Mar. 24th, 2013

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Yesterday, I made ful medames for the first time. I used dried lima beans, lacking fava. My original batch became a dinner after 24 hours of soaking and about 2 hours of slow simmering. Seth thought it was erring on bland, and more worryingly, that parts of the beans still seemed hard and undercooked. The next morning, I reheated the leftovers in more water, doubled the seasoning and mashed it with a potato ricer. with a dash of olive oil and sprinke of fresh parsley, it made a lovely breakfast. I think I see why so much care went into its description in Palace Walk, where I first read about it in one of the book's opening scenes of a typical morning at the Abd al-Jawad household.

That scene stuck in my mind more for its establishment of patriarchy in the family as the main colour of the characters' lives, and Palace Walk is still a book, that a year later, I am forced to mince through between long stretches of quiet. The historian and learner in me is fascinated by the setting, this plate etching if you will, of a particular time in Egypt's history. The woman in me winces and recoils at the familiarity of the characters. Palace Walk's power lies in its description of mundane life, of the fact that its typical, conservative family, with its cloistered women and unsurprised men, depends on the veil between men and women, and the sheer lack of communication between the sexes that results. For a person raised in a much later culture, with only a fractioon of these conservative values still remaining, the familiarity of these types of men and these types of women is almost chilling. At best, fascinatingly repellent, like watching a train wreck come undone, one mangled metal chunk at a time.

Food becomes a keystone for many of the major scenes, either because the family only really meets together at meal times, or a conversation piece and emotional catalyst for how characters react to each other. A dish involving chicken stewed in creamed almond sauce, showing up about a third of the way into the book, became cause for another kitchen experiment last year. Am I feeding the patriarchy by wanting to recreate these literary flavours for myself and my husband? You might say, it's all in the intent, surely. My husband and I predicated our entire relationship on our ability and willingness to communicate with each other, however difficult. It is something we are very proud of working hard at -- we both did not want a 'lasting' marriage that depended on one partner occasionally going 'deaf' to the other's comments.

In my house, I am more apt to be herded towards a sofa with a cat on top if I show signs of housework, especially if my husband believes I have better things to do, like drink tea and write blog posts. It is not demanded that I do anything really -- I think the unspoken consensus between us is that if one of us does something for the other, it is a gift. If we do it for both of us, it is a courtesy -- the effort is appreciated.

Back to the point, Palace Walk is no Like Water for Chocolate. All the feelings are repressed. The foods, while delicious, are honestly verging on ephemeral in their pleasure. Everyone suffers in the structure the family propagates. Such families work, but the problem is, would anyone really want to live in one such as that?

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