Monday, November 17, 2008

The Medusa Gruel

Various attractions pulled me back to Oaxaca last week, where I revisited the Zapotec village of Teotitlán del Valle, which I'd written about here.

I hadn't said a proper goodbye to my saxophonist friend, Manuel, and had no contact info for him, and there were some jazz recordings I thought he should hear. So I
 journeyed to his sprawling village with a bunch of compact disks, wondering how on earth I'd find the guy, given that everyone there is named "Manuel".

But as I checked into my
room, I heard a tuba player warming up in the distance. And then a trumpeter. Dashing down the hill toward the sound, I brazenly threw open a large metal door, and found the village band rehearsing in a courtyard full of billowing drying laundry. The guys remembered me, and thrust an old, barely-functional trombone into my hands, and, just like that, I was a part of the band (and even played a wedding with them the next day). Manuel wasn't there, but I was put in touch with him the next day, and headed over to his place to hand him my gift. He paid me the supreme honor by laying it down on his family alter, filled with flowers, photos, talismans, feathers, soda cans, and other seemingly random objects representing to him the divine nature of all things.

Then Manuel informed me that I was in luck, that it was the time of year for "atole de elote", and asked his wife to bring me a bowl of thick, steaming, grey-ish gruel. It was sweet, but only from lots and lots of fresh corn, grown in the family garden. As its sublime, all-embracing soulfulness penetrated every capillary, I became utterly lost within myself. The flavor simply would not fade. In waves, it permeated my internal universe, and I didn't realize I'd fallen into a stupor until Manuel came over and waved into my eyes and asked whether I was ok. It took effort to return to the conversation, as the afterglow still showed no signs of dimming, but I managed to wrench myself from its tendrils and resurface. Until, that is, my next sip, which again turned me to stone. I was eating very languidly, yet Manuel kept urging me, with a degree of urgent concern, to "¡Cálmate!", or calm down - which, even in my hazy state, struck me as an inapt instruction for someone who'd gone essentially catatonic.

The atole was served along with some ears of corn (the stubby kind, with great big starchy kernals) which, being merely delicious, seemed utterly vestigial. I asked Manuel how a dish consisting of absolutely nothing but corn could taste so much better than corn itself. He smiled, and explained that such was the magic of divinely inspired, loving human action. Manuel and I agreed that this is the very gist of what we humans do best when we're at our best. Like earthworms enriching soil, our love and care can invest with divinity all that we touch.

In terms of
my system for rating things on a scale from one to ten, I'd gone, for the first time, beyond 10 ("absolute certainty that no one at this moment, anywhere on Earth, is eating anything more delicious than what you're currently consuming"), and encountered an 11 (something better than anything anyone anywhere has ever eaten).

1 comment:

pat said...

I've been looking forward to this post, but I have to say I wasn't prepared for gruel! It sounds other worldly. Did you have other renditions while you were there? The Corn Festival is coming up in December, you know!

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