Thursday, November 25, 2010

In Contrast - Thankful

About two weeks ago I figured out something really important about one of the characters in my novel: she had been interned in the Funter Bay Aluet internment camp.  I knew that figuring this out was important for both her and me.

Old cannery building at Funter Bay.  Taken by Marjorie Menzi, 2004.
Of course, the problem was, I knew very little about these interment camps.  I knew the basics, that they existed and that almost a thousand Aleuts were removed from their homes by the US government.  Why was this done?  Who went there?  What were the camps like?  How long were the "prisoners" held?  I had no idea.  And so I embarked on my very first fiction related research project.

The building I work in also houses the Alaska State Library and the state library's historical collections.  So on my lunches I became a regular visitor.  Did you know that if you're an Alaska resident you can make 10 free copies a day and receive three high quality digital scans of photographs a year?

Adak - Photo from
But there wasn't much.  The biggest thing I found was an original report typed up by one of the main organizers of the camps in which he described the conditions of the camp from the point of view of a government employee.

One thing he said, really hit home:  "However, at WardCove camp being located among the tall spruce and hemlock trees with 'no air' to which they were accustomed at home with only tall grass and continuous breezes and winds, the Aleuts did express a sense of oppression and suffocation."

Reading this line during my second research lunch, I could feel things clicking.  Imagining the forest of Southeast Alaska, forests that I find comforting in the way they envelope a person, to imagine coming from a land of endless expanse and openness to this?  Yes.  That could be horrible.  Especially if you'd never been in a landscape like ours.

Then this morning I found this document in the National Archives:

That first line: "We the people of this place wants a better place than this to live.  This place is no place for a living creature."

This is a petition by the Aleut women interned in the Funter Bay Evacuation Camp.

When these women returned to their homes they found their buildings looted, some in ruins, and their churches in shambles.  Those from Atka?  Their village was burned to the ground so that the Japanese couldn't use it.

And here I am, sitting in my lovely home, drinking a lovely cup of coffee with irish cream on Thanksgiving Day trying to envision the lives of these women who had to drink impure water and watch all of their loved ones fall sick and then return to a home that was no longer home.  

The contrast is almost more powerful than I can handle.

I am feeling very fortunate and thankful today.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Pomegranite, Balsamic Vinegar, and Rosemary Reduction

This was so good, I just had to type up a recipe.

Costco has had rack of lamb in lately and since we never cook lamb but always want to, we bought a rack a week and a half ago. It was so good that we ate the whole thing in one night and decided that we had to make lamb for a dinner party we hosted last night. To make it a little more special we decided to stick with a Mediterranean theme and make a pomegranate balsamic vinegar reduction for the sauce.

The sauce was out of this world. Now I want to use it on everything.

The recipe:

1 ½ cups pomegranate juice
½ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
3 sprigs rosemary

Bring everything to a boil and let it reduce down to half a cup. Pick out and toss the sprigs of rosemary.

It’s tart and fruity with a little sweetness and the consistency of syrup.

And a little tip: don’t lean over the pot of boiling liquid and breathe in the steam, the boiling vinegar will make you tear up like a baby. That stuff is intense!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Eat Your Love

As far as I can remember, I have never eaten dirt. But reading Beth Ann Fennelly’s article for The Oxford American about the history and experience of geophagy, and Tejal Rao’s article for The Atlantic  looking at the modernization and gentrification of geophagy almost make me want to.

I remember the first time I went to my ancestral family farm as an adult, the farm that my great grandfather was born on. I remember driving down the lane, seeing the farm house appear, and the feeling that this place was more mine than any other place I had ever been. This sense of belonging past memory, past generation upon generation, was new to me.

If you’re not native, the United States is a new place, and Alaska one of the newest places. The house I live in is one of the oldest in Juneau and it was built in 1920. I think few of us, especially those of us on the West Coast, have an understanding of what an ancestral place can do to your understanding of who you are.

When we arrived at the farm, we were greeted by my great Uncle Elliot. Walking around, looking at the buildings and the gardens, it was strange to think that these were the same things that my grandmother had seen when she was my age. The time between our lives had disappeared in a single moment, and just by standing on that ground I felt physically tied to every other woman ever born into my family. And this is without having ever lived there.

This great, rolling, full linkage of self and place seems to be a huge part of Southern life, especially for those rural families that have lived for generations in one place. So to read about the living practice of geophagy, and the historic record of geophagy, something about it makes sense to me. The need, the desire, to take the earth into your body, especially earth that is so tied to your identity. Beth Ann Fennelly writes “my husband tells me his relations (poor white Alabamians) ate the clay mortar grouting the stones of the hearth at the family's home, the ‘Old Place’—weakening the structure until it threatened to collapse.”

The metaphor of eating something you love so as to take that thing into you, make it an inseparable part of yourself, has stuck with me for a long time. Often this image is tied in my mind to the notion of a dangerous love; love so strong that it in the act of consuming, destroys the object of affection. Last night, in one of those bar conversations that goes all sorts of places, my friend Caleb told me that Wikipedia has a list of fetishes. I immediately made him show me on my iPhone. Towards the bottom of the list was Vorarephilia.  A “sexual fetish and paraphilia where arousal occurs from the idea of being eaten or by the process of eating. The fantasy may involve the victim being swallowed alive, and may or may not include digestion. Since the fetish is hard to achieve in real life, it is more commonly enjoyed through pictures, stories, and video games.”

I feel a story coming on.