Timeless (and, pistachios)
[The Med, August 2007.]
Unrelatedly: I have a piece in the Chron today.
But back to the good stuff: my Grecian adventure.
I think one of the reasons I came back from Greece filled to the brim with joy at its very existence was because of the way time slowed and simmered there. It was a true vacation for me; I packed my old backpacking pack, which has faithfully accompanied my on each trip out of the country (and lots of places within the U.S., too), with books and skirts and a swimsuit and not much else. I told Kurt I wanted to sleep, eat, and swim prodigiously, and oh, how I did. And it was grand.
There is something about the ocean that endlessly fascinates; when I lived in Washington, what I most missed was the option of an ocean nearby (the Potomac, while lovely, did not suffice). I loved my trips to the Eastern Shore each summer (Lewes, Delaware, how I miss you now!), but they were always such productions: getting up very, very early on a Saturday morning to beat the Bay Bridge traffic, sleepily getting coffee at the little shop in town, setting up camp for the day on the beach. I first read The Art of Eating while there, and I remember hardly even being able tear myself away to take a swim -- which, you know, means it was good.
So being back in Northern California, and living in a city which runs right up to the Pacific Ocean, has been wonderful for me. I don't get to the beach every day, of course, and there's hardly ever a hope of swimming, but knowing it's there, and is accessible, is enough.
Then: Spetses. To live on an island, even for ten days, surrounded by a calm, clear sea, eating so well of simple food, and soaking in a benign sun was truly magical. While I might not get back there for a long time, the memory if it should last me for a good long while. I keep making Publish Posthref="http://cucinanicolina.blogspot.com/2007/09/food-of-gods.html">feta and tomato salads and nibbling on the pistachios I brought back with me, trying to make them last.
Before I left, I heard from both my brother and his girlfriend the pistachio nuts in Greece were "amazing." Perhaps even "out of this world." Definitely "much different than the American version." Now, I love pistachios. I don't know how good they are for me, but as I am a salt-lover, they completely satisfy. Sometimes I have a little bowl with a glass of red wine and sit in my blue chair by the window and read on a Friday early evening, and it is perfectly wonderful. Unfortunately, after tasting the nuts from Aegina island (near to Spetses, and where my grandfather was born), the regular old Trader Joe's pistachios simple won't do.
And what makes Greek pistachios so much better? They are smaller, for one thing, and lighter -- somehow they taste very fresh. When you bite into them they are tender, with a hint of sourness, but the saltiness quickly cuts that away and you're left with a bit of nutty Greek goodness. I could eat them by the fistful and of course, they taste simply glorious in a baklava or a little ball of honeyed pastry dipped in chocolate which was, in case you were wondering, one of the best things I've eaten in my entire life (thanks, Emily!).
These pistachios taste like the Mediterranean. I'm not kidding when I say I've been dreaming of it almost every other night, and then waking, disoriented in my own little room. You know I love California, but this time 'round to Greece has made me realize my heart is big enough to encompass other places -- especially if they include a warm and lovely ocean, and lots and lots of sunshine.
"The greatest gift the sea has to give is its timelessness. Beside it, if you are able to receive it, that vast blue amplitude of space and time soothes, simplifies, heals. Beside it, if you are very quiet and still, you see clearly that life is and always has been outside time, a thing apart from it, and so you need have no real fear of time's poison fruits ..."
-Anne Rivers Siddons