Forum Holitorium

Month: March, 2016

On Craving, the Alps, and Frugality

This past week I started getting minor cravings for eggs and cheese for the first time since I went vegan for Lent. Most of the time it was not difficult to do without these foods because my normal diet includes an egg or two a week at most and cheese only once or twice a month when I go out to eat. Is my body telling me that it needs animal products? I don’t think so. I have felt full and healthy the past few weeks without them. The problem is that I am planning an Easter journey to a region whose traditional cuisine relies heavily on dairy products, a journey that will include visits to people’s homes where the choice will be meat or dairy. I stopped eating meat decades ago because the taste mostly disgusted me; plain milk has also always disgusted me. But with cheese, it’s different. When I stopped eating cheese, I went through a bit of withdrawal – when from time to time I ate cheese again, my body irrationally wanted more right away. Yet I felt better when I didn’t eat it; I was very pleased with the magical disappearance of hay fever and of a nasty rash and better digestion that occurred within days of eliminating dairy products. What is going on now, I think, is purely psychological. I know that I will be able to indulge in tasty forbidden food for the week after Easter. This is the craving of anticipation brought on by reading too many guidebooks and researching places to eat on my trip, a distraction from the delicious present. Last night we had slices of TC’s special sourdough bread with oatmeal stout toasted and topped with white beans and homegrown kale. Hearty and filling, a good way to bring to a close a day that greeted us with grey skies and snow clinging to the bushes and trees.

It pays to be an early riser because in two hours the snow had vanished. The scene was set for spring and a pecking at the window could be heard once more. We have been receiving visits from a strange bird that will sit on the windowsill outside and peck sharply at the window as if he wants to grab our attention. We look at him, he pecks a bit more, then flies away. He’s come by numerous times over the past week. At first I was worried he would fly into the window and hurt himself, but he has his routine now. What would he like to communicate? I’m rereading one of my favorite childhood books, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, a copy in mint condition despite being rescued from a paper recycling bin. In the book, the protagonist Mary is befriended by a robin who ultimately shows her the way into the locked garden. I can’t help but think of the robin when our new friend comes calling.

Besides visiting Yorkshire in this novel and China in The White Road, I’m also underway in the Alps in Werner Bätzing’s Die Alpen: Geschichte und Zukunft einer europäischen Kulturlandschaft. The book explains why the Alps should be regarded as a cultural landscape, i.e. one shaped by humans, and not untouched nature. The first traces of humans in the Alps date back to 85,000 years ago, and they have been there ever since. Bätzing has succeeded in writing a scholarly book that can be read by a lay audience, explaining the different agricultural systems in use in the Alps and their impact on the natural world. In the section I just read, there is a lot about cheese production. The Swiss came to specialize in large scale cheese production for export to towns, choosing to import grain instead of growing it themselves. Putting all their eggs in one cheesy basket, so to speak. I hadn’t realized how important Swiss cheese was on the journeys of discovery made in the sixteenth century. Hard cheese could be taken on board ships because it would last a long time. Sheep have also played a major role in transforming the shape of the Alps. The book describes them as genügsame, or frugal, animals. Yes, sheep make good use of what grows in rough terrain, and I in turn make use of every scrap of leftover wool to make small pouches, for example.

Hope you make the most of any rough terrain around you!

Making Room

Our friend Oh Deer is back, making herself comfortable outside the living room window and posing for the camera. She’s been by a few times this week, but I haven’t caught her munching on the bushes yet. Either the vegetation must not be tasty enough or she’s fasting for Lent.

It’s been a week of radically cleaning out our wardrobes so only clothes we feel good wearing still hang there, a week of culling books that no longer seem worth holding onto so there is space for more interesting books and art and music paraphernalia. I let go of that much too serious olive wool a-line skirt I never wore because it made me feel like a strict piano teacher as well as Czeslaw Milosz’s The History of Polish Literature that is laden with disparaging remarks about women writers. I also came up with the idea of hanging up my stash of yarn in empty tote bags instead of cluttering the floor of my wardrobe with random bags of yarn.

Getting rid of old things to make room for new things really works. The proof? Monday morning I got an email telling me that an item was waiting for me at the reception of a local hotel. This is what it was.

How should I read the book, a chapter or two a day to fully savor it, or at whatever tempo seems appropriate? Continuing to grow at a steady rate, my six row a day grey wool lap blanket has provided me with a new way of approaching a project, namely doing a little every day. Normally I dive into a project, sometimes finishing things very quickly, sometimes stopping and setting the project aside for days, weeks, months, before either picking it up and finishing it quickly or frogging it. Doing a little bit every day is very deliberate and bears witness to a certain level of self-assurance and faith in oneself: I can and will finish this project at a future point in time. A little every day provides an anchor. It is a gentle reminder of what you are striving towards. Large projects are good candidates for this approach. Small projects like the following bag are better done all at once. It’s from leftover cotton and bamboo yarn, and I kept the flow of objects going by giving it to a friend who appreciates such colors.

Yes, it might be good to read my new book chapter by chapter, slowly but surely, to recover from Don Quixote. When I started reading Cervantes’s famous novel in January, my initial response was that it would be a nice funny trip through the Spanish meseta. I stalled after fifty pages. Other more interesting books distracted me. A week ago, I made a final attempt to salvage my plan of reading DQ this winter. To no avail. The episodes recounted in the first hundred pages gave me a taste of what was to come, and I decided I am not interested in spending time in this particular fictional world. Since this is the fourth or fifth time I have tried to read this book, I think it’s time to let go, so I have scratched DQ from the list of books I want to read and replaced it with Dorothy Richardson‘s epic Pilgrimage, a series of 13 novels published in four volumes that tell the story of a woman coming of age in Victorian and Edwardian England. The collection of her short stories and biographical sketches entitled Journey to Paradise was one of those more interesting books that distracted me from Cervantes. Though Richardson is one of the great Modernist writers, she is frequently ignored, even though she experimented with stream of consciousness before Proust, Joyce, and Woolf wrote their masterpieces. Three of the four volumes are patiently waiting for me on a bookshelf in a familiar place thousands of miles away. When I find myself standing in front of them again, I’ll remove them from the shelf and free up some more space.

In the meantime, I have this book right in front of me about a contemporary pilgrimage to read. Edmund de Waal’s The White Road: a pilgrimage of sorts tells the story of porcelain, Waal’s medium of choice as a potter. It promises to be a mixture of memoir, travelogue, and history, which is right up my alley. After I finish my six rows tonight, I’ll open it up and set off on a new journey.

Hope you can make room on your shelves for new books and projects!