Adventures of the Heart
Mary Zalmanek
Costa Rica - Captain Bligh's Breadfruit

Saturday, October 20, 2001

Hola Amigos y Familia,

The day we had the fried plantains and fried breadfruit, I decided I needed to repent for the fatty foods I'd eaten and sedentary lifestyle we adopted upon our confinement to paradise.  Since Jim had left to watch the employees in their soccer game, I couldn't go for a walk and leave the place unattended.  I Our 57-step decided to try the Stairmaster -- those fifty-seven steps to our casita.  I figured I would run up and down until my muscles yelled Tio!  (That's "uncle" for you gringos.)  After twenty round trips or just over twenty-two minutes, I was tried, but not hurting.   The hurting started a day and a half later when I got out of bed and took the first slow, painful, old-woman steps of the day.  I knew that another Stairmaster routine right away would be necessary to work out the stiffness, but I can assure you I did not have the same bounce in my steps that day.  My muscles yelled Tio, Tia, Madre, Padre! and the names of any other relatives that might help me up each of the 2,280 steps.  Since Jim and I need to wear the same jeans for the trip home that we wore on the trip down here, we have both made the Stairmaster part of our every-other-day routine. 

Several times Nuria and Mainor brought us choriadas (pancakes made from fresh corn).  These treats were so good that I asked Nuria to teach me how to make them.  On Wednesday Mainor brought us a bag with forty ears of corn, which cost around $3.  Wednesday is normally Nuria's day off, but that's when they could get fresh corn so she came with the corn.  Mainor, Nuria, Jim and I shucked about half of the corn.  Mainor sharpened his knife and cut the corn off the cob (anything requiring a sharp knife or machete is men's work down here).  Nuria pureed the corn with a little water and salt, and then fried them like a pancake.  Delicious!

The proper way to eat choriadas is with natilla (like creme fraiche, according to an American who knows his way around the kitchen better than I do).  In the privacy of the evening, Jim and I experimented a bit.  We used the choriadas like tortillas for sweet potato and papaya tacos, topped with a bit of tamarind and ginger salsa.  Outrageously delicious!

I've learned to be more adventurous in the kitchen than I am at home with access to fifty-some cookbooks and several supermarkets and specialty stores.  I start with whatever is available, throw in some spices, and prepare it in whatever way appeals to me at the moment.  I've watched my brother-in-law, Mark, do this for years and turn out of some the best meals I've ever eaten. 

Mainor buys a Spanish newspaper several times a week.  Yesterday was the first time I noticed that newspaper print anything about the anthrax letters in the US.  I suspect that's been front-page news for several weeks in the US.  Michael Jordan's return to the NBA was front-page news shortly after it happened.  I am surprised by what is and what isn't considered news down here.

One of the best things about being here with so much time on our hands is that we are free to pursue interests that sometimes get pushed aside at home.  Jim and I spend an hour or so each day studying Spanish.  With that much time invested, you would think I would be beyond the stage of handing the phone to Mainor or Nuria as soon as I hear a Spanish voice on the other end, but I'm not.

Jim read Douglas Adam's trilogy, The Complete Guide to the Universe, and has been working on The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe.  I've read The Girl with the Pearl Earring, The Red Tent, Writing Down the Bones, and West with the Night.  John Irving's A Widow for One Year is waiting for me.  I have enjoyed writing my Costa Rican journals and have made some progress on a few articles and that illusive book.  Jim has been drawing using techniques from Drawing from the Right Side of Your Brain.   We've watched videos of Some Like it Hot, Casablanca, The African Queen, Cinema Paradisio, Mutiny on The Bounty from 1962 and the remake, The Bounty, from 1984.  While we both liked the 1962 Bounty best, we were surprised at how much the personalities of Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian changed in just twenty-two years.

Captain Bligh was transporting breadfruit seedling on the Bounty from the South Pacific to the West Indies until Fletcher Christian set him free in a rowboat. Knowing that gathering this simple fruit was the purpose of this fateful journey, I was determined to find a better way to cook it than frying it.  I boiled the breadfruit and mashed it together with cooked carrots, butter, and spices.  It's starchier than potatoes, but really tasty. 

Reading West With the Night was like visiting an elegant mansion. Just as I might be in awe of the elegance but never feel at home, I felt like I could never have written a single sentence in her book.  Beryl Markham’s sentences are constructed with such beauty and grace that I find myself rereading each sentence just to savor the words and how they flow together. 

In West With the Night, Beryl described cities as "crossroads of the world where people met and built high buildings and traded the things they made and laughed and labored and clung to their whirling civilization like beads on the skirts of a dervish."  Jim and I are like beads that have fallen off the skirt, enjoying a temporary reprieve from the whirling civilization.

The best thing about being here is that Jim and I have more time for each other.  We enjoy our time together and our separate interests, our conversations, and our silences.  When the cosmic seamstress re-attaches us to our place on the skirt, I need to remember that how intensely we cling to the whirlwind of busyness is our choice, no matter where in the world we are.

Un abrazo y un beso (A hug and a kiss),

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