It’s like spring, you know? Spring, when greens shyly break out of the snow, out of the soil, the world slowly turning green, then myriads of colours everywhere. Inappropriately dipping our fingers in the acidic balsamic vinegar drops that remained in our dessert plates, collecting the few sweet crumbles of toffee pudding and then licking them, my best friend K and myself tried to untangle the complex elaborate courses we had just shared at a tiny London restaurant-and with that our lives. Even though that meal didn’t smell like spring to me, her image of spring stayed with me. Its symbolism: rebirth, resurrection, awakening, change. We don’t know yet how change happens, someone recently told me. And he was right.
The last few years of my life have been covered by what feels like my mum’s fasolada. Its taste, there is something in it, until today I don’t know what, something which filled my mouth with appaul and disgust. And the smell, that smell of metal that penetrated my nostrils every time the spoonful approached my mouth, and somehow awakened intense feelings of bitter melancholia and a smokey darkness. And although it’s been many years since I stopped eating my mum’s fasolada, the last few years brought back its taste and smell, these ugly feelings of appaul, disgust, repulsion. Of darkness. Of bitter melancholia. So much so, that I had begun to think that its taste would never leave my mouth, its smell would travel with me, in my soul, for many more years to come.
Until a brief encounter, a few weeks ago. Until someone with a captivating gaze, gently guided me towards a plate of jalapeno corn bread, at a time when I had become used to seeing, hearing, feeling darkness around me. Biting slowly into the filling, yellow sweetness of the corn, comforting and soothing, ever slightly protective of the world around, a kind of comfort shined through the dark clouds, the kind of comfort I don’t allow myself experiencing anymore. And at the same time, the expected yet unexpected. Heat and spice, tingling your tongue, taking you away from your comfort into a sparkling new world, with colours and sounds and passion. Taking you away only to bring you back again, as you feel the buttery crisp cornbread crumbling in your mouth, filling you with aromas of calmness, serenity, excitement, and dare I imagine, finally a hope for happiness? As I carefully savoured bite after bite, over the course of a few days, taking care in slowly experiencing this newly discovered pleasure, timid, almost scared that it might be so fragile, almost like a dream from which you will reluctantly wake up. I bite, slowly, surprised, for bite after bite, day after day, the flavour doesn’t change. It remains bold and intense, gentle and mellow, creating within me a new taste, a new smell, creating spring.
And when it irreversibly reaches the end, when all that’s left is the memory of someone’s presence around you, this alone remains so strong that you somehow know, you somehow feel that something has changed. It is these connections that we so crave. They don’t come often dear reader, but when they do…without them knowing, they stir you up, shed light into your darkness, and make you lust food and life again.
Upon my return, somehow life as I knew it had changed. For I had changed. And although there are nights where the deafening silence scares me, as I fear that I will enter the darkness again, deep down I know, and I keep surprising myself realising that I have now found something that will never let darkness envelop me like it did before.
I even tasted my mum’s fasolada today. Leaned over the silver pot and timidly smelled it, waiting for appaul to appear. It didn’t. I timidly took a spoon and dipped it into the warm red liquid, bringing the beige beans, bright orange carrots and dark green herbs into my mouth, as if entering the house of horror: there was nothing. No appaul, no disgust, no melancholia. I swallowed. Leaned over and smelled again. Something had changed. Was it it? Was it me? I took another spoonful, expecting the normality of the taste to be shattered by bad memories. Nothing. Another. It was just beans and carrot and herbs and tomato. It was…indifferent. I went to my mum. What changed? I asked. I don’t know, she said, but something changed. I could tell too. It smelled different (my mum never tastes the food she prepares). But I don’t know, I cook instinctively now. Maybe the tiny bit of sugar I added to the tomato paste because it was too bitter? Maybe that was it.
I finished my bowl of fasolada, slowly, one spoonful at a time, still waiting for the bad smell to come; still waiting for the bad taste to fill my mouth; still waiting for darkness. But it didn’t. And I was left looking at an empty bowl, still startled, still cautious, yet somehow certain.
We may not know yet how change happens dear reader. For some things, it’s the sugar in the fasolada. For me, it was the comforting excitement of sharing a jalapeno cornbread during a brief encounter. And that’s all that really matters.