Sometimes my great Oma would tell my mother: “Het liefde van de man gaat door de maag,” which means: “The love of a man goes through his stomach.”
Before I became pregnant, I had precisely the kind of summer a woman should have before she becomes pregnant. I was living in Malta. I spent my mornings writing my Masters thesis on Joan Didion. My afternoons were for sunbathing and swimming. In the evenings, I would wait for my lover and together we ran a small seaside bar.
For the first time, I also spent many hours in the kitchen. I am reminded of Joan Didion, as I so often am, and this passage from her memoir:
I learned to find equal meaning in the repeated rituals of domestic life. Setting the table. Lighting the candles. Building the fire. Cooking. Clean sheets, stacks of clean towels, hurricane lamps for storms, enough water and food to see us through whatever geological event came our way. These fragments I have shored against my ruins, were the words that came to mind then. These fragments mattered to me. I believe in them. … I could find meaning in the intensely personal nature of my life as a wife and mother.
Although I had yet to make a soufflé or a creme caramel, or a gumbo, and I still do not know what a daubes or an albondigas is, I understood what she meant. I started to deal in these repeated rituals of domestic life. Although it was Mark’s mother who folded the towels, and not me, I would have folded them for him.
I was raised in the post-feminism era: I was always taught that to be a housewife represented a failure — an ignorant mind, a lack of motivation, a failure to meet your potential. At my alternative school, I learned what sexism meant; I added words like misogynist, oppression, disenfranchised to my primary repertoire. I was a well-trained emancipator and critic. I was so young.
I do not undermine the value of the education that I have had. After reading this passage from Didion, however, I considered what meaningful experiences may be lost at the expense of such an education. Of course there is no quantifiable or distinguished or even public recognition for folding towels, cooking, or making sure that the pantry is well stocked (just in case). Of course not. But, I do question why such accomplishments are rendered meaningless, even demeaning.
In Malta, I cooked. I learned that I could take many different items and, put together correctly, could produce something delicious. It seemed familiar to me: like the many essays I wrote towards my degree. Pages of research and notes could be divided and measured into an A-worthy paper. In Malta, I cooked slowly and with love. I savoured the tastes and smells and carefully planned the ingredients. I loved every moment. From the researching of recipes, to the long lazy walk to the market, to the execution and result. It filled me with a sense of clear and significant purpose. I was doing good works. I was feeding the person that I loved.