Sunday, February 17, 2008

Cilantro tastes like spring

I remember a time when I was on tour in the still Soviet Union Russia. I arrived in January; it was bleak, gray, and cold. I didn't see sunshine for months. Every day was cloudy and there was always a bit of snow. I was in the company of strangers, in a land where I couldn't call home on a whim, receive mail daily or even read the newspaper. I felt lost.
I had trouble sleeping, jet lag I suppose, due to the time change. I would lay awake in the darkness, in the strange hotel room writing miserable letters home to my finance begging him to come visit. I celebrated my 29th birthday in Moscow, and the Russian theater crew presented me with a lovely cake~ a hummingbird cake it was called, because getting the ingredients was as difficult as catching a hummingbird!
I tried to appear grateful, I was, but inside I was so homesick, so miserable, I just wanted to go back to the lonely hotel room and cry. Everyday brought more snow, more gray dim light, and more frustrations.
The next stop was St. Petersburg/Leningrad: a beautiful city of waterways and bridges, set on the edge of the Baltic sea. There the sun did peek through occasionally and for relief I would walk the shore near the hotel picking up polished bits of glass tossed up on the beach by the cold salt waves. I stood for hours staring at the horizon wondering where Ky was, pointing myself towards it like Mecca, seeking out the love of my family, my friends.
Finally the show closed in Leningrad and we headed toward Tblissi, in Soviet Georgia. I advanced before the rest of the company, off schedule due to a stay in the Russian hospital overnight for something that was not appendicitis, and flew on a cranky, shuddering Aero Flot plane to Tblissi to land in the middle of a field in the middle of the night. I stood in the darkness, surrounded by strangers, women wrapped in babushkas, men in dark worn suits, holding suitcases tied together with string, children crying at being awakened from their night's slumber, and realized my team to pick me up was nowhere in sight. One of the Russians who had practiced English with me on the flight offered to take me to his home, his wife nodding eagerly until my friends could be found. I stood in the darkness, realizing the absurdity of the situation. Here I was, not speaking a word of Russian or Cyrillic, having no idea of the address of the theater or hotel at which I was supposed to be staying, no idea who was picking me up or when, and I just started to laugh. All these details were to have been taken care of by the tour director who assured me everything would be in place when I arrived, not to worry! She couldn't give me any information ahead of time, (remember this was still communist Russia) and I was just told to go, and trusting as I was, I did...
At the last possible moment as I was debating taking the offer of the husband and wife, a jeep roared out of the darkness with drunken lighting technicians spilling over the sides, yelling my name and brandishing bottles of vodka. My crew had arrived. I was kissed on both cheeks, pulled into the jeep after a hasty thanks and goodbye to my Russian husband and wife friends and driven helter skelter into the warm spring night.
Arriving at last at the hotel I found a feast laid out upon the balcony overlooking a beautiful moonlit river. There on the table was red wine, cheese, grapes and masses of cilantro and freshly baked flat bread. One of my crew members cut a slab of cheese, slapped in onto a hunk of bread, covered in cilantro and folded it over and handed it to me. "Eat" he proclaimed, "its Spring today!" I took a huge bite, as the cilantro, the first fresh vegetation I had had in months, burst fresh, green and fragrant in my mouth, the creamy cheese carrying the promise of gamboling lambs, the bread still warm and yeasty just baked within the hour...
I took a deep breath and smelled flowers, the river, the grapey wine as it flowed and I took bite after bite, knowing that for me spring would always and forever bear the pale green taste of cilantro.

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