It rained the next day, not the chilly drops of winter that crystallized into ice on the ground, not the angry torrent of summer thunderstorms. It was the gentle drizzle that softly soaked the earth to awaken the trees and flowers, warning them of the approach of spring. I had always loved that wet smell of the earth after a day of spring rain. It seemed so full of hope and the promise of beautiful scented flowers and green shady leaves.
–Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai
This morning I walked through my neighborhood to the local Farmer’s Market. Along the way, yard after yard showcased the season’s colors, brought forth thanks to a welcome surge of rain in the past fews weeks: lush green lawns and trimmed boxwood, gigantic, frilly red camellias, purple pansies, white azaleas and pink petunias. On and on the entertainment continued, courtesy of Mother Nature, leading me to the place where farmers, bakers, kettle-popcorn-makers arrive in dozens of trucks from miles away to sell their goods. Here’s what I bought:
Sunrise Nursery (Watsonville, CA): tulips
Houweling Nursery (Camarillo, CA): orange & grape tomatoes
Tamai Farm (Oxnard, CA): Strawberries
Iacopi Farms (Half Moon Bay, CA): English peas
At Lunardi’s–right next door to the Farmer’s Market–I bought a beautiful leg of lamb (grown in the USA) to roast for Easter dinner with the family. When my eight siblings and I were growing up, once a month or so our grandmother, Nana, would arrive at our San Fernando Valley house bearing lasagna or gnocchi she’d cooked for Sunday dinner. When spring arrived, Nana would buy a leg o’ lamb from the Farmer’s Market a few blocks from her Hollywood home. She’d drive “over the hill” from Hollywood to the Valley, park her car out in front of our house, and proudly carry the lamb (wrapped in white butcher paper) inside. “Look, kids, wait ’till you see what I brought.” She’d unwrap the lamb, and with hushed reverence show my sisters and me how to pierce the lamb and slip several whole, peeled cloves of garlic into it. We’d put fresh rosemary sprigs from her garden into the roasting pan, and lots of red potatoes. Oh, the smell of a roasting leg of spring lamb! Heavenly.
For tomorrow’s dinner we’ll also have a salad of locally grown greens, avocados (hurray! the California avos are back!) and vine ripened orange and red tomatoes from the Farmer’s Market. With the lamb we’ll have heaps of Italian broccoli–leaves, stems, flowers and all–quickly sauteed in garlic and olive oil. Sweet and tender-crisp. We’ll also have pearl barley cooked in French onion soup–one of Don’s family favorites. Yum.
About the quote at the top of this post: I recently read Nien Cheng’s extraordinary story of life in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution. In 1966, Cheng was arrested on false charges, thrown in solitary confinement, and left there for a crueling six-and-a-half years. During that time her young adult daughter was killed by the Red Guards. That Cheng survived stands as a testament to her faith in God and her conviction of her own innocence. Starved, gravely ill, arms painfully locked behind her back with handcuffs, wrists infected and excreting yellow pus, Cheng triumphed over her captors. She lived to tell her story. In the book’s epilogue, Cheng explains why she wrote her story:
I felt a compulsion to speak out and let those who have the good fortune to live in freedom know what my life was like during those dark days in Maoist China…The United States of America is the right place for me. Here are Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, dissidents of repressive regimes who had been imprisoned, boat people from Vietnam, and political refugees from tyranny. Among people like these, I do not feel alone… (1986)
Nien Cheng died in 2009, at age 94. Throughout the book, and again in the epilogue, Cheng expresses concern that China has a history of swinging like a pendulum, every thirty years or so, from revolution to peace and back again. She sounded the alarm: buyer beware. It can all change overnight. I mention her in this post simply because she was so passionate about America, about this place filled with promise–like the promise of spring, it seems unending–this place that stands like a beacon of hope for so many in the world.
Have a wonderful, blessed weekend, my fellow Americans.