I resented the fact that am not allowed to drive here, resented the fumes from the car exhaust pipes filling my lungs with lead, resented the lack of pavements, resented the holes and craters in the streets, resented the fact that I have to debate for 30 mn or so what is appropriate or not appropriate dress code…
Knowing the tight frontiers, almost everything is not appropriate short of stuffing your head in a veil…but then it takes courage to dare and affirm some identity. So it takes creativity to play around and work your way with these frontiers, imposed frontiers…
Anyways, so I finally made it outside the door filled with resentment and apprehension. Fear of falling into another hole, choking from the fumes, harassed for playing with frontiers…or simply bombarded with horns from car drivers, small blasts that overtake you by surprise and leave you in a startled state wondering where did the bomb go off…Then you remind yourself, it’s nothing but a car horn.
I decided I was not going to let myself be sucked in by the negativity, I was going to make it a thoroughly enjoyable experience. So I programmed myself to see the positive everywhere…OK, it was not coming but I kept at it, until I reached the grocery store.
Let it be a sensual experience, I said to myself. I walked into the over cooled small shop, felt like walking into an Alaskan breeze. Was freezing.
What happened to the old fashioned fans ? You know the ones that hang from the ceiling. Why is everyone so much into AC’s ? I hate those fucking AC’s. I like fans. I remember lying in bed and watching it going round and round taking me into a hypnotized trance. I loved the swirling of fans from the ceilings.
Movement — moving the air, moving the energy, instead of that stale AC that just blows cold air, indiscriminately… Mass cold air from the North.
So I was saying — I was about to transform it into a sensual experience and I did.
It is the small pleasures of life that are important. So this is what you need to do when you walk into a grocery store (not supermarkets).
You close your eyes and get into a olfactory mode first. It takes a couple of seconds. Then you blink again and get into a visual mode. The colors become brighter. Then you blink again and program yourself to get into an auditive mode. This exercise is called tuning in your senses. In other words — shake that numbness off your shoulders.
And it works. The olives looked bigger and greener. The cheese smelled as if the goat, cow, sheep was around the corner. The almonds looked beautiful and you could contemplate their shapes for hours. And look at those walnuts. Perfectly made. And the smell of thyme mixed with sesame seeds, embraced me and took me to those lovely hills, where the sunset takes on a perfect gold color, just like the olive oil in those bottles in front of me. Shining, pure undiluted gold.
Told the young man behind the counter — I want it All.
– Yes All and smiled. Of course I could not tell him I wanted the hills, the sunset, and the almond, walnut and olive trees…
He smiled back – a rare occurrence here. He probably thought I was on drugs or something. You can have it All if you can afford it was his reply.
– OK then let me taste a bit of All. So he offered me a few olives, a bit of feta cheese, a few almonds and walnuts. I had to taste what I was going to buy first.
Delicious. The programming worked. The green olives transported me to the hills, and the thick olive oil and lime in which they soaked gave them this little bitter edge, just a reminder of beauty always being tinged with a little bitterness.
The cheese was just right. Not too salty and its pure untainted whiteness reminded me of the buffalo cream I had back home. It looked like snow, a thick snow covering the grounds and hiding the ugliness of its washed out grayish brown.
Now came the turn for the almonds. I love almonds, both green and dried. They too have this slight bitter taste tinged to them. A reminder again.
Now came the walnuts. Two kinds were exposed. Local and American made. The local walnuts looked smaller, a bit out of shape, a darker brown…
The American walnuts looked big, a much lighter brown, well built, well shaped, they looked more appetizing…
At that point, my auditive mode highly tuned, heard an accent I recognize all so well. Here comes a tall, handsome man, with an Iraqi accent from Mosul. He was buying something for his daughter. I did not look, I just saw him from the corner of my eyes…It was enough. An air of anonymous familiarity suddenly pervaded me. And an inner smile shone through, a homesickness slightly abated…
– Let me taste those walnuts, I said
– Which ones the American or the local ?
– Let me taste the American ones first — as if I needed to.
He handed me this half walnut that looked big, well built, in good shape and put it in the palm of my hand. I picked it up, looked at it one more time and took it slowly to my lips. Sniffed it first a little and put it in my mouth.
Damn, Damn! It has this old stale, molded, rotten taste. That took me out of my sensual mode right back to reality.
– What the hell is that? This tastes rotten despite the appearances. Disgusting!
At that point, the man from Iraq said in a very loud voice in his strong Moslawee accent and he did take me by surprise.
Is there anything American that is not rotten ? Anything at all ? Everything American is rotten.
I felt of surge of hopeful beauty rising up in me again, tinged with the bitter sadness in his voice…The inner smile I had initially felt inside of me, moved up and lit my face like the golden colored olive oil trapped in the bottles in front of me.
I turned to him and said “You said it. Thank you for making my day”
I then asked the young man to let me taste the local walnuts. He placed several in the palm of my hands, treating them with nonchalance. They were cheaper than the American ones. He could afford to dispose of them more generously…
I looked at them nesting in my hand – small, dark brown and out of shape compared to the ones made in America. I took one to my mouth and the taste — a wonderful velvety taste, fresh, smelling of the earth, no staleness to them, no mold, no rot…and this small, out of shape nut managed to over ride and dispel the taste of the bigger rotten nut, the American one.
I will take local anytime, I said to the young man – to his utter displeasure.
I paid for the olives, the cheese, the almonds and the local walnuts and walked out into the warm evening breeze, into the car fumes, the holes in the streets, the car horns, across the tight frontiers and borders…back home.
P.S: Sorry, forgot to wish you a Happy Independence Day – Yesterday…
Art Work: Ceramics by Iraqi artist, Waleed.R.Al Quaisi –“Untitled Form”