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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.

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