So a Lebanese man walks into the store… No, to be honest, his wife came in. She and I struck up a conversation as she repeatedly muttered, “I’ve got to get Jim in here.” She and Jim came in the next day and the three of us spent most of our time together over the spices. The Za’atar, which I have now learned to pronounce somewhat correctly as “Zaa the” is not authentic to his taste. He is as American as you or I; growing up in Massachusetts. The difference was his embrace of his immigrant parents’ culture, most impressively the food. He suggested there were as many different recipes for Za’atar as there were villages and families, but ours includes oregano and he said it should be thyme for his taste.
He had spent years in Hong Kong so our conversation veered off to Eastern spice blends and favorite dishes of Southeast Asian cuisine. By the time they left I had an invitation to their home for their regular Saturday night gathering of food and folks. Francestown New Hampshire is only slightly, (minutely so) less rural than Temple. This gathering of “fun people you will really enjoy!” sounded intriguing. They insisted I consider coming to dinner, the wife wrote out their address, phone numbers and email. I put it out of my mind until late in the day, then remembered he had loved the Persian Lime Infused Olive Oil. For whatever reason, he had bought everything but that.
The next day was Saturday and I told myself I would just see how the day went. My list of “want to do” and “have to do” was long and I slept in past Alice’s idea of breakfast. A lovely walk through the crispy leaves with 8 others on horseback, a stinky trip to the dump with all the recent mouse coffins, the obligatory grocery run, an afternoon spent cleaning every drawer and cabinet in the kitchen (mouse poop central) and time to experiment with a new recipe occupied me before I had to face the decision. In the end, I showered off my sweat and insecurities, polished up my boots and mood, and headed out the door.
The house was well lit and cars lined the side of the road. Someone arrived as I crept my car to the side, confirming the address. I noted that the doors were flung open; it appeared to be a “dive right in like you live here” party. Grabbing the bag of Persian Lime Oil from the passenger seat, I gave my shoulders a good shake and walked in. The ‘mud room’ was inviting and beyond I could see a knot of people gathered in the kitchen. Even if this was the wrong house, someone I didn’t know was smiling and nodding welcome to me. Plates of food covered every surface, wine and spirits were laid out with glassware on the center island, and stools were pulled up around the feast. My host saw me hesitating and swooped over genuinely surprised and pleased. “I was just telling them I hoped you would make it! Here, let me introduce you around. No, wait! I promised you a taste of my humus and kibbe.”
Suddenly, a spot where no one knew anything about me went from niggling self-doubt and anxiety, to a warm blanket of comfortable conversation. I teetered on the edge of a flashback, walking into so many wall street boondoggle conferences alone and unsure, it suddenly didn’t matter what or who I knew. In finding connections, there is a certain balancing act, as a new-comer to a well-heeled group. I focused on being both interested and interesting. Self-consciousness slipped away.
The house was a lovingly restored Cape-style home built in the 1700s. The wide floors were uneven from many feet and the ceilings were low. Such a contrast to my home. The colors chosen, the abundance of greenery cascading before the windows and the openness of the space was inviting. I settled at a round table with several others. A platter of raw kibbe, olives, cheese, fresh bread and onions spilled over the center. I watched as my host scooped up some of the meat with the bread, dressed it with onion then rolled it into a perfect bite, extending it to me with a smile. Melt in your mouth delicious!
One couple had met while teaching in Kathmandu, married and spent the next 30 years traveling the world before landing here. I was wearing my Nepalese necklace bartered for with two Izod polo shirts in 1982 on the streets of Kathmandu. We marveled at our recollections of the ancient culture. Another woman had four horses. My ride earlier in the day brought her memories of crisp, Fall trail rides. We discussed small-town politics and avoided the presidential primary looming over us. We ate exotic treats and talked about our kids, ex-spouses, hobbies and joys. No one complained of pains or infirmities, no one ranted on about social issues or injustices.
The most remarkable observation I made was there were no “selfies” no cameras at all, no social media posts – Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook. Not a single text or call was made. No one felt the need to share beyond the immediate moment.
The hours flew by and I departed with spice blends, recipes and enough food for a splendid lunch of leftovers. The world is a funny place – a Lebanese man walks into the store…