November 21, 2012

Sit. Feast on Your Life!

Thanksgiving Meals Around the World.

During times of unpredictability, we gather. We gather to help each other through the storm, to help our families, to make relationship with each other at home and abroad. One of the most intimate and universal ways to bring our lives together is at the table.

The table: an artful place of high healing, fundamental nourishment, a place of daily discussion, laughter and conversation.

Walking through the village of Chattra Sagar on a recent trip to Rajasthan, I got a taste of the old India. A man walks by, upright and tall with a walking stick in his hand, a white dhoti and kirta, and typical Indian leather shoes. His turban is unique; white with black polka dots. He has a strong gait, dignified and smooth. The Krishna blue houses bring color to the dry, ochre ground, further amplified by the women in colorful saris carrying water in shiny vessels on their heads. They are coy, holding veils over their faces. What I see are beautifully deep eyes and a smile through the transparency. The old man with the oversized glasses gazes at the children as if delighted. He turns to us and bows slowly and meaningfully.

Living an old way of life, I sense that the people here are focused on their own inner dignity and how they relate to each other, in a village surrounded by millet, fennel, wheat and cumin. They gather together for a meal. Rice, chapati, spiced vegetables and meat, chutney. Together they give thanks and go about scooping up gracefully a bit of rice, a bit of dahl, a little of this and that. The taste of this food next to the fingertips makes it even more delicious.

In Morocco, an old woman stoops to sweep the path. She is covered in an array of prints. Whenever I come upon her, she smiles silently and spends the day amongst the carob trees, the palms, and the pomegranates. Cooks, dressed in white, move from house to house with trays of mint tea, a steaming tagine for the table in the courtyard, or to the garden with a basket to gather fresh herbs. The call to prayer brings my attention out of my conversation or out of my book and I stop to listen. The birds are also singing. The round table is set with a clay tagine and nothing else. They wash their hands and sit down. Each takes a bit of bread and scoops a bit of tender meat out of the pot closest to them. They say, Bismillah, “in the name of God.”

The captain lifts the sails and the wind catches off the coast of Procida. It takes on a glide by the pastel port of Coricella. We anchor and wait for the water to boil. Pasta alle vogole! After a dip in the salty sea, cleansed in spirit, we hop out dripping and hungry. A steaming plate of spaghettini is waiting with small, jeweled clams ready for the slurping. Even more delicious with a glass of white wine from Campania. Buon appetito! We pull up the anchor and sail again off into the sunset, but really, we are sailing to Amalfi for a taste of lemons and limoncello, and to break bread with our friends, Aniello, Luigi, and Giocondo. We give thanks for the wind, the maritime republics, the Neapolitan spirit of good heartedness and welcome.

Grapevines stretch across acres and acres, the climb up and down the hills of Reagaleali. We know that we will eat fresh ricotta for breakfast. Or was it lunch? Or dinner? Or all three in various forms? The garden is dripping with goodness, cleverly arranged in traditional suit as it has always been. A soup, a side dish, folded into bread, pickled, made into marmalade. The sun shines down differently, yet the same in every place in the world. Here is ends up like liquid gold in a glass, called Chardonnay, Grillo (other varietes of Sicilian white). The table is set with fine hand-embroidered linens. The glasses are full. We toast and look at each other in the eye, grateful to be invited into a Nobile home of lineage and tradition.

The mountain road curves up and up amongst white-washed villages with flat roofs. We dip into one of them and stay. We drink water from the fuente and collect chestnuts falling from the tree. The smell of onions for a casuela of chicken with saffron, fit for a king. Figs are steeped in red wine, cooled and rolled in chocolate. Almonds show up in cake and soup and on the aperitivo table. Rustic and robust, we share the memory of times gone by when the Moors inhabited this remote area and we give thanks that they brought water systems, citrus, olives and almonds.

I have learned that we can give thanks every day for what we have, and accept what we don’t have, but most importantly, it’s our relationships that sustain us. It’s not so much about what we will put on our Thanksgiving table, but the spirit in which we gather. Yet it’s a perfect time to offer that special thing you have been saving; a vintage wine, a new dish, something as an offering to celebrate the simple fact that you can sit across from family and friends with love.

And as Derek Walcott says, “Sit! Feast on your life!”

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