THE TRUTH ABOUT PASTA


I think we can all agree that there is something comforting about pasta. I knew it as macaroni or noodles while growing up, but after my daughter and then a grandson married into Italian families, I found there are many other ways to use this versatile product.

My late son-in-law’s mother was convinced that I would be happier if I learned to speak Italian, so I could cook like a native speaker. But son-in-law and an Italian friend did not speak the language, and both were excellent purveyors of spaghetti and related products. In fact when I requested their translation of a recipe, they both reminded me that they did not speak Italian.

You might be surprised to learn that they were making lasagna in ancient Rome albeit not quite the same as it is made today. Dried pasta seems to have been invented in North Africa, and was useful on a camel trip through the desert. It was also a staple for sea-farers on long ocean voyages. It was probably brought to Sicily by its Muslim conquerors. In 1154 there was a thriving manufacturing industry near Palermo which exported its products to Muslim and Christian countries alike. By 1785 Naples had 280 pasta shops.

Tomato sauce was not added until comparatively recently. The tomato. which almost surely came from Spain, was viewed with suspicion by many, including my father-in-law who said “it just doesn’t look good to me.” Of course he put sugar on scrambled eggs. The first mention of tomatoes being used in a recipe came at the end of the seventeenth century.

How do I know all this? I confess I read it in a book. After collecting a shelf full of Italian recipe books, I became Italian. It was comparatively easy, starting with putting enough salt in the cooking water–sort of like sea water, to having enough water in the kettle to let the pasta roam around. My son-in-law’s mother said he never used enough water. I never told him, and his pasta was just fine.

Contrary to what I knew before I became Italian, pasta doesn’t always come in long strings; and the flat kind lends itself to all kinds of wonderful dishes besides lasagna. We make a lot of our own pasta, but some time ago I picked up what I thought was a long box of spaghetti and found buccarini, a fat spaghetti with a hole in the middle ready to grab the sauce. I keep learning as I go.

I am easily pleased, but Dr. A is convinced that it isn’t spaghetti unless it has red sauce.

DAILINESS


Print by Marvin Oliver

The hot days of summer make us move a little slower, taking time for puttering. But they also give us time for introspection; for taking stock of what is important. Dailiness sounds like my childhood diary, where page after page said “Nothing happened today.” But of course something happens every day. I’m happy with our morning routine where Dr. A presents me with a latte to start the day. It’s a nice gesture intended to soften the TV news of fires and politics which is never good. We keep thinking we will turn the news off and cancel the newspaper which is nothing more than two or three pages of what was seen the night before. But we do not, because the habits of a lifetime keep us curious, and that constitutes dailiness.

Greek mythology relates how a large white bird fell from favor and was transformed into a large black raven, a favorite omen of warning, tragedy or disaster, and the negative messenger in Poe’s famous poem.

The image above is by my friend Marvin Oliver, Professor of Indian Studies at University of Washington. The interpretation of Art is in the eyes of the beholder, without which there is no Art. To me the broken heart he is presenting to the ancient abandoned village in the background signifies loss. Loss of a way of life and of a proud people whose Dailiness was not enough to sustain their culture. The tribal Journey Paddle to Puyallup brought canoes from as far away as Alaska and from California, which shows that the culture is alive and well.

The days of our youth and unyouth did not include frequent trips to visit the doctor, or the quack as my British friend calls him. Today if I miss calling a friend I find that he/she has had a hip or a knee replaced in the meantime and is already up and ready to go. Our capacity to maintain seems to lessen as we grow older, so I was not surprised to learn yesterday from the young foreign-born eye quack that I am now considered legally blind. Of course that term is broad and subject to qualification. I cannot drive, which I accept as another of those things I don’t have to worry about. One learns to gracefully say goodbye to things with as little regret as possible. The handicapped have so many options for a so-called “normal” life today, we should be grateful. The good new that day was from the leg surgeon who said he would see me in one year.

While waiting somewhat patiently for the pretty young retinal specialist to appear, I thought of the days when if you went to a doctor he could fix your hang nail, clean your ears, offer advice on every part of your body, and possibly tell you to stop complaining. Today each of those parts needs someone whose expertise seems to have ended after they learned to spell their discipline.

The interesting thing about Dailiness, is that it really does change every day. If it doesn’t try using the new app GOYA; Get Off Your Apps. Turn the TV off, stop looking at your e-mail, go for a walk. It’s a beautiful summer day.

THE LURE OF THE CANAL


I felt that I had arrived at home the first time I saw the Hood Canal, a natural waterway about a mile and a half wide with the proper amount of trees and water. The ancient trees grow down to the shoreline, and large rocks make a fine place for sun bathing or simply watching the gulls in their ever present search for food. It beckons one to pick up a fishing rod or a snorkel.

Often in the night the swish of killer whales rushing downstream reminds you that you are not alone in your love of the water. Sometimes at night when the moon is just right, the water becomes phosphorescent, and you aren’t quite sure what lies beneath.

The Hood Canal is the home of our friend and mentor Emmett Oliver, who passed away recently at the age of 102. In 1989 Emmett realized his hope that the tribal canoe culture could be renewed, as part of the centennial celebration for the State of Washington. It was called the Paddle to Seattle. Since then the number of tribes taking part in the Journey has increased each year. This year’s Paddle to Puyallup is well under way with many members of the same families plying the waters their ancestors visited. At the end of their destination there is a huge powwow featuring a salmon bake and many vendors offering native food such as a frybread hamburger.

The Oliver family is well represented, with Emmett’s grandchildren pulling. Son Marvin Oliver, professor of Art at the University of Washington, designs many of the canoes. His youngest son, 12 year old Sam, was a puller for the first time this year. Emmett’s daughter Marylin who has been a puller each year, took her new grandson along this year. To watch these colorful canoes moving through the water is to see the past through their eyes. The Willapa Spirit, with some of the Oliver clan aboard sailed slowly down the Canal past Emmett’s home, with paddles raised in salute to a great gentleman who had a great idea which came to fruition.

WISHING ON A STAR


When I was a little girl I wished on the evening star which sat high over my house no matter where I lived. I thought that star followed me because I was such a good little girl and it wanted me to be happy.

I wanted to be like Gail Hollandsteiner, whose family was rich had a housekeeper and she got away with not eating her breakfast before school. But then her father lost his job, and her parents got divorced, so I was happy that wasn’t me.

I took dancing lessons and in spite of getting new curly hair and cute costumes, Nancy Joy became the star of the show. I really hated her and the way her mother pushed to get her in the spotlight. But I kept dancing and when I was in my middle years my father watch a practice session. After the performance he said “Don;t call us, we’ll call you”. I’m glad he got to see I could still step-shuffle-step.

I wanted to live in one house all my life, but instead I got to move every year and live all over the country which turned out to be be a good thing because I got to see most of the 50 states by the time I was twelve.

i wanted to be the most popular girl in the class which was difficult when you are always the new girl, and not particularly good looking. I tried being the smartest, but kids don’t like being shown up; especially young boys. So I settled on being funny which you can accomplish in a short amount of time without making too many enemies.

I didn’t like my Grandma’s church, so I visited all the other churches in town and found that I’m just not religious. I really just wanted to sing in the choir. I also discovered the interesting history of the world in the time of the Bible stories, which certainly helped me win in the quiz shows we began watching on TV.

I wanted to play the piano, but we couldn’t afford one in the Depression, so I took up the guitar which turned out to be a lot better because you can take that around with you and play at parties which makes everyone happy.

I wanted to go to college when I graduated from high school but I got married instead which turned out to be the best thing I ever did. After my children came, a small voice whispered to me that it’s never too late, so I picked up where I had left off and that turned out to be a very good thing too.

During a lifetime of art, I found that teaching others was something that made me quite happy. Life gives us plenty of time to change our mind, and one path may be as good as another if we decide to take it.

I still look at my evening star every night which somehow has found me everywhere I live. Has my star helped me to be happy, or has it only shown me that happiness is up to me? My wishes now encompass so much more than a little girl’s fleeting desires that I sometimes wonder if my star is big enough to hold them all.

MONKEY BUSINESS


The Winged Monkeys in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz served at the pleasure of the Wicked Witch of the West and terrorized Dorothy and her companions, and thousands of small children watching the big screen throughout the country. My youngest daughter was one of those children. Many years later I purchased a pair of bronze candle holders in the shape of flying monkeys, and I am not allowed to use them when she is around.

I think for children the goblinlike Flying Monkeys. squealing servants of the Wicked Witch are the stuff of nightmares. For the most part the monkeys were not played by the same small actors as the munchkins. Only a few of the more athletic midgets were asked to don the monkey make-up and costumes fitted with battery-powered wings. The wings were motorized so they would flap while the monkeys were airborne.

Veteran Hollywood midget stuntman Harry Monty was one of the actors who played both a Munchkin and a Flying Monkey. Those who played the brown flying chimps mostly were too tall to play a Munchkin.

They had a harness around them and strung them up on wires. Then they would swoop down. One terrifying moment was when a Flying Monkey swooped down and grabbed Toto, Dorothy’s little dog. They were to be paid $20 for swooping, but there was a misunderstanding about the number of swoops were to be paid. The director assumed it was per day, and kept telling monkeys to keep swooping, while the Flying Monkeys thought it was $20 per swoop. To get the matter settled the monkeys went on strike. It must have been quite a picture– twelve monkeys sitting on chairs with their arms folded and legs crossed arguing with the director over money. As soon as it was settled they were back in the air on black cables which were invisible during the filming.

The rest of the illusion was created by dangling little rubber, painted monkeys about eight inches in length. These molded figurines–complete with foamlike wings and a pipe cleaner for a tail–were suspended on wires, much as the actor/monkeys were, and flown along at the same time to create the illusion of a large army of evil beasts. In 1996 one of the decaying, rock-hard rubber monkeys was auctioned off, fetching $3,000.

After more than fifty years, the slim steel tracks that were built and and installed in the reinforced rafters of MGM Sound Stage 29 are still there, high above the floor as a haunting reminder of Oz’s monkeyshines.

Excerpt from The Munchkins of Oz, by Stephen Cox

IN T HE PRESENCE OF ANCESTORS


The Paddle to Seattle in 1989 was coordinated by our good friend Emmett Oliver (1913-2016) a member of the Quinalt Nation, retired Coast Guard commander, and educator, was serving on one of the State of Washington’s centennial committees. Tall ships would be participating in the celebration, and Oliver felt the state’s indigenous population was being ignored.

The high profile return of Coast Salish canoes to ancestral waters was a shot in the arm to Native cultures. A new generation of canoe carvers emerged. Young ones began learning their Native language. Elders who as children were punished for speaking their language, began teaching their dances, songs and stories.

Then, in 1993, in response to an invitation issued during the Paddle to Seattle, canoes traveled to Heiltsuk First Nation in Bella Bella, British Columbia, and the Tribal canoe Journey was born.

Villages long separated were once more connected by Native pride. Once more Arts and Culture were exchanged.

Emmett Oliver is gone, but his legacy burns on in his descendants. Son Marvin Oliver, professor of Art at the University of Washington, and daughter Marilyn Bard, are involved in the Journey, even the youngest grandchildren, too young to be pullers are learning their heritage. In the water, in their canoes, as they are traveling the highways of their ancestors, they cannot help but feel the powerful connection to their people’s lifeways, and for the connection to the other tribal territories they now visit.

CHILES THE HEART OF THE CUISINE


Red chile sauce floated into California from Mexico as on a chile river. Discovered by the Spaniards when they rode into the Valley of Mexico in 1521, they filled their pockets with seeds and dropped plants along the way through California, Arizona and New Mexico. The beloved chili came in all shapes and in all degrees of heat.

Chile heat may not be to everyone’s liking, but it is an essential ingredient in Mexican cooking. Where would our beloved enchiladas and tacos be without red chili sauce?

The smell of roasting peppers is addictive, much like he smell of roasting garlic. I roast them over an open flame before stuffing with cheese for chile relenos. The kitchen is filled with the good smell of cooking, and it says that dinner is not far away.

As Californians we understandingly eat a lot of Mexican cuisine. and their are plenty of Mexican taquerias around if you don’t want to cook. Years ago we hosted a couple of teenage boys from Kodiak, Alaska for several days. Knowing the appetites of teenage boys, I prepared a large tray of enchiladas and another of make your own tacos plus a big pot of pinto beans. They ate sparingly, and after dinner they asked to be taken to the nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken store where they purchased several dinners to bring back home. I had not taken into consideration that they had never eaten Mexican food. I guess unless you are raised in the chile river realm, a plate of good old fried chicken is the best bet; after all what’s not to like?

On my first evening in New Mexico, they asked if I liked chiles. Until that time my relationship with chiles was in a pot of beans, which I liked very much. When dinner was served I was surprised to see a large bowl of stewed chiles set before me. I remember drinking a lot of Kool-Ade to cool me down. In New Mexico large strands of chiles are strung together and hung beside the outside door to dry. You just pick one off when you need it.

It’s interesting to find the use of chilies in cooking is world wide. My friend from Jamaica grows the pretty and very hot Scotch Bonnet pepper. Asian cuisine claims other varieties of pepper, and the Middle East uses still another. Chile heat fills your nostrils, makes your eyes water, feels like your mouth is on fire. So why do we love it? Search me; I think it’s just because it’s good.

OLD AT THIRTY-THREE


There seems to be a difference of opinion as to when we get “old”. I think some people actually are born old. It would be nice to test that theory and watch the old wrinkled face and grey hair miraculously transform into vibrant, energetic youthfulness. It woud be even nicer to stop the process mid way when we became satisfied with the result and just stay there. Unfortunately that is not the case. The Mills Brothers in the 1950’s sang a warning not to be old at thirty-three. Does this mean that age is simply a matter of choice?

Looking at family photos of our families from the past, I am amazed at how old the people looked when still in their thirties and forties. They not only looked older than their years, they acted older. Their risk-taking and playfulness was gone and they were serious about their parenting and everything else.

When I was 38, being late for an appointment, I ran up a flight of stairs, taking the steps two or three at a time. I was reminded of my mother, whom I thought old when she was 38 and I was 18. I was shocked that I could have been so cruel.

Today I heard that we might someday live till the age of 122. The question is do we really want to stick around that long? We are bound to lose some important faculties in that extended time. Driving could be a problem, but With the advent of driver-less cars it might not be so bad. As with old cars, their would always be some tweaking to be done; a new paint job, valve change, emission tests, etc.

The Alameda girls, who haven’t been “girls” for over seventy years, gathered for lunch at Rossmoor last week. Rossmoor, for those of you who don’t know, is a rather posh adult retirement community in the town of Walnut Creek, surrounded by 1200 acres of gorgeous natural landscape. One of our members moved their five years ago, and though very happy, she no longer drives, and her daughter lives an hour away. So the maternal guilt will soon send her back to Alameda, where her daughter still lives. There are several daughters who bring their mothers, and one daughter brings her year old grandson. They listen to old high school memories and marvel that we were so ‘modern’ in the “old days”.

One of our mates has recently shown some problems with dementia, and will be living in a facility in San Francisco. Her daughter, who has brought her mother to our luncheons for several years, told the facility that her mother wanted to be “usefull”, so she is now folding napkins, towels, etc. Yes, she was busy and useful all her life, helping to raise children, help in her husband’s business.

One friend, in the ROTC with me, and ballerina with the San Francisco Ballet, works at her church feeding the poor, helping put on weddings, volunteering at the hospital. When she recently passed her driver’s renewal test, she went out and bought a new car. She, along with two others has lost a child within the past two years.

My point is that these women, all over 90, are still doing what they can. Do we look our age? Probably, but I haven’t noticed the change. My husband often asks if I think people know we are older? When young girls offer to help him lift a heavy bag of compost into the trunk, or someone rushes past me calling out “You need help Mama?” I think they recognize our advanced years, and I think people are genuinely kind.

Long ago, a very young grandson asked how old his great grandmother was. I answered that she was 82. He then asked how old I was and I jokingly said I too was 82. Puzzled, he gripped the sides of his hair and said ” well if you are both 82, why don’t you have that hair?” I wonder if they look at our photos now and see old?

Remember, it will all come out good in the end, and if it isn’t good, it isn’t the end.

HERE TO CREATE


A story can be told in two ways: the way it happened, and the way it is remembered. The storyteller is welcome at every table, though the story may change with each telling. It really doesn’t matter, it is after all, just a story.

Children are the best story tellers, since they have little recall, the stories they tell are usually created in the moment. If you question the story, they are able to embellish it on the spot. When I was a little girl of four, I created four big brothers. When questioned, they were suddenly locked up and fed bread and water. Clearly a mistake. Are these kind of stories a form of wish? The idea that exaggeration somehow enhances our self-image arrives early.

We are here to create, and all stories do not involve overestimating one’s own abilities, though a stretch of the truth often gives flavor to the imagination.

The creation stories of the Native American cultures, Greek and Roman mythology. and the stories of the Bible are all crossover creation stories. Oral tradition is extremely important, for without it, there would be no story telling. Each tribe, like each family, has its own story, of which there are multiple versions. Just as two or more siblings remember the events of childhood in various ways, our own stories take on new luster in time. More often than not, the Native American stories involve animals or humans who transform and do miraculous things, all explaining the unexplainable mystery of life.


“I Am a Child of the Sun and the Rain” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

We are all story-tellers; you tell me your story and I will tell you mine. Those stories may change from time to time either from new experiences or from remembrance, but the things we say are mostly true. Taken all together stories form the glorious tapestry of our lives.

CANTALOUP AND KOOL-AID
by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Where is the door to the story?
Can we all walk through it?

A story lives on the lips of
Diego from Hollywood days.
Far from this dusty village
Where nothing happens.
Cantaloup and Kool-Aid
And a bedroll on the floor
In this stone village
where he tells his stories.

Even the tree outside our windows
seems to listen with ruffled
leaves tipping and cooling
in the evening chill.

The pleasant knicker of an Indian pony
through the open window over
heads drowsy with sleep
announced the coming of the dawn.

We sat around the fire pitching our
own stories into the lap of the story teller.
We dropped troubles and pain.
Are they now someone else’s stories?

THE ART OF THE LOOM


Coming into Southwest Indian country for the first time some fifty-five years ago was a revelation in many ways. We drove through the hot desert land of Chumash, Hopi and Navajo before arriving in New Mexico, home of the Pueblo people. My own art had taken a turn toward the Southwest, and we had begun collecting a few pots and pieces of jewelry from indigenous artists.

I was fortunate to have my good friend Georgia Abeita Oliver as my companion while I accompanied her “home” for the summer. Wherever we are born, home-going is a special occasion which never gets old. There were friends and relatives to meet and greet, and a cultural education for me as a guest.

To be steeped and accepted into the culture of another is a privilege for which I have been grateful these past many years.

The domestic skills such as weaving, pottery, jewelry and basketry seem to be practiced primarily by individual villages. Pueblo and Hopi pots, but Navajo weaving and jewelry.


Two Grey Hills rug, Navajo

My husband was staying in the La Fonda hotel in Albuquerque several years before my trip, where he saw a very large Two Grey Hills rug on the wall. The story goes that a customer wished to buy the rug, and he was sent to the Two Grey Hills village to bargain for it. He came back dismayed because though he offered them twice its price, they refused to sell to him. I had a similar situation a few years later when I commission a rug after I was back home. When it arrived, the rug’s colors were not what I had wanted, so I returned it with the hope of another more suitable rug to come; but did not hear from them again. We are, after all, two separate cultures with different views on what is important. I did not make the same mistake again in all my years of travel in Indian country.

Why is it that the Navajo are the master weavers? Why not the Pueblo? The Hopi do weave lovely small runners, though and the men weave their prospective bride a burial shawl. I always thought that was either a threat or a warning.


“How the Navajo Got The Rug” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

My own interpretation of how the Navajo got the skills to weave is that maybe it just came down from the sky. That is as good an explanation as any. We met an old weaver just outside Taos, patriarch of the Trujillo family, who had been weaving since he was a boy. He made us a nice large room size rug which is in my studio.

It is easy to imagine how so much of the architecture got its beginnings; the whole desert terrain with its mesas and sculptural forms is ever present. Making use of natural materials like clay, wool, and natural dyes keeps people connected to the land. I have always preferred to work with clay for that same reason. It connects me also with my own forebears who were potters for over 200 years in England. It just feels natural to me when I think of the generations before me who made their living through love of clay.

The Saturday markets are crowded with people bringing everything from pickups full of wool to homemade tamales. In fact the best tamale I ever ate was at a flea market in Gallup, New Mexico. In the days I first visited New Mexico and Arizona, one frequently saw the wife’s mother sitting in the bed of the truck with the bundles of sheep skin for sale. She usually was in a large chair like a queen surveying her subjects.

I bought a cradle board made by an old woman who had brought only one to sell. A young pregnant girl was trying to decide if she had money enough to buy it for $40. Seeing me waiting in the wings, she graciously offered it to me. I said I noticed that she might need it more than I did, and she said “But YOU want it.” I have yet to see someone in our society be that generous of spirit.

Native people, whether Southwest or Northcoast, as somewhat suspicious of strangers, but through the years I have known and cared for people from both cultures, I have always found acceptance and love.