Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Oh dear. It came to me of a sudden that it was Friday, and I needed to find a form of protein that had not once bled warm blood. Purchasing fish was out of the question, as was buying cheese. Special items had had to be purchased this week, and food had taken the sharpest cut. It seemed I would be making due with onions and brown rice, until I opened the last cabinet door on the northern wall of the kitchen.

I love those moments in faërie tales when an ordinary mortal opens his door, looks under his bed, or enters his workshop to find a wonderful gift awaiting him. Something from an enchanted being--a gift that seems to defy Nature herself. Yet, as Tolkien pointed out, fae creatures are not supernatural, but uber-natural. My lovely present in the corner of the cupboard was just that.

I had bought the bag a long time ago. I thought I had used up its contents, but there were still plenty. I untied it and put my hand inside. They all maintained the same pristine condition as when they were purchased, multi-coloured and firm, waiting for the heat of boiling water to call them to life. The enchantress who introduced me to these precious morsels told me that they would the revive blood, ease the motions of the bowels, endow the muscles with energy, and even protect the heart. Unlike other foods that did such, these might be preserved for later and indefinite use.

Salting the water as it made to boil, I smiled. A staple of the poor and a component of my people's 'peasant meal,' this gift had finally come into its own as scientists and doctors justified the eating habits of their ancestors yet again.

Beans. I cupped a heap in my hands. The great white bean of the north, the gaily coloured lentil, the spotted pinto, the glossy, black turtle bean, and the ornately shaped garbanzo all ravished my eyes with their wondrous beauty and the promise of their wholesome endowments.

Of the three edible families of seeds, the bean is perhaps the most despised and the most cheaply purchased, while it is just as beneficial as its brothers: the nut and the grain. Yet, all three are great marvels. Grain emerges sprite-like, mixed with the grasses and reeds as if blown into being by the wind. Nuts drop wondrously from the tree though carefully hidden in their homely treasure chests. With beans, it is as though a troop of faërie were weaving their ways through the fields of man, generously gifting their purses on the stalks of green--fleshy pods housing wondrous food. And they are also more than food.

Though not of the
Leguminosae family, other branches of angiosperm drop not merely from the realm of natural spirits but from the nebulous province of the divine. One such kind is the genus of Theobroma, the 'food of the gods.' It has passed through many incarnations: the exalted and the common, the dear and the cheap. Sometimes savoured merely for the quality of its flavour, it is also prized as a substance all on its own. However, it would be difficult to find someone who did not relish it in one form or another.

Once forbidden to women and children for fear of its toxic properties, it is now prized as a method of endearment to the fair sex and to littlies. According to taste, it may be mixed with peppers, fruit, sugar, or cream. It remains a substance of great personal leverage, though its beans are no longer used as currency. Ah, who can deny the power of chocolate?
Yet, how many of us gulp it down whole rather than
wholly tasting it? Is even this exalted bean given its due?

There is another seed that some may argue exerts a stronger, even more enchanting hold. One often reaches for it on waking. When the fair leaves of
t'e fail to dispel the fog of the drowsy mind or revive man's weary flesh, one turns to kahveh as the Turks name it.

This ought not ever to become mere habit. The ritual of taking Java ought always to begin with breathing, taking in the ground bean's heady aroma, the exquisite fragrance that will serve as incense for the flesh, itself a Temple of the Holy Spirit. If one chooses to dilute the brew with cream, milk, or sugar, they may, but the first sip should be at least be taken with one's eyes closed. Blessing its comforting heat and embracing its rich bitterness ought to accompany the gratitude one feels towards coffee as he regains the possession of his rational faculties.

One thing I have observed in my psyche at least (though I have reason to suspect it is the same for others) is that glimpses, whiffs, and tastes of the higher things help one to appreciate the lower. Attending a Tridentine Mass, complete with its rich vestments, beautiful setting, and bel canto choir always bestows on me a calmer disposition for the Novus Ordo, rather than instilling me with greater impatience. Having beheld the grandeur of Half Dome in Yosemite does not lessen my pleasure at the sight of a boulder swathed with velvet moss. Gazing on tigers, peacocks, and elephants at zoos did not ruin me for spotting my first red squirrel.

Similarly, I learned to love the humble bean the day I was watching
Babette's Feast. As the beautiful chef prepared a spread of Catholic decadence for the Puritan ladies so dear to her, my family and I for once indulged ourselves in the modern practice of eating a meal while watching a film. I remember our lunch still: the delicately buttered rice, the stir-fried cabbage and onion, and the beans standing in place for the meat (it had been a Friday).

As I watched the elderly inhabitants of Jutland gingerly ease themselves into the simultaneously spiritual and sensual meal the Frenchwoman had prepared, I discovered that I was called to enjoy my own
present meal with as much gusto. Since that time I have attempted to be faithful in taking the opportunities for joy and happiness and wringing them to the last drop.

However, this does not imply a grasping of pleasures. The more I love chocolate, the less likely I am to buy it, for enjoying it properly takes so much of my strength. Two cups of coffee a day is an indulgence, and drinking more is appropriate only for a bacchanalia. To enjoy a feast requires a fast beforehand. As Miguel de Cervantes observed through the lips of Sancho: 'Hunger is the best sauce.' So between divine intervals, one ought to be content with the fae. Even as I prepare for a lunch of rice, beans, and carmelized onions, I wonder if I am possibly enjoying this too much.


Anonymous said...

All right, you've offically hit a new weird with this one

Jacobitess said...

'Hoot toot! Never spoil a pretty action with a bad compliment.' _John Banim

Really, I was dying to have a comment, but is that all you have to say to me? Tut tut, you could have done better than that

Daniel said...

How many fellow Catholics around me can boast about observing the 1251st article of the 1983 code of Canon Law? This dogmatic consideration is likely beyond Mr. Anonymous' concerns. If I were you, I shouldn't worry overmuch about it. You're indispensable and I now understand the French poet Lamartine when he says: "Sometimes, only one person is missing, and the whole world seems depopulated."

I miss you.


Mom said...

My Beloved One,

Please keep writing. I so enjoyed this. I love you.


Mom said...

Oh Rachel, I think that Anonymous is MAGGIE!!!!!!! She sees your photo on this and says, "What in the world?" :-)


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Domine, spero quia mundum vicisti. Lord, I trust that Thou hast overcome the world. Panie, ufam, żeś pokonał świat.
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