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Onions And Eggs Feed A Crew On A Sailing Ship To China

Excerpt from the novel “China Lily”

In 1293,  Cepa  and Matzerath  were part of the crew of The Pegasus, a ship that had sailed from Italy to China on a trading mission. After a couple of months, they arrived in the port of Zaitun,  where they encountered a local trader, Lu-Hsing.

Lu-Hsing takes the two men to a communal dining hall. This is part of their meal.

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Compared to others of his experience, the crew of The Pegasus appears content with their lot. They are certainly fitting in well in the dining hall, and even mingling with other diners. Thanks to the Captain’s instructions, they are willing to try any of the dishes they encounter, though it helps that they are ignorant of many of the ingredients.

“You want something other than onions?” Lu-Hsing jabs Cepa in the ribs with his shoulder.

“I want something with my onions.”

“You’ve been looking intently at everything.” Lu-Hsing opens his arms expansively. “What do you wish?”

“What do you suggest?”

“Look at me.” Lu-Hsing rubs his belly with a roar. “I am not a picky eater. I’ll suggest anything.”

“You’ve already warned me away from soup.”

“Not warned.” Lu Hsing points back to the bubbling soup they had been looking at. “You can add a lot to soup and make a stew.” He grimaces. “But you still slurp more than you chew. Lu-Hsing wants to use his teeth when he eats.”

“We can stay away from soup.” Cepa smiles. “And I’d just as soon avoid fish.”

“Me, too.” Matzerath puts his hands up in surrender. “We eat enough salted fish to swim.”

“You boys are in the Port of Zaitun.” Lu-Hsing speaks in an authoritative tone. “Fish a specialty.”

“There must be something else.” Matzerath points. “Look at all the cooks.”

“No soup?”

“Pah!”

“Trouble-making Round Eyes.” Lu-Hsing points to a wok near the end of the aisle and starts to walk. “We’ll try there.”

“What does he have?” Cepa falls into step behind Lu-Hsing, followed by Matzerath.

“Oyster omelette.”

“Eggs?” asks Matzerath.

“As many as you want.”

“That will take a big pan.”

“He can use a high-sided wok.” Lu-Hsing pretends to whisk something in a wok. “Plop it right onto a plate.”

“We don’t have dishes.” Cepa suddenly realizes the fact. “We haven’t been back to The Pegasus all day.”

“Lu-Hsing share you his.” He barks an order at the cook, and then turns back to Cepa. “Stay right here. I’ll get them from my table.”

Cepa and Matzerath stand and watch the cook. Cepa notes he is using wood and not the black rocks for his fire. Some oil is dropped onto the metal and immediately sizzles. The cook holds up his hand and extends his fingers; one, two, three, four, five.

“Will you want some?”

“God – yes.” Matzerath nods.

Cepa holds up five fingers and the cook grins. He takes an egg in each hand and hits them together. The upper shell is flipped off and they pour into the wok. He repeats the gesture and the eggs land on top of the others. The last egg is dispatched on the metal rim of the wok and added to the rest before a hint of cooking has begun. The cook then begins to whisk and slide the eggs along the side of the wok before Matzerath has time to make a comment.

“I’d like to see you do that on The Pegasus,” says Cepa.

“I break eggs all the time.”

“I know.” Cepa laughs. And we eat the shells to prove it.”

The cook now twists and shakes the wok by its two handles over the fire. The eggs slide up and along the sides, and then settle more thickly near the bottom. With a grin and a twist of his hands, the cook turns the wok right over. The eggs start to slide out with a couple of drops hissing into the fire. Matzerath’s mouth falls open as the cook rights the wok so quickly that the eggs drop right back into it, now cooking on the other side. The cook puts the wok back on the fire.

“Bet you can’t do that,” says Cepa.

“Just once.” Matzerath laughs. “But the whole ship was heaving at the time.”

The cook begins to nudge the eggs together with a spatula. With his other hand he sprinkles a few drops of brown liquid. Then he adds some coarsely chopped shoots of a green onion.

“Hah!” Matzerath slaps Cepa on the shoulder.

After a quick swirl of these ingredients the cook plops in a bowl of small oysters. He takes his time with these, spacing them with deliberation over the quickly cooking eggs. Then – with a flourish – he scoops up a handful of flower blossoms and sprinkles them over the whole bubbling mixture.

“What are those?” Matzerath peers into the wok.

“Chrysanthemums.”

“We’re eating flowers?’

“When in Rome …”

The cook adds a further dash of the brown liquid and then folds the eggs neatly in half. He flips the whole omelette to the center of the wok and sprinkles a palm full of spring onion – this time finely chopped – over of the still-bubbling omelette. He presses the onion in place with his spatula then removes the wok from the fire.

“Timing is everything.”

The voice startles them both. They turn to see Lu-Hsing standing behind them, holding a large platter. He barks instructions to the cook, speaking too quickly for the two men to understand.

“Stick to ribs – make you happy.”

The cook divides the omelette in half and slides it onto the platter. He then takes the wicker top off a steamer and starts to add heaping ladles of red rice along the sides of the platter.

“What’s that?” Matzerath sounds suspicious.

Hong qu mi.”

“You can see its rice,” hisses Cepa.

“But it’s red.”

“Fermented with yeast.” Lu-Hsing scoops some into his palm and eats it. “Looks good. Tastes great.”

“Aren’t you having a meal?”

“Lu-Hsing eats later – with family.” He moves his hand over the top of the platter and inhales the aroma. “We eat at home – wife is a great cook.”

“I thought you’d be joining us.” Matzerath is clearly disappointed.

“Too crowded. Too smoky.” Lu-Hsing laughs. “Just the place for Round-eyes who want to make contacts. I already know people.”

Lu-Hsing abruptly steps behind the counter and stands beside the cook. He takes a look into the bubbling pots and lifts the tops off of steamers. He finally points with a barrage of Chinese. The cook gets two porcelain bowls and ladles a heaping amount of food into each.

“Got your spoon?” asks Cepa.

Matzerath takes a spoon from his pant’s pocket and holds it up.

“You?”

“Yes.” Cepa has his spoon on a chain around his neck. He takes it out from underneath his shirt and lets it dangle against his chest.

“You boys prepared – good.” Lu-Hsing takes the platter with the omelette and rice. He then points with his chin. “Take your bowls and follow me.”

Matzerath anxiously sees the platter of steaming food being taken away. He nudges Cepa and they again get into step behind Lu-Hsing, who again clears a path through the crowded eating hall. They approach a raised platform under a row of windows, much like the noble’s section in the Cannara’s own tavern. It is still a crowded space, with ten tables set not far apart from each other. Half are vacant, so Cepa can’t tell if Lu-Hsing heads for his ‘own’ table, or has the use of any that is available. He places the platter crosswise near one end of the table.

“You need drink.” Lu-Hsing unrolls a half dozen chopsticks from a cotton napkin, so they lay beside the platter. “Tea or rice wine?”

“Dear God – wine!” Matzerath plunks his bowl on the table. “It’s been a day.”

“Bring both, please.” Cepa sits across the table from Matzerath. “For both of us.”

“Tea is for thirst.” Matzerath takes his spoon from his pocket. “I want drink for more than that.”

“We can’t have you getting drunk.” Cepa lifts his own spoon from around his neck. “Even the crew has orders not to get drunk.”

You are sticking to tea?” Matzerath begins to wield his chopsticks over the rice.

“No.” Cepa laughs. “Although I am also thirsty, I have no objection to feeling ‘mellow’ as I eat.”

“And it will help you sleep.” Lu-Hsing slaps Cepa on the back. “Like mother’s milk.”

“I wish my mother had had tits of wine.” Matzerath wipes some rice from his chin and sucks his fingers. “I would have been a better child.”

Kafka And The Flowers Of Hope – Suitable For The Summer

From my novel Kafka In The Kastle, where I fill in his missing diary entries.

08 April 1917

I seem to end in the most absurd situations. This afternoon, before Sunday dinner, Ottla took me away for some gardening. Rooting around in the earth, with the frost barely gone. Only Ottla could find such a plot of ground in Prague, or expect me to grub about in it like some hungry animal. I was tempted to ask why she was not at the tiny house, or ask her where David Joseph was – certainly not digging around in the soil. But, I’m not to know of him – and certainly not his name. His absence might explain her energy. She said she wanted to prepare for the work on the farm, and this was a sample of what awaited her. It turned out we were not alone.

It was obviously some sort of communal land – such places are popular during this war. There were even families at work. Children also. One small boy was caught between his interest in the garden, and his desire to be a small boy. And what a dilemma it was. He’d work in the ground for awhile, following the example of his mother, then suddenly race around, exploring like a small boy. He came over to Ottla and me, and hunkered down beside us. He shook his head with a sigh of exasperation, and reached over to put his hands on mine. “Mummy says that’s wrong,” and with great patience and determination, began to show me how to prepare the earth. I thought there could be no better proof to Ottla of how inept I was.

I followed the movements of his hands, and between us, we dug quite a hole. At last the little fellow stood, obviously satisfied. “I go now,” he said, and ran away to see some other entertaining oddity. Ottla hadn’t laughed for fear of offending the boy, but she didn’t show such restraint when we were finally alone. It fell to me to find the flowers. Such things prove God’s sense of humour, for I have no interest or understanding for flowers. There was a fellow at university who could talk about flowers for hours. Otherwise, he was quite pleasant to be with. So it seems a joke that I would find them, between a pile of rubble and the wall of a house.

I had been exploring, much as the little fellow had done. In fact, he was running past when I found them, so I showed him also. They were white, with frail leaves close to the ground. Quite nondescript. But the boy was fascinated. He put his face close, although he didn’t touch them. “Can I tell Mummy?” He obviously thought they were my flowers. “Yes,” I said, and he ran to get her. She followed him as he chattered all the way, and then she too hesitated, looking at me cautiously. “Perhaps your wife would like to see them,” she suggested. It took a moment to realize she was referring to Ottla. The flowers had become my possession. “Yes,” I said, “And tell anyone you like.” “The first flowers of Spring,” she said, and she went to tell the others, taking care to stop at Ottla first.

Tiny white flowers.

I can still not believe the looks upon their faces, as they crowded around. Even the children were silent.

The relief they showed.

My Father’s War Encounter During The Summer Solstice

I don’t post this every first day of summer (tempting though it is), but I find it neat to have such a connection to the Celts, about whom I have written three novels

During World War Two, my father had the unique experience of guarding Stonehenge. Not by himself, of course, there were other members of the Canadian Army with him.

The vast plains around Stonehenge were utilised by the military in both world wars. During the First War, the area was a training ground for troops from various countries. There were many encampments for recruits, with both basic training and preparations to train for the trench warfare awaiting on the continent. There were thousands and thousands of men, and huge amounts of supplies.

During the Second War, the area was used as staging ground for the D-Day invasion. There was great security, and as much secrecy as possible. Soldiers were in place to guard the perimeter.

So, my father found himself not only guarding Stonehenge, but doing so on Midsummer Morn, when the sun rose over the monument. He was a learned man – a school teacher – and versed in the history of the place. He knew of the Celts and the Druids and some of the mythology. He knew this was sacred ground and that Midsummer Morn was especially important. He might have paused and tried to look into the past, and see more in the morning mist than was actually there. I do not know.

He did, however, when their shift was over and they got to eat, tell the other soldiers of the history of the place. He mentioned that, during such celebrations by the Celts, the Druids might have a virgin killed to appease the gods. The other soldiers were shocked.


“What a waste,” said one

Not A Ghost Of A Chance In This Time Of Pandemic – Rum Necessary

My crew of characters in my novel, “There Was A Time, Oh Pilgrim, When The Stones Were Not So Smooth, have been with me for about five years. When COVID hit, they decided to stay together in one dwelling. To pass the time, they decided to tell Ghost Stories.

Since 29 09 2020, I have been writing nothing but Ghost Stories. Seven all told.

In affect, I have written a complete book of short stories, all stand-alone, for the past seven months. Each story was true to each individual character, but that was not important to the stories themselves. It was important to the novel.

This has been a unique situation ofr me, to wander off in the midst of a novel to do something else. It has been exhausting.

When I returned to the actual novel, my characters had to deal with the Pandemic. They (and I) have been dealing with the Pandemic for over a year. I think I am four or so ‘ordinary’ chapters away from the end of the novel.

Each ghost story was followed by a short chapter where my characters commented about the ghost story they had just heard. This is in part to keep the novel in the forefront, and the type of thing people would do. They always had a meal and and an exquisite tot of rum.

“BOO!” to all

When You Sink But You Don’t Have To Swim

Alison Alexandra Ponders Whilst Under The English Channel

The London platform is abustle, though, in reality, she is boarding a train to take her to a train waiting in Calais. Still, it is under the umbrella of the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express, and she is happy to board and take a very cushy seat.

Two hours and fifteen minutes to Paris. Nice scenery at either end. A glass of Bellini, in a champagne flute, before the actual undersea part. Nothing could be finer.

Alison Alexandra assumes that a quaff of peach infused Prosecco sparkling wine is to ease the anxiety of anyone going not only underground but also undersea. She appreciates the glass of – expectedly – high-toned champagne regardless, but she does not need a drink to assuage any fears, for she has none.

She has always enjoyed the thought of actually moving under streets and buildings and cars and people and parks and dogs and folk in restaurants spooning soup while other folk high up in business towers give power point presentations about the fluidity of market shares or the expert way to niggle a wire into an explicate brain to stop one form of behaviour or to restart another. Thousands of snips of humanity and civilisation wending their way over her head as she wends her way from one underground station to another.

And then – to add the volume of the sea – well, what now floats overhead? How many fish and how much plankton and seaweed and eels and lobsters and oysters and snails and perhaps even whales swimming and eating and probably eating each other in the liquid beauty which is the water which is the ocean which is the sea that slaps against the cliffs that she watches from her prow-of-a-ship windows when she is on the other side.

And the ocean that slaps the rocks at the base of her cliff is full of fish gurgle and whale song and lobster clatter and crab scuttle and perhaps even the mermaids singing. And then there is the screw screw screw of all the propellers of all the ships carrying crew and passengers and cargo of all sorts and conditions, from cases of the champagne she is drinking to the host of automobiles like the Black Ghost that Gabriella drove when she shared some champagne delivered by ship and not aged on the delivery truck two cities over.

And other cargo, floating and steaming over her head, food and drink and oil and bourbon and stiletto-heeled shoes and prayer books and cotton and smart phones and insulin and jet engines and books and railway ties and sheep dip and textiles and spices from the Far east and tongue dispensers and sugar and steel beams for steel bridges and fishhooks and guided missiles and holy missals and buttons and bows and those tiny umbrellas for fruit punch cocktails and things that Alison Alexandra doesn’t even know exists but she has her suspicions.

All over her head and moving the waves and making whales sing their cautionary songs to warn other whales to get the hell out of the way or they will get bumped on their noggin. And they do. Get out of the way.

Alison Alexandra finishes her underwater pilgrimage and pops above ground in France. And although Alison Alexandra has been somewhat offended by having to take an actual bus shuttle under the actual English Channel, she still shouts “Alors!”

A Navigator’s Moon Into Space

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My crew in my novel The Rags Of Time are coming back to Earth. But then – things happen.

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It is a navigator’s moon.

That is how Eric the Red thinks of it, as his space craft enters Earth’s solar system. He is called Eric the Red for his facial hair, and his ancestry. But behind his back, his romantic notions of the ancient ways is more the reason for his name.

Even when they fly past it, Earth’s moon generates little influence upon their return. A minor compensation of the thrusters, and its only effect on the ship, is the ritualistic kiss which crew members bestow against the aft window for the man in the moon. However, as soon as his gravity sensors register the distant presence of Pluto, Eric the Red enhances their output to catch the faintest twinge of the Earth’s moon.

His navigator’s moon.

Tomorrow, Eric will alter course to sweep past Pluto’s satellite, Charon. He plans to use the combined gravity as a sling to amplify his own trajectory, although he will lose some directional control to achieve speed.

Opportunities to observe this unknown planet are still scarce, and he makes adjustments to confront the dual gravity. He decides to attempt the `Film Technique’, which met with success among the moons of Jupiter. The Technique is named after the way film had been threaded in the antique movie projectors of the Twentieth Century.

He plans to wind through the gravities of the various moons, in such a manner that each helps accelerate his ship around the next. There are many factors to consider which affect the interplay of gravities between solar bodies. And they will, in turn, exert their control over his vessel. At times like this Eric wonders how much really has been learned since the existence of gravity was acknowledged.

He adjusts the coordinates of his radioscope to compensate for the approaching planet. He is about to tell his crew to do the same at their consoles, when his hand stops in mid-movement.

He sniffs the air. He looks quizzically to the left, then glances behind him. There is a sudden and pervading odour of seaweed.

“Captain.”

The voice comes from the speakers beside his view screen, but he is not distracted.

It is the seaweed smell of low tide.

As a child, he would play upon the furthest rocks in the heat of the sun. There was danger staying extra minutes, for the ocean could return in a rush. He and his brother had once had to scramble through fast-moving water as it came past their chests.  They had floundered over the seaweed-slippery rocks until they managed to reach shore. It had been one of the most frightening moments of his life.

“Captain.” This time it is his second officer’s voice. “We have to adjust the radioscope.”

“There is – ”

Eric the Red still remembers the terror. The awful moment when he had slipped, and his head went under the foaming water. His startled surprise as his brother pulled him upright.    “There’s a possible malfunction with the hydroponic transfer system. I seem to be receiving a strong odour of … vegetation.”   He takes an audible breath.

“As soon as the radioscopes are altered, have the connections of the oxygen extractors, and the leads to the ventilation system, checked.”

“We’ve had no other report about this, sir.”

“Swamp gas.” Eric feels he can make a joke, for the smell is starting to dissipate.

“Perhaps there’s some sort of build-up in your section, Captain.”

“Maybe there’s a part of Pluto fermenting we know nothing about.” He looks at the distant planet on his view screen. “I’ve never had the desire to visit.” He chuckles for the benefit of his second officer. “Perhaps that awaits you, Malcolm.”

Kafka Lights His World On Fire

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My novel. Kafka In The Castle, fills in Kafka’s missing diary entries. This is how I imagine Kafka’s best friend, Max Brod, reacts to one of the many times Kafka burned his own manuscripts.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

19 April 1917

Max was horrified when I told him about last night.

“You burned your stories? Are you crazy?”

“I wrote them, so I must be.”

He smiled at that. Max’s anger can be easily deflected, for it is never deep. Max is a very good man, and cares for me more than I do myself.

“And the novel? The Amerika novel?”

I told him that many chapters of that must have been burned. Probably right from the start – they were no doubt the first things I grabbed from the chair.  “Anything else?”

“There were a couple of plays. I remember pages of dialogue.”

Max’s voice became hollow. He might no longer be angry, but neither was he happy. “I didn’t know you had written any plays. You have secrets even from me.”

“I keep secrets from myself. Don’t be offended.”

“What else?”

I could picture him writing down an inventory.

“Some diary entries – those were deliberate.”

“And was that the end of your pyromaniac obsession?”

“Of my own work – yes.”

He looked at me questioningly – he didn’t need another secret.

“There were a couple of bundles of letters from Felice. Neatly tied with string. They burned slowly. I have not had such warmth from her for a long time.”

 

[image] https://quelibroleer.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/libo-quemandose1.jpg

A Birthday Present For Kafka – Party On!

kafka_mimi
(sweet baby Kafka)
03 July is Kafka’s birthday and –  I forgot.
I could say (without any honesty) that I am distracted by COVID-19 and all the changes (some of them fundamental) which are happening around me. {I had my own two week self-isolation to deal with}. BUT Kafka not only lived through the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918, he contracted the disease. And he survived, even though he already had the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him six years later.

But, this morning, a Twitter respondent from across the Atlantic reminded me. I have already thanked her. So, I will repost my Kafka Birthday blog.

First, is the letter I have written to him (as yet, unanswered).
Second, is the diary entry I gave him for his birthday, from my novel, Kafka In The Castle.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My Present / Your Future

Still in this World

A Life Away

Dear F:

You would find it perverse to be wished a “Happy” birthday, but your response would be gracious. Such is the reality you understand, and how you deal with it. I have found that your reality is actually real.

Although it will give you no pleasure – well, ‘little’ pleasure – you are correct in all your observations.

Governments become the tools of the bureaucracies which run them. It doesn’t matter what type of Government, from the monarchy under which you lived, to the right wing horror of fascists that called themselves socialists, to the inept socialism pretending to be ‘for the people’. All three governments held their sway over the city where you spent your life. All three oppressed the people they ruled. All three looked after themselves first.

Writers are either writers or they aren’t. The urge to write encircles one like a snake around its prey. Feed it and it won’t quite squeeze you to death. You can not ignore it – even at your peril. It is with you every hour of every day, ever inquisitive and (sadly) always looking for something better.

Love is a see-saw of extremes. Every high guarantees a low. Every low reaches for a high. Every high reaches for a high. When these hills and valleys are eventually levelled, they are still desired.

Sex is highly over rated. The thing of it is, even rated fairly ’tis a consummation devoutly to be had. Yes – I know – you appreciate Shakespeare. On a par with Goethe, even if you can’t bring yourself to say the words.

People are just one damned thing after another. Of course, so many people have brought you blessings, you throw up you hands to ward off the snake. And sometimes – some few times – it loosens its grip.

There is no castle with walls thick enough to hide against the perils of being human. Which is why you never tried.

Except the grave, of course.

Except the grave.

Yours,

D

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

03 July 1918
 
The anniversary of my birth.
 
In celebration of the day, I did not make it my last.

Kafka Sees A Ghost’s Shadow From The Window

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An Excerpt from my Kafka In The Castle, where I fill in all of his missing diary entries. Kafka never avoided life – if anything, he perhaps plunged too deeply into it. But I think he never felt he was a part of what went on around him. He understood reality too well.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

01 June 1917

I have been on the outside, looking in – the darkness of the night behind me, the fog resting close upon the harbour.

I’ve watched diners at their ease, the fire colourful through the grate, the rich hue of the glass raised to the lips. And my own face, peering back at me as I look in, reflecting like a ghost’s shadow from the window.

And the very next night, I have been on the inside, looking out – seated at the very table I had previously observed.

The fireplace at my back, its warmth more than welcome. And I glanced out at the harbour, its fog higher than the previous evening, but not yet obscuring the lights of the ships. Their portholes wavering.

And, as I brought the red liquid to my lips, I saw my own face dimly doing the same in the window, imposed and distant between me and the fog. And I felt as alone as I did the night before.

Whether I was sitting or standing; whether in the warmth, or in the fog – I was still me.

Always K.

Always observing.

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