Guess Who’s Back

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Skyline

My new skyline.

After a long break, during which I graduated from college, moved out of DC, took a ridiculous roadtrip through the South, and relocated (Business Class, holla) to take a job in a booming metropolis in…the Arabian Gulf, I am BACK.

I’m pretty excited to start writing again, because I am finding myself missing the stimulation of putting thought into writing, whether it be in school or in my journal (which has been lying on my bedside table untouched for…probably 2 months now). I love my job working at a university here, but I feel like I’m getting mentally lazy in some ways; my work involves a lot of people time, and not as much of the blobs of creativity and ingenuity that I create when I write

So my relocated harem of one is no longer in the twin bed of a grungy basement, but in a high-rise apartment on the 22nd floor of a chic apartment building in the downtown area of this crazy & wonderful city in the Gulf.

I hope that this blog will turn into a space where I can again reflect and share stories & observations from my new life in this bizarre city, as well as from my travels to other places (like Kyrgyzstan, where I am headed TOMORROW!). And perhaps in the process I will create something somewhat meaningful to someone somewhere.

New Earworm: Mapei’s “Don’t Wait”

Music

Even though this came out last fall, I have only in the last two days discovered the ethereal, soulful beauty of Mapei’s song “Don’t Wait”. In these past few days, I have probably listened to it…25 times. Is that on the low end of a reasonable estimate? Maybe.

Anyway, I would have posted the music video (which is gorgeous), but to me, the video tells a different story than the one I made up in my head when listening to it on repeat. To me, it spoke of the value of friendships, of having people close to you, of keeping on even when things are rough. And all that good, cheesy, delicious stuff.

Enjoy, and be prepared to have this stuck in your head for a long time!

An Idiot Abroad

Travel

karl

“What are you watching?” asked my roommate yesterday, curled up across from me in an armchair as I lay on the couch with my earphones in, cackling cacophonously to myself. “It’s this show,” I wheezed out, between giggles. “An Idiot Abroad. Have you seen it?”

Upon recommendation from the wise algorithms behind Netflix who will one day determine all human preferences, I began watching this show, aptly named An Idiot Abroadabout a week ago. While I know I’m behind the curve in finding out about this gem, let me briefly introduce it to those who, like me, are unfamiliar with it. The series is a travel documentary produced by Ricky Gervais (of The Office fame) and Stephen Merchant that focuses on the (mis)adventures of the self-described “caveman” Karl Pilkington, your basic, normal bloke from England. Turning the travel documentary genre on its head, Karl seems to dislike most everything he encounters around the world, and he makes crudely insensitive yet hilarious comments about the people, places, and cultures he encounters.

The show is full of long-winded segments of Karl moaning and “whinging” (a word I am eagerly incorporating into my vernacular) about unfamiliar foods & customs. Particularly hilarious are his pointed comments about the varied food items he witnesses being eaten in a Chinese market (e.g. scorpions, chicken fetuses) and his persistent quest in Mexico to find “Mexican ‘jompin’ beans”. His deadpan, wide-eyed delivery and his general ignorance of everything going on around him makes him the perfect messenger of ridiculously inane comments.

Occasionally watching him, though, I find his reactions to be some of the most human and genuine reactions I have seen on TV. As ardent and avid travelers, we are expected to retain our cool in moments that are outside our comfort zones. We are supposed to watch and observe, not place judgement, not assert any kind of cultural superiority. We are guests in someone else’s culture, in someone else’s home. We do not get to pick and choose, and we get to go along for the ride.

That is part of what I love about travel: it forces me to accept and embrace that which is different and that which is uncomfortable. It is through those experiences that I have grown as a human being through my travels.

That being said…what I love about Karl is that he provides those internal narratives that we travel-lovers sometimes deny ourselves the space to voice. We push aside the feelings of disgust or discomfort because we know we shouldn’t be feeling that way. We push aside our own cultural preferences in order to be global ambassadors.

Karl gives voice to everything — often at inopportune moments and in inappropriate situations. Yet there is something so genuine about his responses that I wish more travelers would embrace. For all of our interest in immersing ourselves in other cultures, we cannot forget the cultures from which we are coming, complete with the ignorance and prejudices that may entail. Yet it is only through addressing and airing our discomforts that we can truly move past them at some point, or at least put ourselves on the path towards overcoming them.

Karl also gives us viewers small moments of brilliance and wisdom. One that particularly stood out to me was when Karl was visiting Palestine. He goes with a guide into the place where Jesus was said to have been born. He pokes his head into the little altar at that spot, and promptly announces how ridiculous it seems that pilgrims come all this way just to see this spot, which may or may not actually be the place where Jesus was born. Then the camera cuts to Karl standing in front of the looming West Bank wall, pointing and saying, “This is what people should be looking at.”

Moments like this make me have hope for the Karl Pilkingtons of the world, and they also make me remember that we all need to have a little Karl in us when we travel.

 


 

 

I definitely recommend you watch the show, and for more Karl Pilkington words of wisdom, check out this Buzzfeed compilation I just found…

In Defense of the Renaissance (Wo)man

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Flashback: It was in high school, sitting in the small auditorium with the rest of my junior year classmates, listening to our college counselor, a dryly benevolent, lean Minnesotan giant of a man, as he uttered a phrase that stuck with me, like a tiny shard of glass in the bottom of your foot that you can’t quite get out:

“Colleges are looking not for well-rounded students but for well-angled students.”

From what I recall, this basically meant that we as applicants to big-name schools should not try to simply dabble in lots of activities, but that we should instead try to shape our activities to fit some certain profile of student that each college is looking for.

In theory, this makes sense: yes, you should advise students not to partake in activities for the resume-building value. Yes, you should encourage students to pursue their primary interests.

But for a student to angle herself means that she has to shave off parts of herself to make these angles, and then she has to use these angles to wedge herself under the door of the admissions office.

I prefer to roll under, because while an angle can briefly impede a door, a marble can roll staunchly onwards.


My father is perhaps the ideal of a “Renaissance man”, and perhaps that is why I have such an enormous respect for that concept, and perhaps that is why I find myself also identifying with that role myself. I grew up falling asleep (and waking up) to my father playing Rachmaninoff on the piano, or show tunes with my mother singing along. Beside the baby grand piano (the first big purchase he ever made, before my parents were even married), was a large bookshelf, which he made in the basement with the woodworking tools he used like a pro. On the bookshelf were French short stories, all the classics, murder mysteries, Russian language books, and of course the many math textbooks that, as a professor of mathematics, he always kept on hand. He biked, he hiked, he shined his own shoes. He mowed the lawn, cooked us dinner, and helped us with our homework – any subject, anytime.

Growing up with him made me feel like I didn’t need to limit my interests, that they could expand as I grew older rather than constrict. That I could choose more and more things to learn, rather than being an expert at just one thing.


 

I feel lucky that I am wrapping up my college career with what I think is a well-rounded education. Yet I feel unique in that regard, and not necessarily in a good way. Many of my peers pronounce themselves experts on a particular region of the world or economics or environmental science or linguistics or neurobiology or marketing or international business…the list goes on. And those are just majors. Students also angle themselves with their high-profile internships or positions in various student groups on campus. They angle themselves as journalists, debaters, writers, or future public servants. Because of their angles, they have authority. They have power. They have access to the niche that they have chosen that is closed to outsiders.

I have skills learned through my track in college that are less easily packaged and sold, but I like to think they are valuable skills nonetheless. They are all over the place, all over the map, all over the disciplinary spectra so carefully monitored in academia. They allow me to read and write in several languages, discuss international politics, conduct critical discourse analysis, and craft research papers on subjects from theology to economics. They allow me to think critically and question hardily, to use the words necessary to express myself and to cut out the excess.

Even these skills, so meticulously acquired through my college education, only tell part of the story. What about my fierce feminist perspective? What about my love of cooking? My penchant for writing about my travels? My love of the outdoors? My skills on the violin? My desire to connect with my Southern roots? My pilot’s license? My bizarre connections with Turkey? My deep love for my family and my friends? My desire to meet new people? My emotional and mental health?

These matter, not because I want to list them off, but because they are resonating parts of who I am and what is valuable to me. They matter to me more than becoming well-angled, more than becoming an “expert” at a subject that you know someone else knows better than you do.


Simply put, I don’t want to have to angle myself. I have to acknowledge here that it I am speaking from a position of privilege to even be able to be considering such concepts as being well-angled vs. well-rounded. Yet the essence of these concepts may relate to privilege in ways that are unexpected. For my father, many of the skills that put him on his way to becoming a “Renaissance man” were due to the fact that he grew up having to fulfill the many jobs that needed to be completed on a small family farm in the American South. I, too, grew up in the South with that same kind of work ethic, the one that required me to learn to mow lawns, plunge toilets, do laundry, and cook for myself. The skills of basic survival — which can morph into rote yet pleasant tasks — are ones that are to some extent being phased out as people focus more and more. We hire people, we call people, we specialize to the extent that the answer to every problem is, “Oh, I know a guy.” (Note the gendered language even in our everyday speech.)

I’m not making a plea for the end of specialization, but I am asking people to question why they know so much about one thing, and not about another. Why you can spout off the GDPs of all these 3rd world countries, but not know how to reset the electrical breaker when the power cuts out.

I know there are people who are happy with a particular path, and you know what? I am jealous of them. I am jealous of you if you can find that one thing that makes you fulfilled and you have the resources and the drive to follow that passion.

Is my desire to be a “Renaissance woman” selfish? Is it unwise? Is it going to leave me struggling to find a job? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I can’t imagine being “fulfilled” or “happy” or any of those other qualities that I am supposed to feel if I am forced down a particular path.

So for now, I’m still rolling under doors, up mountains, across oceans, through crowds, and around the world. And I’m picking up more skills as I roll.

 

The Orient Express & the Long Way Around

Books, Travel

Image

I was eating dinner with a friend the other night (Ethiopian, very messy), and in the course of the conversation, and in the spirit of poking fun at myself (I am an easy target), I said that based on my preferred living habits, I would be a great old lady. “Specifically, I would want to be Miss Marple, though,” I declared. “Who?” he asked quizzically. “You know, the Agatha Christie character?” I replied. “Who?” he said again. Licking my fingers with as nonjudgmental a facial expression as possible, I attempted to explain my love for Agatha and for her character Miss Marple – her strength of character, her wit, her wry and cheerful understanding of the way small villages can show the very worst of human nature. 

Oh, Miss Marple. She, along with the other great creation to come out of the brain of Agatha Christie, the inimitable Hercule Poirot, are two of the fictional characters with whom my childhood self identified strongly. I grew up on a steady supply of Agatha Christie novels, starting with The ABC Murders, a grisly Hercule Poirot novel that taught me at the impressionable young age of eleven that *SPOILER ALERT* I could be a murderer’s target just because the first letter of my last name happened to match that of the town that in which I was living, so I could perhaps be strangled on a beach with my scarf just to mask another murder…

As much as I enjoyed that initial foray into the world of Agatha Christie, my favorite novels were the ones that took me on a colonial adventurer’s dream journey to wild and exotic places like Baghdad, the Nile, and, of course, the Orient Express – the train that spanned the European continent to end among the minarets of Istanbul. Among the ruthless characters who *SPOILER ALERT AGAIN* all turn out to be in on the murder, I found myself transported to small cabins decorated in worn-out red velvet, hearing accents that came from countries my 13-year-old self had never even heard of, trying to understand the complicated motives behind love, hatred, trust, compassion, and, yes, murder. And when at the end, Hercule Poirot, great detective that he is, calls together all the suspects for his great reveal and ends up *LAST SPOILER ALERT* letting them go even though he knows they are all murderers (!!!), it made me ponder what is right and what is wrong, whether ends can justify means, and other big philosophical questions that made me feel very intellectual and angsty at the time, and that I am still unable to answer.

Basically, that book helped me develop as a human being. Thanks, Monsieur Poirot. Thanks, Agatha.

I started thinking about that book the other day again when I read this article in the New York Times travel section about a man who traveled the length of the Orient Express’s original path, which this time required him to make a trip of seven different legs, none of which contained “the ‘choicest morsels’ of Poirot and his companions, the ‘delicate cream cheese’ after dinner and the attendants happy to provision an exiled princess or American captain of industry with sparkling water and fresh-squeezed orange juice.” 

“But what does remain,” says our intrepid author, “is the chance to see Europe as a continuous, unfolding expanse, and not simply as the crow — or discount-airline — flies.”

Perhaps from Poirot I, too, developed my preference to travel by train (or by bus, if necessary) rather than by budget flight. I like the masochistic struggle, the scenes that pass me by, the conversations had in the middle of the night in tiny compartments with random strangers. When my sister and I embarked on a winter trip around Eastern Europe in December 2012-January 2013, we planned out our journey by train in advance, spending hours tracing the routes and lovingly, giddily marking border crossings and currency exchanges to be made. On the trains, we watched snow covered mountains and graffiti covered slums pass us by. The ruins of castles loomed over us and cows stared vacuously as we whizzed by. People got on and off; we exchanged stories and games and lots of different languages and played music with our cabin companions. We got off in majestic stations past their primes and tried to negotiate our ways to city centers with the proper currency and without misplacing any of our belongings. We ate sandwiches and chips and the cheapest, most delicious things we could find. We slept sitting up and slumped over and on our backpacks and on each others shoulders.

Yes, Poirot – in his mustachioed pompousness – was the one who inspired me to travel like this (in my frugal way that he would certainly deign unfit for himself), to ponder human nature, to question the obvious and easy answers.

And to my dinner companion who asked me “Who?” in response to my reference to Agatha Christie, well, I bought him his very own $3 copy of The ABC Murders at a nearby used bookstore, and I hope that he will read it and get a glimmer of the appreciation I have for Agatha.

 

At the Foot of the Cliff

The South

Bouguereau’s painting “Au Pied de la Falaise” (At the Foot of the Cliff), 1886 at the Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis, TN.

There is something in the eyes of the girl in Bouguereau’s painting “At the Foot of the Cliff” that has  haunted me since the first time I saw them – even though I don’t remember that time, since I must have been quite young, perhaps three or four years old. My mother used to take me to see her in the Brooks Museum of Art, a beautiful old building on the edge of Overton Park in Midtown Memphis. Every time I return to the museum, I seek out her eyes – pink around the edges, gazing behind her at what? With what emotion? She puzzled me, and I saw myself in her – a young girl, unaware of what she’s feeling, sitting alone, thinking.

When I told my sister that when we went to visit her last week while I was in Memphis, she said, “Well, that’s depressing.”

And she certainly has a point there. But I still looked at the girl with a twinge of recognition, almost like a ghost of something that I remembered as being a part of me, but which had come disassociated in the years since I had last seen her.

I’ve spent some time processing my trip last week to Memphis, Tennessee, that famous (and infamous) city on the Mississippi delta where I was born and raised. Memphis, like the young girl at the foot of the cliff, is also a strange specter in the annals of my mind, the place to which I have hardly returned ever since my family moved from there even further south to Birmingham, Alabama when I was fourteen years old.

I went back to see my sister. There are in my mind two reasons for traveling anywhere: 1) to get closer to people that you love, and 2) to get away from people that you love. Sometimes both apply. This time it was the former.

My sister, Elizabeth, is a college student in Memphis. She studies at the beautiful, small liberal arts college called Rhodes at which my father taught during my childhood in Memphis. She, by a stroke of luck and extreme coincidence, currently lives in the back house of the large, inviting, early 20th century house in which my family lived during my last few years in Memphis. She drives along the streets on which our parents would drive us – to school, to church, to sports games, to friends’ houses. She eats at restaurants and shops at grocery stores in which I would amuse myself by jumping on carts and hiding under tables.

She is reimmersing herself in the city that we once both called home. For me coming back, it was the ghost of a home; so familiar but with filter on it that made it seem like it was still in the past for me. For E, they had become her present, her real life. For me the city was made of remnants of a childhood, buildings full of ghosts.

I was serenely content, though. The smells, the signs, the boulevards. I ate a hamburger at Huey’s, where I celebrated my 13th birthday, where I shot toothpicks into the ceiling (a Huey’s tradition), and where I sneakily wrote my name on the bathroom stall. I lounged on a sunny afternoon in the grass of Overton Park, where I used to walk my dogs, where I fell off my bike, and where I launched a handmade hot air balloon on a cold and frosty March morning on my school’s Air & Space Day in 8th grade. And I saw the the girl at the foot of the cliff.

I had a sensory overload in Memphis, and I needed it. I looked into the eyes of the girl at the foot of the cliff, and I reconnected with a part of me that had been missing for awhile.

Weekly Roundup #2: Food, Sex, and Turkish Politics

Food & Other Culinary Delights, Weekly Roundups

This week I give you some thoughts on food, sex work, feminism (in the US and in Turkey), race, socioeconomic status, and Turkish politicians. Enjoy!

1) “The Cost of Kale: How Foodie Trends Can Hurt Low-Income Families,” via Bitch Media

As a lover of food, and someone who has seen the intersection of socioeconomic status and food options in my own family’s home and in a number of other places I’ve lived, I try to be aware of the power dynamics behind “foodie trends.” Yet I’ve always had a sort of appreciation for the growing knowledge about previously “obscure” foods that are delicious and nutritious because of the joy I derive from novel tastes and culinary experiences. What I haven’t been as cognizant of is the (often subconscious) ideologies that serve as the impetus behind these fads in the food industry. This quote sums it up nicely:

Compound all of these seemingly innocuous exercises in American Dreaming with diet fads like “clean” eating, Westernized veganism, or the paleo diet, and you’ll get a supermarket full of people staring at labels, searching the copy for proof of ideological and medical purity.  I need to buy this if I want to be good, if I really want to take care of myself and my family As it turns out, this moralistic way of framing choice is extremely profitable for food processors, restaurants, and produce retailers: we’ve been effectively held captive by our own consciences.

2) “”Do What You Love” — Oh, But Not That! On Recognizing Sex Work As Work” via The Awl

Now, I’m not posting this article because I entirely agree with the author’s argument. What I thought was the most well articulated and thought provoking point was the author’s discussion of what work is more generally, and how commodification ties in with gender and race. Beware: this article can provoke rather strong negative responses (as evidenced by my roommate, who made some great points against the author’s argument), but I think it’s certainly worth a read.

3) “‘Seni bilen hayran, bilmeyen dusman’ or, Why Erdogan Remains So Popular” via Jadaliyya

Finally I turn towards Turkey, which has seen a resurgence of protests this week. This article focuses on Erdogan’s rhetoric towards his followers, specifically towards his female followers. The author notes the way that many critics of the AKP tend to take away the agency of AKP supporters, claiming that they are paid off by Erdogan’s cronies and follow him blindly. The article seeks to restore some agency to AKP  supporters while still critiquing Erdogan’s goals. This quote sums up the author’s main point well:

Erdoğan took the stage. He began as he often does, with a sweeping series of greetings to people from across the (Muslim) world. He saluted the suffering women of Syria, Somalia, and Myanmar “who have held on to their honor in spite of everything.” He saluted women of every profession and walk of life. In one aside, he even saluted “those exploited women in the West, who have even been turned into commodities that can be bought.” It was a classic example of the way in which Erdoğan appears to unite, while actually dividing. To his followers, these salutations make him seem like a towering statesman, pitying and even embracing those whom he finds distasteful; yet it is also an implicit denunciation of that large portion of Turkish women who have adopted “Western” cultural norms.

Dear Racist A-Hole at the Charlotte Airport,

Dear ____________,

Turkey 1 010Dear Racist A-Hole at the Charlotte Airport,

I really wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt. You see, everyone is at their worst when traveling. Especially in airports. Especially when their flights have been delayed or cancelled. Especially when this has happened multiple times in one day. Especially when they have somewhere they need to be or someone they need to see. Especially when they have just paid $6 for a damn water bottle and another $15 for a chicken salad sandwich that will probably make them run to the lavatory multiple times mid-flight (should they ever get up there in the first place).

So, you see, I am sympathetic. I have cried and and pouted and brought out my “mean voice” and bargained and come really close to bribery (except that I have no money) to many different airline workers on a myriad of occasions, at airports from Birmingham, Alabama to Istanbul, Turkey.  I feel you! I feel your frustration at the mysterious powers that control the weather, and the mechanics of the plane, and the inner workings of the airline’s rebooking process! I know your anger.

What I don’t know is why you resorted to verbally attacking and then racially profiling the airline official at our gate in the lovely Charlotte, North Carolina airport. I don’t know why you, a middle aged white man, with a handsome brown briefcase in tow, a booming voice, and an aura of importance, felt the need to intimidate the petite woman of color working standing behind the counter. I don’t know why you proceeded to walk away from her, after having screamed at her for circumstances beyond her control or knowledge, muttering (loudly – with the intention of everyone hearing), “She can’t even speak English.”

Because you know what? She did speak English. Maybe with an accent different from your own, but with clarity and precision that anyone could understand. Even you. Do not place your frustration on this woman trying to do her job. Do not proclaim your racism to the crowd of people at the gate. Do not act like you are superior because you have a nice leather briefcase, white skin, and a penis. Shut it down.

You know what I hated the most? The feeling of inability to respond to you – that it would be “inappropriate” to call you out for this behavior in the setting of an airport. But you know when I felt the most vindicated? When you went back up to this woman, demanding more information, and the first thing she said to you was, “Sir, I do speak English.”

She called you “Sir.” She gave you respect when you gave her none. Even if she was just doing her job by responding to your face politely, let me tell you that there are many who would not have done so in her place.

So next time you’re frustrated in an airport, take a moment to breathe. Take a moment to recognize how many privileged identities you have. Take a moment to check yourself. Take a moment to stop making yourself and others with privilege look like such racist a-holes. Because I know not all of you are. Do it for the team.

Safe travels,

Rebecca

Looks a little grainy…

Food & Other Culinary Delights

Views Of Shoppers And Products During A Wal-Mart Store Grand OpeningWhen I was eight years old, I sat at my aunt’s dining room table dry heaving because I had just had the incredible misfortune of trying to swallow a piece of broccoli. My aunt swears that I literally turned green, and ever since that day she never made me eat broccoli again.

Needless to say, I was a rather picky eater as a child, one with very visceral reactions to foods that I did not like. Usually it was the texture of a food rather than the flavor that would bother me – the rough, treelike chunks of broccoli, the slimy ooze of Jello, or the flaky petals of fish flesh.

I think, though, that somehow this sensitivity to the texture of foods has led me today to a hypersensitivity to just how amazing the textures of food can be – especially when combined with one another. And as a busy student and young professional, I am a fan of any food that can be made quickly, stored easily, and transported in a single tupperware.

This is what led me to an obsession with making grain bowls. The idea for these bowls is simple: combine grains, a leafy vegetable, a few side items, and some dressing – and you have a hearty, healthy meal. Make sure you add ingredients that are flavorful, fresh, and have a variety of different textures – crunchy, squishy, grainy, fibrous, and even a little bit slimy sometimes (in a good way).

I’ve experimented with many different combinations of ingredients, and I encourage you to do the same. Below is one of my favorites. Even though the ingredients may sound odd together, I promise you that the flavors and the textures compliment one another. Plus you get in a lot of protein, vegetables, and delicious bacon, all in one dish.

As always, my recipes are not to be taken verbatim! Use the recipe as inspiration for whatever you may be craving…or whatever you have lying around the house.

Sriracha Sweet Potato and Bacon Grain Bowl with Yogurt Mint Dressing

Grain bowl:

1 cup quinoa

5 strips bacon

1 container of Baby Bella mushrooms, cut into small chunks

2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into small chunks

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons Sriracha

Fresh basil (to taste)

Dried herbs to taste (basil, rosemary, thyme, etc. – whatever you like)

Fresh spinach/arugula/mixed greens (1 bag, or however much you want)

Cook the quinoa in a 2:1 water to quinoa ratio. In a separate pan, boil 3 cups of water and throw in sweet potatoes, cut into small cubes. Let boil until soft. Drain the water and toss in the butter and Sriracha. Stir until butter is melted and the Sriracha/butter mixture is coating all of the sweet potato chunks. Cook bacon in a separate pan until crispy. Remove bacon and let cool on a paper towel to absorb excess oil. Drain out excess bacon grease from the pan, but use some of it to cook the mushrooms, cut into small cubes. Toss in spices with mushrooms if desired. Put cooked quinoa, mushrooms, bacon, sweet potatoes, mixed greens, and chopped fresh basil in a mixing bowl and combine. Then add dressing (below) and mix once more.

Dressing:

1/4 cup yogurt

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon dried mint

Lemon juice to taste

Salt & Pepper to taste

Sriracha to taste (if you like the spice!)

Mix all ingredients together until blended. Then mix in with above ingredients.

*Special Suggestions: I love adding other grains (including barley or farro) to the mix with the quinoa – whatever you prefer texture-wise. I also took some time a couple of weeks ago to make caramelized onions. I threw those in the mix, and it was delicious! Making the caramelized onions is quite a process, but worth it if you make a lot and store the rest for later. Finally, if you don’t like Sriracha or spicy foods, substitute Sriracha for pesto!

Enjoy! Let me know how it turns out!

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It’s In My Blood

The South

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‘It’s in my blood.’ This metaphor is as common as it is untrue, as dangerous as it is poetic, as trite as it is accessible. I often rely on the phrase when I tell my friends about my love of barbecue, or my hatred of this prolonged winter weather madness, or the tingle that I feel when when I smell freshly cut hay with a slight twist of earthy manure. “It’s in my blood,” I say.

Truth is, none of it is in my blood. It’s in a very complex set of cultural, psychosocial, & hegemonic attributes that are historically, geographical, and socioeconomically linked to me and my family history. But it’s easier to say it’s in my blood.

Blood – it’s something that seems so basic, so human, so tangible and colorful and deeply universal, that it makes sense to declare it the source of traits, preferences, and desires that we can’t explain. It’s a useful cop-out because nobody can say it’s not true. No one can tell you what’s in your blood and what’s not, with the notable exceptions perhaps of doctors and that obsessive amateur genealogist that exists somewhere in every family.

Of course, that was the excuse I gave myself when I landed in the Memphis airport last Saturday. Memphis is in my blood; it’s the city where I was born and where I spent the majority of my first 15 years on this planet. Every street I drove down, every sign I saw, every building that towered over me, every smell that crept in through the cracked car window, was both familiar and novel at the same time.

A book I read for a theology class by Alphonso Lingis gave a memorable anecdote about vision. I remember it like this:

In the early 20th century, archaeologists rediscovered the prehistoric caves of Lascaux in southwestern France. Upon seeing the huge panoramas of prehistoric cave art, lit by their powerful lights, the archaeologists were confused; they could not figure out the way the images on the panels related to one another, and they could not understand the stories being told. Then they realized that the reason the panels did not make sense to them was because the people who painted them thousands of years ago were painting them by the light of a single torch, so they could not see the entire wall at one time the way the modern archaeologists could. It was a problem of seeing too much that complicated the understanding of the art.

I felt that way in Memphis this past week, like my vantage point was so much wider than it had been when I  had created my mental version of Memphis when I was a child. I had a turned on a huge overhead light onto a room I had only seen with a flashlight.

But I’m not sure that the overhead light I turned on was one that helped me see more clearly. If anything, I turned on a bright lightbulb tucked inside a gorgeous, multicolored lamp that cast colors on everything I saw – from the big “M” bridge stretching over the Mississippi, to the Pink Palace Museum that I used to visit on field trips in elementary school, to the small barbecue restaurant where I inhaled pulled pork. Each place was tinted in a color not wholly natural, but not fully within my control either.

Memphis, then, is not in my blood; it’s in my eyes. It’s in the way that my vantage point shapes everything about what I see. It’s in the way I create a palette of colors to paint upon the city of my birth.

More details on my trip later…just for now this more speculative glance at this city and my ties to it.