Saturday, January 30, 2021

Reading The Plague…during a plague


“There have been as many plagues as worst in history; yet always plagues and wars to take people equally by surprise”(Camus, 34). 

The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 certainly did take the world by surprise. At a conference in February, we discussed the rising numbers in China and what the travel industry might do if the virus was to spread outside the region. Later that month in Ethiopia, we were counting our good fortune that the virus had not hit Africa yet. By the time I arrived stateside, Seattle was a hotbed to virus activity, two weeks later in March, the city of Portland shut down. 

I kept track of the changes as I observed them: the first time I worse a mask in public, the first time I saw public signage about mask wearing, the first time I bought something with plexiglass between me and the cashier. Everything suddenly felt sterile. Every time I went in public I felt like people treated me like a harbor of disease. 

The Plague by Albert Camus sold out on Amazon. 

That’s when I remembered I already owned a copy I had never read. 

By April Camus had back from the past to save me. His book, written 60 years ago, described what our world was going through so precisely. It was almost more accurate than watching the news. It was a warning, a prediction.

Reading The Plague by Camus was also healing and cathartic. It was so relevant and timely it almost felt like a friend speaking into my ear, telling me what has happened, and what is left to come. Even he said what so many others are echoing now: “Every day that passes we are one day closer to the end of this ordeal.”

My favorite quotes that seem to describe March 2020:

“But once the town gates were shut, every one of us realized that all, the narrator included, were, so to speak, in the same boat, and each would have to adapt himself to the new conditions of life. Thus, for example, a feeling normally as individual as the ache of separation from those one loves suddenly became a feeling in which all shared alike and - together with fear – the greatest affliction of the long period of exile that lay ahead…  

“One of the most striking consequences of the closing of the gate was, in fact, this sudden deprivation befalling people who were completely unprepared for it” (Camus, 61).

“The first thing that plague brought to our town was exile… It was undoubtably the feeling of exile – that sensation of a void within which never left us, that irrational longing to hark back to the past or else speed up the march of time, and those keen shafts of memory that stung like fire… We returned to our prison-houses, we had nothing left to us but the past, and even if some were tempted to live in the future, they had speedily to abandon the idea - anyhow, as soon as could be – once they felt the wounds that the imagination inflicts on those who yield themselves to it” (Camus, 65).

From summer and Fall 2020:

“They came to know the incorrigible sorrow of all prisoners and exiles, which is to live in company with a memory that serves no purpose” (Camus, 66). 

“They seemed at the mercy of the sky’s caprices – in other words, suffered and hoped irrationally” (Camus, 69).

“In the early days, when they thought this epidemic was much like other epidemics, religion held its ground. But once these people realized their instant peril, they gave their thoughts to pleasure. And all the hideous fears that stamp their faces in the daytime are transformed in the fiery, Dusty night fall into a sort of hectic exaltation, and unkempt freedom fevering their blood” (Camus, 111).

From January 2021, after Biden’s election and the vaccine being released:

“All agreed that the amenities of the past couldn’t be restored at once; destruction is an easier, speedier process then reconstruction… But in reality behind these mild aspirations lurks wild, extravagant hopes, and often one of us, becoming aware of this, would hastily add that, even on the rosiest view, you could expect the plague to stop from one day to another” (Camus, 241).  

“The fluctuated between high optimism and extreme depression” (Camus, 244).  

“He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen closets; that it bodes it’s time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city” (Camus, 278).  

Saturday, January 16, 2021

New Normal: Living Room Picnics

We're about halfway through winter in Portland, and dining outside remains miserable. I have passed time dreaming of elaborate picnics and order picnic supplies online. I also still want to support my favorite restaurants, so I decided to stage a fancy picnic in the living room. 

Pictured is the new picnic basket I bought online from The Beach People. Oregon Blossom rose wine, and my Spanish feast from Can Font. 

Jamon Iberico y Serrano Pan con Tomate: cured ham with bread covered with tomato

Ensalada de Remolacha: beet salad

Paella Negra: black squid ink paella with clams, mussels, and shrimp

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

New Normal: A 6-Course Tasting Menu at Home

While I am grateful to be healthy, housed, employed, and generally in a very good place in life, there is a lot I miss about pre-pandemic life. One of those things is tasting menus at restaurants. I love going to a new place and letting the chef decide what I will eat. I love the surprise of getting small bites of food, beautifully plated and delivered to my table, knowing it will be the perfect amount of food by the end of the meal. 

My first tasting menu experience was at the Beast, a French restaurant that Portland lost due to the pandemic. Other recent memorable tasting menus I had were at Mision 19 in Tijuana, and Han Oak in Portland, which was one of the best meals of my life. 

I can't get this experience during the pandemic. Half of the fancy restaurants closed during the pandemic because they could just not serve take-out with their concept, and the other half adapted to offering take-out friendly different menu items like street food, baked goods, and noodle soups. 

For fun, I decided to attempt my own tasting menu at home. I order take out from Lechon, a South American restaurant with an amazing vibe and gorgeous aquariums in its restaurant. Unfortunately they are closed for indoor dining, but I want to see them succeed, so I ordered a wopping 6 items from their menu and had them delivered. 

Then I plated each item for two people, selected wine pairing, turned on Chopin, got out the candles and cloth napkins, and made it my Tasting-Menu-at Home night. 

I wish I was better at decorating a dining room table or plating food, because these pictures are not all that spectacular. Although my aesthetic talents were tested in this challenge, and admittedly I suck at plating and decorating,  I think the photos and experience serves as a relic of this time: trying to relive good memories and make the most of a devastating global pandemic. 

Course 1: Brisket Empanada

Course 2: Mexican-Style Street corn

Course 3: Shrimp Ceviche

Course 4: Bone Marrow - the best!

Course 5: Grilled Octopus

Course 6: Steak

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