The icy brilliant mornings of winter, storms past, villagers from the poorer communities chopping fallen branches for firewood, the garden a bed of russet fallen leaves. The harvest is at an end and the farmers are leaving to hunt in the Richtersveld and the cold beautiful desert of the Namib. Some of the hunters are more enlightened and will cull herds of kudu or eland to ensure the young buck will not starve in the spring. The killing will be clean and professional, the venison prepared for families back home, more meat and offal salted or dried, no waste. Other hunting expeditions will be given over to drunkenness and wounded animals left to die on the veld, a macho killing frenzy of waste and cruelty.
The former art teacher has flu and wants a bowl of my minestrone soup and I shall make that today, take a flask along to a planning meeting for workshops on healing from sexual violence. I use what vegetables I have in the kitchen, so it may not be a classic winter minestrone. Following minestrone techniques, however, I cook my chopped vegetables in layers, adding them separately so the flavours do not muddle. There will be a soffrito or mirepoix of sorts,chopped and diced leeks and red onion, minced garlic, celery, fennel, green beans, field mushrooms, and carrots which are softened in olive oil, then courgettes and a little Swiss chard cooked, a few baby turnips and parsnips added and cooked. Then homemade tomato passata, not too much. I don’t need stock so I use spring water from the mountains. Simmer a while, put in some lentils, not too much, then finely sliced cabbage or kale. Add cooked or canned borlotti beans, some small pasta shapes, fresh or frozen peas and grated Parmesan with finely chopped parsley to garnish. Season to taste.
If an Italian purist is around, I call this a tomato and vegetable soup because I don’t add diced potato or risotto rice or pancetta. The starches and grains need to be in small quantities or the soup will be too heavy and leave you wanting to lie down and snore for a week. Basta!
For those haunted by the past. I found this letter and response on Rumpus an few days ago and it moved me so. Families and the intergenerational impact of alcoholism, brokenness, failure, the longing for reconciliation and another kind of life. The courage to keep trying. The compassion of strangers.
I think the first thing is to recognize how much you have, in fact, moved past these experiences, even though you claim you haven’t. You would not be sober if you hadn’t moved past them. You wouldn’t have been such an astoundingly loving son to your mother if you hadn’t. You likely wouldn’t even have been capable of writing me a letter. While it’s true you’re haunted by your past, it’s truer that you’ve traveled spectacularly far away from it. You swam across a wide and wild sea and you made it all the way to the other side. That it feels different here on this shore than you thought it would does not negate the enormity of the distance you traversed and the strength it took you to do it.