8/29/2006

Grocery Shopping with Lola

One of my favorite times of the year is harvest time, and thankfully in our region of the world we harvest from early summer to late fall – strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, tomatoes, peas, corn, beans, sunflowers, lavender flowers, tulips and dahlias, herbs of all sorts, all the way to bright orange pumpkins, green zucchini, and apples – oh the apples.

Eating local is eating abundance, not just of fruits and vegetables, but salmon, crab, trout, and squid, and seasoning everything in rosemary and sage.

In the summertime, my family would stroll through the Public Market in Seattle between isles of every kind of fruit and vegetable that could be trucked in overnight. The colors were vivacious and the vendors as colorful as their wares. We always stopped to talk with the flower vendors from Black Diamond who wound statice and daisies into quick bouquets. Sometimes my grandmother, my Lola would come with us, bargaining for the best price for garlic and ginger.

“Kumusta Ka?” she’d say. “How are you? Mabute, mabute. Fine fine. Makano ng…How much is…”

Sometimes she’d turn to me…

Ayah see this? This garlic too small. (sniff) Not fresh.

She’d eye the seller who would protest that it was the best garlic in the valley.

My Lola would frown and look at the seller suspiciously, then a twinkle would touch her eyes as she asked for twice as much for half as much money. The seller would laugh and say:

“Ay Naku! Not enough. But look, look at these beans. Just picked yesterday.”

My grandmother would peer close. “Yesterday? Not very fresh then.” She’d look up at the seller and ask “Where are you from?”

Filipinos, you see, always ask that question. “Where are you from?” (gesture to the crowd) “Where are you from?” Me, I’m from Seattle, but my Lola would say “Pangasinan.”

And maybe the seller would say. “I am from Zamabales.” Or “Manila ako.” And my grandmother would purse her lips and nod. The seller might go on to say “But I have a cousin in law who is from La Union.”

“Ay! La Union!” my Lola would exclaim. “I am from La Union.” And she would chatter quickly in her dialect so fast I wouldn’t be able to follow them. They would laugh and tease. The seller would offer new foods, and my Lola would bargain, until finally, my grandmother would get her discount, but come away with more vegetables and fruits than she had intended.

“Ay naku,” she would say to me. “My child, things are easier now than before, when I first came to America. You have so many different kinds of foods! But back then…You know, your grandpa was in the Army and he wanted us all to be here with him, so we came; your mom and five sisters. Six girls! All girls! No boys! (wave dismissively). And we lived in the housing projects down near Beacon Hill cause your grandpa, your Lolo, he didn’t want to stay on base any more. So there we were in the housing, so small, not like back home. And I didn’t have as much help here, ne? All the girls were in school so I did it all. But it was hard see, because the food was different here.

“The BX, you know, the base exchange where we buy groceries, they had nothing! Walang pancit. Walang calamansit. Not even guava. How can I make good food without those things? Rice. I could find rice. And garlic. And ginger. And a little fish, but not the same fish as back home. And chicken. That was good. I could make a little tinola, you know, chicken soup? But no sitaw, no long beans! But then I find there is this other bean here, Italian Bean. Its thick and flat, and I think oh let’s try it, so I chop it up and put it with the rest. Your Lolo tastes it. Ah he is happy. He’s not eating at the Mess Hall! He says it tastes like home.

“So I look some more. We have little calamansit back home, little limes, sweet and tart, neh? But not here in America – only lemons, yellow lemons, but they’re not too bad. So I use them. No guava, though, to make the soup thick. And still, I can’t find pancit at the BX! So I ask my comadre, my friend Auntie Dora where she gets her noodles, her pancit and she tells me Chinatown. So I take the bus to Jackson street and I find all these people! Chinese, Japanese, Filipino! All there! And restaurants too. It’s the same now, but before you know, less cars…still crowded and I find this store run by a Chinese Filipino family and they have pancit! The wheat kind, all yellow and dry, and the clear kind to put in soups. And they have eggplant and okra and dried shrimp and ampalaya, you know, bitter melon and patis, yung a Fish Sauce for pinakbet, you know vegetables all together? And even bagoong in tubes like tooth paste. I don’t have to make it myself. What? What’s that face you have? You don’t like fermented fish? All pink and soft? But it’s so good! So salty! What else would you put on your vegetables? Ay naku you are so spoiled you don’t know good food.

So I go back there every week so I can have the right foods for your mom and aunties when they’re done with school. The older ones come down from the Universities and the younger ones help me in the kitchen. And we make the food together. Sometimes Auntie Dora would come over or Auntie Fe and we would make lumpia. You like lumpia right? First I make the wrappers, you know a little rice flour and water and I brush it on a hot pan and then (flick) it’s done. Next one. Over and over. And maybe your mom is at the stove cooking the hamburger and the beans and the onions all together with the carrots and maybe potatoes. Then we let that cool and talk, always talk about who we saw down at the BX or in Chinatown, and who’s getting married and who’s having babies and who’s crying to be back home. And we all sigh a bit, thinking about that, but then it’s time to wrap the lumpia. You put a little filling on the wrapper and fold it up.

You know I met a Mexican lady once at church who told me lumpia was like a…a burrito. Yah, all rolled up tight around meat and fried. Always make a lot of lumpia because it tastes so good, all hot from the pan. And make your suka, mmm? Sauce? You know, some garlic and soy sauce and maybe patis. What, you don’t like fish sauce either? Ay naku. You know, they have good fish here. Salmon. Halibut. Trout. Smelt. Good fish. Different than home, but still, I make a sinigang, you know a good fish soup with bok choy and tomatoes and onion, and the salmon tastes so good. But you know, these American’s are so funny, they chop off the heads! The best part! So when we first came here and we were so poor, we would get those fish heads free at the market – they were just going to throw them away! And we would cook them up in a soup. You know those fish cheeks are so good, so tender.

You have to be careful, you know, not to waste food. Not to buy too much that you can’t eat it all, but make sure you have enough for your friends too who come to visit. Use everything you can find and if you can’t find what you want (shrug) then change the recipe a bit. My brother came from the Philippines to visit after we’d been here awhile and I made him his favorite dish with halibut instead of milkfish. He was so suspicious! He didn’t know what to think! Then he tried it. He said it tasted better than back home. So you see, it’s good to be here, even if it’s all different. Cause when you cook from your heart, your family will thrive no matter where you live.

************

Word Count: 1,300
Time: 50 minutes (stopped early because I reached the end of the story)

I wrote this one offline as an experiment. I find that the area Blogger gives for text creation a little narrow and I was making paragraphs shorter based on this.

This piece was also the first time I tried to include a little stage direction into the draft as reminders of when to gesture or pause during a performance. I need to go back in an extend some of the sections to build up more a sense of my grandmother's cosmology, of how she thought the world worked and how that changed/stayed the same.

Writing in a way that tries to emulate a dialect is tricky and I do worry about portraying her as a boondocks hick. More humor and more emphasis on where her heart space was will help aleviate this I think.

Next time I'll try to use the remaining time to add more details rather than stopping.

Not a bad session though, considering that I'm pretty tired and really wanted to play more on my new game. I used to play an earlier version on my old Mac Plus (state of the art at the time!) and I loved it, so I bought a copy with my birthday money.

So, goal met for the day...I'm off to plunder some English merchantmen!

8/28/2006

Gift of Plums

When summer days begin to wane toward Fall, it's hard to stay indoors. The sun's still warm, but the breezes begin to chill, lifting my hair with each gust. For the most part, I spend my life in front of the computer, rarely raising my head to look out the window and see the shift from deep green to golds. Ever had those kinds of days? Where you just forget the world, then all of a sudden you just stop and look, really look around, and you blink a bit, because it's bright and colorful, not hemmed in by software templates and pop-up reminders.

Then it's like learning to walk again, to stop moving so fast, to forget a destination, but to just /walk/ around, /seeing/ things. The grass brown from the lack of rain. The whisp of clouds on a sky too blue to be called blue. Maybe something fancier like Azure or Periwinkle or Cerulean. Because it's big, the sky, and for the first time again you see how it reaches from horizon to horizon, disappearing behind the rocky white Mount Baker peak to the rolling greeness of Lummi Island. Then maybe you'd notice the trees and how they shimmer in the wind, not quite ready to let their leaves go, but they're only holding on a bit longer and you know that soon the maples and oaks and birches will be shedding golden treasures at your feet.

It must have been that way for my dad those Sunday afternoons when he would turn our big blue Coronet 500 sedan out the church parking lot in the opposite direction of home. He and mom in the front in their shiny leather bucket seats, and me in the back, the seat all to myself. I was probably nine or so and if I stretched out and laid down on the seat, my head and feet would never touch the door, the seat was so wide. Dad would have the oldies station on the radio singing Elvis songs and Johnny Cash songs and Debbie Reynolds. Frank Sinatra was my favorite, with his smooth voice and jazzy tunes. Old Thumper as we called my dad's car didn't have air conditioning, so we'd roll down the windows and let the air billow in. Warm air that didn't so much cool, but moved the air around and made you feel a little bit better than the closeness of a car shut from the world.

When we hit the corner of Old 99 and 320th Dad would tap his wedding band on his left hand in counter point to the rhythm he tapped with his class ring on his right hand, and we'd wait for the light to change from red to green. I'd try to guess our destination from where he steered the car next - east meant Auburn and the search for fresh fruits and vegetables at old truck farms that dotted the valley. South meant visiting cousins in Tacoma while North usually meant visiting my mother's parent's in Seattle. Any direction, though, meant a long ride by my nine-year-old reckoning and I'd lay myself down on the seat and doze, listening to my parent's conversation weave in and out of songs on the radio.

It was a strange combination to fall asleep by - my parents speak Tagalog, a language I never learned except to know when I was in trouble, and it rose and fell around and through the strains of Strangers in Paradise and How Much is that Doggie in the Window. As I drifted to sleep their voices would mix with the drone of tires on pavement, turn hollow and distant, then melt into dreams of yellows and pinks and greens. Often I'd wake in time to hear my dad shut off the engine and the world would look blue to me, the brightness of waking up too much for me at first, and I'd blink as I sat up, peering up and out the window at the concrete steps leading to my grandparent's house.

Sometimes though I'd find us in front of a different house, a low slung craftsman with a simple porch and picture window facing the street. I'd get quieter inside myself, cautious in unfamiliar surroundings. My parents on the other hand would be excited and smiling, knocking carefully at the door, then opening it if it was unlocked. I'd follow them into a small foyer, then through the dining room of the darkened house. Like a closed up car, the room would feel hot and close, the dark wood furniture and the scent of mothballs giving the space an unlived-in feel. Then the voices would rise and fall again as my parents exchanged greetings with the owners of the house. I'd hear "Auntie Dora" and "How big you are!" and "Are you hungry?" and I my caution would turn to a feeling of boredom as I realized there were no other children in this house and it would be adults talking over and around me in a language I didn't speak.

But as dark as the house was inside, the terraced back yard would always be bright and sunny. A small kitchen garden was grown on the first level nearest the kitchen - peas and corn, tomatoes and squash, spinach and bok choy. Then down the next terrace were the trees, three plum trees and one apple tree, each bursting with fruit. Actually they weren't plum trees but Italian prune trees, which always confused me a bit because to my mind prunes were those oversized wrinkly raisins my mother complained about having to eat every so often because she felt "a bit stopped up." And come to think of it, Italian prunes...in the garden of a Filipino...so they were The Plums, oval and dusty purple, soft and sweet. Small too. I could eat one in two bites, being careful to avoid the seed for my mother's sake. When I got older, I would pop the entire plum in my mouth and chew carefully around the seed, before spitting it into my hand. And those plums... sweet, sun warmed, the juice filling my mouth and trickling down my throat. I couldn't get enough of them.

Uncle Sammy, Auntie Dora's husband would hand my father a white bucket and he'd trudge down the hill to fill it. They were better than candy to me or even cookies. You could get most candy and treats any old time from packages at the store, but these plums only came around once a year, and once the trees were done, you'd have to wait. So boredom behind me, I'd sit on a kitchen chair, feet dangling below as I ate plum after plum after purple sweet plum.

Years later after I had finished high school and gone off to college, I forgot about those plums. They were a distant memory that I compared all other plums to - the round ones were never quite the same in taste and texture - too tart, too smooth skinned, too cold from refrigerated grocery store cases. My life was defined by classes and dramatic relationships that never quite turned out the way I thought they should, especially when it came to my parents. Weeks would turn into months where we didn't speak to each other, the shift from a child-parent relationship to an adult-parent relationship too difficult to manage.

But the summer I married my husband my father calls and asks if we want some plums and even over the phone, I can tell he doesn't mean the round ones I'd seen at the store. I tell him I miss those oval shaped plums from when I was a kid, and he tells me that those aren't plums but Italian prunes and would I like some, he had a bumper crop. They're missing us, I can tell from the conversation and although it would make for a long weekend traveling the 300 miles that separated us, we make the trip and once again I'm sitting in the kitchen, feet dangling as I sit on a high bar stool, munching purple treasures, all sun warmed and sweet.

I learn then that Uncle Sammy and Auntie Dora were the ones who introduced my parents to each other. That Uncle Sammy had planted the trees at their house same as his buddy Uncle Fred. Mind you neither were actually uncles of either of my parents - Sammy was a cousin of my grandfathers and Fred was from his same hometown, but they were both old timers, school boys who'd come to the US when the Philippines was still a protectorate of the US. They'd made it good in America, and when my parents built their first house, they both came over with trees that had grown up around their own trees, children trees of cast off seeds, and planted them in my father's backyard. Neither lived to see the crop he offered us that year, but as I sat listening to their stories, I realized that growing things, Agriculture, is about hope for the future, of planting a small thing into good soil and hoping that it will grow up strong. It might be a something that grows quick and gives sustenance in one season, or it might be something that needs to grow and grow before it bears fruit.

A gardener never gives up on his plants, never gives up hope that something good will come of his hard work, the weeding, the watering, the pruning, the praying. Eating local means partaking of the hope of the land, the hope of your neighbors and friends, for a long life and long friendships.

When my husband and I bought our house in Sudden Valley my father brought over baby trees from his orchard, the second generation of Uncle Sammy's trees, and we all hope that one day our children will take the warm fruit from the tree in their hands, pop a purple treasure in their mouth and relish the sun and sweetness on their tongues.


**********

Word count: 1,681
Time: 1 hour

Better. Even better than better really, considering that tonight I felt more tired that I did yesterday, but as I wrote, I felt less tired. I tried to write looser tonight, more like I would perform the story. I still got a bit stilted so the voice it uneven, but I finished, got to the heart and found some spaces that will need more development if I decide to work it into a full memoir piece.

I'm grateful.

8/27/2006

Fighting Procrastination

This is the part of the writing process I hate the most - the cycle of procrastination, fear, and more procrastination. I'm in it, so I'm here trying to break it.

“I believe that the so-called “writing block” is a product of some kind of disproportion between your standards and your performance ... one should lower his standards until there is no felt threshold to go over in writing. It’s easy to write. You just shouldn’t have standards that inhibit you from writing ... I can imagine a person beginning to feel he’s not able to write up to that standard he imagines the world has set for him. But to me that’s surrealistic. The only standard I can rationally have is the standard I’m meeting right now ... You should be more willing to forgive yourself. It doesn’t make any difference if you are good or bad today. The assessment of the product is something that happens after you’ve done it.”

— William Stafford, poet

**************

On Sunday afternoons after church in summer, my father would take us on long rides. He had no specific destination, at least not one he shared with my mother and I.

"Let's get lost," he would say as he headed out of the St. Vincent de Paul parking lot. Once he hit old 99 and 320th we could head south to Tacoma to visit cousins or north to Seattle to visit my grandparents, but we would most likely head east toward Auburn.

During the week he worked in an air conditioned office at Weyerhauser, comparing invoices to shipping receipts, keying database entries onto servers as big as refrigerators. He compared his days to his early ones at Werehauser when he was a keypunch operator, creating code on pieces of cardstock, stacking them neatly into a hopper, then pressing a button and hoping that his code didn't fail. He liked his routine during the week, but the steady predictability didn't appeal to him like being outside, driving with the windows open, and letting the breeze and sunshine fill him back up.

He was a traveller by nature, a son of a wanderer who left the family farm and took a job as a ferryman. His dad had moved from one island of the Philippines to another, settling in Mindoro and raising a family of 8 boys. My dad would later join the US Navy and find himself travelling the world, from pole to pole, across the Pacific and around the Horn, through Drake passage, until he too settled by the seashore, this time near Seattle.

Winding down Peasley canyon into the Auburn floodplain, I'd begin to wonder where we were headed. At the age of nine, I already had developed a need to know destinations and purposes, and usually by the time we crossed into the downtown area of Auburn I was asking "Where are we going?"

"We're getting lost," he'd reply.

"But are we /going/ someplace?" I'd insist.

My mother would turn to me from the front seat and murmur reassuringly "We're going to find some strawberries."

And this would appease me, as we wound our way through Auburn's back streets toward Black Diamond. Two story business buildings and low slung ramblers would give way to stretches of dairy land. Clustered metal silos would reach to sky anchored by outbuildings housing quiet harvesters. Rolls of drying alfalfa would dot the fields, green and gold. Dairy land would turn to fields of strawberries in early summer, low and green, the promise of juicy redness with every "U-Pick" sign we passed.

We never stopped at the first strawberry field we came across. "Too near the highway," my mother would declare. "Don't want to eat berries with exhaust all over them." We would wind down sideroads, over bridges covering rivulets that fed the Green River and cooled by willow trees. Still we wouldn't stop. "Too dusty," my mother would pronounce as we passed the wood and clapboard strawberry stand.

I suspect my mother was making excuses for how my father continued to drive without stopping because eventually she would murmur something in Tagalog and he would give a deep sigh, and click his tongue in irritation. Clicking the AM radio on to his favorite station, he would turn the car and find the highway again, then turn northward, taking the highway that paralleled the Green River.

In a section of the valley where the highway bent upwards again into the mountains, my father would steer the car down a narrow driveway toward a battered, two story white house overlooking a large truck farm. Rows of corn and beans bordered tomato plots and squash beds, while the wind rustled the deep green, tri-leaved strawberry plants. He'd park the car near the edge of the driveway and we'd walk a short distance to a small fruit stand.

I never knew her name, the old Filipina who manned the booth, but I remember her big smile and her excitement. The Tagalog would flow freely then, from my mother and father, to her and back again. I'd kick at dirtballs at the edge of the field crushing them into dust with my tennis shoes. I wanted to walk between the rows and start picking strawberries, but I felt my mother's eyes on me and never wandered far. Sometimes we would just get a few baskets of berries, other times we would take the time and fill a bucket ourselves.

Berries in the fields always startled me with their warmth and softness, accustomed as I was to eating refrigerated berries. My mother would scold my father when he sneaked a taste and warned me with a glance to not follow his example. "Germs," she'd say. "Wait until we can wash them." Their pungent sweetness was hard to resist without her stern warning, but resist I would, for I feared her anger more than anything.

Eventually, strawberries and tomatoes in hand, we would leave the farm and head back home, my father having confirmed when to come back for the sweetest corn he had ever tasted. "She married an American," my mother would sometimes comment as we drove away. "Puti" And I sensed that meant something sad and regrettable. Or she'd say "They never had children" and somehow the two were connected.

Other afternoons we would head to Seattle, and usually on those trips, I would doze in the backseat of the car, the sun and air making me sleepy even before we hit old 99. I'd awake to the color blue, my eyes adjusting to the brightness of the day, until I was awake enough to sit up and gaze out the window, to find that we hadn't stopped at my grandparents house, but an old craftsman with a narrow porch. Unlike my grandparents house which had large windows to let in the light, Auntie Dora's house was dark and close, shades drawn to keep the heat out.

Again the rise and fall of greetings in Tagalog, and stories to fill in the time since the last visit.

***********

Okee, that's an hour. Word count: 1,010

A start. Still feeling the procrastination on my shoulders because I didn't get to the heart of the story this session. The story of Auntie Dora's house was proving more difficult than the story of the Black Diamond farm - I couldn't access the details as easily.

This is a dual experiment - one: to see if I can prewrite a story for performance and two: to see what a NaNoWriMo session might look/feel like. I'm pretty brain dead after only an hour of writing, but 1000 words per session will make it difficult to make the 50k word count for the contest.

But still, a start. It's also an exercise in transparency, to show both my writing and my process, inspired by the success of Dean Alfar and Salamanca.

While this gakked from Neil Gaiman

"All writers know that on some golden mornings they are touched by the wand—are on intimate terms with poetry and cosmic truth. I have experienced those moments myself. Their lesson is simple: It's a total illusion. And the danger in the illusion is that you will wait for those moments. Such is the horror of having to face the typewriter that you will spend all your time waiting. I am persuaded that most writers, like most shoemakers, are about as good one day as the next (a point which Trollope made), hangovers apart. The difference is the result of euphoria, alcohol, or imagination. The meaning is that one had better go to his or her typewriter every morning and stay there regardless of the seeming result. It will be much the same." --John Kenneth Galbraith

8/22/2006

The Oracles

Coming in October 2006 from Heyday Books...

The Oracles: My Filipino Grandparents in America
Pati Navalta Poblete

As a young girl growing up in California, Pati Poblete was amazed and dismayed to watch her Grandma Fausta washing clothes by hand when there were a washer and dryer in the house. Years later, Poblete began to understand how much she had needed her grandmother, a native Filipina, to bring her heritage to her door. Poblete is an award-winning columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.

(Blurb from the Star Bulletin)

**********************************************

Not much more info than that out there; Google turned up a few other blurbs and one listing for a book reading in October.

Very exciting! A new FilAm memoir!

Thanks to the annonymous commenter on Ver's Blog for the tip.

House on Atlantic Street

Notes from our visit this weekend to Seattle to celebrate 6 birthdays this month.

My mother told me a story of when she first arrived in the US in 1955 - she was standing at the corner of Kress and Wolworths (she always navigates by stores not streets *wink*) and passed two oldtimers. They looked her over and although she's a lighter skinned Filipina, they dismissed her, saying in Tagalog "She's US born." She told me that many of the manongs she met in the US had gone back to the Philippines to find at least teachers to marry ("a girl who wasn't at least a teacher wasn't worth the trouble")

My mother said she almost said something in 'the dialect' in retort, but thought the better of it... All her life she wanted to live her father's dream of living in the US, to be an American, and there she was, caught between the image of what she wanted to be and the reality of who she was, and seeing perhaps, for the first time, what wanting to be Other had cost her.

***********

My aunts, cousins, and I cobble together memories and confirm that Lola made her own lumpia wrappers out of flour and water (likely wheat, not rice flour, though) just as I remembered, on a pan heated on a two burner stove sitting on a low table.

She made "krumkake" cookies on that table, although my cousins tell me she likely made pizelles instead, and may or may not have included anise in the batter. We think/hope my older cousin has her pizelle iron and she has made cookies on it for several years.

Apparently Lola learned how to make the cookies from Auntie Dora, who really wasn't an Aunt, but the wife of my grandfather's cousin (herself a fourth cousin and a teacher) who was an oldtimer, a school boy who later became a gardener. Auntie Dora had made the cookies (flat) for my aunts and they loved them so much, my Lola bought an iron and learned how to make them. She likely traded recipes and techniques with the Italian family (Yasulina's?) across the street. They were my favorite cookie as a child and I hope to have my own iron soon.

*************************

Auntie Dora (Teodora) and Uncle Sammy (Simeon) were the oldtimers who introduced my parents to each other back in '56. Dad and his Navy buddies, on liberty in Seattle while their ship was in drydock, met Uncle Fred (Primativo) while riding the Bremerton Ferry. Uncle Fred took the Four Aces, as they were nicknamed, under his wing, introducing them to his wife Auntie Puring (Purificacion - a pharmacist) and telling them of a birthday party for my Mom. Uncle Fred was also an oldtimer, former schoolboy, working as an elevator operator downtown.

Dad caught mom's attention because he was the one designated to carry in the bouquet of flowers to her from the group. Uncle Fred wanted my mom to pick Dad's friend Mike instead because Mike had the courage to change Uncle Fred's son's diapers when they visited. The four of them would often stay the weekend at Uncle Fred's house, helping with chores and being the family they left and missed back home. Dad corresponded with Mom for almost 5 years before she consented to marry him.

*****************

Uncle Fred and Uncle Sammy were the ones who brought the plum trees to my dad as a housewarming gift. They're the trees that we'll will pick from in a few weeks. They're the children of the trees both oldtimers had planted and tended in their own city orchards. And the children of my father's trees are trying to take root at my own house today.

******************

Remembering is about hope, remembering hope, connecting hope back through time and forward again, of saying yeah, it wasn't the easiest of times, yes, there was prejudice, and still is prejudice, but we still had hope, we still have hope, because we set down roots and we grew and our children grew, and our children are having children who are growing beneath our branches.

8/18/2006

Shout Out for All the Poets Out There

The Way I See It #134

When Einstein explained his theory of relativity, he couldn’t express it in the precise, scientific writing of physics. He had to use poetry. Poetry: the connection of words, images and the relationships that gives them meaning. Quantum physics changed the world. No longer can we view the world in separate, mechanical ways, but we must accept the reality of interconnection, unity and togetherness. Life is poetry.

-- David Seel
English teacher from Annapolis, Maryland.

8/17/2006

Hot Oil and Monsoon Rains

It's a memory that slowly unreels, edged with a sense of doubt of it's veracity.

Beginning with a simple need - wheatfree lumpia.

The filling isn't troublesome, since we discovered wheatfree tamari, but the commercial wrappers all read "flour" meaning likely "wheat."

Springroll wrappers could work but I am suspicious of their glossy sheerness and wonder if they would hold up in the hot oil.

The white edge of a wrapper curls away from the curve of a black bottom pan.

I search my cookbooks and my mother's memory for recipes to make lumpia wrappers. She is certain, as are the cookbooks, that the only wrappers that exist are the premade, wheatbased frozen ones in the red and white box "available at most Asian groceries."

The pan is heavy, hot and the wrapper takes only seconds to dry. Nearby on a piece of wax paper, a small stack of lacy edged wrappers. Cloud filtered sunlight fills the picture window above the table.

Consulting with the local lumpia-pin@y who meticulously rolls and sells the delights to other Filipinos at my church is at a loss. She's willing to try the springroll wrappers but she too is suspicious.

"There must be a way to make them," I say to her. "My lola made them. I remember." She shrugs saying she had always bought the wrappers, even when she lived in the Philippines. How far do time saving products go back in the process? Me, inept with wrapping look to her for the making of lumpia, and she relying on manufactured wrappers when gathering her ingredients.

A low table. A two burner stove. A stool. A white smock. Brown wrinkled hands. A paintbrush and bowl of batter. The rise and fall of a dialect I never learned, was never taught.

Finally a link on Google:

Recipe for Lumpia Wrappers

1 cup rice flour
1 cup water

Mix the flour and water together and blend well to form a smooth batter. Grease a clean griddle or frying pan very lightly. (The best way to do this is to use a piece of clean cloth or paper lightly moistened with oil and wipe the surface of the pan). Using a paint brush, paint batter thinly over the griddle or pan, working quickly. Remove the wrapper with a pan cake turner as batter dries.

I find another recipe requiring duck eggs and cornstarch which would likely make sturdier wrappers, but I'm convinced that the first recipe is the 'original.' Two simple ingredients, likely very cheap, perfect for the wife of a retired Sergeant living on pensions from the Army and the laundry she worked at briefly.

The memory becomes more solid with each step. I can see her bent over the stove now, one hand holding the bowl of batter, the other deftly brushing the batter over the surface of the crepe pan. I know it is a crepe pan because those are the only English words she speaks as she talks to her daughter about it. It's an expensive purchase, the first Teflon pan offered at the PX, but the wrappers cook without sticking. She sets the bowl and brush aside, grasps the edge of the wrapper with her thumb and finger and with a flick of her wrist, lifts the wrapper off the pan and flicks it deftly onto the stack of other wrappers on the dining table.

The process is long and tedious, and my memory slips into imagination - perhaps she got tired of making the wrappers by hand, perhaps her daughters, wishing to save their mother the work, bring her the boxed and frozen wrappers one day and she never goes back to the hot pan on the two burner stove. Perhaps it's a matter of pride that she could buy the wrappers premade, a sign that she has arrived in the US and that she can provide the food she loves to the people she loves quicker, easier.

But here I am, 17 years after her death, combing my memory for her early recipe, the one that will spare the one I love from a severe celiac reaction. Hoping that it is enough of a memory to make a comfort food for him in a way she took for granted. The crispness, the sizzling heat, the saltiness, and homey-ness. All those things, plus the sunlight through her kitchen window and the memory of monsoon rain, wrapped tightly in a starcy embrace.

8/14/2006

Monday Blues

Two Christmas's ago L asked for a small mammal-type creature on her wishlist. After consulting with various experts who nixed hamsters (nocturnal biters) and guniea pigs (disease prone prima donnas), we purchased a white rat she named Ruby and all the trimmings necessary for Ruby's domicile. About three weeks later it was apparent that Ruby needed a companion, so I found a fancy rat at PetCo and dubbed her Wyni.

We had great plans to train them to do various tricks but between school, work, scouts, and writing, we were doing well to just keep them fed and clean. Two months ago, Ruby developed a tumor on her rump and although she was a trooper about it, died about a month later. Wyni was inconsolable; all through Ruby's life and especially toward the end, Wyni took care of Ruby, bringing her food, grooming her, and snuggling while Ruby slept. I never knew rats could cry - not tears mind you, but tiny wails over and over again. She'd curl up next to a wood toy Ruby favored toward the end of her life and shiver there. Then she stopped eating and drinking.

We tried to cheer her with cuddles when she cried, but being alone was too much for Wyni. I found her dead this morning, before the girls were really awake, then I had to prep myself to tell them they had lost another pet. L wept and managed to remark "She died sad." I had no words for that, because I know L was right. Wyni died of a broken heart. And to die sad is nothing we wish for any creature. To die peaceful. To die happy. To die contented. These we hope for, but there is no telling how each passing happens. We might die angry, surprised, regretful, but to simply die sad is well, a sad sad thing.

8/10/2006

Well of Creativity

Richard Bach once wrote about how if you argue your limitations, then they're yours, but I'm realizing that as I grow older (or actually, according to my mother, a carabao in the Philippines gets older for me, but that's another story) I have to recognize that time, space, and money being what they are (limited) there's only so much I can do with what I've got.

What /is/ she blathering on about?

Basically that I've discovered I have enough creativity at any given moment that I can either a) work on the Harry Potter themed birthday party scheduled for the Number 1 Daughter next week; b) work on the novel-in-progress; c) develop the 4-5 tellable stories that I'll perform on September 13th.

All are worthy projects, all demand my attention and full creativity.

But I only got one bucket take to the creativity well and draw inspiration. So ima thinkin' Harry Potter first, then stories, then novel.

That only makes sense, though, if that's how my brain worked.

The other thing I've discovered is opening up the creativity for one project inevitably leaks creativity into the other projects. So I'll be happily figuring out the rules to Muggle Style Quidditch Trivia when I'm struck with the image of my grandmother lamenting the lack of long beans in Seattle during the '70s, which invariably makes me wonder how I can render Lola as a character in the novel, and then all of a sudden I realize, I've lost the train of thought that explained the circumstances in which the Bludger can steal the Quaffle from the Chaser. Or how to simulate a race between two Seekers after the release of the Snitch when we don't have brooms to fly around with?

Makes for crazy, but that's why God created sticky notes...

8/09/2006

Hot Chicks

Hot chicks Barb, Joanne, Gladys, Fritzie, and Dianna are getting down and deep into new Black Eyed Peas vids for "Bebot"

Gotta say it's a tough go, though, seein' on the one hand the limited presentations of pinays, stereotyping of men and women in the hiphop scene, and the politics of race priviledge splashed on a backdrop of Stockton pinoy history, while on the other giving props to the Little Manila Movement and highlighting the historic invisibility of pinoys.

Hearin' on the documentary about what Little Manila is all about, though, was also mixed for me. Glad to hear 'the young ones' comin' out to save what's left of those six blocks between old China and Japan-town, but it rocked my world to hear plans for the FAHNS museum there.

Mom used to tell me stories about crazy Fred Cordova, the history major, she called him, with that drop of disdain reserved for all non-medical types. She related how her classmates at the UW and in the Seattle area thought he had chosen a dead-end career. He was a kid from one of the pensionado families, old timers, not the post-WWII crowd. Hardly spoke a word of Tagalog, didn't know 'the ways.'

But he and his wife Dorothy started FAHNS back in 1982, when those old timers had started to die off, the manongs who survived the I-5 fly before there was an I-5, cutting back and forth from Washington to California and back, following the crops. The ones who worked the canneries from Seattle, up the coast of Washington and into Alaska. The ones who came after the Sakadas of Hawaii. They gathered up every photo, every story, every academic paper on Filipinos and FilAms they could, cataloging each carefully and organizing events to keep the study and research of FilAm history alive.

See that's the thing that's sticking in my brain tonight, even after seeing the vids. I guess I expect music vids to be short sighted, genre'd, specific to an audience. I don't expect as much because I know they're often that devil's bargain between art and marketing. The Bebot documentary, though, managed to render FilAm history into one narrow view, one singular narrative which, in spotlighting one group's experience and struggle to preserve historic landmarks, cast into shadow so many other experiences in Seattle, Chicago, Honolulu, Lousiana, Juneau, and other cities/states.

When Fred and Dorothy put their video together Filipino Americans: Discovering Their Past for the Future they were very careful to include all FilAm experience across the US. Their legacy is one of a larger Filipino community in the US, not just the FilAm community in California.

I agree a FilAm museum is long in coming, but let's not forget that there is already a trove of knowledge and experience housed in Seattle and in need of attention and preservation.

8/01/2006

Persed Lips

Oliver suggests images for a poem. A good list. Challenging. But one word simply didn't make sense to me.

Perse

So off I Google'd, and found this treasure

*rubs hands in glee* Didja see all the purty words there, just aching to appear in a poem? And the list on the side bar of all sorts of other lists of equally enchanting words?

Oh...the poem you ask?

Turnout

Smooth silk sleek, Pleiades perse
wends Whitebird's trail past smoky sage.

No combine green or harvester sparked
wildfire to slow our traverse riverward.

We dart past gravel tracks tilted skyward;
graveyards for truckers out of luck.

"Twelve for the twelve apostles" haunts
like Brian's russet curls never did.

Magpies strut on barbed wire fences
while kestrels shed cloudy pinfeathers.

Broken ramparts of ancient basalt castles
keep sentinel at Salmon River breaks.

Easing beneath gold willow branches,
tires whisper against horsetail tendrils.

My seven star chariot rests, while
her engine pings a dwindling song.

I have run out of asphalt ribbon to weave
a mourning shawl to dance beneath.