To: My Valentine
I assume by your silence you are patiently waiting for part two of my last letter, the one I almost fell asleep writing. It’s Valentine’s Day today, a fact which I am ignoring for various reasons, but mostly because I’m waiting patiently for the better holiday, Sant Jordi, which fills me with more happiness each passing year. Remember when I gave Marta the prettiest rose on Sant Jordi and she and I became fast friends after two long years of silent warring? Today was exceptionally low-key for a holiday, partially because Catalans, as you know, haven’t taken to celebrating our imported, commercialized holiday and partially because it’s Carnival here and mostly everyone is out and about in costume. Every morning along Gran Via as I bike to tennis, I see tiny children swaddled in an array of disfresses, some snuggled into wooly bear suits, others dressed like playing cards. One day, the students all wore mismatched shoes. This morning I saw a bumblebee. It’s a nice way to wake up in the morning, but also a little disconcerting when you’re sitting on the train and look up from your book to see two full-sized zombies feeding each other sticks of gum.
I have to keep reminding myself it’s a holiday.
I hope you are enjoying your day back home. I wish I was there to give you the French press coffee coat I found online or the sailor teacup set I spied the other day in a cute shop called Magnesia that I discovered in Gracia. I spent my day brunching and shopping, buying a wok that I can’t fit into my tiny kitchen so that I can make the steamed whole fish my friend gave me the recipe for and which I’ll put up on my food blog soon.
I’ve finally gotten back into the swing of things and started posting more recipes. I’m looking forward to renovating my website soon to make it more user friendly and am working on several collaborations, one with the lovely Chicagoan we met in Amsterdam at the pop-up store where I almost fainted from hunger. I still remember those delicious pork dumplings I practically swallowed whole. In any case, I’m not sure if you remember the woman who cold smokes her own spices, whose stand I hit up after the dumpling table, but we’ve been conversing about publishing recipes on each other’s websites. Her spices are amazing, and I’m so excited to create several new recipes with them. My brother-in-law is also developing a recipe for her involving French puy lentils and her smoked Tellicherry peppercorns. It promises to be incredible, like everything he does.
Over the course of the past few days, I’ve scribbled words and phrases I’ve meant to include in this letter, of places I’ve passed in my walks through the city, of things I’ve thought about in cold stairwells, in classrooms, on the tennis court. Some of them are thoughts half-captured, a fleeting idea interrupted. Some of them are memories of years long past, like those that come to me on the tennis court where I stand rooted to the ground inspecting the blood dripping from my shredded finger. I stare at it and think of childhood. I’m brought back to my ten-year-old self, climbing a waterfall in Colorado where we spent the summer that year. I scaled rock for a quarter hour, hoping to reach the the very pinnacle, wondering what I might find when I get there. The entire episode was a bit Jack and the Beanstalk-esque, since I remember clearly not being able to imagine where the source of the water might come from and what I might find when I reached the top. At one point, my friend pointed to a giant bush where tiny raspberries hung like jewels from the branches, plush and beaded. I couldn’t believe how soft they were and how their furry skin ripped at my tongue when I bit into them. I was jealous that she got to live there, to have those raspberry bushes as her very own. When she made me leave them finally, I plucked as many raspberries as I could fit into my small hand and stuffed them delicately into my white shorts, hoping they would survive the journey home. At the bottom, I attempt to retrieve them to show my mother, my fingers encountering the warm, wet pulp of their remains. I flared my pocket wide, my fingers sticky with juice, and pulled out a few crumpled soldiers, their soft hearts unfolded.
After that, I spend the rest of the summer making sun prints. I collect veiny leaves and the soft ferns that grow at the edge of the woods behind the house. My mom finds sticks and small soft flowers and together we press them underneath the glass like rare specimens. We set them outside for a while and then slowly uncover them and wait for their inverse shadow to appear. I wish I had them now, a memory pressed into a small square of paper, a record of what once was.
On the court, my coaches–all three of them–tape up my fingers and tease me about being like Rafa Nadal. Each time I play, they’re a little more destroyed.
These last few days I’ve spent a lot of time photographing things in the dark. I stalk plants sitting in large pots on hallway landings, half-lit by the streetlamp glow.
I take photos of darkened stairwells, colored block windows
a flower etched in glass, a small black patch of marble that I can’t stop looking at until I’m caught and forced to move on.
The photos aren’t good, of course, snapped quickly with my iPhone while a parade of people on their way to a party wait behind me and wonder what on earth I see there in the darkness. It’s a compulsive need I feel to capture what I see. I plan to come back, with my camera and my tripod, to take photos of the apartment I’m in, of the bare courtyards around Montbau, of the sterile towers out at Fira, of the utter emptiness everywhere.
I’m not sure what else I meant to put in this letter. I think there are a few short thoughts, dashed off in my Catalan notebook, a note in my phone, and a few fragmented ideas floating around in my mind. I’ll probably have more to tell you when I finally clean my room and have some space to think. Until then, I hope your train ride to NYC keeps you safe. You should really try to get to Mission Cantina some time when you’re there and have their homemade tortillas. It’s worth the long trip down to the LES, I promise.
Poetry and roses,