Spring has returned. The earth is like a child that knows poems.
Rainer Maria Rilke
This year, the confluence of Easter and Passover meant that many of us were gathered with family and friends, eating meals inspired both by metaphor and tradition. As someone who loves to cook, I re-entered my family’s heritage by beginning something we call “The Cousins Passover.” This tradition began over twenty-five years ago, and for the most part, my extended family and friends have met around a growing table every year. In the off years, like this one, I feel a sense of loss. For some reason, I kept track of the Seder dinner—what we served and who came—perhaps at first to critique the meal and as a way to improve upon it for the next year. These notes to myself changed over the years. They now tend to speak more about how it felt to be together and less about the food. The span of time chronicles our children’s maturation into adulthood and the aging and death of older generations.
Passover, Easter, and Ramadan are markers of early and late spring, physical and spiritual renewal, and connection. The Passover Seder is a particularly apt ritual for holding ideas in physical form. The food eaten is a vivid teacher as the contrast of salty and sweet, rich and bitter lead us through a series of emotions tied to one story of exodus. From a single family’s gathering around the symbols of exodus, the connection to other stories is seamless--an entry into larger communities and universal ideas.
The Conflict Kitchen, located in in Pittsburgh, was both restaurant and community organizing platform that served cuisine from countries “with which the United States is in conflict.” Its organizers understood how a common table’s comfort and intimacy could ease entry into discussions about countries, cultures, and people that are little known outside of polarizing rhetoric. Its restaurant served the cuisine of Iran, Afghanistan, Venezuela, North Korea, Haudenosaunee or the Iroquois Confederacy, and Palestine.
Although the restaurant closed, the Conflict Kitchen plans to expand its educational work throughout the greater Pittsburgh region with the production of curriculum, performances, public events and publications in partnership with cultural institutions, community organizations, and schools.
This Land spans a 150-year period of stories emerging from four families. They all lived on a particular plot of Southern California land first known by the Native Americans who lived there--the Tongva, then Rancho La Tajauta, a Mexican land grant, and now Watts. The play shifts continuously between different time periods (the 1840’s, the 1940’s, the 1960’s, and the 1990’s) and in doing so, vividly describes the displacement, overlap, and intersection of these families through a montage of languages, characters, experience, and food.
“Stories can be epic and personal at the same time. This Land is the story of humanity. When we have these big conversations, we are not aware of historical context, but it informs how we relate to one other.
I have a close relationship with a family who I based some of the characters on. The food they eat was my introduction to Louisiana soul food. Louisiana had been under the Spanish crown and it went back and forth between the Spanish and French. Another connection between African-Americans and immigrant Latino cultures is that, as a result of oppression, they have experienced a great deal of poverty. So,they made do with what was thrown away by the rich--organ meat. We, Latinos eat chicharrones; African-Americans eat chitlins. I was sorting out the characters and food became a theme. What would we have in common with slight variations? At the end of the play, these cultures broke bread having a chitlin taco, Louisiana pot roast with prickly pear. Food captures culture.”
In spring, there can be a sense of hopefulness; a sense of renewal after winter, after conflict. I leave you with recipes of the season and a a poem that captures where these ideas have left me, for this day, for this time.
After the Winter
Some day, when trees have shed their leaves
And against the morning’s white
The shivering birds beneath the eaves
Have sheltered for the night,
We’ll turn our faces southward, love,
Toward the summer isle
Where bamboos spire the shafted grove
And wide-mouthed orchids smile.
And we will seek the quiet hill
Where towers the cotton tree,
And leaps the laughing crystal rill,
And works the droning bee.
And we will build a cottage there
Beside an open glade,
With black-ribbed blue-bells blowing near,
And ferns that never fade.