Click the icon link to visit my author’s page on this site.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I promised Pedro to write my review in Welsh and so I shall, but first, I recommend this book to anyone with an inquisitive mind with regard to religions and religious philosophies.
Yn y dechrau, doedd dim byd.
Mae’r llyfr hwn yn llai dychymygol nag athroniaethol. Nid ydw i’n sicr pam mae Barrento wedi’i alw’n ffantasi oni bai i guddio’r gwir, sef ei fod e’n ystyried ac yn amau dwy fil o flynyddoedd o draddodiadau Cristnogol.
Yn y stori hon, mae Barrento’n cymysgu’r chwedlonol a’r traddodiadol er mwyn darganfod y gwirionedd sydd o dan y defodol. Fel Joseph Campbell yn Hero with a Thousand Faces, mae’n ymdrechu i ddeall pam mae’n hollol anghenrheidiol i ddynion gredu mewn rhywbeth sydd yn fwy na’r byd cyffredin.
Mae The Prince and the Singularity – A Circular Tale yn fy atgoffa o waith Kazantzakis ond ar lefel ychydig yn is, ond gyda’r un nwyd ar gyfer esbonio’r cyfrinachol.
Yn y pendraw, mae’r awdur yn llwyddo i godi llawer mwy o ddirgeloedd nag y mae’n eu hateb ond mae’n werth yr ymdrech. Oni bai ein bod ni’n chwilio amdano, ni fyddwn yn datguddio yr hyn sydd yn ein gorfodi ni i chwilio sef y stori gron.
I am very fortunate to have friends from many countries around the world who are willing to help me with the niceties of research. One to-die-for perk of writing is research. If, like me, you can’t get enough of new knowledge, this profession is for you. Scrounging about for tidbits is all-consuming, lose yourself stuff.
While I should have been editing and revising Reconciliation (which is scheduled for release this month), I seized the opportunity to question my friends, Gisa and Kamran, about food from their homeland, Iran. Although Reconciliation isn’t set in any particular Middle Eastern country – especially since the borders have changed in the past twelve hundred years or so – I wanted to add some depth to Rizah’s talent for making bread.
I’m partial to Middle Eastern food in any case so having the opportunity to write about it is a double blessing. One year, we were very fortunate to have a Syrian friend prepare all the food for our Christmas party. Abir was five months pregnant at the time and made enough food for our 70 guests. This was truly a generous gift and I will be forever grateful to her. We dined on Syrian fare for a week.
My first taste of Middle Eastern food was very early in my life. We lived then in a cosmopolitan city with a strong sense of community. Every year, the neighborhood council held a pot luck dinner. Every possible dish was there to be tasted. As a 10-year old, I had no inhibitions regarding food – still don’t! (Ever tasted deep fried grasshoppers?) Later, while I was in college, the snack shacks dotted around campus offered a plethora of ethnic foods. I learned to love falafel, pita and tabouli.
More recently, we were introduced to Ethiopian food – fermented bread is divine!
Now then, Persian fare is, from Kamran’s perspective, also divine. Give a man an opportunity to talk about food or football… After just twenty minutes, he was in a state of abject starvation. Every dish he described brought delightful memories of deliciousness. Gisa, on the other hand, being the cook, was more clinical. This was this and that was that. And they have given me another great gift – their time and their traditions.
When Kamran described tareh to me, I thought it was something like okre or green onions. I wasn’t far off. In the recipes I’ve found, onions may be substituted for this vegetable. As you can see in the photo, it appears to be in the leek family (very Welsh, you know!)* but the way Kamran described it was somewhat far from the actuality. Obviously a consumer, not the chef!
While we talked about Perisan dishes, Gisa told me the Anglicized Farsi spelling and Kamran described how wonderful they were. From my experience, Syrian and Persian food are among the most pleasurable for all who enjoy the culinary arts. Here is one of the recipes similar to one that Gisa and Kamran described to me.
Ghormeh Sabzi (Iranian Vegetable Stew)
1 bunch fresh spinach
1/2 bunch fresh dill
1 bunch fresh parsley
1 bunch fresh cilantro
1 bunch scallions (green stems only)
1 fresh tareh (leek)
1 bunch fresh chives
1 lb. stew meat (beef, lamb, veal, etc), cubed
4 lemons, dried or 1 tablespoon lemon, dried
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
3 tbsp cooking oil
1 tbsp lemon juice (optional)
1 cup beans pre-soaked or canned (drained)
sprinkle of salt, pepper and red peppers
Wash and cubed the meat, drain. Remove root end of tareh and scallions, wash thoroughly along with the rest of the vegetables (except onions) and drain. Chop all vegetables fine, place in pot, heat setting on heat and stir until all water is evaporated. Add 2 tbsps of oil and stirfry until vegetables turn a reddish color (about 15 minutes), add more oil if necessary. Take off heat and put aside.
In a separate pot, add 1 tbsp oil and cook chopped onions until golden brown. Add meat, add salt, pepper, turmeric and let the meat fry with onions for a few minutes. Add pre-soaked dry beans. Poke a hole in the dried lemons and add to meat mixture or use powdered lemon). Add about 16 fl. ozs of water, place lid on pot and boil for about 15 minutes.
Add the fried vegetables, turn down heat to medium-low and let cook, about an hour. Half way through this period, if using canned beans, add them now. When meat falls apart when poked with a fork, the stew is ready. Serve over rice.
(From Authentic Middle Eastern Cookbook, Alicia Clark.)
Ghormeh Sabzi is a dish Rizah would have known and prepared for her family. I’m certain Gilles de Maides would have relished every morsel.
I’m heading for the nearest Ethiopian restaurant (or to Gisa & Kamran’s home if they’ll have me). Enjoy!
*Leeks have been a staple of Welsh cuisine for centuries. During the middle ages, soldiers in the armies of the Welsh fighting the English kings wore a leek on their uniform and ate the vegetable raw. Today, on St. David’s Day (March 1st), many Welsh choose to wear a leek rather than the daffodil (a Victorian affectation a la Charlotte Guest) to show their support for Welsh independence.
According to an old Welsh saying:
Mae mellt a tharanau cyn Calan Gaeaf yn erthylu’r tywydd garw.
(Lightning and thunder before Hallowe’en prevents severe weather.)
Most unlikely here in San Francisco…the driest October can only mean a rough winter ahead if this saying holds true. Cymru (Wales), over the weekend, experienced a severe storm: a mild winter ahead.
Thursday is Calan Gaeaf, the Eve of Winter. This is time of celebrations and playing tricks. On the Llŷn Peninsula, ghosts return to wander the earth:
“Nos Galan Gaea’
Bwbach ar bob camfa.”
A spirit on every stile.”
Until recently, children in Cymru didn’t participate in the Hallowe’en Trick or Treat events that were so much a part of my American childhood. The origins of “Trick or Treat” are in Boston in the 19th Century when Irish children were encouraged, on All Hallows’ Eve – a Christian holy day on the eve of All Souls’ Day – to ask for money and food from neighbors. This supplemented the family’s very small income since adults couldn’t find much work at that time.
A similar activity is practiced by children in Cymru on Y Calan (New Year’s Day) called a calennig. The children visit neighbors, sing or recite poetry at the door until the occupants offer a small gift of coins. Unfortunately, like many traditions, Canu Calennig (New Year Singing) is disappearing.
Another Irish import is the carved pumpkin. In Ireland, turnips or beets were used. The pumpkin is a particularly Czech influence, as is the pumpkin pie!
Hallowe’en was popularized in Cymru, largely by the film, E.T., but is still not as widely practiced as it is in American culture. By now, All Hallow’s Eve has taken on an industrial quality as well as an astonishing appeal to adults. However much I once enjoyed horror movies, the escalation of what constitutes scary has far exceeded pleasurable from my point of view. The celebrations have also lost most of their Christian connection as has Christmas.
None the less, I will be waiting at the door with my bowl of treats, suitably disguised with dripping and creepy, ready to put a little fright into supplicants for candy. I hope they don’t scare me too much!
Croeso Medi, fis fy serch,
Pan fo’r mwyar ar y llwyni,
Pan fo’r cnau’n melynu’r cyll,
Pan fo’n hwyr gan ddyddiau nosi.
– Eifion Wyn
Welcome Medi, month of my love,
When the blackberries are on the hedges,
When the nuts yellow the hazel,
When the evening by days darkens.
– Eifion Wyn
There are so many days of significance in Medi (September) through the ages, I thought it best to combine some of them because I will want to write more later on in the month about one of the most historic characters in Welsh history.
Medi is the word for reaping the harvest. From mid August to late September, the fragrance of the grains being harvested fills the air. In the rural areas of Cymru, the saying is lladd y gwair – literally to ‘kill the grass’. Grain harvesting is an anxious time, especially dependent on the weather. Cymru is lush and green. Its climate is affected by the Gulf Stream and is generally mild and moist. At the end of summer, too much rain will postpone the harvest beyond the optimum time.
Most of the farms in the west, mid and north are small family-owned operations – none of the megalithic corporate farms of the American midwest. Most of the farms have been in the same family for decades, some times for centuries, once the feudal system of the medieval estates began to break apart.
The custom of dividing property equally between heirs meant that estates became farms and then smallholdings unless the heirs agreed to keep the estate as one. Many farms were sold when the heirs were too old to work them. Many of these heirs remained unmarried to avoid breaking up the farm between their siblings and their children. Much of the farmland around towns has been sold to developers for housing, making retired farmers the unlanded wealthy.
Medi is also the month of renewed activity after the long summer of waiting for the grass to reach it’s maturity.
2 Medi 1861: on this day the price for Y Faner (a weekly news magazine) was lowered to two pence.
3 Medi 1927: Coleg Harlech was opened – the first college for older students in Cymru.
5 Medi 1912: By winning the National Eisteddfod Chair in Wrexham on this day, after winning the Bardic Crown on the 4th, T.H. Parry-Williams was the first poet to win both – and that at the age of just 25.
6 Medi 1917: was the day of the ‘Cadair Ddu’ (the Black Chair) at the National Eisteddfod in Penbedw when the Bardic Chair was draped in black in honor of the winner, Hedd Wyn, who was killed in battle of Pilkem Ridge, France on the 31st of July, 1917.
Dan y llaid mae llygaid llon
A marw yw prydydd Meirion.
Under the mud are eyes at peace
And dead is Meirion’s poet.
8 Medi 1936: the poets Saunder Lewis, D.J. Williams and Lewis Valentine set fire to the Bombing School at Penyberth, on the Llŷn Peninsula in north Cymru to protest the use of land in Cymru to support the military of England. (We named our first home in Caerfyrddin ‘Penyberth’ in honor of these men.)
9 Medi 1294: Madog ap Llywelyn rebelled against the oppression of Edward I in Cymru. This rebellion followed years of war between this tyrannical king and the Cymry (Welsh people). Edward crowned his son as the Prince of Wales, against the wishes of the Cymry. The last true Tywysog Cymru (Prince of Wales) was Llywelyn II, murdered at Cilmeri, Powys in 1282.
Pob dymuniad da am dywydd braf a medi llwyddiannus.