Monday, July 25, 2011

Architecture and Cuisine, Second Week

The smell of caramelized onions, roasted coffee and pastry holds me fast. Where does it take me. Smell is a strange sense in that it transports me directly to a place that I associate with it.

Roasted coffee is always Seattle. The cold and wet weather further enhances the Seattle connection. The drab, dark clothing, sometimes broken by an occasional red tinged hairdo or bright orange shoes. Men in suits. Pointy leather shoes, and drain pipe trousers. Others in bright safety vest and hard hats, milling around the numerous construction sites. Women in dresses/jeans and coats. Sturdy high heels, or boots. Nothing out of the ordinary. Except I know better. Despite the similarities, Australia has developed its own culture. Visitors come and go. They take what they interpret back with them. But the culture is uniquely their own. So the Seattle connection is tenuous. And what brought on this great insight? Caramelized onions take me to a bakery shop buying pastizzi in Malta.

Unconsciously I try and make this place familiar, mine. I bring my experiences to transform what is a unique culture into a familiar one. The caramelized onions was a dead give away. I felt a familiar twinge. A place where I have experienced warmth, simplicity, and a sense of belonging. But it is not here, not yet. The architecture was a clue that I am in a different place. The sheer audacity of angles, the size, and most ostentatious of all, the colors. This was an alien experience that I was unconsciously trying to own, but I cannot. I should not. I need to allow it to overwhelm and for me to refrain from analyzing, interpreting and trying to own it.

But I am fighting against a current. The smell of baked pastries tells me I am home. And home is where pastry is being baked.
The enduring feeling is baffling at first. Why pastry and why home. I stopped writing at the time, I did not know why I should so strongly associate the smell of pastry with home, more so than the smell of pastizzi (or caramelized onions).

During this week, I further savored the city and forgot about the question until today. What happened today is that I saw our pastry chef preparing brunch. Despite the fact that we had cold cereal for breakfast, he was at the kitchen, early, preparing (what I learned afterwards to be) scones. Baking requires planning. Sometimes it requires that the dough is prepared the day before. It is a chemistry test, as well as a test of patience. But more importantly, it signals that you have all the different ingredients, the different baking tools and the time that could only mean that you are home. I never bake when I am traveling. I tried to understand this and from the initial excuses of not having the right pans, all the small ingredients, and not trusting the temperature of the oven, it is infact simpler than that. I just did not feel at home to invest my time into all the details. But that is home. The little things that we surround ourselves with that are so hard to discard when we move. And all of these little things that I have shed myself of in the last few weeks. Pastry is rightfully the smell of home, wherever I smell it.

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