Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Matching Wits With Venus
Readers, I'd like to introduce you to fellow Astraea Press author Therese Gilardi, author of Matching Wits With Venus. Therese is guest blogging about food and her ethnic heritage. Therese, thanks for coming.
BETWEEN THE FORK AND THE PEN
Between St. Patrick’s Day and National Noodle Month, March is a celebration of my ethnic heritage, a sensory salute to my certainty we are indeed what we eat. I’ll never know for certain if the generous number of vowels in my surname endowed me with a special food gene, but I have my suspicions. You see, while other women mark momentous occasions with annotated scrapbook photos, I recall the seasons of my life in food.
When I set my table, I lay out the touchstones I need to get myself into a certain state of mind as both a diner and a writer. My menu is like my i-Pod playlist, something I shuffle whenever I feel I need to open my mind and my creative third eye to a new possibility. For example, if I’m serving up pasta in a pot I’m reliving my childhood, an endless round of christenings, communions and graduations commemorated by the mother of all Italian meals, a tin of rigs (for the uninitiated that’s a foil pan loaded down with homemade rigatoni, thick meat sauce and melted mozzarella cheese). One taste of this meal and I’m twelve again, with all of the yearnings and discomforts I need to get inside the head of my middle-grade protagonist.
Handmade guacamole and blue corn tortilla chips? I’m dipping back into dusty days on the barren plains of north Texas and the haunting miscarriage that led to my poem, “Dallas Delivery”. A few bites of those crunchy chips and I’m remembering the sense of failure when I lost my child, and the guilt I felt at eating a full meal (penne with tinned green beans) for the first time in months upon my return from the hospital.
Of course most of my culinary tricks of hand take me to lovely memories, and enable me to write from a positive perspective. For example, feeling grainy home-made applesauce slip through my teeth reminds me of my first home in New England, where my beloved daughter and her fabulous older brother taught me the meaning of the word contentment, which inspired one of my favorite essays, “Confessions of a Reformed Stage Mother”, a piece whose publication taught me that confiding about one’s shortcomings as a parent will not result in blackballing from civilized society.
I know I’m lucky; lots of writers through the years have felt the need to turn to the bottle for their inspiration, whereas I’ve been able to find my motivation in the market stalls, restaurant tables and numerous kitchens that have been a part of my life. During my twenty-three years of marriage, my husband and I and our children have lived in three U.S. and two European time zones. We’ve visited around twenty-five foreign countries and the majority of American states. From Boston to Bratislava, London to Los Angeles, the one constant for me has always been food. Where I’ve been to eat, what the food looks, tastes and smells like, and what conversations and interactions I’ve had with my fellow diners and servers are the first things I record in my journal whenever I visit someplace new, be it across the street or across the world.
Long after memories of monuments and museums have faded, I recall markets and dining tables, and how I felt as I tasted what a culture and its people value. I have found that even in countries where I don’t know all of the proper vocabulary, the language of the fork is universal. These culinary exchanges have formed the basis for many essays and short stories and have informed all of my senses, which I believe has helped me become a more intuitive writer. Like the legendary explorer Marco Polo, I have discovered that inspiration can be found all over the world. All I have to do is use my noodle.
Matching Wits With Venus
Astraea Press, March 2011
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