Borders, memories and food

Posted by Athena Parthenos

"The memory of time is full of swords and guns,

I want to remember you for that kiss you gave me in Iceland. " J.L. Borges

My memories, on the other hand, are all related to food. I know, it's embarrassing, but that’s how it is. I'll give you one example: you certainly know the popular program Masterchef. A few days ago, I watched an episode of the Australian series, about which I really love the colors, the preparations, and the type of food. In that episode, the challenge was to prepare a significant dish that had changed the lives of the competitors.

Wondering what that dish would be for me, my mind went back to 1989, to the memory of a saddle of venison accompanied by pears cooked in wine and cranberry sauce: for the first time, I tasted a combination of sweet and sour paired with meat, and something similar to a mystical experience opened my mind...

I suddenly realized that, in fact, no one, regardless of the country, eats bad food.  Food is a primary requirement and it would be odd not to devote great attention to it. If we gave room to understanding (and sometimes compassion) then we would open our minds, palate and stomach to culturally diverse, but not unpleasant, backgrounds.

Maybe it was that very experience that made me one of the first fervent supporters of globalization: traveling across borders with suitcases full of food from either side indifferently. I went abroad and brought with me kilos of Parmigiano, spaghetti, and cookies. I took them also to Austria in 1983, when there used to be borders and everyone gave me bad looks simply because I was Italian: they were suspicious of anything from me, especially that I would be hiding a wheel of Parmigiano in my sleeve.

Which I did, of course; how could I not? I did the same when I came home from Austria or the United States, or anywhere else in the world. My children know that full well, since they were forced to follow me into every available supermarket in search of strange products, which could not be found here. Not only could they not be found, but nobody had ever seen them!

All this led to gastronomic experiments that were suspicious to say the least...

I filled my suitcases with tons of jars, tubes, cans and sauces, jams, spreads. All those things kept me debating whether I should taste them, or lose them forever, after storing them for months and months like precious memories on my kitchen counter and in my wine cellar, pantry, and even my parents' house, when I ran out of space.

Those were my best memories (of course, for the customs officers who are reading, this story is pure fiction, ahem...). I was a strong supporter of internationalization, which desperately suffered from the lack of foreign products in our supermarkets. Now, I almost miss the desire to flee abroad to find the same products stripped of their mysterious and unattainable charm in some English or Scottish supermarket, Greek shop, or some Moroccan tent.

Now they can be found everywhere, and no one is surprised any more that the local spice department includes Greek Hay, or that half of a supermarket is dedicated to the rice paper required to make Korean rolls. If anything, we feel annoyed if the choice of tortillas is reduced to a single variety when we want to buy the organic type...

Food is this for me: a link that leads me to discover new people, cultures, glances at a humanity that makes war too often... food could unite, because we already know that spoken languages do not. I know now my survival is put to the test if I don’t have any peanut butter, pickled ginger makes me quiver, and I can beg for one last jar of chimichurri, and the memory of every trip, every place, and every civilization loses its borders and is identified only by its flavor, still preserved today, inside my mind.

Stefania Piva, blogger of Athena Parthenos srl.

pic from: www.famigliacristiana.it

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