What a strange year. Four days ago we were frying in our own juices as the temperatures soured upwards toward 110, and today it is scheduled to rain and I have a robe on and socks. It is a world gone mad.
Our animals seem to be picking up the vibe. Last night we were relaxing after dinner when Miss Boo the Queen of cats stood up, stretched in her Halloween cat way, and walked in a perfectly straight line backwards into the kitchen as if we’d hit rewind on the video camera. For a minute we sat silent, as though neither of us wanted to be the first to say anything. Then, we were both talking at once. Boo, nonplussed by her performance went on to her bowl nose pointed forward and finished her dinner. Really?
Before dinner Mouse had ended another poor lizards allotted time on earth and left her usual reminder for us in the garage. This time, however, only the tail remained and seemingly unaware its host had vacated the premises continued to wag on the floor. Too much, that was simply too, too much. My skin is still crawling as I write this I do hope you aren’t eating.
In an effort to seek out a bit of normalcy in my otherwise peculiar day, I rang up my daughter. Her first words were “this has been the strangest day”, at which point I was tempted to hang up but had already acknowledged my presence on the line. To further explain, she said a wounded hawk had landed in her backyard mid-afternoon. It didn’t appear hurt, but possibly unable to fly. Not wanting to frighten the bird she observed him from her kitchen window. It was a strange sight, she recounted, watching the large bird hopping around the swimming pool. Several times he stopped to dip his beak towards the water. Suddenly he dove into the pool, emerging shortly from below the surface to begin swimming what appeared to be the back stroke for a few laps. After an interval of exhibiting this strange behavior he made his way to the steps in the shallow end and exited the pool. Shaking his wings free of excess water he cast a glance over one shoulder as if to say, “thanks”, and disappeared over the fence. Are there some obvious signs I am missing, say, a swarm of locusts, or rats overtaking New York?
Locusts brought to mind stories, Rick, my other half, tells about growing up in the Middle East, Cairo in particular. Truly we are an odd pair coming from such totally different worlds, but perhaps that’s what makes the pairing so interesting. Like myself, he spent his early years sharing a home with his maternal grandparents as well as his parents. In his case, it was both parents, in mine only my mother. As his parents often worked some distance from home, his world as a youngster revolved largely around his grandfather, a noted Egyptian academic and his grandmother an English matron whose job, if you will, was keeping their household running smoothly.
At one point his grandfather was offered a prestigious temporary assignment in Kuwait as guest editor of a noted publication. An offer to rich to refuse, Rick, Nana (or Nayna as he pronounced it), and his grandfather settled their affairs in Cairo, closed the house for the year, and took a plane to Kuwait. On the other end arrangements has been made for Rick’s school, housing, and household help, the latter Nayna quickly dispatched as unnecessary. Home, for the time being, had once been utilized as military housing. The house itself was a sprawling single story dwelling which completely surrounded an open courtyard or atrium of sorts towards which all inside windows faced.
In his memory, summer was unbearably hot in Kuwait, making Egypt appear mild in comparison Activity was reserved for early morning or evening hours when it was safe to exert ones self. Taking her job as household supervisor seriously, Nayna began the business of her day after enjoying her first cup of coffee. A washing machine had been provided, but no dryer. Clothes were hung daily on a clothesline strung in the courtyard. Aside from the clothesline, the courtyard was equipped with a bank of chaise lounges, an umbrella table, and a chain link pen built for Bambi. Bambi, was a small deer presented to Rick’s grandfather as a token of respect and welcome from a local sheik and his wife. A gift not totally enthusiastically embraced, but one not easily refused.
Bambi had to reminded often that clothes were to be left on the line once hung there, and not strewn about the yard. Nayna kept a wooden spoon in her apron pocket for days when the animal needed a refresher course.
The sun, once high in the sky was unyielding, so drapes were drawn, and fans hummed as they undulated back and forth. Word came through on a weekend that a cloud of locusts had been sighted some miles away. People were encouraged to remain in their houses lest the insects cross directly over. It wasn’t long before it became clear they were to do exactly that. Bright sunlight turned as dark as if a blanket had been thrown over the sun. Outside the voracious horde of insects, roaring like a plummeting freight train descended on the land eclipsing and laying bare vegetation as a school of piranha might a water buffalo discovered in their midst.
Looking out the window Nayna realized her laundry was still hanging in the courtyard and Bambi in her pen. Running out into the heat of the day she grabbed towels and sheets, tucking them in her apron. Swatting the bugs flying all around her she freed the nervous Bambi bringing her into the house with her caretakers.
Shutting the door, she found her grandson and husband staring at her in disbelief. Turning towards a mirror she was shocked at her own reflection. White as a sheet, her skin looked like a pork chop dredged with flour and ready for the skillet. So hot was it outside that running as she had, salt had literally extruded from her pores and dried instantly on her skin.
Once the voracious horde had passed there was little foliage left to be saved, and barren trees and bushes were visible everywhere. Rick said he never forgot it. I’m sure if I paired that with the lizard’s tail I would probably never shut both eyes again.
Plagued by pestilence, that’s what I am. Smile.
On a lighter note, we had the most enormous artichokes I have ever seen the other night. To accompany them, I made this artichoke bread, the recipe for which was handed down to me at a local potluck. It is so gooey and yummy that I couldn’t make it often or I’d have to get a new wardrobe.
Cheesy Artichoke Bread
1/2 cup butter
1/2 Tbsp. garlic, minced
1 14 oz. can of artichoke hearts (water packed), drained and chopped
4 oz. Mozzarella cheese, grated
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup sour cream
1 loaf French bread, halved
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt butter in skillet over med.-high heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 min. Add chopped artichoke hearts, Mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese and sour cream. Stir to blend and continue cooking briefly until cheese is melted. Remove from heat and cool.
Slice bread lengthwise and scoop some of the meaty part of the bread out of the center. Wash cut tops of bread with olive oil. Spread artichoke mixture evenly over both sides. Place on baking sheet and sprinkle with cheddar.
Tent lightly with foil and bake for 25 mins. Remove foil. Turn on broiler and cook until top is bubbly and golden brown.