More Real than Anything Else

I’ve been reading a great deal of Tomas TranstrÖmer lately. His poems tend to linger with me for days, their meaning and genius unfolding slowly, sometimes catching me unaware in the middle of something I am doing. It’s been so astonishing and fresh, his words, his voice calling across the room, becoming familiar somehow.  Though his images are so often wintery and sparse, my oppositional nature gets a mad hankering for him in the summers. So, I’ve carried him with me these last three months, lived inside his joy and melancholy, which has run parallel to my own. 

I mentioned in a previous post that this summer has carried added gravitas for my family and me. However, these last few of weeks have been filled with unexpected sweetness and fun in the shape of three trips, one to Michigan to visit Darren’s family, one to Maine with dearest Erin, and one to Jamaica with my mom (photos, videos, and stories forthcoming for all three). With my wanderlust satisfied and purring in a corner, I am happy to be home, to gather myself a bit and find a measure of grace and creativity before the PhD begins full force, and I will look up and it will be Christmas. I am afraid this will happen. The years of my MFA were a bit like this, the inhale before the plunge, and then May three years later, a summer storm, passionate, tumultuous, exquisite, nerve-wracking, and over quickly. Perhaps it’s silly to say this, but time has been slipping from me, and no matter how I try, I cannot hold on determinedly enough to stretch it and savor it. T.S. Eliot’s line, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons,” lingers and mocks me a bit. 

My hope for these next few years of study (and I may regret this in a few months) is that they linger, that their pace slows. That there is time for ideas to bourgeon within me, that my words would earn their meaning, but seem effortless. I want to live inside the space of each poem I write without feeling rushed or self-conscious or worried. I am aching to learn so many things, to try to unearth new ways to say some of the same things that obsess me, to find fresh forms and inspiration through the community of others who are like-minded. To feel gratitude. To say no to distractions, and even to the slew of great and wonderful things that claim my attention often, to which I give in. 

The truth is that I am not good at saying no or knowing my own limitations. I usually find them when my body has collapsed from fatigue, and I can’t articulate a coherent thought. I am so aware that the next few years will demand a single-minded intensity and dedication from me that won’t allow for the fragmentation in which I comfortably operate. It al begins this week, with orientation and books and writing syllabi. I am a mess of nerves and happiness. 

In the meantime, this weekend has been relatively quiet. Farmer’s market trips, sleeping in, movies, cooking, writing. After traveling, it’s sweet to just be home with my husband and books and beautiful Bolivian coffee and Romanian pastries. I love our life, our routine, the delight and ache of being newly married. Coming home from traveling and slipping back into its comfort is like receiving these gifts renewed. A bit like the person in this poem playing/listening to Schubert:

I.

In the evening darkness in a place outside New York, a viewpoint point where
             one single glance will encompass the homes of eight million
             people.
The giant city over there is a long shimmering drift, a spiral galaxy seen
            from the side.
Within the galaxy coffee-cups are pushed across the counter, the shop
           windows beg from passers-by, a flurry of shoes leave no prints.
The climbing fire escapes, the lift doors glide shut, behind  police –
locked doors  a perpetual seethe of voices.
Slouched bodies doze in subway cars, the hurtling catacombs.
I know too – without statistics – that right now Schubert is being played
in some room over there and that for someone the notes are
more real than anything else. (Tranströmer)

And while summer lingers, I am still seeking its bounty and flavors. This week yellow nectarines, heirlooms, aromatic basil, topped with prosciutto and Bufala mozzarella for what has become my favorite summer salads. 

Recipe:

NECTARINE HEIRLOOM SALAD
Ingredients:
•    3-4 nectarines
•    2 heirloom tomatoes
•    1 ball of mozzarella di bufala
•    1 small bundle of basil
•    6-8 slices of prosciutto
•    1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
•    1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar
•    Sea salt
•    Freshly ground black pepper
Directions:
•    Rinse and dry the lettuce and rip larger leaves in half.
•    Slice the nectarines and tomatoes into wedges.
•    Assemble the salad by scattering the tomatoes and nectarines at the bottom of the bowl
•    Tear the mozzarella over the salad.
•    Tear leaves of basil over the salad.
•    Lay slices of prosciutto throughout the salad.
•    To make the dressing, whisk together 1/4  cup of balsamic vinegar with 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil.
Season salad with sea salt and black pepper. You can also layer these beautiful ingredients on top of endives, for some added crunch and texture. Happy eating!

By the Ocean

This week is my last week on vacation, my last week before the new semester begins. 

I’ve been on a sort of perpetual vacation since May. I’ve traveled more this summer than any other summer in my life. First, the time in China and then a week in Maine with my family and Simona (pictures, recipes, and videos to come!). 

It’s funny, but now that I’m home, I’m finding myself in love with the little seaside town where I live–in love with it in a way I’ve never been before. When I first moved here, I thought it was a beautiful place. Everything was fun and new and exciting. Everything was a delight, a discovery. I came here for grad school and meant to stay for three years.

Fast forward almost ten years later. I’m still here. And in between then and now, I’ve felt a range of emotions about this little city. I’ve resented it. Felt trapped, stuck. It was too Southern, too small, too hot. We were too far from our families. 

But over the past couple years, my feelings toward my home have softened. Shifted. 

Now that I’m back, I’m realizing that I haven’t been looking at this place with clear eyes in a good, long while. Funny, how months away from this place can bring me home feeling entirely different. The city hasn’t changed–it’s me. 

Now that I’m back, I’m seeing this place the way a tourist would. I’m delighting in the ocean, the turquoise waves and the broken shells and the pier. The bike paths that lead me from campus, where I work, to the shore, to the waves, to the forever ocean, in six short miles. 

It’s been raining for days now, our yards and streets flooding, but today the sun broke through. I got in my car and drove to the beach, to a little seafood shop selling local fish, mussels, clams, and shrimp. I bought a beautiful fillet of snapper and a couple bags of mussels.

I thought about a bike ride to the ocean we took a week ago with a friend. We sat on the sand and watched the waves, and I realized, somewhere very deep inside my bones, that it is not an accident that I have not been able to leave the ocean. I grew up twenty minutes from the Atlantic Ocean, for all but the first four years of my life. And I have stayed about that far from it. There is something in this view, in the crashing waves, one after another, in the salt spray, in the gritty sand, in the blinding sun, there is something in that vista that I crave, that I need, that sustains me. 

So today I bought my fish, a piece of fish so fresh it smelled of nothing but the sea at its best, and walked to my car in the sun.

I thought to the beginning of this summer, just before the semester ended, when Simona wrote a post about sound and listening and fish tacos. I decided to revisit the dish, using recipes from the August issue of Bon Appétit for fried fish tacos this time. It felt fitting, a beginning and an end, the wrapping of one semester and the beginning of another. I am still in the same place, physically yes, but not very much is the same.

 

When I came home this afternoon, I pickled jalapeños and made hot sauce with gorgeous red Fresno chiles. I made slaw and cut into a ripe avocado. And fried up the snapper that not that long ago was swimming not too far from where I live.

And I loved it.  

Fish Tacos
Adapted from 
Bon Appétit

Make the batter by mixing the following ingredients:

1. 1 cup all-purpose flour
2. 1 cup white rice flour
3. 2 tsp. salt
4. 2 cups club soda (plus more as needed)

The consistency should be thick enough to coat the fish, without being lumpy or too thick. BA recommends the consistency of “thin pancake batter.”

Dip chunks or slices of skinned fish in batter and fry until golden and done (about five minutes). Top tacos with cilantro-lime slaw, avocados, pickled jalapeños, and hot sauce.

Click here for pickled jalapeño recipe.

(Hint: these are super easy and fabulous.)