The surrealism of potatoes and spinach

Even though I’ve never auditioned, often I feel my life is a bit role in a Fellini film. Then again, perhaps everyone feels they live on the edge between reality and the surreal. I get frustrated when others impose their values and expectations on me; and yet, I find that I too am guilty of judging others and expecting certain behaviors. People tend to be comfortable with the familiar, and when we see something that is out of our own set of norms, we take notice and, more often than not, make a judgment. A dear friend once reminded me that I too am human and therefore susceptible to such foibles. Dang.

I used the excuse of having just moved our workshop to a more traditional building to replace our ugly-yet-efficient traditional wood stove with a charming, attractive-and-efficient traditional wood stove that we can also cook on. The first reaction I heard from our ladies was, ‘we can bake potatoes!’ Well, yes we can! However I gave them zero points for creativity as we can cook a whole lot more. Nearly all my winter cooking is done on and in my own wood stove and I talk about how delicious, easy, practical and affordable my cooler-weather meals are on a regular basis. After all, food is a major topic of conversation in a workshop full of women who have spent most of their lives being housewives. It’s not that I am such a great cook, it’s just what I can offer to a common conversation; I am also an advocate for cooking in clay pots on wood stoves (hint, hint). I then chided myself for chiding our ladies on their first reaction, potatoes baked in ashes. What was I expecting? None of our ladies have wood stoves that double as ovens. Anyone can cook soup or roast chestnuts on top of their wood heater, but it does require a special stove that will let you also cook/bake inside. Of course their first reaction would be to bake potatoes as that is the most familiar, the most common thought connection for them for cooking on wood stoves. In actuality, the first dishes our ladies made had nothing to do with potatoes but was a pot of delicious, slow cooked beans. I bought the fattest chestnuts I could find at the Thursday market which were promptly roasted. We all admit that our new stove is ever so quaint, heats quite well, and if chestnuts are so delicious, well, we might just try potatoes next.

‘When is New Year’s Eve?’ In a different context, this could be a trick question but coming from Gokhan, the young fellow at the village market I buy at least some of my greens from, it is a conversation starter. This was quickly followed by ‘Is it true that Mormons don’t use technology?’ Had we not been having quick but intense conversations every Thursday at his stall at the market for the past three years, I would have thought he was trying to trip me up, to see how much I still knew about aspects of my mother land. ‘No, that’s the Amish.’ ‘Ah that’s right, the Amish don’t use technology. So if a non-Amish guy falls for an Amish gal, her family won’t let her marry him because he might have a television?’ Well, maybe he was trying to trip me up after all.

Though I do look forward to our friendly interactions each week, all I wanted was a kilo of baby spinach and a few bunches of arugula. I don’t think Gokhan really cared how much of anything he sold to me: he was after his dose of direct contact with cross-cultural information. ‘There is this French couple who wanted to know where they could get some pork for Thanksgiving.’ He had me there as here I thought Thanksgiving was about something else somewhere else, but I wasn’t about to explain what I thought it represented; and while I have ever so much to be thankful for, the holiday is not one I celebrate. I paid for my greens, wished the French couple bon appetite and Gokhan a good day and a Happy Thanksgiving too.

I used to travel more to see lifestyles that are different to my own, in part just for the adventure, yes, but also to expand my own horizons, and in part to better understand myself. In viewing what is unfamiliar, I have had to ask myself why I find whatever given situation to be out of my own norm, therefore questioning my own set of values. It’s not even seeking answers from someone else, just challenging my own sense of the familiar. The life I lead here in Ayvalik is full of different perspectives, that I feel I have a starting role in one of those surreal and wonderful films, with more and more questions and concepts still challenged. And I still have not auditioned.

Another day in my life in the reality of being a garbage lady…