Well, I have certainly been radio silent for some time. Not the promise I made to myself or my small band of readers and friends for a weekly entry on the subject of joy.
Let’s suffice it to say that sometimes I doubt the presence of joy or the ability of an individual to grasp and hold on to joy. These past few weeks have found me profoundly uncertain that anything resembling joy was available to my life. I am not any different from other people who doubt one thing or another at a point in time.
My life over some period of years has been a roller coaster ride of “one damn thing after another” that seemed impossible to escape from. Impossible to shake off, as well. But, some perspective has returned to me again in the past week or two and I am reminded of a small sweet experience I had in Chicago many years ago.
I met a lovely couple through some other folks I knew in Chicago. They invited me over to their apartment on a Saturday just to talk and get to know one another. She was a writer for Women’s Wear Daily and he was a cook in a local restaurant with the abilities of a chef. A playful spirit with perhaps too little ambition…except for good food. I don’t remember her name, but his was Rob. Rob had a huge port wine stain across his face, and I marveled that he continued through his days with this mark. We are such a judgmental society and the perception of his face as blemished was probably common.
As the afternoon progressed, they invited me for dinner and she went off to the office for a few hours, leaving me and Rob and one of his friends who had joined us to our own devices. We decided to go for a bike ride. It was May. Rob was talking about food and flavors. To me, chefs are painters of food. They make it beautiful — in both looks and taste. I remember only one thing beyond his descriptions. We all were talking about a particular fruit or vegetable that came in spring that was our favorite.
My bike was slightly ahead of his. I turned around and said, “There is nothing like a ripe peach. So, Rob, eat a peach!” and then I biked ahead of the two and laughed as if I had said the most important and funny thing one could ever say. That was more than 20 years ago.
Much more recently, I wrote a piece and submitted it to NPR’s “This I Believe.” It was also about food. But it was about the joyous and sensual nature of food. It was not selected for airing, but that was never the point for me.
That experience has led me to consider the joy in our five senses. It’s a joy-filled thing to be able to taste, smell, see, hear and touch. I am very near-sighted and I have worried for a long time about what the loss of sight would mean for me since I enjoy that sense so much. That concern, however, makes me value my ability to see that much more.
So, this week I will begin with my essay on taste and the sensuality of taste. (And, by the way, I consider each of our five senses sensual…check out the definition.) My next entries will cover the other senses. I welcome your reflections on the five senses and how they may have brought you joy.
I believe in the joy of taste.
I believe we are all created with senses that allow us to perceive our world in a thousand different ways. Each of those is a gateway to enjoyment, well-being and joy.
I believe in the sensuality of taste. When I was a girl, I had favorites like barbecued chicken and mashed potatoes and strawberry shortcake. My mother planned written menus for all of our dinner meals. We loved looking at her map of various casseroles and main dishes which made up our weekly eating.
As I grew older, I became a breakfast connoisseur, savoring omelets or pancakes or French toast – Mrs. Baird’s bread sloshed in eggs and milk and placed on the griddle. A favorite breakfast of my early twenties was scrambled eggs, bacon, grits and a grainy wheat toast slathered in sweet butter.
Now, I spend hours pouring over recipes, imagining the taste of Oaxacan spices on chicken or fresh fennel mixed with Italian seasonings. When I dine in a restaurant I read every item, envisioning the presentation of grilled red snapper or steaks finished in smoky, aged whiskey.
I taste everything. In the center of my brain, I can recall the smoothness of French butter filled with the tastes of the Norman countryside, the bitter tang of aged goat cheese mixed with peppery arugula, the delight of fresh whipped cream and extraordinarily ripe strawberries. These recollections are so strong that there is memory yet on my tongue – memory of my grandmother’s kitchen with bottles of unpasteurized milk covered by heavy cream and at the farmer’s market holding tiny, tender strawberries or the perfect Pecos cantaloupe.
I believe in the pleasure of taste. Smoked salt. Wild sassafras. Honeysuckle. Taste – and the memory of taste – allows me to revel in the pure delight of being a sensual human being.
In my childhood, brought up – as I was – in a very rule-bound religion, to consider humanness as a delight was close to a mortal sin. God made us only for our souls. To be sensual was to be blasphemous. My delight in taste and texture has made me realize that God made us for both the body and the soul. I believe the world is godlier because I gather the sensuousness of life to me. I consider taste’s sensuous nature delightful, nourishing to the body and the soul, without taint of evil.
In the pleasures of taste I recognize the origins of life, the sacredness of creating new life, the pleasure of being alive and at one with all the forces of nature around me. When I savor a carrot, freshly washed and unpeeled, I taste the dirt it grew in and the sugar that saturated it as it grew. Oatmeal feels rough on my tongue, unfurled in the fields where it grew, tossed by wind and rain, tasting ever-so-slightly of tangy salt. Cucumbers are like tiny oases, cool and crisp. And peaches! Peaches are so sensual in their very essence I dare not describe them here! But, when the juiciest peach runs down my chin, I believe that I have touched the gates of heaven on earth and that I am humanly divine.
In all things, I wish you peace.