Having moved across a great many miles by plane, train, taxi and using my own feet, I’ve arrived in the “major” town near where my solitary time will be. I have so many stories to tell about the last month of my life. Adventures in Paris, folks I spoke with, the Hammam Pacha in Paris (a Hammam Pacha Post coming in the future), the Lebanese restaurant Chez Nagi, the Gentle Gourmet (vegetarian and vegan restaurant in Paris), time with my husband that was precious beyond words, lovely luncheons with my father and Judy, long walks through Paris and pounding pavement and endless going up and down stairs in the metro, time at museums, moments of breathtaking wonderment at the master works of some of my favorite painters and discoveries of beauty and joys previously unknown.
But right now I’m in the county of Yeats’ child-hood in the home of Hadi and Lorena. I am watching a murder of crows or ravens wheel about and grab the grains of rice Hadi left out for them from last night’s Iranian feast. The garden is small; off their backyard. I arrived by train from Dublin’s 4pm train, where I flew into Ireland from Paris. I got here around 7pm in the evening, where I am (secret location), and I needed to find accommodation for one night. I knew this ahead of time and so while I was still in Paris I found several possible places to spend the night, thanks to Airbnb, that was easy. What was spectacular is that I landed here in the home of Hadi from Iran and his Lovely Irish wife Lorena.
What always amazes me is the way the Divine has such a light and lovely touch in my life at this point. Not sure if that is the Holy One taking a personal interest or more just my eyes opening and seeing things from a very specific kind of perspective. But basically, everyone I encounter and engage with, so far, on this journey has been a tremendous offering with something I specifically and deeply wished for and needed offered from out of seemingly nowhere, but clearly somewhere.
This is primarily a story about spices though. The people and the flavors I’ve encountered and the massive engagement with them and reveling in food that I have been on before heading into my more sparse and spare food reality. I knew that Paris would be a place of eating and no holds barred. Why bother being there if you aren’t going to have a chocolat chaud or a croissant or canard or plat des fromages or poisson cuit au amandes et miel? So, yes, a lot of good food has been eaten by me since I left my home, where I cook the good food. I did make a few meals for my beloved in Paris at our Airbnb flat, and one luncheon for Dad and Judy, but otherwise, I’ve been fed and not feeding others for the last month.
While writing this I got an email message from the person who will be picking me up in a few hours. Her message was she’d come get me from this home where I am, but she might be “late.” This is what I responded with:
“I’m writing up a storm here, enjoying the rain, the murder of crows in the yard and will keep my eyes open for you. There is no more late or early for me. I’m on the rain time, the Hermitage time, the time of Holy Happenings as they unfold in Grace.”
Just saying that makes me gleeful. Hadi, Lorena and I have just shared some coffee with honey and delicious almond raspberry cake, made by Lovely Lorena and, of course, more honey. Hadi is from Iran and just recently got to see his family after ten years apart. He has a twin brother and big family there. Because of the wounded crazy and politically complicated parts of our world, it is very hard for him, as a man of Iranian descent, to travel and connect to his family physically. This is part of my story that makes the tears flow.
When I arrived here, I entered in and smelled some very good cooking. I met these two lovely humans and after my long day of travel sat in their kitchen drinking water (tea was offered, but I wanted water). I said it smelled heavenly and wondered might I be able to join them for their dinner when it was ready. The answer was of course. So, I got an delicious Iranian dinner of lamb stew with lentils and an incredible yogurt dish and basmati rice. Hadi also regaled me with his tales about the wonders of honey and the many uses of honey. Hadi and his love of honey were very clear and Lovely Lorena mentioned that many, many. many spoonfuls of honey a day are consumed by her husband. It was clear to me that all the honey eating had made Hadi honeyed and I told Lorena that, let him keep eating all that honey, it’s clearly making him sweet!
Now onto the spicy part of this story.
So, while I was in Paris, I knew I needed to buy spices for whatever fare I’d be cooking and consuming in my small cabin. I am just fine with the idea of simpler meals and basic foods, which will be my lot starting tonight and on-wards for many months. I’m not okay without some spice or flavor to put on my legumes or zucchini or grains. So, I went to the market off Maison Blanche metro stop on l’avenue d’Italie on one of the market days, while I was in Paris. Hundreds of people walking in a tiny corridor between vendors offering their watermelons, fish, meat, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, clothing,flowers, bathroom supplies, perfumes, linens, electronics, all calling out to you, in French loudly; all hoping you’ll stop at their stall and not the one down the line for your apricots or your baguette.
I found a stall that was full of gorgeous dried fruits, buckets of olives in many different kinds of brines, nuts and middle-eastern foods, hummous, and baba ghanoush and anchovies and tzaziki and a large array of spices. YAY! I started asking the vendor if he had cumin, coriander, hot pepper, etc… He and I fell a little in love (my husband has been informed). Ramadan, that was his name, was probably somewhere between 60-75. It is hard to say because I’m terrible with figuring out how old or young a person is and he was un petit homme mais avec un grand coeur et un ravissant sourire (a small man but with a big heart and a delightful smile). He had a smooth beautiful hairless head and his skin was lovely and the color of roasted almonds and he was young-looking, but he wasn’t a young man. The first time we met, we just liked each other.
I knew I would come back to his stall and went back there on Sunday (the market was Thursdays and Sundays). I walked too many blocks between all the other vendors and found no Ramadan and his wares. I was very sad. The open air stall is a small representation of their larger presence in Paris called Le P’tit Souk, but I knew I wouldn’t have time to go there, so I thought this was my last chance and I missed it.
I found some time and tried again on the following Thursday and wonderfully, there he was. This is when the love-affair really began. A love affair of spices and enthusiasm over life and the Divine and living with flavor and joy. He kept exclaiming that I was a “femme exceptionelle, extraordinaire” and many other superlatives were used. Now, any vendor knows, complimenting your customer is a VERY good idea. But this wasn’t that. There was a connection and a spark between us, momentary, but real and so kind and genuine. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am always falling in love with everyone. Men, women, birds, beasts, flowers, paintings, the texture of a fine linen, a particular shade of orange on a woman’s dress, I’m just falling in love all the time and everywhere. This is not always so easy for those who love me, but at this point, my most beloved has gotten used to it.
So, I collected all the spices I needed and said Aleicum Salaam/ Aleichem Shalom (which is the farewell portion of the greeting Salaam Aleicum/Shalom Aleichem) to Ramadan and the P’tit Souk stall on avenue D’Italie. Because Sunday was Tisha B’Av, and I was fasting and chose to stay home and observe this day of mourning at “home,” I couldn’t get back to the P’tit Souk. And, perhaps he wouldn’t have been there. Unfortunately for me, the one spice I had forgotten to get was saffron, and I realized this but had no time to return to the market or go to another one before leaving for Ireland. Oh well, one can live without saffron.
But, not really, at least the Holy One and I are aligned in this manner. Ha-Shem gifted me with these people and upon entering the home of Hadi and Lorena and smelling the smells and starting the conversations before dinner, somewhere in all of this, Hadi started getting out all the spices he had brought back with him from Iran. Hadi and I began a conversation in spice and smells. When a good cook meets another good cook, just like gardener to gardener or painter to painter, you share your wares, your secrets, your seeds. So, he gave me a pot of something small and red to smell. I told him I had to say a blessing first before smelling something delightful. I said my blessing and smelled HEAVEN in crushed deep red saffron. I smiled and said, “saffron, from Iran or Turkey?” Hadi said:
“Iran, the best is always from Iran, never Turkey or anywhere else, Iran!”
I’d have to agree. A little while later he gave me a bag of his precious saffron and I almost cried. I’m crying now as I write this.
Perhaps a bag of saffron is not something that would make most people cry, but for me, it’s like being offered jewels or water in a desert. Spice and color are the oasis in a landscape that too many people have made barren and dull. For me, and for those who engage with spices and herbs, the boundaries of delight that we can create with a simple pinch of saffron or a drop of cinnamon or corriander, is our way of making magic real in this world, and on your tongue and in your body.
The Holy One made all of this and all of us, Ramadan the Parisian vendor, Hadi the honey-loving saffron sharing Irish-Iranian, Lorena the Lovely, kind and almond-cake making hostess. You and I and Mick, the Yeats’-quoting poetry taxi-driver and Gearard my train-ride companion for the three-hour train after Dublin, Caleb, the maintenance man, at the Paris flat who carried my hugely heavy suitcase up the two flights of tiny wooden stairs around 4pm in the month of Ramadan, when he hadn’t had any food or water, simply because he was kind and could see that it was going to be very hard for me to do. All of these people and more, all gifts along my path, shimmering jewels of human goodness and flavor that the Holy One has placed on my path as I make my way.
I have lots more stories to tell and I will tell them as they need to be told. For now, if you are in Paris, find the P’tit Souk stall on Avenue d’Italie, say Salaam Aleicum to Ramadan the spice vendor for me. Eat at the Lebanese restaurant Chez Nagi (I’ll tell that adventure, in detail, another time). Also, if you happen to be a vegetarian or love one, as I do, go to the Gentle Gourmet. It is not so easy to find truly Vegan/Vegetarian food when you are traveling, also they have gluten-free, soy-free, and vegan specialties, so if you have particular food requirements and allergies, this is the place for you. I’ll write up a longer narrative about that meal as well, later.
How kind of Ha-Shem to give me these folks and these moments of human connection with excellence and color before I head deep into stillness and contemplation. I’m grateful beyond words and ready to begin a different kind of journey. Heading out to my hermitage shortly and off to unknown territory, but in my bag, my heavy, heavy bag full of what I need for the next ten months, there is one ingredient, lighter than all the rest, it’s the one that will take me straight to Gan Eden/Paradise, the Iranian saffron given to Honey-Loving Hadi by his sweet mother and shared with me, here in Ireland.
How can you possibly doubt the presence of Holiness and Honeyedness (a new Nicole word), after hearing this story?
In love of honey, saffron, humans, crows, rain, Yeats and the green, green Isle of Eire,