Skip to main content

Back to Basics: Dry Summers, Figs, and a Chunk of Cheese


What do we know about simplicity? Figs from our tree.
Figs. The taste of summer, the taste of home; my immigrant home. Our backyard tree is heavy with fruit. In the mornings I go out to pick what is ripe; figs for breakfast, a treat straight from the tree; flesh and seeds, refreshing and sweet, grainy resistance and softness at the same time.

Figs, the color of their skin, purple with blotches of green or white stripes where they have cracked. The reds and browns inside bring up memories: a summer spent in Normandy, France, with my parents, my brother, and my maternal grandmother. Life was about food in its basic, original form, about mussels and figs and cheese; it was about the ocean and its tides, gigantic but predictable, and about history.

We visited Bayeux to see the tapestry which tells the story of William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings; we spent a day or a half at Arromanches, saw a documentary on D-Day and the landing of the allied forces on the beaches of Normandy. This was long before Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. I was young then, eleven or twelve, too young to really understand the events of 1066 or those of 1944. I remember feeling bored, and yet, something in the older generation's interest must have caught on. Years later I went back with a friend.

Figs. During my college time my friends and I traveled to Greece. We packed sleeping bags, mats, and swim suits, hitchhiked or took the bus; we slept on beaches - no tent, just the sky and its stars. One year, on the edge of a Peloponnese village, we bonded with a Greek guy, Dimitris. He let us stay in his beach front house: stone walls, cold water showers, and an orchard with fig trees. We swam and drank wine, discussed politics, Sartre, Camus, and the poems of Constantine P. Cavafy;* we ate hard cheese made from sheep's milk, cucumbers, yogurt, and garlic; snacked on figs to the point of a stomach ache. It was life in its most simple form. I thought I'd spend the rest of mine there, in the Mediterranean.

Dry summers, fig trees, and wine: when it comes to climate, vegetation, and the fruit of the land, Southern California is as close to my Peloponnese village as the U.S. can get. Still, this is L.A.: traffic, freeways and malls, a fast food chain on every corner. What do we know about simplicity?

To get back to basics I pluck some figs from our tree, pack tomatoes and cucumber, buy a loaf of french bread and a chunk of cheese (Humboldt Fog if I can find it), and then we head for the beach: Zuma, Cabrillo, El Matador. The waves remind me of a summer spent in Normandy.
- - -
* The Cavafy website linked here quotes many of the poet's works. If you read only one poem make it

Ithaca:

"As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery..."

Comments

debi said…
Christina,

There's a poignancy to this post that tugs; a quiet made of yearning and acceptance combined. I felt that same poignancy when I read Ithica.

Beautiful post.
Thank you for your kind words, Debi.

I love Cavafy's poems. Many show the yearning you speak of.
Lorraine Seal said…
Thanks for the memories, Christina. I loved the fat purple figs we used to pull from our backyard tree in California. You describe them beautifully.

Wonderful post!
Thank you, Lorraine.

The squirrels ate most of our figs this year. We would sit in the backyard and watch as they ran up to the tree, grabbed a fig, and carried it away. I guess they enjoyed them as much as we would have and so we shared...
Lorraine Seal said…
The bold squirrels and the starlings, and the bright iridescent flying beetles -- I remember them all feeding on the figs. Just as the blackbirds and black squirrels here are now enjoying the quinces in our garden too high for us to reach.

We're on the verge of the first snow here, by the way. The temperature has plunged; it could come any time.
Lorraine, may your winter be mild and short! And don't forget to build a snowman.

Popular posts from this blog

Visions of Editors: How Good Stories Go to Waste

Recently I stumbled upon Visions of Mary, a war story by Joseph Richardson. The book begins in a present day emergency room in Tennessee: A physician, a good guy who takes his work seriously, fights to establish the identity of a man who was found wandering about in a snow storm. The M.D.'s questions bring up memories of World War II in the disoriented patient. Thanks to the lost man's recollections we eventually learn that he is Colonel John Stone, an American war hero. The colonel tells the physician how he enlisted and became a pilot, how he married his sweetheart, Mary, and how he almost died when the Japanese shot down his plane, the "China Doll," in the last months of the war. After the attack, Stone and his men found themselves on a raft in the middle of a shark infested nowhere called the Pacific. Without food, water and radio connection their death seemed imminent. The men's fight for survival is where the book turns exciting: plunged into this crisis,

Lyman, Whitford, Reality Check: A Career in the West Wing?

On a chilly Sunday night in February two young girls in jeans and light blouses were standing in front of the artists' entrance of one of two local art theaters in Pasadena, California. The pathway beyond the barrier, an iron gate, was barely lit. It stayed empty for a long time while the girls, shifting weight from one foot to the other, chatted and giggled. After a while a figure emerged from the shadows. The girls fell silent but it was the wrong actor. When the right man, Bradley Whitford, finally appeared he was wearing a bicycle helmet pushed way up on his forehead. Whitford is best known for playing Josh Lyman in the TV series  The West Wing   but on that night he had performed in the Pasadena Playhouse's production of Yasmina Reza’s   Art.  The girls stopped the actor, told him about their social studies class and how the teacher would have them watch The West Wing.  Whitford smiled, asked, "Which school is it?" and autographed the two print-outs the girls

Solid Rock, Human Transience (The Huntington 2)

Organic blend: Chinese garden at the Huntington The Chinese garden at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino (L.A. county) is a magical place. It blends the man-made and the natural, architecture with trees, straight lines and curves, all in an organic way. Last week, as I was wandering the cobbled paths of the garden I decided to take a closer look at some of the rocks. I got to my knees, admired the shades of white and grey, the undertones of purple, green, and red; I let my hand glide over the limestone's spurs, cracks, and sharp edges, felt the coolness of the rock against my skin, its enduring solidity against my human transience - and decided to look up some facts. Spurs and cracks: 50 Chinese stone workers flew in to carve the stone Transplants in L.A.: 850 tons of rock The limestone rocks in the Huntington's Chinese garden are transplants. They were imported from Lake Tai in the Yangtze Delta in China. Acc