Before the birth of our son, my husband and I moved to Nagano Prefecture: a homecoming for me; a new experience for him.
He had spent much of his life in or near large cities. In the Japanese countryside surrounding Nagano things were different. All the usual signposts by which one knows where one is and what is happening around one in the city were lost to him. Adjustment was required, and it proved slow in coming.
While he had been able to sleep with the sound of city street traffic, he found it impossible to sleep well in summer with the din made by rice paddy frogs in the thousands just outside our bedroom window. While he knew well which way a certain street was oriented in relation to his house or apartment, he had no idea wherethe north side of our house was, and living where we do we give direction by compass point. In our garden, he could not tell a soybean plant from a potato, and other common plants and flowers were beyond him his experience as well. Even recognizing ambient sounds was a challenge to him. In the city, he would never mistake the sound of a cooing pigeon for a hammer banging, but here he once asked me if my father was using an electric grinder, when the noise he had heard had come from a large frog.
It took some time, and not a little effort, to learn as much as he has now, but learn he did. Now, he can tell without the aid of a clock or seeing daylight from outside, that it is time to get out of bed and start a fire each morning. He does this, he said, because he noticed that at this time of year crows begin to caw around 5:30am, so still a little early to stir, but that by just before 6:00am other, smaller birds begin to chirp, and a fire must be made, so that by the time my son and I wake up it will be warm in our main room and kitchen.
There are so many clues in Nature all around us that told our ancestors when to plant, when to harvest, when it was going to rain, whether the coming winter would be severe or mild, . . .so much information hidden from city dwellers by walls within which they live and work. I sometimes wonder whether the trade offs made necessary by living in more “convenient” cities are worth it. What do you think?
My husband remembered eating these prickles put up by a neighbor and shared with his family when he was a boy. Calabria (the toe of the Italian boot) is the home of this condiment according to Waverly Root in his classic “The Food of Italy.” My husband found many recipes online, or more accurate to write, he found many mentions of the exact same recipe. It seems to be a common practice to copy and paste recipes word for word from one site to another site or food blog without crediting the source.
Eggplant is cut into cubes or strips or disks, then boiled for a few minutes in water and white wine vinegar. After drying, the eggplant is placed in a jar along with dried red chili, sliced garlic, and bay leaves, over all of which olive oil (we use extra virgin) is poured. (The recipe in Root’s book mentions garlic, pimento, and basil.) The result is a light, tasty condiment for summer. My husband also made some eggplant chutney with we can eat after 12-14 days. My father has provided us with too many eggplants to eat all at once this month, as all the plants ripen around the same time.
On Sunday, my son, husband, and I walked to a nearby park and to some surrounding rice fields and apple orchards in search of crayfish, which my eight-year-old wanted to catch.
The vast park is divided into four main parts according to function. There is a “mallet golf” course used mostly by local seniors, and a so-called dinosaur park complete with life-sized models of many species of dinosaurs based upon people’s then-understanding of same some 30 years ago and painted according to a color scheme which never concerned itself with accuracy, and probably had more to do with which color paints were on sale at the time of decoration. Most of the dinosaurs represented in this area lived during the Triassic and Jurassic periods. Above that, there are a few more models of mammal-like reptiles older still dating from the late-Permian. Above that as one moves up the mountain, there is a children’s recreation area with a couple dozen well-maintained stations, as well as gardens for herbs, flowers, and a wisteria walkway.
Long story, short…while we saw a few crayfish around a paddy, we were unable to catch any, but will be better prepared next time. We also saw several 15-cm long tadpoles in a pond probably those of the “ushi-gaeru” (bull frog), one of which it would be fun to bring back home.
Before walking home, we enjoyed the lunch we had packed earlier. We feel lucky to live so near such a wonderful, natural and multi-use public open space and the countryside around it.