Easements

Work itself is an easement, or rather the completion of work, the proof of one’s capacity for it. Submitting articles that might as well equal their weight in tears of gold. The first, a possibly intimate one about the way tableware affects the experience of flavor, the other a zealous inquiry into olive oil. The writing, agonizing until it wasn’t (an easement as clear as Helvetica on a Retina display). Then, following up with countertop photos to accompany the writing: more proof, more relief, more easement. The weightlessness of momentum.

Tending to flowers is another kind of easement. Selecting or receiving them, arranging them, changing the water. Culling the bouquet until one stem survives, shorter now by increments, still fragrant and more beautiful than when it first arrived, one of seven, one week earlier.

Sleeping, breathing, a walk, a bath. These are, of course, the fundamental easements, but they are elusive or outright unappealing. The stressed body yearns to stay tense, the frustrated mind doesn’t like to relax. Hence the substitute easements: controlling objects into submission to create illusions of wonder. Cleaning things, arranging things, creating things worth admiring. Amid the projected emerges the real: exquisite tea in a favorite cup, honey by the spoonful, a child’s seventh birthday, the leafy zing of a fine olive oil, and then its nutty sweetness.

Life finds ways to assert itself after a father’s death. Obligations lead the way and the senses follow, until even pleasure returns from wherever it was it had to go to survive.

All photos by the author, taken in daylight using the Leica X1 (because the Fujifilm X-T20 is still not available) and edited in Lightroom. The articles referenced will appear in upcoming issues of Magazyn Wino and Ferment.

Surviving My Father

Our family’s memorial notice in the newspaper, amid another day’s torrent of the condolences from friends and institutions that helped us through the hardest of times.

Our family’s memorial notice in the newspaper, amid another day’s torrent of the condolences from friends and institutions that helped us through the hardest of times.

One week ago my dad got the funeral he deserved: big, bold, overflowing with gratitude both expressed and remembered. The day was perfect: sunny and quiet, a harbinger of the summer to come. The speakers delivered their eulogies effusively, with unwavering kindness and generosity. When I spoke, I spoke about what I imagined he would have been grateful for himself, could he be there (that so many people came to celebrate his memory; that from the day of his diagnosis he had a whole year more to live; that he had been allowed to die at home, with me and my mother by his side; that the liberals had finally scored one for our side in France). I recounted in detail the time he told me, maybe a decade ago, that he believed the meaning of life was to create more kindness in the world. (Make no mistake, I said, he did not always have the patience to be kind, but he did regard kindness as the highest of virtues. That day had been a quiet and warm one as well.)

When my father was nearing death, I would occasionally turn to the poems he loved most, ones directly and indirectly about dying. I imagined I would find solace in them after his passing, and make them central to my experience of grieving, with its sleepless nights and requirements for verbal decorum. Startlingly, the very Iwaszkiewicz eulogy I translated into English for my father’s seventieth birthday (two tangled years ago) never made it into the speech I gave at the memorial. Just as in life my dad seemed perversely unafraid of death, in death he’s been impervious to poetics on dying.

The grief, I am discovering, consists not of epitaphs and tears, but of bewilderment and loss. And this loss is not merely of the wonder that was a father’s love for an only daughter, but of the chance to right wrongs long abandoned, by both of us, as well as those just uncovered.

My father’s hand, adorned with a tiny heart-shaped scab that did not escape my attention. Photo taken in Siena on May 19, 2006.

My father’s hand, adorned with a tiny heart-shaped scab that did not escape my attention. Photo taken in Siena on May 19, 2006.

Happy Easter 2017

This year, we celebrated not tradition but the spirit of it: modern springtime food that need not make up for a winterful of hunger. Also—our little family’s very definition of “special” fare.

I’ve finally mastered the inside-out roll, it appears. I’ve also confirmed that red onion, sliced paper-thin, makes an exemplary stand-in for scallion (featured here in the gingered salmon tartare atop the cucumber-and-salmon futomaki). As for the sushi meal itself—I’m enjoying it much, much more as brunch than I ever did as dinner, for reasons involving both daylight and digestion. There’s also the complex math of running at least an hour late to get the food on the table (a problem minor at lunchtime but compounded by evening).

We visited family, too, where hearts were heavy with sadness for a loved one gravely ill, but the main culinary event was definitely the sushi we had at home.

Head Lice: a Memory

The photos were taken exactly two years ago today, one day after Anker’s swoop of hair was abruptly shorn (to the no doubt insufferable accompaniment of a mother’s shrieky disgust). And two things strike me as remarkable.

One, he does not seem “so little, even though it seems like yesterday”: sure, it seems like yesterday, but he is basically as I know him today; wearing a shirt I love, which he still wears, and those jean shorts that are roomy even now. This marks a new era, I suppose, one in which two years no longer an exponential difference make.

And two—having lice is no big deal, it turns out. I remember the horror then, both of us, infested, repugnant, marked. And how Marta hastened to convince me, over Skype, that those chemical treatments are unnecessary and combing alone is highly effective, and how moments later Ola drove all the way from Piaseczno to drop off the clever ZapX™ C200 comb (with the “helical micro-toothed tubular structure” that “offers better efficiency without any use of aggressive treatments while protecting the scalp”)—and in mere days lice were eradicated, a phobia conquered. These days I take pleasure in observing that, before having lice, I would not have agreed to have lice for a million dollars, whereas now I’d probably agree for, like, five hundred bucks. Seriously, they never fall into your food, and it’s really an easy fix.

Fresh Pix

So it’s last Sunday and Magazyn Wino needs the photos, like, yesterday. They’re supposed to accompany my next piece, Kryzys, Czyli Szansa, which explores the food-and-wine side of contemporary health-driven diets (one such diet, in any case). So there I am and time is short and I need both an illustrative idea and presentable photos. If there’s cooking and plating involved, I need to hurry before I’m all out of daylight or stamina or both. And then it occurs to me to skip pretty much everything and go straight for the essence. Three fruity shots in, I’m loving it all: the pictures, my job, the article, plants as food, the gleaming kitchen counter that doubles as my photography studio—and month five of the elimination-rotation diet that has benefited much, much more than my thyroid. Here is a cross-section of those vibrant cross-sections I captured that day, to whet your appetite for the next issue of Magazyn Wino. In the meantime, I recommend the issue out now: a veritable coupage of wine-driven culture, including my piece on bisque-style vegetable soups, entitled Po Prostu Miazga.

All photos taken by the author using the Leica X1 and random shiny white paraphrenalia to harness the light. Edited in Lightroom, without which none of this would even approach the stock-level adequacy on display. All rights reserved.