Time: 11:35 a.m.
Music: “How I Broke My Foot & Met Jesus” | Pelle Carlberg
I received a message from my father last night.
Apparently, towards the end of his life, my father discovered he loved to cook. One of his favorite cookbooks was Tastes of Liberty–a collection that celebrated the recipes that came to America via the surname-truncating vault of Ellis Island. I now have the book, and I literally eat it up. Divided up by people group (Italy, Great Britain, Iberia, etc.) each section contains a brief chronology of what brought these people to the States, and then gives a full Sunday/holiday menu of recipes. Since it’s a couple decades old, the recipes are virtually free of contemporary short-cuts and low-fat substitutes. Thus, the recipes for a ragu, paprikas csirke (chicken paprikash), and bratwurst are intense, labyrinthine threads of gastronomic ingenuity. In a sense, they are a road map to an authentic past–a hereditary grid.
But even when I follow the steps and lists down to the fully-larded letter, it always seems like those tastes-gone-by still elude my tongue. The air quality, water, brands of enameled dutch ovens, have all changed. “I wonder if, even when we follow the oldest recipes for French cuisine, we still have no idea what their cakes tasted like,” my friend MT once said.
I’ve continued to worry about the current state of my book, as it seems that every time I’ve realized that a chapter has started to tackle the thing it was hinting at for years, it’s been due to the addition of some small part of my father’s fatal story. I’ve dealt with this realization before, but sometimes realizing something is part of your story doesn’t solve the practical issues surrounding its creation. Sometimes it feels like the act of breaking down walls is just another way to bury yourself.
As I made a basic tomato sauce from the Italian section, I found an old piece of stationary that was presumably being used as a bookmark. I can only assume that it was my father who was marking that page at one time, perhaps interpreting the same astral genetic lines of ingredients as I was.
The slip of paper itself simply says “Messages” at the top, a LAN line phone cord framing the edges as a vestige of a time not so long ago where answering machines were pads of paper next to wall-mounted telephones. Written on the note is the exact (not to scale, obviously) measurements of: what? The penciled lines suggest a scientific process of an idea–again, I can only assume one of my dad’s–but the hash-marked inches and right angles are meaningless in the absence of its practical application. A cupboard? A table for the house he had started to build for his family?
The copyright date on the bottom of the sheet is 1986–he’ll be dead in less than a year. Was he already sick? If he had an inkling of the unavoidable outcome, what was he measuring beyond his own draining storehouse of seconds?
In other words: Revision is a scientific tabulation of a phantom problem. You may figure out the factual foundations of what you are looking for as you rewind, revisit, and rewrite, but you’ll always be left with the fishhook of a question mark, a barb caught in your cheek that pulls you forward to a source.
You can only hope you haven’t drowned before seeing what you’re hooked on.