At the gym the other day, I was reading one of my New Yorker magazines while on the stationary bike. (Reading these magazines while I’m working out is the only hope I have of even coming close to keeping up with this magazine that comes out every week.) I was reading the annual Food issue (which you subscribers know comes out in late November, so you get the picture of how far behind I am on my reading) and there was an essay about Baumkuchen. I don’t think the word “Baumkuchen” was in the title, but I knew right away the subject was Baumkuchen because there was an illustration of the cake on the same page. Immediately, I knew how Baumkuchen was made (on a spit); I knew what it tasted like (drier than American cakes) and I knew what it looked like inside (pinstripes running throughout in a tree ring pattern). I assumed this was all common knowledge, but when I began to read the essay, I realized that Baumkuchen is not a commonly known dessert, even in Germany. I began to wonder why it was that I knew Baumkuchen so well.
These mental puzzles keep me eager to work out and awake on long drives (see my Nov. 30, 2009 entry). I scanned my life for instances when I would have encountered Baumkuchen. The two clues I dwelled on were 1) its German origin and 2) that, I’d not only tasted it, I’d seen it being made. Finally, I remembered working at a bakery when I was a teenager that was owned by a father and son of German descent. Baumkuchen was one of their special pastry projects and the staff was often asked to taste the results.
I was really happy to remember Baumkuchen. It’s a lovely word and a scrumptious cake. And it was glorious to remember riding my bike to the bakery every morning at dawn and chatting with the bakers who had been working all night before we opened the store for the day. What a gift it was to have my memory triggered so! What triggers your memory?
Once I had a job where I was paid a good deal of money to do very little. I was never comfortable with this situation, so I would make up stuff to do all day, every day. Sometimes the things I worked on had to do with my employer; but sometimes I ran out of ideas related to my employer and I immersed myself in activities unrelated to my employer. I felt badly doing this; but the truth is, I was also a little peeved at my employer for hiring me and paying me so well for this pretend job.
The point is, related or unrelated to my employer, I was almost always occupied with one project or another. People throughout the company would come to me with a request and usually preface his or her question with, “I know you are very busy, but…” To which I would always reply, “I’m NOT busy; I’m just doing this project to occupy my time.” Yet, even though I felt like I was constantly correcting the misconception that I was “busy,” I kept being referred to that way. Finally, I realized that when people were calling me “busy,” they were really telling me that they thought I was “important.” In this particular setting, the word “busy” meant “important.”
Ever since, I have been suspicious of the word “busy.” It often means something very different than what we think it means.
Once when my son was 17, I got so mad at him that I “quietly” said “I am so furious that I can’t even look at or listen to you. You have to leave the house.” He asked me where he should go, but I had already left the room, hoping he’d vanish before I returned. Four hours later, I’d calmed down and he came home. I asked him where he’d been and he told me he’d taken the bus to the Democratic campaign headquarters (it was near the 2004 presidential election), volunteered for a few hours, then gotten a ride home from someone’s mother who was there also. I expected him to answer my question, “none of your #$%^ business.” (More proof that he “deserved” my anger in the first place.) Instead, he told me he had done something important to me. Five + years later — still blows me away. Grace.
What is the kindest thing the object of your fury ever did for you?
I made chili and cookies for 85 people yesterday. Actually, with all the planning, grocery shopping, and prep work (cleaning and chopping vegetables, making cookie dough, etc.), this was a several day project. Except for grating (which I had someone else do for me), I enjoy everything about baking and cooking, so this was mostly fun. I spoke to my sister the night before the meal and I said, “The beans have been the most challenging, which surprised me because cooking beans is so easy. But, finding containers to soak all those beans, then transporting them from my house to the industrial kitchen where I’d cook them was much more work than I’d anticipated.” My sister said, “You’re cooking the beans? I’d use canned beans.” and I said, “Well, I’m a dried bean person. I only use canned beans in extreme situations.” In retrospect, I’d say making chili for 85 people is an extreme situation.
I rarely get sick, but today it was 6:00 p.m. before I could stand still long enough without sneezing to brush my teeth.
I’ve never been more homesick than I was when I got sick in Cuba. Americans like and expect to be left alone when they are sick. Evidently, this is not universally true. I kept waking up to find myself the focus of a crowd of people speaking Spanish very fast and handing me mysterious potions and pills. Surrounding my bed were not only the members of the household where I was staying, but aunts, cousins, neighbors, the pastora, the doctora and the pharmacia, too. A young man picked up my leg and started rubbing my calf very hard; all the while asking, “Te duele?” (which means “Does it hurt?”) Being the polite American I am, I kept saying “No,” even though it really, really hurt. It found out later that particular folk cure involves rubbing the leg very hard until it hurts. I was trying to be nice, but I inadvertently insulted his manhood by claiming he wasn’t hurting me.
A friend of mine came to my window later and I said, “I thought you were sick too.” He said, “I was. But I had to get well to get away from all those cures.”
That was my strangest experience of being sick. What’s yours?