The Dimpled KitchenWednesday, July 10, 2013
One of my first memories of a kitchen is the one we had in Buenos Aires in the late 40s. We used the big black stove to warm the kitchen in those very cold and damp Buenos Aires winters. The rest of our house was heated with a couple of upright and very red kerosene stoves. We always had a pot of hot water with lemon verbena leaves to disguise the awful kerosene smell. Bedtime during the winter meant that Mercedes, our live in cook would put bricks inside the black stove’s oven. She would carefully wrap the bricks and place them in our bed.
I know that my father made his excellent iced tea in that kitchen and when he cooked I would know we would eat well. Except of course the time when he concocted something with cow brains. I threw my plate under the table. I received a terrible spanking but I never did eat them.
Kitchens, and in particular that Buenos Aires one, are about warmth and pleasant smells. On Tuesdays Mercedes made breaded veal cutlets (milanesas) and mashed potatoes. That was my favourite meal with the possible exception of her carrot soufflé. Her sister, Enilse, who sometimes spent the night with us liked to make a beaten Nescafe. She would add , slowly, drops of water to the dried coffee in a small bowl and beat it slowly but vigorously with a spoon while adding sugar. After a while, if you poured boiling water into individual servings of this mixture, you got something very frothy and delicious. This was a fave of my father’s friend, Argentine writer Julio Cortázar. I remember both my father and Cortázar chatting by the stove while Enilse beat her mixture. Without fail Cortázar would run out of cigarettes and I would be dispatched to buy a pack of Arizonas at the corner almacén.
It was in this kitchen, the Buenos Aires kitchen when I remember my mother telling Mercedes to buy something called, catsoup. My mother pronounced it like that so Mercedes could ask for it at the almacén. In that kitchen I had my first bowl of American Jell-O (lime flavour), my first peanut butter sandwich and a strange bread that had poppy seeds. All this was brought by my mother who had friends at the American Embassy.
This kitchen was were I did my homework and I often heard my mother giving Mercedes her shopping list.
My next memory of a kitchen is the one in the house we bought in Arboledas, Estado de Mexico in 1971. Rosemary and I moved in with our daughter Ale and later the next year Hilary was born. My mother lived with us and she liked to tinker in the kitchen. Next to the kitchen there was a small room that I converted into a shop and its bathroom was my first darkroom.
My memory of this Arboledas kitchen (the first house we ever owned) is an unpleasant one. Under the sink we stored cleaning materials. We had a bottle of upholstery cleaner (carbon tetrachloride). I arrived one day to find out Ale had swallowed the whole bottle. Luckily the doctor around the corner knew what to do. I had initially called our family doctor who had advised me to induce vomiting and take Ale to the hospital. In the back of my mind there was a memory of something I had learned when I was a Boy Scout. You never induced vomiting when the poison was a corrosive. I put Ale in the tub, ran cold water on her face and took her quickly to the neighbourhood doctor. He pumped her stomach and told me that my action had save my daughter’s life.
In Vancouver kitchens loom big mostly as kitchen parties. I am sensitive to smell and I happen to loathe the smell of pot. You must understand then that I hate kitchen parties.
I like our kitchen on Athlone Street, although if I had my way (money) I would install two ovens. It is impossible for Rosemary to make her very good Yorkshire pudding while I roast the meat.
We have a round and very heavy Mexican table in the kitchen. We never eat at it. The table is where we keep our tender plants in the winter. We used to eat at our dinner table (a large Victorian crank table) in the dining room but of late Rosemary and I have been enjoying food on plates on our laps in the den (no TV trays for us) while we watch Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.
Perhaps my only other memory of a kitchen is this one of a beautiful woman with a shapely body, standing in her kitchen and showing off her dimples.