Thursday, 10 July 2008

cooking, love, repetition and ritual

cooking for somebody, as making tea for somebody, is a gesture of love. kneading the dough, baking the fish, smelling the fresh herbs, laying the table, bringing the plate and carefully, gently placing it in front of the other. peeling the apple, if the beloved likes it this way, cutting it in half, perhaps taking out the bitter seeds which taste like almonds, looking at him while he bites the tender flesh and you, smiling, open up the black seed between your young teeth, slicing the melon heavy with sun on a summer day, offering the blood orange with your both hands. hands that offer round bread and salt to the stranger, as it was the ancient custom in these plains of the danube, welcoming him as a friend to the center of your heart.

cooking for the beloved, for the stranger soon to become your guest, soon to become your friend, soon to become your mirror, cooking for the stranger soon to take his leave, soon to forget you but to remember, maybe, the smell of your fresh bread in one summer afternoon. the hand opening in the simple, the simplest and oldest of all gestures of mankind: offering food to the other. I look at the kanjis and see their stories and hear their voices. I show Olga the old drawings from which the kanjis originated. soon, she wants me to stop: 'it is too strange, I feel like I am in those ten-thousand-year old caves right now, I am afraid'. but I am not afraid. my hand, my hand now, holding the brush and hesitantly retracing the lines which compose the image of 'ai', love:

my hand feels the wave of ancient blood raising through it, brushing centuries aways, my hand repeats, re-lives, re-enacts the trembling of the first hand carving the strokes in the darkness. consciousness emerges, for the first time, in the naming of the world, at the fusion point between I and object. in the drawing, the nascent self and the other are one. and the drawing tells me what I already know: it shows 'heart/feelings' and 'a person kneeling at a table with head turned', indicating that they are unable to eat any more. thus the feeling of giving food to a person till they become satiated. that was the essence of love in the ten-thousand-year-old eyes, that was the song of love as carved in stone by the ten-thousand-year-old hand.

If you survey the years / from Ur to El Alamein / say where the truth appears, the poet asks in his search for the Cabbala, the Black Stone. By sun and water told / but what hour is meant? the poet asks in his search for the time before time, the time beyond time. but the answer is here. every time a hand carefully dips the brush in ink and draws the first stroke of ai on the blank paper, every time a hand offers food, the world is born again and its being glows with love. the ritual of love celebrated, all over again.

the poet mourns the loss of that first time. he mourns the loss of the first hand trembling, the loss of the fresh being of the world emerging in the first drawing, he mourns the I becoming forsaken, the bread which once feeded all men :

World thought to bits. Space and the ages,
And what mankind groped for as guide,
Infinities are now their gauges ―
The myth has lied.

Oh, when all wholely to one center tended
And all mankind from that one wound seemed welling,
Breaking the bread that each one might partake―
Oh distant hour, fulfilling and compelling,
That even the forsaken did not forsake.

(The Forsaken I)

but you stand here silent, smiling, the black melon seeds sparkling between your young teeth. you stand here still and thin, smelling of freshly baked bread, the table laid whitely and neatly before you. you hold the bread in your both hands. you break the bread for the stranger, welcoming him to the centre of your heart. and suddenly the hour is not distant any more, the forsaken finds home again.

[Gottfried Benn's quotes in original, and I should add that I am not happy at all with the translation, but then again, it is almost impossible to translate this:

Überblickt man die Jahre
von Ur bis El Alamein,
wo lag denn nun das Wahre ...

Wasser- und Sonnenuhren -
welche Stunde gemeint?

Die Welt zerdacht. Und Raum und Zeiten
und was die Menschheit wob und wog,
Funktion nur von Unendlichkeiten ―
die Mythe log.

Ach, als sich alle einer Mitte neigten
Und alle rannen aus der einen Wunde,
brachen das Brot, das jeglicher genoβ―
o ferne zwingende erfüllte Stunde,
die einst auch das verlorne Ich umschloβ]


  1. This was a really beautiful 'post'. But is it not also an ancient ritual, a story from time out of mind, that one prepares a meal for the beloved who never arrives? And how can one prepare for the unexpected, for the moment that comes-if it comes at all-like a stranger through the door?

    Sometimes the dishes *after* a meal in the cold hours of the morning are the saddest thing.

    But what of the meal that is prepared with such love and hope but isn't eaten? A feast of happiness that fate allocated to someone else?

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  3. oh anonymous, yours are such sad and troublesome questions ... will you allow me not to think about them today? when I was little I used to make cakes out of sand, place them nicely on the ground in the small garden with vine and lilac trees and sit quietly beside them until they would bake in the heat of the sun. this is how I learned the virtue of waiting. and even if they didn't bake at all, I still imagined they did, and offered them to my invisible guest.

  4. cakes out of sand? !I hope your cooking has improved since then! :)

    But this is the difference between you and me. I grew up by the sea and all of my sand castles were destroyed, taken back by the sea, back to the ocean floor. And there, in that dark silence, more wondrous forms arose. I sometimes go there, when I'm blue.

  5. anonymous, hi :-)

    alas the fish in the other post is not baked by me! but I do know how to bake some round, sweet and sticky cakes too :-) [or maybe I just imagine I can :-)]

    "But this is the difference between you and me" - only this one? :-)
    I wish I could have seen this, the little boy whose sand castles were washed away by the sea, only to become more wondrous forms and patterns...

  6. that reminds me of a joke: a kid was making sand castles on the beach, his mother nearby. Suddenly a wave comes and sweeps the kid out to sea. The mother is distraught.

    God! How could you?! I'll do anything, I'll dedicate my life to You, pray for 30 days and 30 nights, renounce all atatchments to the world, just bring my little david back to me.

    God relents.

    "oh, okay woman..but stop with all this pleading already"
    [God's jewish, of course]

    And then another wave miraculously brings little davie back to the very spot where he was standing.

    the mother looks at god out of the corner of her eye, then back at David, then back at god.

    God: "what's the problem now?! For Christ's sake!"

    Mother: "god, when you took him he had a red hat with him"

  7. anonymous: and now you made me laugh, for a change :-P