The Swallows Leave
Sept 17–21, Hunenberg, Switzerland
Seasonal Memoir Entry #27
It wasn’t a Jimmy Stewart moment by any standard, but I actually watched a drug deal go down in real time, from my perch on the 3rd floor of my apartment building!
It was raining, and a young man who looked somewhere between 16–22 years old stopped randomly in front of my flat. It was odd in that there was nothing there to stop for: no bus, no shop, not even a crossing. Within a few seconds, he started looking at his phone. He continued to just stand under his umbrella. Suddenly, a car pulls up, stops in the middle of the road (didn’t even pull over to the curb), and rolls down the passenger window. The driver reaches over and hands a small package to the man, who puts it right in his pocket. They exchange what appears to be pleasantries for a few more seconds, and then the man puts his hand over his heart and waves goodbye as the car drives away. The man then walks away, surveying the scene around him. How wholesome…
I’m on a Michael Pollan reading kick right now. I’ve been a fan after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma. This summer I finished In Defense of Food, and I’m now reading The Botany of Desire, which is divided into four parts: the apple, the tulip, cannabis, and the potato. Excellent writing, and wonderful food for thought. It’s the chapter on marijuana, a weed (literally) that humans have engineered recently (due to the failed “war on drugs”) to be more potent and refined as ever. While the horticulture aspect is interesting from a gardener’s perspective, I’m more fascinated by humanity’s use of drugs (alcohol included) to do what Brene Brown refers to as numbing and what Pollan describes as our indelible need to alter our consciousness. At simple glance, I would rationalize an early evening glass of wine as a way to unwind, to take the edge off after a stressful work day. (We also know alcohol reduces social anxiety for many.) A few glasses of wine might represent a full unfurling of the day’s stress, all the while repressing the inevitable regrets of the toxins the next morning.
But perhaps the wine or recreational marijuana is indeed humans searching to leave this present and get themselves to a very different place. We are looking to change our “angle of vision”, as Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it. Rather than mitigating life’s stresses, we’re seeking something more from life, or perhaps we are trying to see what is right in front of us, but we instead miss due to the distractions in our lives or the forgetfulness that our brains engineer. We’re escaping down a rabbit hole looking for answers to questions that we can only silently articulate to ourselves. Scientists and meditators say insight (true wisdom) only comes from changing one’s consciousness (through drugs, fasting, meditation, or other means), in fully arriving in the present moment through concentration and focus on one thing. It’s scary stuff, if you’ve ever ventured to reach this state.
After heartily fulfilling a healthy appetite for half a century, often at a detriment to my well being and waistline (I love food, what can I say? It’s just portion-control that is my bane.), I still marvel at foods that seem magical, that evoke wonder each and every time. They are mysterious in their complexity; they offer contradictions, such as when a food’s individual components would be deemed unhealthy by nutritionists, yet when put all together, magic happens, and science backs up suspected benefits to well being. I’m not talking about fruit here, which is engineered by nature to grab our attention with its color and sweetness. I mean foods that bring a profound sensual pleasure each time you delve into its character.
Here’s my list of magical foods; you’ll surely have your own collection:
- Chocolate fondant cake
- Red wine
- Proper Swiss Fondue