pumpkin soup for La Rabanelle. Each year, the village school celebrates autumn with its chestnut festival. The smallest children had collected the chestnuts, which are roasted during the festival itself. Under the multicolored fairy lights, the local choir sang traditional songs and we all grinned, warmed by the vin chaud and the accordion.

The soup was a communal effort, and they say that every year it tastes different. I added ginger; that exoticism was tempered by the obligatory creme fraiche. My eats-like-a-sparrow son had three bowls; for him, it was a success.

Our Dutch friends and their three kids had also come down to help us inaugurate fall, so we all went looking for chestnuts...All this is great fun, especially with an exuberant, chestnut-chomping Weimaraner. The less fun part is when it comes time to actually do something with said chestnuts. Last year, it was chestnuts in chestnut honey, because I was fed up with trying to get them out of their skins whole. This year, we roasted them. And left it at that. I have developed a profound and lasting appreciation for store-bought, vacuum-packed chestnuts.

The Cevennes are in many ways defined by the chestnut. I roamed around online and found a nice synopsis of its role here: http://www.getfrench.com/food/chestnuts_food2.htm

Confirmed night owls need just this sort of activity--writing and virtual roaming-- for after the children have been tucked in, the tea drunk, when the only thing to be heard is the dog running in his sleep. This blog is for when you don't want to fold the laundry.
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