Tuesday, June 19, 2012

living in a tit

Some years ago I was sitting with a senior writer at a prestigious writing school. She wanted to know where I lived. I told her Montreal. She asked me to draw it.
I suspected a game but I obliged. I drew the island of Montreal which lies in the St. Lawrence River.

You'll have to excuse my drawing skills which are primitive. That's the shape, more or less. I've included the north-south axis to indicate a peculiarity of life in Montreal, which is that everyone pretends the bottom end of the island points west, the top end east, etc. That bottom end is called the West Island. The bulge is referred to as the south of the island. When you're on the island--and considering that you're in an urban environment where most people don't notice where the sun rises and sets--it makes perfect sense. It's only when you look at the map on paper that you see the West Island isn't west.
But to get back to my conversation with the esteemed writer. She was quite excited when I made this drawing of Montreal. Don't you see? she insisted. This is a breast! You live in a breast!
I didn't what to say. Before coming to the prestigious writing school, I had never sat and talked with a writer of renown. People looked up to this woman and sought her advice. I, too, had lobbied for this private afternoon with her. I wanted to answer in a way that seemed worthy of her attention.
I said, Do you want to know where I live in Montreal?
Oh yes, she did.
I live in Point St. Charles which is a point that juts out into the St. Lawrence. I scratched it in for her. She was delighted.


Friday, June 15, 2012

the last day of school

Is it the last day of school today? Will I miss the thumping every morning at 8 am?
The family across the street don't have a doorbell and don't seem to hear or respond to knocking. The kid who comes to collect his buddy on the way to school grabs the doorknob and shakes the door in its frame. The steady shaking/rattling/thumping sounds like a roll of thunder that never breaks. He can keep it up for three minutes at a go. I've timed him. The door doesn't open after three minutes. His arms get tired and he takes a breather. He shakes the door on and off, sometimes for a quarter of an hour, until his friend opens it and they slouch off down the sidewalk.
Too late--because it's the last day of school and the dynamic of their you-thump-and-I'll-come-when-I'm-ready relationship might not last through the summer--I realize I should have taken a picture. But for me it was always more of a sound than a sight experience.
Instead, here's a picture of an old-style Point doorway. Two side-by-side doors, one for the ground-floor flat, the other for the upstairs. Most of the older carved wooden doors have been replaced with modern fireproof doors that are more air-tight.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

food heritage

A friend shared some of the excellent homemade ricotta her Greek neighbours gave her. Here, look, I made Kasnudeln.

They're  filled with cheese, mashed potato, browned onion, and lots of mint. Mint is what makes them taste different from pierogi.
It's been a few years since I last made Kasnudeln. It takes time to knead the dough, make the filling, form the dumplings. The fun part is pinching the "wreath". It was the nicest way I could think of to do honour to the homemade cheese. I served them with minced parsley, Greek yogurt, a green salad.
I don't often make Austrian food. Although my parents are Austrian, I didn't grow up eating dumplings. My mother preferred opening a can of Campbell's tomato soup, dumping it over a pan of ribs, shoving the ribs in the oven.
My aunts showed me how to make dumplings when I went to Austria. There's a large bread dumpling called a Serviettenknödel--a tea-towel dumpling because it gets steamed inside a wrapped and knotted tea towel. There are cottage cheese dough dumplings that enclose a fresh apricot or a plum. Zwetschgenknödel. There are dumplings made with cream of wheat, butter, and parsley, to be served with soup. Grießnockerl. Dumplings made of an eggy pasta dough dropped through a slotted metal grid.  Spätzle. There are smaller bread dumplings that can be made with different ingredients and herbs to flavour them.
Some day I'll have to write about people like myself, who don't otherwise identify with their parents' culture or heritage, but like to cook the traditional dishes.