Sunday 26 April 2009

Dense murky chutney memory

This is more of a tweet than a blog post, but sometimes it's good not to have to try to eliminate punctuation marks in order to say what you've got to say in 140 characters. I had a conversation yesterday with the woman at the chutney stall in Temple Bar food market, and we were talking about how some chutneys are profoundly intense. I was complimenting them on making a hot sweet fruit chutney that I think is perfectly suited to the Irish palate, the perfect balance of hot and sweet. And how I had tasted some chutneys once from India, kept in the house of some ambassador or other who was away probably being an ambassador, while his teenage son had a few people over for a few days, of whom I was one. It was the summer I was 17 and just out of my first year of college, and I was just drifting around where the wind blew in Dublin.

So I went to Dublin yesterday, and wandered around for a few hours. I was a ghost, haunting the streets, mostly. I saw faces that I knew, it is always thus in Dublin, and this is the single reason I find Dublin an interesting city these days. I like to look at the faces. I suppose if I spent a couple of days wandering around KĂžbenhavn on my bike I would probably spot a couple of people I knew on the street, but nothing like Dublin. And I have run into people I know on the streets of New York, not just in the neighbourhood (it's not such a devastating experience in the neighbourhood, but when you meet someone you know on the subway or anywhere in Manhattan it feels fucking holy or something).

Yeah, faces I recognise, and some of them I have never even spoken to. There is a strong sense - whether you realise it or not of course is another matter - that the fact that you live in Dublin and walk on the street makes you a visible human being in Dublin. You are part of the Dublin landscape, another of the people that people recognise, whom they never ever actually engage with or speak to in any way. But these people make up the furniture of a small city. Recognisability is an invisible, implicit quality of Dublin life.

Of course it has changed. The woman who used to dance and play accordion on that little triangle at the top of Pearse street by Westmoreland street, she's gone. The woman who wandered around dancing and making ley lines energy gestures, she's gone. And me, I was the one racing through the streets at breakneck speed and making hair-raisingly close calls (but always polite when glancing past someone so close I could smell their perfume) on my little red scooter. And she, she too is gone.

So I was passing through Dublin yesterday and I get to talking with the chutney lady about other chutneys I have tasted, and I always remember these crazy salty off-your-arse-hot mango chutneys I tasted when I rocked in at this guy's house at 17, and stayed for a few days. He had red hair, brown eyes and pale skin and he seemed kind of withdrawn in that smart rich kid kind of way. Anyway I have always remembered his name, and I just googled him and discovered that he lives a few blocks from where I lived in Brooklyn.

And we talked about the quality of such chutneys, the chutney lady and I, yesterday. They are murky, she said. Yes, a kind of mud green, I agreed, generally joining in the friendly business of agreement. But those chutneys weren't murky at all. They were salty. And hot. And sweet. And I had never tasted anything like them ever before. And he, this probably 18 year old kid who was our host, was already weary and over everything. He probably grew out of that.

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