In a few days, I set off on a new adventure to New Delhi. With it, comes the opportunity to explore the exotic and peregrine. Although I’m looking forward to seeing my last of the Seven Wonders Of The World, the Taj Mahal, I’m most excited about experiencing the gastronomy India has to offer. In fact, one of the most rewarding aspects of travel is sharing stories and life lessons over a hearty meal. The experience of savoring food allows us to understand the essence of a place, and doing it while engaging in a heartfelt conversation is an act of love. When we do this, all of our senses are stimulated and our heart is open. If we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and transparent in the moment, there is far more to gain. The aroma of the food, the color of it and the sounds around us — whether it’s music, soft chatter, the voice of a lover or laughter — it all plays a part.
This is what the author of Like Water For Chocolate, Laura Esquivel, refers to when she describes all of us as having a box of matches inside. “We can’t strike them all by ourselves; we need oxygen and a candle to help,” she writes. “In this case, the oxygen…would come from the breath of the person you love; the candle would be any kind of food, music, caress, word, or sound that engenders the explosion that lights one of the matches. For a moment, we are dazzled by an intense emotion.” Coming together to commune at a table to feast and contemplate life is how we light our match, and in turn, assist others in lighting theirs. If just for one minute we sit to contemplate all of the anecdotes we’ve shared over a meal, it may take a lifetime to list them all.
“The experience of savoring food allows us to understand the essence of a place, and doing it while engaging in a heartfelt conversation is an act of love.”
When I was a kid, I’d always find myself in the kitchen on the weekends preparing lunch for the family with my grandmother. She would listen to me intently and share tall tales. She loved to describe in detail the flapper attire of the old days, and how she and her sisters would dance the night away under the stars in Cuba. But there were sad stories as well; those were meant to instill gratitude in a young heart. Once, she confessed to me how her grandmother had passed away from hunger during the time of President Machado, and how thankful we should always be for our blessings.
It was while sitting at my elementary school cafeteria that I first learned about heartache. The girl I thought was my best friend had thrown me under the bus and told my crush I liked him. He was tan, all of three feet tall, with long black eyelashes, and a penchant for blondes. But I wasn’t the blonde he had in mind. He ambled up to the table with a mischievous cackle to inform me, in a cacophonous voice, that I was ugly and far too skinny. I cried into my dry mashed potatoes and stale meatloaf until it was time to go back to class.
More recently, at a dinner table in Monte Carlo this past summer, while sitting next to the male friend of a friend, a peculiar thing happened. A guy at the table proceeded to recite poetry to me in the most ardent French I’d ever heard. I thought for sure I must have met him on a different occasion and couldn’t remember. No, he was a stranger, but he informed me that I was the spitting image of his first love that had perished in a car accident more than 18 years before, and that her birthday would be at midnight. I soothed him as best I could. He cried and smiled, and seemed to have found closure somewhere in between.
I was asked the other day, if given the chance to enjoy a meal in the company of someone famous, dead or alive, whom would I like to break bread with? Without an iota of hesitation, I knew that person would be one of our greatest presidents: Abraham Lincoln. Textbooks describe him as an individual of great compassion, curiosity, of warmth, tolerance and ethics. I often ask myself when dealing with difficulties: “How would Honest Abe go about this?” It’s a question that always guides my moral compass. The thought of sitting across a table from someone who became President, even after having endured so many failures and setbacks, fills me with hope and an undying hunger for living life to the fullest.