‘Remembrance of Things Past’ – the dreamscape

This morning I woke up with the flavor of “Remembrance of Things Past” swirling in my dreams. Marcel Proust wrote this book before the first World War. I read an excellent translation years ago by Montcrieff. Swann’s Way and the Within the Budding Grove still haunt me. It is written as if in a waking dream, of a man lost in memories of people and places long ago. The writing is delicious, detailed with minute remembrances of the sound of a blue muslin dress, the flower garden in the summer (with their ‘balls of blossoms’), the yearning of a mother’s kiss….

The descriptions of bygone lamp-lit Paris, treacherous Venice and fecund French countryside, with mannerisms and traditions long since blown away like gray ash. Places and time so strange and yet so familiar to us.

At night I too sometimes dream of a home and people that I have left behind, of a past life, of past mannerisms and traditions gone forever, their loss catches me unawares and presses a sweaty palm across my eyes.

“Remembrance” is a trilogy, and written in an era where time walked at a slower pace, where there was leisure to discover and express one’s thoughts (within decorum). The mahogany chairs covered with green velvet (they are uncomfortable), a shivering Duchess covered by a coat of white ermine, the loss of Albertine (a love within reach, but never to be found)….

Such is life in the remembrance of things past.

But my baby had a smile for me this morning, and I soon forgot the book till now. I wanted to capture that fleeting moment of past places and time, that will revisit again.

Glorious past - Looking at Taj Mahal from the window of a new restaurant


Holiday Traditions

Ginger cats, dog and piggies

Now that we have a baby, traditions have taken on a new meaning. And in all of the traditions, the key seems to be family, friends, and food. What is food without spices? Much of the spices that we are familiar with today are native to South Asia. Black pepper, cardamom, ginger, sugar – the key ingredients of making gingerbread cookies are all from India. Other wonderful spices such as cloves, cinnamon too are from South Asia. So, although we are celebrating European-style Christmas (minus Krampus, unfortunately) – we are also celebrating a multi-cultural cuisine, reminding us of histories and flavors from far-away worlds and cultures.

The recipe I’m trying today is from Michael Ruhlman’s blog:

The Gingerbread piggies taste great – and thanks to the enterprising Brits (and the Portugese, of course) who sailed around the world in search of spices! How dull would Christmas cuisine be with just salt and juniper berries 🙂

Christmas has truely become a secular festival (I know the current Pope hates the ‘s’ word- but there it is). I called family and friends in India, and they were all either hosting large Christmas parties or going to one (or several). Christmas in India means out-of-tune carol singing, kebabs, spicy Indo-Chinese food, spiced rum, colonial Christmas puddings, skinny brown Santas, elephant and camel rides for children, and hoopla stalls run by large Punjabi ladies. It is all rather jolly. Delhites also round off a month of Christmas parties by heading off to balmy Goa and renting a beach-side cottage or hotel room for the New Years. Then, it’s a round of fresh sea-food, Portugese carnivals, and lounging on the golden sand drinking chilled Kingfisher beer.

Ok, granted, that this is not the life of many Indians (as my American friends quickly point out when I display my Indian holiday pictures – “but India is so poor”). Yes, that is true. And that is why, I think (as an outsider of course), that Christmas in America can stray off into the realm of ridiculous crazy consumerism. I like the gift-giving for children – but for adults, do we really need to hunt down another feather-boa for Aunty Gladys? This year we made cookies for family and friends. That was a lot of work for us that required thought and attention to detail, and a lot of love went into making each gingery batch. The house smelled wonderful. I was happy. Contrast that to battling angry crowds at the mall (not to mention that the parking lot is a medieval jousting ground).

As my husband observed, as a large woman pushed me and my baby out of the Chipotle burrito line, “Some people do get more aggressive and rude during the holidays”. Americans are normally over-worked, exhausted from long work-days and commute; juggling house cleaning, laundry, cooking; brutalized by credit card companies and living precariously from paycheck-to-paycheck – then, on top of it, dealing with frenzied crowds just seems to be palcing the extra needle on the camel’s back. El snapo.

Going back to traditions, my husband’s grandma is our beacon. I ask her how things are done for guidance, as this is new territory for me. Grandma says that before women went back to work in America, traditions were celebrated differently. People were more neighborly. People made the ornaments themselves and gave them as gifts, baked cookies for neighbors and friends, and filled stockings with little things like candies and winter socks. As I reflect on her wise words, I understand why India seems so rooted in traditions still. Most women stay at home and families are multi-generational. Grandparents live at home with you. Friends drop by for lunch or dinner unannounced, all meals are home-cooked, homes spotless, holidays extra special, children well-behaved – mothers and grand-mothers are truly the ‘kings of the castle.’ My friends who do work in India, do it out of choice, not under the necessary burden of meeting the monthly mortgage/rent or credit card bill.

Ok, I’m not advocating that women stay at home, I myself prefer to work and have a career. I’m only making an observation that once a culture’s women are all at work, who’s helming the castle and maintaining the values the traditions? The kids? The pet dog?

But, hey – the gingerbread cookies turned out great and everyone enjoyed them. This is one Christmas tradition that I’ll be continuing. 🙂