I was lying in bed, reading about Frank O'Hara's friendship with Allen Ginsberg, when I realized that it is sunlight that I am lying in, and that it is one of those rare August mornings in Galway, sunny and clean, populated by old men in ancient suits and swans gliding up the canal toward the glistening bay.
Maybe it is the way the sunlight is so bright, and the sky so blue, but for whatever reason, I am reminded of mornings in Berkeley, of sitting on the rooftop of my attic on Durant, looking out at a low-rise downtown under blue sky for miles. I was content and dreamy-eyed, with Beast on my ankles and a book in my lap. If it was a Sunday morning, then Lars was cooking breakfast.
Lars rarely dined out in the year he lived in America. As a full-time researcher and writer for Pesticides Action Network, he had a small, fixed stipend for living expenses. At every meal, unfailingly, he would have boiled rice, with a modest vegetable dish, usually garlic and onions fried in sesame oil, with mushrooms or tomatoes or whatever vegetable he had bought in bulk. Sometimes he’d toss in sesame seeds or small cubes of tofu.
He was so thin and the green of his eyes so dark above dark hollows, they turn brown in my memory, gloomy with his ever-present concern for the world, for the way we ate, for the condition of the food we put in our bodies. I admired his passion, which he sustained regardless of how skinny he got.
Those days I was always broke, but I managed to get fed one way or another. The feedings were not consistent with current "common-sense", you know, three meals a day, whether or not you are hungry at any of those three meals. I ate on whim, at any hour, for as much or little as I wanted, depending on the waywardness of my polymorphous desires.
I could sate myself on scraps and gleanings, as long as they retained a fullness of flavor. The joy you can squeeze out of a tomato, as long as it is fresh and you have a handful of basil and garlic. You’re a king, with a poached egg and leftover noodles in a simple vegetable broth. And don’t forget that a bowl of nutty porridge, with honey drizzled on top, can pick you up on gloomy wintry mornings.
Then there were the friends who fed me, who I had fed, who ate with me in the simple camaraderie of the hungry, so that my memories of food at that time are memories of food always shared. Mugs of sweet chai, sipped with the Girls on a sunny porch. A curry, from one of the many containers that her mother insisted Rini bring home, which could contain anything, all of it yummy: potatoes or hard-boiled eggs or eggplant, and the fragrance of a dozen spices with names I could never remember. From Michael, there was stinky cheese from Denmark, with rye, little oily fish, tiny glasses of aquavit. Sliced bread, deli-cut turkey, and a can of cranberry sauce, shared atop a beam in a construction site on Thanksgiving night. A rainbow trout I had baked with herbs and slices of lemon, which disappeared so quickly, we had eaten everything, even the eyeballs, sucking the bones until the last sea-salty fleck was licked up. Eggs and potatoes, fried up by Mel, after a long night out, eaten noisily, with cup after cup of coffee on the porch, on one of those brilliant blue Berkeley mornings, a morning just like this Galway morning.
And there were those little red plantains, coated in coconut-sticky sweet rice, in jackets of banana leaves and tin-foil, which my mother had posted and which I always shared, they were so many and so good, it was greedy to eat them alone. Anyways, eating alone would have impoverished that meal, without the water and wine, the jovial conversation, of friendship.
At that dreamy, experience-hungry age, hunger did not stem from a lack of food; I was haunted by other things I had yet to name. Unnamed, they might have altogether coerced me into a poverty of the soul, Psyche bereft of her Eros, if you will, if I was not so intent on nourishing myself through my friendships, giving and receiving as much as I could. (And failing at times, as one would in any difficult and necessary venture). Like Lars, I was living for my passion, or at least in the quest of it; food was appurtenant to this quest. No fancy meal had ever shown me anything but an empty wallet and a violent renewal of my hunger. The shared modest meals, the little bites of heavenly delight concocted from meagre groceries, were more tell-tale of what I needed. Through food, I understood what (who!) I wanted in life.