Saturday, September 22, 2012

Spicy Tidbits on Proper Curry, Hives and Frienship

Turmeric, cumin, cardamom, cayenne in colorful heaps 
Spices, aromas and the sensation of cool, pudding-like coconut flesh on my tongue come to mind thanks to Sezin Koehler posting a recipe for proper Sri Lankan curry on her blog. With each step of the recipe's instructions I was nodding my head, yes, yes, to all those tidbits of knowledge you need to make a dish succeed.

Some 20 years ago I spent just one month in India, yet the memories are vivid today. Traveling from Bombay via Goa to Bangalore, I fell in love with that part of the country. I was mesmerized by the unfamiliar landscape —nothing I recognized from TV or movies; the way people walked —slower and more sensual than Western Europeans, and how most everyone wiggled their heads in response to a question, as if not wanting to disappoint with a straightforward no.
After some practice I learned to push a dimple in the smallest piece of nan, so I as well could scope up sauce and rice, or pick a piece of chicken from khali trays without having sauce run the length of my arm into my armpit. I enjoyed the heat of the climate and of the seasoning of dishes and chai.

Spicier is fine, I used to say.

One fateful day in Goa, I went on an outing with Nelson, the son of my host and some of his friends. We drove for a long time along the coast. By the time we arrived at what wasn't much more than a shack on the beach, I was shocked to learn that the only available item on the menu was grilled shrimp. Since I suffered from low blood sugar and we were hours away from a store or other restaurant, I had to eat the non kosher food. Not long after, the skin on my face, arms, rump and legs rose, and started itching like crazy.

"God punishes immediately," I imagined my long dead father saying.

Braganza Mansion in Chandor, Goa
On the way back to town, Nelson, an M.D., stated that I, being a Westerner, had to be used to drinking. What did he imply?
"Our women would be too sensitive to the medication I'd like to give you."
That he meant I had to have experienced the buzz of alcohol before, became clear soon after we arrived at his girlfriend's parents' house, where I took the pills he fetched at a pharmacy.

High as a kite, incapable to sit up, I lay on a narrow bed, confined to a darkened bedroom, so different from the poster bed in the lofty room at my host's mansion where I was allowed to rest during siestas. Between hallucinations I worried, then again was relieved that my mother did not know I lay dying in a small Portuguese-Catholic town in India.

Needless to say I survived the allergic reaction as well as the remedy. However, from that time on spicy food has continued to give me hives. A hint of black pepper and the top of my cheekbones itch, cayenne does the same to my calves, paprika to my arm pits, and worse, eating a fresh tomato, raw or cooked makes my face resemble one. Eating strawberries turns my eyelids red and itchy. There's much more, I'll spare you the rest.

Still, I picked up spices and a copy of Prashad: Cooking with Indian Masters, and back in Amsterdam, I learned how to toast and mix spices, make my own coconut water and ghee. When another friend from Goa came to Amsterdam, we took a job catering to a film production, and started an Indian catering company, Moghul Durbar just so Vivek would feel more at home. Over the years I've learned what it's like to be in a foreign place where nobody knows where you're coming from. Sharing recipes, cooking, and eating together is a great way to share who you are, allow others to get to know your culture. Food helps people to open up to each other. And sometimes you find out in the kitchen that you have more in common than you realized before.

If I say curry, who do you think of?

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Author Junot Díaz Mixes Voices and Personas

"CNN: Is the voice in "This Is How You Lose Her" similar to the way you speak?
Diaz: It's hard to say, because I live in so many different worlds ... the way I talk to my boys, family, work, the way I talk to my students, or the way I talk when I feel scared. The book is a highly wrought object. It's engineered. It may seem casual. It may seem conversational or vernacular, it may lead people to believe that this is my voice but if I read a page, you would begin to realize how artificial the experience is."

Honestly, I wish I had read the CNN interview from which I lifted the above before Junot Díaz's presentation at Town Hall last night. I wish I had read the excerpt provided by his publisher before I heard him address the Dominican, Latino, and African American members of the audience. Truth be told, I felt left out. I didn't feel addressed in any way, I'm not even from New Jersey (yes, he called on them Jersey boys as well). Had I been there in the capacity of a journalist, I would have done my homework, I would have read his books, listened to podcasts, studied previous interviews to get an understanding of the man and his oeuvre, his voice, both on paper and in real life. But, I was there as a library volunteer, greeting patrons.

"So he writes like he speaks, or speaks like he writes." 

Did the man, buying a pre-signed copy of Díaz's "This Is How You Lose Her" at the Elliott Bay Books table in the lobby of Town Hall say one the other, or both? I can't recall, but after catching up on my reading about the author and his oeuvre, I think Díaz has more than one voice.

Junot Díaz was welcomed onto the stage like a rock star, and he delivered, his audience captivated and charmed, cheered him on. It's without doubt that he gave a great presentation. His voice, so close to that of the narrator in his books, spoke to the people he wanted to address most. People, as book monger Karen explained to me, had for generations been told they had nothing to say that mattered, people whose language has been denied a place in the annals of American literature.

After reading an excerpt, but more so after listening to Junot Díaz address his students, after reading up, and doing my homework, I feel humbled by the experience. Last night was a celebration. And the reason I felt left out, was because I had not made the effort to get more informed. Or?

For some crazy reason the ghost of Isaac Bashevis Singer is speaking to me right now.
"What if I addressed a mixed audience in Yiddish? Would those who didn't understand Yiddish feel left out? Or better yet, since they would have read my books in translation, and also to make the comparison work, what if I spoke Jew-ish, a language everyone understand, but that sets us apart from them?"
"I wouldn't care."
"Why not?"
"Because I love the world you (re)create, the characters you bring to life."
"My point exactly."
 "Point taken." 

Books can make us feel at home, or take us to places previously unknown. If I had been able to stand the heat (literally) in the auditorium, I might have heard the author switch voices on stage, the way I did this morning Online. Who's to say? One thing I know for sure, by being better informed I'm more likely to feel at ease.

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Still Life With SunflowersFrom #911 to 9/11 and Back Again | Seeds of Hope

Still Life with Sunflowers
11 Years ago
#911 begot a new meaning
9/11 forever stamped on our
collective consciousness
as a day of terror and destruction
innocence lost, watercolors took on new meaning
red white and blue
from sullen background presence
to American flag


Wilted leaves potpourri 
mixed in with seeds on scorched earth
memories of hope

Eleven years have gone by
scars remind, remain
yet sunflowers bloom again

Nature's Eternal Cycle Our Solace 2001-2012

Still Life with Sunflowers

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Monday, September 03, 2012

The Next Big Thing - Week 10 | Love & Art in Post WWII Amsterdam

Chihuly Fruits de Mer

Let me start by thanking Zoe Brooks, who tagged me in her blog Zoe Brooks Books and More to take part in The Next Big Thing. Her introduction reminds me of the Dutch version of playing tag "tikkertje" where the one going after the others touches someone and yells, "Tik jij bent 'em!" In this case I'm to answer questions about the book I'm working on, and then I point out five other women writers who will get to do the same, and so on, and so forth. Look for the next five at the bottom of this post.
Happy reading!

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing plus My Answers:

  • What is the working title of your book?


  • Where did the idea come from for the book?
In Forgiveness I tell the backstory of my memoir Painting For Life, the premise of which in turn sprung from the factual biography of a Post WWII visual artist in the Netherlands. Already while filing data for the biography I realized there was so much I didn't know, couldn't know, and would never find out, but could reconstruct with the use of the facts and my imagination.
  • What genre does your book fall under?
Forgiveness could be shelved under Literary Historical Fiction.
  • Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
JAKE - In another era, and if I hadn't taken so long getting around writing this novel, I would have wished for Dustin Hoffman. But while he was made-up to look like a very old Jack Crabb in Little Big Man when he was way younger, it's going to be tough to make him look much younger right now. Too bad. 
So, I'm going back and forth between Adam Sandler, or Ben Stiller They both have the stuff it takes to evoke a mixture of laughter and tears in their audiences. Perhaps Sandler and Stiller can share the role, one the charismatic entrepreneur, the other the PTSD suffering artist with a vision, the wish to start another family after the Holocaust. On the other hand I love Stanley Tucci as Julia Child's husband, we know he's got humor and drama down...

As for Mr. Hoffman, if he would consider playing JAKE in Painting for Life, I'll kiss the ground he walks on, and that of his agent, producers, director and I guess the rests of the cast and crew —I Love L.A. so that's not too hard (I do insist on a handkerchief or something else between my lips and the kissing surface). 

NITA second from right
NITA - Maggie Gyllenhaal, hands down. If I didn't know already, according to her fan page Maggie's the most comfortable playing complicated, flawed women. The actress who portrays NITA has to be tall, an unconventional beauty, smart, and sexy to boot. There you go, Maggie will be the IT Girl of Forgiveness

The rest of the cast includes: 

POLDI (Jake's first ex-wife) - Kathryn Erbe
MARIE (Jake's one surviving sibling) - Fran Drescher
JEANNETTE (Nita's mother) - Kathy Bates
HENDRIK (Nita's father) - Hugh Bonneville
HENRIETTA (Nita's younger sister - she's funny and trips over her own feet ...
SOPHIE (Nita's older sister) Phyllis Logan
HANK  (Nita's youngest brother) - you tell me - Martin Clunes
JOHN (Nita's oldest brother) - you tell me after you read the book 
JAN (John's wife) - help me out after you know what ...
  • What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Sister of Nazi sympathizer falls for 50-year-old Holocaust survivor, she stalls time, not wanting to share her family secret, by insisting that he has to become a professional artist before she'll marry him and give him a child; will they both deliver? 
  • Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Presented by literary agency.
  • How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
One month. During the Fall of 2010 I was a kind of stuck with my memoir. I signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). By the 21st I had written the necessary 50,000 words, and by the 30th I had 80,000 words and a complete novel. 
  • What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Perhaps Sophie's Choice by William Styron comes closest, considering the Post WWII and moral themes, and its love story. I love Esther Freud's novels, all inspired by her rich family history, and I wouldn't mind if someone would compare our source of inspiration, and writing style. 
Considering the scenes that take place in NITA's family though, Downton Abbey comes to mind, which as you know is an original TV series, not created after a book. 
  • Who or What inspired you to write this book?
My parents, their own unlikely love story, my father's determination to become a professional artist at age 50 just so the woman he loved would give him a child. The urge to unveil secrets, in order to prevent repetition, and last but not least the utopian vision the members of the Dutch Government and Resistance workers shared in regards to the welfare of artists in the aftermath of WWII.
  • What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
JAKE and NITA'S interests and endeavors include natural remedies, diamonds, auction houses, dealing in antiques and paintings, breeding Airedale Terriers, and cooking up creative meals. Forgiveness is sought for and from all concerned.

Following are the names of the authors I'm tagging for The Next Big Thing Week 11 

Visit their blogs, check out what's The Next Big Thing for them, have fun getting to know their work, and leave a comment if you have a moment. Bloggers love knowing what you think!

Message for the tagged authors and interested others:

Rules of The Next Big Thing
***Use this format for your post 
***Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (Work In Progress)
***Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.
Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing:
What is the working title of your book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Who or What inspired you to write this book?
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged. 

Would you like to be included in this blog ring? Share your interest in a comment!