A Barricade, a Bear, and an Egg

We’re headed to my in-laws’ house, or perhaps the Jersey shore. A family road trip. My husband is at the wheel; our daughters in the back seat. They hold their beloved stuffed animals on their laps. There are no headphones or cell phones. In our future, when they’re older, there will be both. I’ll tune the radio to NPR. We’ll hear the election news or listen to an interview with actor Dev Patel. But here, now, I put a CD into the dashboard slot. The prologue begins, “Look down, look down, don’t look ‘em in the eye.” My husband would be happy never to hear Les Misérables again, but I don’t mind hearing it for the 200th time. Our daughters sing along. Correction. Humpty and Ahh Bear sing along. Aah Bear sings Éponine’s part and sobs with loud bear sobs when she dies. There is no barricade here in the car, but I see it nonetheless. Imagination is powerful, powerful enough to let me hear stuffed animals sing and make the tears of a teddy bear real.

 

Just one performance

life, replayed in memory,

paused and played again

 

 

 

I seem to be stuck on musicals, though that’s nothing new!  This is a haibun for dVerse. We were asked to write about singing along with music on a drive. You can listen to “A Little Fall of Rain” here. (Unfortunately, not the Humpty and Ahh Bear version.)

 

 

The Past, the Future, Ghosts, and Drag in the City of Brotherly Love

Monday Morning Musings:

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

–L.P. Hartley

“This play is so American. . .[it] shows us that transformation can only happen when we break apart our fears, our suspicions and our judgments. Because the America I know is not the one that is portrayed by only a few, isn’t the one that discriminates against its citizens for their differences. NO. The America I know and cherish and honor is one that all these characters are creating.”

— Emmanuelle Delpech, From her Director’s Notes, The Legend of Georgia McBride, Arden Theatre, Philadelphia

 

When was the last time the four of us had spent a day together at a museum?

We all wondered, but couldn’t remember,

somewhere amidst childhood’s ghosts

left behind with dolls and story books,

ghosts of Halloweens past

when little girls dressed in costumes

that they slept in,

a princess and a clown

(not a creepy one at all).

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And so we went,

a family outing,

our girls married women now,

but still crazy sisters, having fun,

interpreting the works of art

 

 

And since the big new exhibit is on Mexican revolutionary art

and it’s close to Halloween

there are Day of the Dead displays

 

We eat Wawa hoagies*

(My daughter misses them in Boston.)

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I score Super Momma points

by making hot fudge sauce,

totally spur of the moment

(in record time)

so we can have it with our coffee ice cream

as we watch Grey’s Anatomy

It’s another ghost from the past.

 

It is Halloween weekend,

my husband and I go to the theater

(which, I guess fits, when you think about it)

In the play,

a man discovers his inner femininity—

becoming a drag queen,

with the help of a real drag queen.

After a slow start,

the play picks up

struts its stuff,

so to speak,

along with the actors,

a feel good show

about finding your passion

and not giving up,

accepting those who are different from you.

A good lesson, don’t you think?

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After the show, we drink coffee

sitting on a bench outside of Christ Church in Philadelphia.

 

a beautiful October day,

we watch the people in the present

learning about the people of the past,

as they walk in and about the beautiful eighteenth-century church

where George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and others attended services.

We walk the streets, some still cobbled,

where founding fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers

once walked,

where free and bound lived and worked.

 

None of them was perfect,

neither are we.

But the past is a foreign country.

people then did not know all we know now

(perhaps we have lost some of their knowledge, too)

Progress and human rights come slowly

as babies crawl tentatively before they walk and then run eagerly

to explore the world.

So are there stages

of nations

that rise and fall.

And of discoveries that humans uncover and embrace with hesitation

or delight.

Thirteen colonies came together,

representatives walked the streets we now walk,

worked together to fight for independence,

and later, to form a more perfect union,

evolving over centuries

with greatness from the start,

along with evils,

slavery, racism, sexism, xenophobia.

We should not move backwards

to the foreign country of the past,

not regress, but rather progress,

build upon the great to make greater.

 

We travel to another part of Philadelphia,

Fairmount Park,

one of the largest urban parks in the world.

We are there for a Lupus Run/Walk

my younger daughter and her husband run,

my husband and I walk,

some people drag their heels,

some are in drag,

well, costumes.

There is a team of Star Wars characters,

others in purple tutus,

a sea of purple t-shirts.

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We begin at Memorial Hall

(now the Please Touch Children’s Museum)

with its figure of Columbia at the top,

it was an art museum,

constructed for the Centennial Exhibition in 1876,

a huge exhibition with many buildings

and many visitors.

A Women’s Pavilion gave women a chance to display and demonstrate

the new opportunities available to them in professions and business

there were displays of dress reforms, too.

But women were segregated in their own pavilion,

and still denied the vote.

And so we run/walk through

beautiful Fairmount Park

passing statues of Civil War generals

and the Japanese Tea house

I imagine women in suffragist white,

ghosts flitting among the statues

I think they would echo

“When they go low, we go high,”

standing calm amidst storms of hate.

Women have always had to fend off and fight

the gropers and grabbers,

and some of them loved other women

though not out in the open.

I amuse myself by imaging Susan B. Anthony

reading grievances while drag queens in the audience cheer.

(This did not happen.)

 

But the past is a foreign country

we can’t impose our views on it.

Our own pasts, well, perhaps they change

with, in, our memories

which are imperfect.

merging and shifting,

taking on new tones and meanings.

On this Halloween

my memories of Halloween past

merge with the present.

I think about the future,

We are at the crossroads,

there are ghosts all around.

We must push back the hate and fear.

We dream.

A wise man once had a dream

of freedom for all

freedom for those of every color, of any religion.

He was killed by hate.

But still we dream.

I think about the future

with dread

with longing

with hope

with dreams.

 

*Hoagie is the Philadelphia name for a sandwich served on a long, tapered roll. Wawa is a convenience store chain that is much beloved in parts of Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey.

Philadelphia Museum of Art

We saw The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez at the Arden Theatre.

Christ Church, Philadelphia

The Please Touch Museum/Memorial Hall

On suffragists on Independence Day 1876, see this.

Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream speech.

 

Memories of a General

 

Monday Morning Musings:

“First we eat, then we do everything else.”

—M.F.K. Fisher

During Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearing in 2010

Senator Lindsey Graham asked her where she had been on Christmas,

She replied, “You know, like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.”*

My niece commenting on getting together with my mom:

“Why does it always have to involve a meal?”

Me: “Because that’s what we do.”

 

I’ve traveled far and wide

with a legendary general,

well, not with him exactly,

but with his namesake,

cubed chicken, crispy-fried,

a sauce of soy, vinegar, and peppers,

slightly sweet and slightly spicy,

The thought, the scent,

a Proustian moment,

sending me back in time.

 

When I was a child

we ate chow mein and lo mein,

Column A and Column B,

“Chinese vegetables,” bamboo shoots and Bok choy,

things we never ate in other dishes,

with a cornstarch thickened sauce.

There was wonton soup and egg rolls

(I still love that hot mustard.)

Lots of food in bowls, on plates.

Now I know “Chinese food” is really Chinese-American food,

And in China, there are many different types of cuisine,

But I didn’t know that when I was young,

nor that fortune cookies were actually Japanese.

 

Chinese food,

created with determination by immigrants,

cultures merging, evolving,

food a gateway,

throughout time.

But tastes change–

for all sorts of reasons,

exposure, access, pop culture

the history of people

the history of food

indelibly tied.

So it goes

and so it happened,

In 1971,

the American Ping-Pong team went to China

And “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” took off

Embargoes on goods and information were removed

President Nixon visited China the following year,

I was in high school then,

discovered with others, the new trends,

Sichuan and Hunan and dumplings and more

dinners at the China Ping Pong Restaurant

where my mom’s cousin knew the owners,

we ate sizzling whole bass cooked in black bean sauce,

and of course, General Tso’s chicken–

Ping Pong diplomacy was delicious.

 

Now, General Tso’s is ubiquitous,

and found in every American Chinese restaurant

But then,

then, it was a novelty.

 

The General makes me think of my father

at his favorite Chinese restaurant

where he was a frequent customer,

such a good customer

that his dish became General Lee’s chicken,

named for him, of course,

extra spicy and with more chicken than broccoli.

My father treated us and our friends to dinners,

many dishes placed on the Lazy Susan

and twirled around for us to try.

Have some more.

Have you tried this?

Could we have some more rice?

No photos, except in my mind,

of these many dinners with my father.

 

Like the Christmas Carol ghost,

the General takes me to another time,

the time a friend of mine came to my house

to watch a video with me,

(no DVDs or Netflix streaming then)

“Girls’ Night,”

she left her children at home

and mine were in bed.

I’ll get Chinese food, I said,

General Tso’s for her to try,

never thinking to warn her.

Hot peppers?

They’re nothing to my family,

But suddenly she was coughing,

and her mouth was burning.

Eat some rice, I said.

And she was fine, really

But you know, I don’t see her anymore.

I wonder.

 

The General still visits us,

and came to call recently.

I had worked hard on a project all day,

And my husband offered to pick up some food,

a local place,

not too far away,

but with a standard menu,

standard for the restaurants in this area,

Well, of course,

he got General Tso’s chicken

(the combination platter)

and I got Mock General Tso’s

(we won’t go off on that tangent)

It was good, not great,

But oh the memories!

 

Jews and Chinese food,

the stuff of jokes, a cliché,

Seinfeld and the Gilmore Girls

(Remember Kirk playing Tevye?)

Or perhaps it’s something else,

I don’t know,

immigrant cultures,

sharing meals, with many courses

sitting together, laughing, eating.

 

And so, the general,

if not comrade in arms,

is a traveling companion of sorts,

taking me to places in my past.

And though he’s been replaced,

no longer my culinary favorite,

he will always have a place in my heart and mind.

 

 

 

Robin of Witless Dating After Fifty started me on this musing. You can thank or blame her.  But do check out her lovely blog.

Note: Today is Labor Day in the U.S. If you want to read about it, here’s my post from last year.

*See a clip in this Atlantic article 

For more information:

Jennifer 8. Lee’s book, Fortune Cookie Chronicles, covers both the origins of fortune cookies and the search for General Tso

There is also a movie The Search for General Tso.

And this  New Yorker article.

 

 

 

 

Dancing with Food and Juggling the Myths

Monday Morning Musings:

 

“It has been said that the myth is a public dream, dreams are private myths. Unfortunately we give our mythic side scant attention these days. As a result, a great deal escapes us and we no longer understand our own actions. So it remains important and salutary to speak not only of the rational and easily understood, but also of enigmatic things: the irrational and the ambiguous. To speak both privately and publicly.”

–Mary Zimmermann, Metamorphoses

In October, my husband and I saw Metamorphoses, Mary Zimmermann’s play, based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. We were immersed in ancient Greek myths, which still have such relevance today. It seems we tell and retell stories, hoping that somehow we will learn. Sometimes there are happy endings, but often there are not.

Over the weekend, we watched the final Hunger Games movie, Mockingjay, Part 2, which we missed when it was in theaters. Suzanne Collins, who wrote The Hunger Games trilogy, originally came up with the idea of her book from the story of the Minotaur. In the legend, King Minos of Crete required Athens to send as tribute seven young men and seven young women to Crete to be devoured by the ferocious Minotaur, a half man, half bull, who lived in a maze called the Labyrinth. This maze was designed by that champion-designer, Daedalus. (Daedulus was locked up in tower so that he could not share his knowledge of the labyrinth’s layout. To escape, he fashioned wings coated in wax so that he and his son Icarus could fly and escape. Icarus flew too high, and the hot sun melted his wings, causing him to fall into the sea and drown.) When the third sacrifice time approached, Theseus volunteered to go to slay the beast. Mino’s daughter, Ariadne, fell in love with Theseus, and in most versions of the story, she gave him a ball of thread. With that thread he was able to retrace his steps and find the way out of the labyrinth. (Play away with all the symbolism here, all the threads, so to speak. Also, apparently, the Minotaur was the child of Mino’s wife and a bull, so he was Ariadne’s half brother. Lots of subtext here.)

Collins also took aspects of the Roman coliseums and games, present day reality TV shows, and the war in Iraq to come up with her YA novels that involve a society sometime in the future in which every year young men and women from each of twelve poor districts of Panem (roughly what is now the US) are chosen by lottery to compete in the Hunger Games. They compete in lavish, televised games for the amusement of the wealthy, capital until only one tribute remains alive. My younger daughter and I have read the three books, and had seen all the movies, except for this final one. My husband has seen the movies, and my son-in-law has seen some of the movies. In truth, Mockingjay, Part 2, was not a great movie, but it was enjoyable, and it was a perfect excuse to get together. Jennifer Lawrence embodies Katniss Everdeen, brave, fierce, and stubborn. Donald Sutherland is perfect as evil President Snow. (Here is the New York Times’s review of the movie.)

So if my daughter and her husband were going to come over to watch the movie, then we have to have food, right?  So it went something like this.

What a wonderful idea, we thought,

a Hunger Games party to view the final movie.

We’ll cook together, and sip wine.

E-mails flew back and forth–

“I think I need to make pita bread,” I said,

(One of the characters is named Peeta.)

“And should we have something flaming?”

“Oh yesss!!!” she said.

“I’m excited now—and ready for this week to be over.”

“I’m excited, too!” I replied.

She decided to make hot wings “for the men.”

We discussed timing, and who should make what.

“I have two ovens, we should be able to work things, out.

Besides, we’re both good at improvising.”

And so we did.

Dancing in the kitchen to Zumba music,

while cooking and sipping wine,

our husbands worked on math in the dining room. We are nerds. Truth.

One cat oversaw the kitchen work, while the other one slept upstairs.

We decided on one large goat cheese-apple tart because I have a tart pan that needed to be used.

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Baked brie with blackberries marinated in wine.

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Prepared while the men’s wings cooked in one oven.

I made the pita bread and the roasted red pepper dip in advance.

So mother-daughter team made enough food for forty rather than four—

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you’ll understand if you know us.

But we enjoyed every bite.

After the movie, we made a flambé, a tribute to “the girl who was on fire”: bananas cooked in brown sugar, butter, and flamed with rum. Soundtrack: “Fireball.”

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We served it over homemade pineapple curd and vanilla ice cream, and sat at the kitchen table and talked of the past, present, and future. Mother and daughter danced in our seats to “Fireball.” This is how family myths are created—epic stories to retell of love and food shared. We love each other. Real or not real? Real.

Recipes:

Roasted Red Pepper/Walnut Dip

Goat Cheese and Apple Tarts

Pita Bread

Caribbean Bananas Flambé with Pineapple Curd

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February Oak: Poetry Challenge #17, Shadorma

This is for Jane Dougherty’s Poetry Challenge, a shadorma. The theme is trees.

For my February birthday girls.

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Snow dust oak,

The tales you could share

If you spoke.

Limbs now bare,

But remember the girl entranced?

Leaves twirled, how she danced?

 

Yellow swing

There–held a baby

Taken wing,

Sweet, ably

Married, the oak secrets bound.

Childhood gone. Love found.