TULIPS AND MANDARINS

Beijing, 2 February 2013

The last week has been dreadful for air quality in Beijing. The brief break we had which I wrote about a few posts ago was but a temporary remission and we soon plunged back into the murk. My wife was a little more philosophical about it than I. She remarked that it reminded her of her childhood in Milan, when smog was frequent, and reminisced about having to cross the road to go to primary school and not being able to see if the light had changed. But still, we both suffered.

To cheer us up, my wife bought a bunch of tulips. They were still closed when she brought them home, but she placed them in a jar and we watched them slowly open over the following few days. Yesterday morning, we woke up to a gloriously bright and clear day. Thanking all the spirits I could think of, I stepped humming into the dining room, only to be greeted by the tulips which had fully opened over night. The sunlight pouring in through the windows was picking out their delicate pinks, whites and greens. I just had to memorialize the occasion.

   tulips 003

tulips 002

The mandarins which were also on the table kept nudging themselves into the frame, so eventually, I brought them in too.

tulips 005

Wonderful, wonderful fruit, those! They don’t look up to much, but aah the taste, my friends! First comes the delicate mandarin aroma which breaks out as you begin to peel the fruit and prepares you for what lies ahead. Then comes the citrically acidic taste with sharp mandarin overtones which hits your taste buds as you pop one segment in after the other. They are completely addictive; between my wife and I, that plate of mandarins lasted but one breakfast. She has found a greengrocers up the road which sells them. Sorry, the address will remain a secret.

CLEAR, PURE, CLEAN, PEACEFUL

Beijing, 18 January 2013

Readers of my posts will know that I walk along a piece of canal on my way to and from the office. During these walks, I watch how the change of seasons are reflected – literally and figuratively – in the waters of the canal and the willows that grow along its edge. This year, winter came flurrying in with a blustery storm in late November which damaged a number of the willows along the canal.

Winter-2012 005

Then came a snowstorm, which left a modest covering of snow and which quickly disappeared. Thereafter, the temperatures plunged and the canal froze over. With no snow, the ice was initially buffed clean by the wind, but the wind soon died down and over a period of a week or so a thin layer of dust settled on the ice’s surface; winter is very dry in Beijing. One morning, as I turned off the bridge to start my walk along the canal, I noticed faintly etched in the dust a Chinese character. I was intrigued. What had been written? A name? Two names, united in love? Or something stupid like “Wash me”? Or worse?! Given my illiteracy in Chinese, I had no idea. So I took a photo.

qing

I showed it to my Chinese secretary. She studied the photo a minute and said “it says, qīng.”

And what does it mean, I asked?

Clear, pure, clean, she told me. Peaceful, also.

Clear, pure, clean, peaceful … The writer must have been feeling good when he wrote it. Was it love? Just a happy moment? Whatever it was, I thank him. Later wind has effaced the character, but every time I walk past the spot I get a warm feeling.

POSTSCRIPT 28/1/13

Since writing this, snow has fallen and has covered the canal’s ice with a thin coating of snow.  Someone went out and wrote in the snow. This one I could read:

love 002

A CARPET OF NASTURTIUMS

San Francisco, 24 September 2012

While in San Francisco (see the previous post), we did a few touristy things. One of these was a bus tour of the city. Our guide and driver, a chatty fellow prone to making politically incorrect comments, took us down to the bay shore below the Golden Gate Bridge. From there, he invited us to take advantage of the only toilet stop on the tour and admire what he intriguingly called an excellent example of industrial art nouveau – never heard of that category of art. But what I admired more was a veritable carpet of tropaeolum majus, or garden nasturtiums, tumbling down the slope on the side of the road. I had never seen so many nasturtiums before.

I love nasturtiums. In my previous post, I mentioned my childhood memory of morning glories. Another memory from the same period is of nasturtiums growing luxuriantly up the wall of our house, under my elder sister’s bedroom window (the window through which I spied on her “carrying on” with her boyfriend, who proceeded to give me money for an ice-cream to get rid of me). I fell in love with the flower’s fiery colour scheme, red, orange and yellow, against a background of smooth round green leaves. And at some point, I had learned to pick a flower and suck the nectar out of the nectar spur at its base. It gives your taste buds a delightfully tiny burst of soft sweetness.

I loved nasturtiums so much that when my mother gave me a small strip of land in the garden to plant as I wished I chose to plant nasturtium seeds. I watched carefully as the little plants emerged and started to grow. And I still remember sharply my concern when my parents decided to have a nearby tree cut down. It looked alarmingly like the tree was going to fall on my nasturtiums. I sat there with the whole family, watching the tree cutters proceed. My siblings found the whole thing exciting and chattered along happily. But I was in an agony of apprehension for my nasturtiums. Sure enough, the tree fell on them and flattened them. What misery!

I close with a recipe. I discovered recently that both the flowers and the leaves of nasturtium are edible. This particular recipe is from the following web site: http://fruitandveggieville.blogspot.com/2008/06/flowers-you-can-eat-nasturtiums.html.

“Recipe for a Nasturtium Salad
­       1 lettuce – iceberg, butter or cos
­       small bunch of nasturtiums – leaves and flowers
­       ripe red tomatoes
­       1 tablespoon capers
­       feta cheese

Decide quantities to your own taste. The nasturtium leaves are peppery and the more you put in the hotter the salad gets. Wash and dry the lettuce and tear into the size pieces you prefer. Rinse the nasturtium leaves, and tear or chop into rough strips. If you’re using baby tomatoes halve them, chop bigger ones into cubes. Cube the feta cheese and sprinkle over the salad with the capers. Top with the whole flowers and maybe one or two whole leaves. This peppery, bright salad is just right to accompany pizza, cold meats or as a starter on its own.”

Enjoy!