silver street

why bother to shine
like the glistening moon
a silver river
this asphalt street
for only the desolate
to see

the inky night
paints the houses black
window panes dark handkerchiefs
at funerals
from morning suits
to weep

and eleanor rigby
lies down to sleep
remembering the silver sheen
of a long dark braid
woven, like three street strands of a song
in tears.

January 18, 2014

Of Milk Rice and Fish Heads from Parliament Street

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Kiribath is such an amazing treat. Just add extra water in some good rice and cook it well and add a little light coconut milk with enough salt to taste. Cook it down until it is a happy mush with the grains somewhat still in tact and spread it out on a plate like a cake and cool it. Cut it into pieces and bob’s your uncle.

I’ve eaten ridiculous quantities of Christmas cake that kiribath was certainly not on the agenda though a lot of people seem to think not to make kiribath on January 1st is really pushing your luck. But heck my waistline is in great peril. Still. I’d been pining through all the Christmas cooking which incidentally is not really Sri Lankan but more western oriented, yes pining for a good spicy fish head dish. A Portuguese fish head soup may be or a Korean fish head soup or an impromptu something or the other with lotsa spice. In some places in the world fish head is a delicacy because that is where the flesh is the sweetest. It is true. If you don’t know that then sorry I guess you need to try it or else forever hold your tongue.

Kiribath in some Sinhala homes are made on the 1st of every month for good luck. It is made on New Years and on special days. Again for good luck. At exam time many mothers make kiribath before one marches out to slaughter at the O Levels or A Levels. So much luck bags of it I really don’t know what people do with all the luck they harvest making all that kiribath. Sometimes Amma made too much. And she’d plonk it on the table with the rest of the food; usually just curries those days. But always welcome. Kiribath. Usually kiribath is not eaten with a curry but with Jaggery (sweet palm sugar) or a hot relish type condiment– Lunu Miris. Never with gravy etc. But if there were leftovers they got served up as if it were regular rice. Except it is not regular rice because it has coconut milk in it and it is not loose like just rice but more like a rice cake. Kiribath with fish curry from those unusual times when there was an excess of kiribath; and fish cooked in a spicy coconut milk sauce with Kiribath is an amazing combination. Not that it is on the menu when the kiribath is first made but it is just offered with whatever meat or fish curry that is left over in the kitchen.

This is from long ago and my mom has not made kiribath for me since the late 70s except on the odd visits after I left home.  And she’s now long left this earth.  But I remember the taste of it all. I’ve been pining for this in the back of my mind. I had purchased a few fish heads by feigned accident from Ambal Trading when I went down there to pick up something else on the 30th. Curry leaves. You know how it is. One thing leads to another and god knows where one ends up.

Usually when you make a fish curry you end up with the gravy going all watery which is a huge drag. So I tried a few tricks and it worked so that the gravy was thick thick thick and heavier than whipping cream.  And the lemon rind at the end was not something my mom did.  Nor did she do the fry up which I think is more a Kerala style and ditto with the sambar powder.   Main thing is to keep the gravy from getting watery and not to overcook the fish remembering these are fish with bones. The fact that it is made of fish heads adds ridiculous amounts of flavour and you get to suck on the bones and even chew the juices out of them. You know what they say. You are never lonely when eating spaghetti. But try fish head curry. Lonely. No chance.

The fish heads cost me $4.50 at Ambal Trading which is ridiculously cheap. And even better. Kiribath and spicy fish head curry go together with cava like a horse and carriage. For left over bubbly from 31st night. Happy all round.  It all turned out slightly different from what mom made but divine nevertheless.  Make some.

You need:
About 4lbs of Seer (King Fish) fish head with gills discarded and head cut into about 1 inch pieces. Do not throw anything. (The fish monger will do this for you).
The cream of a can of good coconut milk. (Chill for about an hour and without shaking open the can and carefully spoon the cream and put into a separate container. You can use the watery residue in something else).
One small onion sliced.
Three or four green chillies sliced.
Four large garlic cloves. (2 sliced and 2 grated).
1 inch piece ginger (half finely minced and the rest grated).
Four sprigs fresh curry leaves.
1 or 2 teaspoons black Mustard seeds
3 tablespoons cooking oil
One cardamom pod bashed
2 x 1″ pieces of Ceylon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon Paprika
1 heaping teaspoon turmeric
About 3 or 4 red dry chillies roughly banged up in a mortar and pestle so they are in rough flake-like pieces (it’s ok if the seeds are whole)
About a teaspoon or two of fresh rough ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sambar powder (get from Tamil shop)
Fenugreek seeds (1/4 teaspoon)
Salt to taste
Three pieces goraka (get it from Tamil shops or Sri Lankan on line grocers)
Juice of one lemon including the rind of a lemon freshly grated. (grate at end straight into the curry)

Thoroughly wash goraka (careful sometimes it has sand on it) and put in about a cup of boiling water and bring to a medium simmer and cook for about 30 – 45 minutes watching so as not to let it dry out. Idea is to simmer so the flavour gets out into the water and you end up with about ½ cup of sour water.

Thoroughly rinse the cut up fish. (Be careful don’t cut yourself on the bony bits and sharp ends. Some of teeth can be sharp). Drain well and if you can even dry it with paper towels carefully. Place in a very large bowl. Add the turmeric, paprika, black pepper and dry chilli pieces to the fish with salt. Add the grated ginger and garlic and half fenugreek seeds. Toss with a spoon or spatula gently to cover most of the fish. Cover with plastic and keep in fridge about 30 minutes.

Gather the stuff for the temperado (fry up):
Half the curry leaves. Half the onions. Fenugreek seeds. Sliced garlic and minced ginger. One piece cinnamon. Sambar powder and mustard seed.

All the remaining ingredients except for lemon and coconut milk should be put into another small bowl as it will go in after the fry up.

In a large sauce pan heat the oil and when hot fry the mustard seeds. They will pop. Use a splatter shield or it could burn you. Add the rest of the fry up ingredients and once the onions are near brown turn off fire and remove pan from heat. Add the sambar powder and quickly stir for about 10 seconds until fragrant.  Place back on medium heat and add half of the fish and gently stir so it get’s singed a little. Add the rest of the fish and do the same. Now add the remaining ingredients except for lemon and coconut milk. Also add the goraka water and the goraka pieces. Make sure the fresh ingredients (like onion etc.) are below the fish pieces. Now add about a cup of the thick coconut milk. No need to mix. It will not cover the fish but the fish will render liquid as it cooks and mingle.

Cover and on medium to high heat bring to a near boil then reduce to allow fish to render liquid and it will then mix with the coconut milk and the liquid should come to nearly the top of the fish. Gently shake and mix from time to time and cook for about 15-20 minutes on a high simmer. Taste for salt. Make sure the fish cooks gently all the time no higher than a high simmer otherwise it may get too mushy if the fish breaks up too much.  Remember too much friction is the enemy of fish most days.

Important to remember that it is the thick coconut cream that prevents the gravy becoming too watery.  Also remember not to overcook the fish but just right so the bones are just cooked through.

At the end grate the rind of a lemon into the gravy and add the lemon juice. Taste for seasoning for salt and lemon/sour. The sauce will be very thick. Slightly thicker than whipping cream. Serve with Kiribath. How to make kiribath? Well it is all over the internet. Go check.

Happy New Year!

By the way:
Choice of fish. Grouper head and red snapper head is great for this too. But make sure the scales on the head are totally removed by the fish monger before cutting it. The cut up head goes into the curry skin and all. But no one wants fish scales in their curry. No sirree.

Heat: This may be spicy for some so feel free to vary the pepper and chillies. But the whole point in the dish is that it is hot and tangy.  If you love it hot add your hottest freshest deadliest chillies as much as you can take instead of the quantities mentioned in ingredients.  It will be sublime.  (This is a big secret and enjoy the heat.)

for Phillip Hughes – “It’s as if all the boys I used to secretly fall in love with in their cricket whites who I watched from the top of the double decker bus in Colombo between home and school suddenly died.”

For Phil Hughes (25) who took to that great big pavilion in the sky and who will be missed at 2015 WC. 63no.

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sweet sweet love

lovesick for cricket
the last two days
and nights
how do i describe

a canvass under lights
drawn
shrieks of howzat
broken hearts bittered when run out

a gift of true sweet love
when won
people like poetry
building innings

life lives
entirely vulnerable
standing upright
alone at the wicket

the pitch
the great yawning chasm
a hell into which you may fall
in less than 1/10th of a second

one by one
a run at a time
with luck a four
sometimes a sweep-ticket
of a six

it matters not who you are
which land – curried or of roasted beef
toast or chapathi
frock or sari

it is that one run that matters
making everything stand still
single minded
a moment in time

let me just be – lovesick
that beautiful sound of ball – on bat
there really is nothing else
that matters.

Renuka Mendis
March 19, 2011

This poem is from March 2011written during that Cricket World Cup.

Finding Mary and Jesus – A review and confession of sorts – The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín

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The best truths are sometimes found when you walk alone, unsullied by other opinions. I was surprised by how slim a volume this was. The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín is all of a hundred-and-four pages and sized small. Without reading any book reviews so easily obtainable I fell into it. A perfect size and light of weight in my smallish oldish hands and solid in its hard covers. After all some book reviews go almost as long as one hundred and four pages it seems. My only early reservation was the somewhat religious title.

I might upset some J.M. Coetzee experts by saying this. The Testament of Mary is the absent but imagined core in the riddle that is The Childhood of Jesus which I argue was part of Coetzee’s unseen intent. What did that book say that was not said. Many have struggled with that question. Quite a few reviewers have got it wrong. And this is the answer. Not that this takes away anything from Coetzee’s book which I prize very highly. Hewn in crystal clear spare language Tóibín’s pen is given over to Mary, mother of Jesus, to speak her truth, unjudged, while striving to make sense of The Childhood of Jesus. My theory and my humble-pie opinion, of course.

Mary, from the Virgin on the Rocks to the Pieta is a historical/mythological icon on whom has been projected, some may argue, idealized sexist and burdensome roles for women. Mother, virgin, mother of God. And of course that tall order that is the immaculate conception. A standard that many women are held to and who pay for not trying. Virgin of the assumption, Our Lady of the Lourdes blue and white plastic bottle with holy water in it. All defined for Mary by a male biblical patriarchy.

In The Testament Mary is a wise straight talking woman of measured precise speech who unfurls all of the ballyhoo about the Virgin Mary. Speaking for herself with authority and clarity and sometimes even with self-interest. Sacrifice is the concept least sung about and I submit this is a good thing.

This book is a rejection of what has been imposed on women through the concoction that is the mother of god. And it is done beautifully and sparsely and so movingly and most of all without risking charges of sacrilege. At least in my opinion. Remember the Satanic Verses?

When we meet her Mary is essentially alone and separated from Jesus though it is difficult to tell if it is before the cross or after. She speaks often from rooms of her own with long distance echoes of Woolf. The rooms, though not always of her choosing in which she is often alone shorn of women’s work that is the lot of many a woman with family around her especially in Mary’s day. When she does take on those tasks, either alone or around others, they turn into cameos of sorts. The rooms are sparse, the garden, the animals, the day to day tending to, the drawing of water, so simple and clearly wrought. The room and Mary’s solitude and its stillness in her escape from the world are beautifully drawn and illuminated as if in a Vermeer painting. That is how the writing registers on the heart. Ironically almost like a prayer and a blessing though it was not prayers I was looking for. I never do. Sometimes the thought of a cloistered nun jars the mind but Mary takes care of it in her articulations and assertions, banishing the concept.

Bad things happen to most people. When really really bad things happen, as inevitably they tend to for a lot of us only the one who suffers knows its lonely horror, its isolating gravity, and its deep devastating betrayal. No one else does. As was the case with Mary, the mother of Jesus.

“Each of the nails was longer than my hand.”

As you read and go into the book the time-lines are ambivalent. It is unclear if it is before or after the crucifixion until you are well into the book. The references to other persons such as Miriam, Mary, Marcus are entirely removed of religious or pious references. They become day to day humdrum individuals with their own personalities and narratives clearly drawn through their actions as seen by Jesus’s mother. These personalities heighten Mary’s clarity of thought and perceptions as to what is happening around her and to her and to Jesus. Almost as if they are filters and sometimes mirrors. And Mary’s clarity of thought is stunning. A lesson in itself.

Mary is so utterly no-nonsense that she is a virtual myth buster. Her version of events as to how Jesus turns water into wine puts some doubt on whether it really happened or if it was a set up. Sometimes the reader is made to wonder if Jesus was the first celebrity and the crucifixion the first mob justice. At times one wonders if she will take us to an entirely unknown alternate but entirely credible narrative as to what really happened to her son and to her. One almost waits for it. But just when you expect it to take some unknown twist or turn Tóibín tames the reader’s imagination and takes the reins again.

What you read is literally Jesus’s mother talking to you. She is nothing like the idealized or sorrowful statues you’ve seen made of plaster of Paris or those you see inside churches looking tragic and melodramatic. There is no melodrama here. No Paris and certainly no plaster. Nor is Mary anything like the plastic bottles in which Lourdes holy water is sold. The woman you meet here is spare, strong and no-nonsense. Of spartan yet deep deep un-gratuitous unadorned emotion. Mary relates clearly what happened to her and to her son though not exactly as we have been told about until now. The writing absent of filigree and uncrowded, perfectly paced yet authoritatively resonant with beautiful jewel-like clarity. As if written in light sometimes. A counterpoint to the mumbo jumbo bible thumping that the church often spews and hides behind in cryptic church jargon. And sometimes the lines hit your whole being like emotional grenades that explode suddenly in sentences that turn up unexpectedly. One stops, sometimes to let the tears that well in your eyes dry out; or on at least one occasion in this writer’s case to sit and sob uncontrollably.

In the latter parts of this sparse work of breathtaking clarity the pieta appears in your mind as a shadow or even a dream of sorts; assuming one is familiar with it. And Mary testifies as to what really happened. It is the grenades that hit you from time to time like the hammering of nails on the cross against all resistance from your own body and being that makes your heart burst like bombs and then weigh your heart down like the heaviest of rocks till you pick yourself up again and continue. Because continue you must.

“The world is a place of silence, the sky at night when the birds are gone is a vast silent place. No words will make the slightest difference to the sky at night.”

This is the silence of the sky that always bears witness to the great losses of humanity and of horrors visited on humanity by humans, especially by those in power and then the mob is always there like the Greek Chorus to applaud. The populace is complicit. And at the end of the book there is a sort of a return to a prayer for the world; almost a moment of light of what is important when she goes back in time when they were a family and she recalls the Sabbath days when prayers were for:

“… justice to the weak and the orphan, maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute, rescue the needy, deliver them from the hands of the wicked.”

A drink of sweet water drawn out from deep in Mary’s memory after the horror, mostly the gaping loss of losing her son. A manifesto.

There is also a scene where she almost comes to dealing with those who talk about how she conceived her son – the immaculate conception – but somehow Tóibín does not take us there. Instead what is left unsaid is that Mary is portrayed so clearly as a no-nonsense sensible woman that even the idea of a Virgin birth is an absurdity. You can see it in her insurmountable and silent wall of rage that Tóibín uses as markers throughout the book. Except in some of the crucial scenes where she is placed in situations where she has no agency, Mary asserts herself and affirms what really happened. The true story. Where she clearly has no agency Mary is usually seen as an observer. Equally potent. Never a bystander. Mary is also capable of potential for violence if needed to assert herself. Another revelation.

And in the telling the book testifies to the worst aspects of humanity. The mob. Untold violence. Cruelty. Bloodlust. Cold hard dehumanizing officialdom as it runs its course unstoppable. Certain aspects of the telling is almost a metaphorical trial where everything is set up. There is no justice and justice is a lie. The only justice is in its appearance as if it were dispensing justice. Not much unlike how the law is to some today and has always been.

This should be on every mother’s bed side table in hard cover, if not every woman’s. As if it were a prayer book. (No I have no bible nor any prayer books near where I sleep.) And one must read it as habit at least once a month when the full moon is out and when we are a little crazy. It is so short. A lesson spoken by the mother of Jesus about sensibility, the big lie that is justice, and the truth we must find in our own hearts unsullied by the illusions and agendas of others. And the eternal truth that is suffering and its sad dignity. I know I overused the word spare. But it is spareness and sparseness that illuminates with such clarity and sometimes breathtaking beauty; making your heart stop in clear reasoned wonder. Far better than madness.

A book like no other. Sacred. A watershed for me and perhaps for the world.

A short postscript. Given these times. I once knew someone who, when he got angry, grabbed a hold of my hands and then twisted them till my wrists hurt so much that I had to scream. This happens to a lot of women. As a family lawyer this method often came up as part of women’s narratives. After decades one forgets these things. But for many years the phantom pain used to haunt me. But not any longer. I am not sure if it is a good or a bad thing. Time does heal memory’s horror. But on reading this they now hurt again. And may be it is a good reminder of the horror of the world. And the freeing purity and sanctity of one’s own knowledge.

Renuka Mendis, Toronto
November 13, 2014

The Yal Devi Collection – two poems about a train

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Poem 1

Kip’s song

they say they brought
the old train back
you ask that from northrop frye
he’d beg to differ
and so will i

we can still do it
tap the sweet palmyrah
the sweetness in our hearts
from clarence to beig

to rukmani to galleface kisses
to kassapa’s topless babes
on hardrock surfaces
lovers à la isurumuniya

our songs
from kataragama
to siripade samanala kanda…
to mungo nanda’s daughter
before mungo jerry came along

we can borrow
from the cinnamon peelers
the english patients
its all here
we can do it
but Kip holds my hand,
so tight.

Poem 2

foment

the nose ring
sings
a railway map’s foment
pining
for those who cannot
smell
this sweet milk

or do they.
as they rotted sweet acrid
fermented
decomposed
piled up
the dead disappeared
dream of thosai?

the devi brings back
as you step over the dead
they
sit with you
in the railway carriage
when you wash your hands
they watch

can you see?
he sits across from you
watching
unable to dream
of thosai
she watches
pining silent
to stir the silky batter
with her bare hands.

Renuka Mendis, Toronto, October 12, 2014

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Something Very Sad Has Happened at CBC

fenugreek:

#jianghomeshi

On the more trivial side, either a public figure many of us admired was much less than we thought he was or we were deprived of an excellent radio host for no tangibly good reason. On the less trivial side, either the state (the CBC in this case) has placed itself in the bedrooms of the nation or Jian Ghomeshi got away with deplorable things due in no small part to a culture that turned the other way from his behaviour. And least trivial of all, either a select number of people have suffered battery and/or abuse or they have diminished these very serious types of crimes with false allegations.

Originally posted on Bryce J. McNeil:

It’s no secret that due to my job description, history with the station and genuine affinity for it and its content, I usually find myself listening to Album 88 during my morning commute. But there are sometimes exceptions to the rule. Being a big sports fan, I may occasionally check out the local sports stations for my favorite teams. Or I’ll check in with college radio stations from my past.

And I’ll sometimes check in on my hometown and nation by accessing the Sydney feed of CBC radio. Which means that I occasionally find myself listening to the national radio show Q.

By any reasonable standard, Q is an excellent public radio program featuring a wide range of guests on a wide range of subjects and some of that credit, at least, must go to its now-former host, Jian Ghomeshi. You might love his smooth delivery…

View original 1,101 more words

Pigs and Roses

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I am a sucker for roses. Not necessarily the flower but for its perfume. It’s the finest thing there is anywhere. The bench mark of poetry and sweet romance established for me in Sri Lanka’s hill country where a playboy friend of my father’s cultivated roses. Not the roses one runs into at gardens in temperate northern climes these days. These were roses of a myriad hues so rare and magical; perfumed by ancient gilded poetry books and cobble stoned back alley perfumeries. Ancient stories of incense and myrrh and of unknown and mysterious love. The finest of spices and sweetest honey and sugar that some of them made you almost want to eat them. That moment in my life when all the fantasies that were yet to be imagined were shown to me in the form of beauty and perfume. A promise; a pact.

Sugary sweet in notes I had never known. Some ice creamy and sublime. Some were recognizable cream soda, one had the spice of cloves but sweetened and filtered without the harshness. The perfume of strawberries which I had yet to meet and infused with a pipette’s edge with coal tar. And cardamom. There was cardamom in those roses. Caramel. Burned sugar. There were so many others sweet smells that I did not even recognize except that it was the truth of some other place or other world. Never have I seen so many perfumes and hues and beauty in one place. The layers of petals their texture their soft tenderness; the way they were arranged petal on petal sometimes tightly coiled some beginning to open. Could it be that I had already seen so many thorns that they smelled sweeter than sweet for me. A fact that this was truth, this was beauty and never to be controverted. I believed. I believed then in the tender soft chill somewhere near Nuwara Eliya and I must have been ten? twelve? I don’t know. When I was still not sure where babies came from and things like that.

My father’s playboy friend also reared pigs to be sold for bacon to Elephant House or Goldi the then in-country purveyors of cold meat as it was called — Bacon, ham, sausages and such. Charcuterie was not a word I knew then. A luxury for most inhabitants and usually bought as a rare treat in our household. Great big animals wallowing in the chocolatey squishy luxury of mud. And just a few feet away from the fascinatingly disgusting pig pen was my father’s friend’s wondrous rose garden.

The rose and pig farmer had a peasant woman who he kept and she tended the farm with him though most of the time he was socializing in Colombo far away from the farm. She must have worked a lot. Back breaking work raising pigs and tending roses. Even at that young age I knew this was not legit but I was fascinated by the transgression of it all because I heard my parents discuss that he was a womanizer that he went out to posh night clubs with many a woman in Colombo and here he was with a peasant woman in peasant clothes not beautiful in the sense of Colombo elegance. The story was that he was an arch womanizer but he had a son with this woman and he must have been a toddler then about three or four at the most. We played together. Though the talk was of a womanizer, a playboy, a hunter, a dog owner, a rose cultivator, and his illegitimate son, I saw a certain nobleness in the situation. This confluence of a loku mahaththaya a hamu and a poor peasant woman and a child and the beauty of roses. The rose pig farmer truly loved his son even I could tell that. There was love there. But what did I know.

For our holiday those few days to a week we stayed with this playboy friend of my father’s in there country house which was more of a shack than a house and that is where I came face to face with life’s true perfume and beauty. Roses. While my father and my brothers and the other males went out hunting with dogs in tow and brought back rabbits and other small game I spent most of my hours sniffing and touching what seemed like hundreds of roses and feasting on their colours and perfume; in splendid isolation with occasional breaks to gape at the pigs.

Roses are not that common in a hot country like Sri Lanka and if one came across them they were from a somewhat ragged and leggy plant in the heat and humidity of Colombo; and the flowers were usually paltry and orphan-like. They did somewhat better in the hill country. But the roses at the pig farm were of sublime tender beauty, dewy and perfumed. Different colours from the black rose to the mauve to the pink to the white to the glorious yellow. Tea roses was a word thrown around then. Mottled, variegated. I had never seen anything like it except perhaps in the Colombo shops but there they looked artificial and often tired and unnatural in those settings. Usually red and nothing much else. No shades in between.

Every colour and shade on the earth and in the sky must have been present in that rose garden in the misty hills near Nuwara Eliya so close to those pigs. Anything that was sweet or pleasant smelling and perfume-worthy was there. Everything and anything that smelled like poetry. Like love yet unknown. And ever since then I’ve been smitten by the rose or anything rose-like in smell or taste. From rose water to Gewürztraminer. To soap.

Unfortunately where I’ve lived in urban settings I’ve never had the good fortune to grow roses. Long ago at home I did try to get them to flower and sometimes after much trouble one or two bloomed but nothing like what was grown by the pig farmer. May be in another lifetime. I have spent small fortunes buying roses or things with rose in them. While this is not a plug for Lush they have robbed me of a king’s ransom peddling heart shaped bath bomb type things that smell of roses. And when you put them in the bath about four rose buds float wondrously in the water and one can imagine you are Ophelia floating down river with flowers trailing except one is not dead. And I cheat truth buying bottles of fine rose water and put them in my water and sometimes in my tea. I even make rose jelly to top ice cream with. I know at least one woman in Quebec who makes perfect rose jelly and you can buy it in the Pembroke farmers market or at least you could when I used to visit. Then there is rose petal jam that sometimes comes here from Turkey. Again heaven with very good ice cream or even yogurt. And anyone who knows me well enough cannot escape this madness I have with the rose. I want to eat them I want to smell them and I want to see them and I want to be them. I want them in my mind like imagined secret lovers that are coddled and coveted secretly in my heart.

I shamelessly charm Arjuna’s girlfriends with rose water concoctions when he brings them home to me like lovely presents and it always works like a magic potion. I’ve yet to meet a girlfriend of Arjuna’s who did not go crazy over the perfume of roses. May be Arjuna first tests them with roses to make sure before he decides to present them to me.

I cannot imagine meeting someone who does not love roses. Of course I have never checked that fact out with everyone I’ve met but perhaps it is something worthwhile to check; may be they are nicer people if they like roses especially their perfume.

A few years ago; may be five, six, seven or more Arjuna decided he needed a break from Toronto and took a plane to Paris for a week. We are not big consumers and shoppers in our family and we are not very big about wrapping gifts in fancy paper and stuff. But when it comes to love we have a way of showing it. Birthdays, Christmas and stuff. When the French Laundry cookbook came out and I was going on and on about it and Thomas Keller I did not realize that anyone noticed until late one cold mid-winter night Arjuna brought it home to me. Unwrapped of course but inscribed with a little note saying – Happy Birthday Mom!!! One day I will make you something out of this book! – that was winter 2004 and may be he was still in University then. I still remember that night. I was up late and TV Ontario was playing a repeat of Buena Vista Social Club. Arjuna walked in and he probably came on the late bus and we watched the film and talked into the morning.

You think that your children don’t notice the things that matter most to you; most of the time it looks that way. You believe as you slog through the day to day, the mundane, the horrific, the cash flow nightmares, the illnesses, the loneliness, the betrayals, the daily insults of life that no one notices what matters to you.

But when Arjuna returned from his Paris trip he brought me a little present. Once again not wrapped or decorated just a little metal box with a picture of a painting of a woman holding a rose. I assumed perhaps it was a pair of earrings or a piece of jewellery but when I turned it over on the back it was marked – Marie Antoinette Savon. Rose.

Soap. Rose perfumed Soap. From Paris. The romance of Paris in a tin box. Of course I promptly opened it and smelled it and went mmm and was utterly delighted. Arjuna was once again reassured that he knew how to make his mother very happy. The perfume pure rose. Arjuna knows. Your children know what you treasure.

I said to myself then may be I’ll use this soap only for a very big life event. May be a wedding in the family like if Arjuna partners with someone and has that party with a pretty cake. I had these visions of a beautiful sari on my bed waiting to be worn and me all perfumed having bathed with rose perfumed soap – from Paris. Could anything be more special. I doubt it.

I kept the box of soap untouched for years where I keep my most treasured and personal things. Unused. Waiting for a special day or a moment. A wedding or a particularly special event did not happen. I kept it untouched for years. And one day a few years ago I took it out when other special events happened. And I started using it. First very sparingly and I let it dry out and then once again hid it with the rest of very special personal things. Unused again.

But over the years I used it more and more. First it was for special events and such. Saskia’s wedding. Then when I first went for dinner at one of Arjuna’s now former girlfriend’s parents. And one day I used the last sliver of it. The box lying empty in my bathroom cabinet with the rest of the mess that are its contents. Half used tubes of toothpaste; little boxes of eye make up; airline toiletries, lavender bubble bath cake; more perfumed soap, except not rose, dental floss, and other paraphernalia. The empty rose soap box sat there semi-forgotten.

I did not want to look at the empty soap box because I felt I had lied to myself by using up the tablet of rose soap when I should have had more self control and made it last forever and ever and ever and ever for a very big occasion. A sense of loss and even mild failure. I did not tell Arjuna that I had used up and finished the rose soap he brought for me from Paris many years ago. It was my secret shame.

But I always said to myself I will invent a rose cheesecake with pistachios for the biggest and best day of our life when it comes. One flavoured with rose and topped with a very thin glaze of rose jelly and gold or silver leaf. A crust made with pistachios and graham cracker crumbs and butter and sugar and yes more rose water in it. Something greater is possible something greater than Marie Antoinette’s soap. And soap melts doesn’t it? At least it does in water.

A few weeks ago I got sick and tired of keeping my floss picks in the plastic sack it comes in especially when I wanted them handy at the end of the day and when they ended up on the book stand thing I have next to my couch. I’ve been wanting to find a nice little container to keep them in along with all my immediate needs and desires all nicely arranged. Pen, books, photo of Arjuna and me, sometimes flowers, even roses. A small note book. But the floss picks were so ugly that I was compelled to make do with what was at home. Somehow every time I went outside I forgot about the importance of looking for a nice simple box for them. That’s why two weeks ago or so I realized I could put my Marie Antoinette rose soap box to good use. Its so pretty though I never was a big fan of rich coddled women or Marie Antoinette but the sentimental attachments I have to the box are tender as you can tell. And I carefully placed my floss picks in it and there it sat right next to where I lounge around reading the newspaper, watching television or just falling unknowingly asleep. And no ugly plastic packs of ugly looking things.

The other day Arjuna was here. He was dropping off something for me and I had made him some chicken stock to freeze for future use. I had left the Marie Antoinette Soap Box by my computer because I wanted to write about the rose soap and roses. I had forgotten that it was there and as I was pouring chicken stock into containers I saw Arjuna take the soap box. He opened it and then he smelled it. He was searching for the perfume of roses. I said nothing to him about the floss picks. I said nothing at all. I wonder what he thought. May be he did not notice them and was carried away by the perfume of old soap and roses. I am sure of that.

Toronto, October 7, 2014.