It takes less than a day to find yourself again in Joburg, at once business traveler and ethnographer. The two roles sit uneasily beside each other, but never mind that for now. You are here. A hemisphere away, so it’s wintertime, and you know there will be other differences—cultural differences—which you must now get down to the business of tracking. But for now, here is an airport whose entrances and exits are suspiciously familiar, here is a taxi which meets you upon arrival, here are highways and traffic lights, malls, and a hotel whose staff speak in an accent you find alluring. They do not enunciate the sound of the letter “A” as “ah.” Instead, they speak the sound as they speak the letter. Ey-pple. Ey-rport. Welcome to South Ey-frica. It’s the only real clue that you are in a different country.
Forget the calendar that reminds you that it’s mid-April and tax time, US-returned soul you’re fated to remain, you will know it is time for Vishu or the vernal equinox by the following signs: rising heat, showering golden laburnum, falling neem flowers–and green mangoes. Those last tell you that the real mango season is coming sure as the sun always rises. There is little doubt that mangoes are royals, for carpets of diminutive little neem flowers shower down to welcome them, even as cascades of golden laburnum (cassia fistula, or what Ashram-associated folks will call imagination) spill down from the sky. Almost as though the intensity of the summer’s heat pours down in brilliant yellow, accompanied by a lighter sprinkling of white neem, all in anticipation of the imminent arrival of mango.
When precisely did it happen that Houston became this swanky hip restaurant town? One which no doubt shares a pretty decent chunk of the National Restaurant Association (that other NRA) prediction that the Texas restaurant industry will lead the country’s sales growth in 2013?
Little did I know that our last trip to Houston to retrieve Verne and restore our life of togetherness would also mark the beginning of a peripatetic life: first Peru, then the Galapagos; unexpectedly Joburg and Soweto, even more so Nelspruit, and just now an all-too-quick dash to Mumbai.
Bridget Fernandes started out a student in one of my online courses, and has ended up a volunteer with Sharana, helping out with the “Hindu Trans-Nationalisms” conference at Rice University (back in 2009), and generally being a source of warmth, laughter, and unfailing, large-hearted good cheer ever since. [And hugs, no-one can forget Bridget's signature, larger-than-life, tighter-than-tight, wholly irreplaceable, available-no-where-else-on-the-planet hugs.] Our conversation on Mississippi mud cake started out with a comment on an early exchange with Mark. The fuller account of chocolate cake, living off the land, and time spent in a grandmother’s kitchen follows at last.
Words and photographs are Bridget’s alone. The recipe visualization is my very small contribution.
I turn it over to Bridget--and her grandmother, Martha G. Diggs:
I asked my grandmother, “Why don’t you come and visit me in Houston?” She replied, “The furthest that I have ever been was from Lexington (a very small Tennessee town) to Jackson (a slightly bigger Tennessee town) by train to get hot peanuts. I would have gone any distance to get those hot peanuts.” read more…
The mountains nearly stole us away this fall.
We had it easy, I’ll admit. Flights that took us just where we needed to be. Placard-bearing agents who met us at airports and hotels. Tickets and itineraries waiting. Cars waiting to take us to trains waiting. No arduous climbs anywhere. read more…