Across the Water

This a story for the latest Friday Fictioneers prompt. If you are born in Ireland, or spend any time there, you will hear tragic stories of the Potato Famine, and the many thousands of Irish who sailed ‘across the water’ to escape.

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She walked down to the shore for one last time. The clouds were rolling from the Irish sea, the waves were sharp as cut glass as they broke on the rocks, yet she didn’t see it. She saw instead a path reaching down to the shore, lazy palm trees waving overhead, and the sun rising over the Southern ocean.

Was it really like that? Liam said it was in his letters. Half a world away he was waiting for her.

“There’s plenty of food here,” he wrote. “You don’t need no damn potatoes.”

She sighed and turned away from her visions. She looked up into the face of the priest as he sent her to God and gently closed her eyes. Another victim of the potato famine was gone from the cares of this world forever.

The only sound was her father’s sobs and the scratching of his pen as he wrote to Liam.

 

A Year in Spain

So I was looking for blog posts with this title and WordPress couldn’t find one, but suggested I write my own. As good a prompt as I have ever seen, because I have been thinking about my year in Spain lately.

What brought it to mind was watching Madagascar 3 with the kids. Hollywood rarely ‘gets’ the circus. Movies about the circus come up with all sorts of head scratching inaccuracies, that I get to crow about to my grandchildren because I grew up in the circus, but this time the laugh was on me. They got it all right, it was just packed with nostalgia for me, especially where they put up the circus tent in the Colosseum. During my year in Spain, we were at Barcelona Monumental Bullring, which is so enormous the six pole circus tent fitted right in.

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In those days my father took the photos.He rightfully believed no one would believe a huge circus tent could be fitted into a Spanish bullring. Some bullrings were small enough for just the circus ring, but in something as big as this, there was no point.

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Dad took this picture as we were heading for Avila – it lay below, overshadowed by mountains, on a rocky, barren tabletop near the Adaja river, the walled city in this mountainous and barren wilderness such an amazing sight. That’s our mobile home, a converted Leyland bus, which hated every moment of its year in Spain, heating up and boiling over constantly. Hence the chance to take a snap or two.

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This is a scrapbook page from 1961 – the year I was in Spain. I was only 16, fascinated by everything, and the polyglot of nations in which I found myself – German, Italian, French, Tunisian, Swiss, and so many more – it was wonderful! This was circus, this was the travelling life – we came from everywhere, yet we were all one,we were all circus. Madagascar 3 got that right too.

I realised, that in the world I belonged, there were no borders, no ghettos, and no room or place for racism, bigotry or prejudice. You could never judge anyone on their abilities or worth as a human being that way. One of the most talented circus artists I met in Spain had suffered polio in his youth, and still walked with a limp on a crippled leg. He was an inspired clown, a marvellous acrobat and a man who never, not in a million years, would have described himself as someone with a disability. What disability? He could do anything. He was circus.

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That’s him on the far left – Canamon.

Yeah I know – I should write about my year in Spain. I really should.

Why kimchi is Irish comfort food

the-kimchi-cookbookThe strong resemblances between Ireland and Korea may account for my obsession with all things Korean – particularly cinema and food – but do these similarities exist on a more personal level? Reading Lauryn Chun’s Kimchi Cookbook, I am even more convinced that somewhere back along the line, the two groups were one, and split apart, maybe when Atlantis sank.

In her book, Lauryn Chun writes about the comfort food of her Seoul childhood – “Suddenly it all made sense – why I was so curiously drawn to food and wine, my secret fascination when the deep smell of an aged wine elicited a faint memory of roasted soybeans…that made me recall the comforting memories of my childhood in Seoul, Korea.”

And suddenly it does all make sense – comfort food is that food that reminds you of when you felt comforted and nurtured in childhood – which is probably why my particular comfort food is cabbage. My grandmother Jess had a knack for making children feel comforted and nurtured. She wasn’t a great cook, but she cooked a lot of cabbage.

These days I prefer it stir fried to boiled, but the smell of cabbage always makes me feel comforted. Even eating it raw has the same effect, because she always gave me the hard stalk from the centre of the cabbage to chew on.

It’s extraordinary that Lauryn (born in Seoul, Korea) and I (born in Cobh, Ireland) share a comfort food. Thousands of miles apart, but united by the same pungent vegetable, and memories of happy moments in childhood. I came to kimchi late in life, thinking it was probably what my elders used to call ‘an acquired taste’ – in other words, no one in their right minds could just naturally take to it.

In my mind I likened it to sauerkraut (pickled cabbage), which I have never liked. But kimchi is quite something else – spicy, cheeky and yes – comforting. It warms the stomach and the heart. (Now I am yearning for a gingered pork and kimchi riceburger from Mosburger – yum!)

Anyway, this book is basically everything you ever wanted to know about making kimchi at home, from ‘is it even possible?’ to ‘can I make instant kimchi with apples, persimmons and pears?’ Well, of course it’s possible – Koreans have been doing it for centuries – and yes, you can and it looks lush.

In her introduction to the recipes, Lauryn Chun writes movingly about her early childhood in Seoul, and growing up in the very different culture of Southern California, where her mother cautioned not to eat kimchi in public or share it with her American friends because they might be offended by its malodorous nature. I think I went through the same thing with pig’s feet when I moved to England as a child.

Similarly, it was discovering diverse food cultures elsewhere that did away with any self consciousness about her own food culture and awakened her love of food. Me too. Discovering Spanish, French and Middle Eastern cuisines opened my mind to new tastes, and my heart to old comforting memories. One thing we all share, world wide, is an attachment to the food we grew up with, and a feeling of being comforted by familiar tastes.

Lauryn’s mother operates the Korean restaurant Mother-in-law’s Kitchen in California, and Lauryn makes and sells Mother-in-law’s Kimchi (MILKimchi) using the restaurant’s own recipe, so the recipes’ pedigrees are impeccable.

Ah the recipes! I didn’t know kimchi could be so versatile.There are recipes for each of the four seasons, from long brined and complex in winter and autumn, to short brined and simple for summer and spring. For example, instant red leaf lettuce kimchi is more of a quick salad that can be served with barbequed meat.

The autumn sees kimjang, the cabbage harvest and annual kimchi making, with the abundance of the season reflected in the recipes – butternut squash kimchi, kimchi with persimmon and dates, traditional napa kimchi, daikon kimchi and the  recipe used by Mother In Law Kitchen. Then there are recipes for using kimchi in cooking, such as Eggs Benedict with Kimchi Hollandaise.

There is so much to take in, it is impossible to mention it all here. The Kimchi Cookbook is a great read as well as a great cookbook.

*If you want to know more about the Korean/Irish connection check out The Irish Association  of Korea, and the Irish Embassy in Korea.

You can buy MILKimchi and DIY kimchi kits at Lauryn Chun’s website.

Sunday 1939

This story is in response to the photo prompt at Friday Fictioneers. The prompt is not an easy one this time, and I honestly thought it would be beyond me. But it stirred memories of stories I heard from people who recalled the start of WWII on September 1, 1939, and my father’s comment that war was “never did anyone any good and mostly it’s the children that suffer.”

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Sunday 1939

Sundays were quiet in our house. Usually, we gathered around the radio – father quietly reading the paper, mother knitting, and me busy with my crayons and drawing paper.

This Sunday seemed different. Dad’s paper was still folded, and mum’s knitting lay idly in her lap. They were watching me with my crayons drawing dresses for my paper dolls, as if it were the most important thing on earth.

Then I caught the words coming from the radio. “This country is at war with Germany.”

My mother gave a sob and grasped me in her arms. Outside, air raid sirens shrieked for the first time.

Next day, I was standing on a railway station with a name tag and a suitcase. I never went home again.

 

*Just a note to say that this did not happen to me. I am a Baby Boomer, born after the war. But it did happen to a British friend of my parents, who was evacuated to the country as a child when war was declared. Her home was destroyed in the London bombings, and her parents did not survive the war. I thought this was actually a story that could be told on both sides of the war, since my father heard similar stories from death camp survivors. Suddenly they would find themselves on a train station and never see their home again. As he said, it is mostly the children that suffer.

Duet in A Flat

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This is the photo prompt by Roger Cohen for this weeks FF challenge. I think it’s gorgeous, and even a little erotic.

Duet in A Flat

“Two cellos in one small flat is ridiculous! One of us has to leave.”

“The cellos don’t seem to mind.”

“Of course not. They’ve taken up the loo. But I mind having to move them every time I have to go.”

Tessa and Stephen glared at each other across the tiny breakfast bar. It really was a small flat.

“One of us could take up another instrument.”

“Well, not me,” Tessa huffed.

“Or we could take a hint from the cellos.”

One passionate embrace later, there was no more talk of breaking up. But they did start looking for a bigger flat.


Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring

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One of the most beautiful and moving films ever made. The setting is exquisitely beautiful, a temple floating on a lake surrounded by hills and trees. It is home to an old monk and the young boy he is training. This is spring, in the boy’s innocent youth.

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In summer, when the boy is in his teens, he gets his first taste of desire when he meets a young girl, whose mother is seeking help for the girl’s illness. When the old monk sends the girl away, the boy also leaves, and the seasons turn to autumn and winter, as the world outside intrudes.

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This lyrical poem of a movie was directed by multi talented Kim Ki-Duk, who also plays the boy as an adult. Ki-Duk directed also directed the intriguing 3-Iron. Every frame in Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring s a work of art, every movement of the camera is pure zen. The performances are excellent but it is Ki-duk’s vision that lingers long in the memory after the closing credits.

 

The King of Terror

This story was suggested by my son Laurence, as a possible explanation for what Nostradamus might actually have seen. I published it for the Friday Fictioneers fireworks prompt last week. Better late than never!

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Grey faced, the seer staggered back from the bowl, and pressed his back against the wall of his tower room, shielding his eyes from the terrible vision which had confronted them.

Michel de Nostradamus had seen many terrible things, both in the present and the future. The plague, the graves of his first wife and their children, the agonising death of a king…

But this defied all horror. The world would end in 1999, in a welter of flame,  the sky lit up all over the world by what he could only think of as the coming of a great King of Terror.

Nostradamus covered his head and moaned, while the scrying bowl continued to reflect the worldwide fireworks celebrations of New Year’s Eve. 1999.