Friday, March 29, 2013

Mama Greek, Meet Baba Ganoush

adapted from a post originally published on 365 Attempts [at life]

Sunday night, as many of you know, is traditionally spent at my mother-in-law’s house.  She cooks for us, she and Tony argue, I hide in the bathroom, etc. When we eat, she points at all the food at the table, identifying each dish as if we were blind, asking me why I don’t like potatoes.

 My friend in Mama Greek's bathroom.

In an effort to break this tradition, this past Sunday night, we take Mama Greek out for dinner.

I’m going to say right now that these have not been my best days with regards to Mama Greek. I don’t know why, and it does not feel good. My patience with her, which I realize wasn’t the best at the best of times, is disappearing.  As hard as I try, as much as I tell myself to be compassionate, and put myself in her shoes, and do it for Tony, and just fake it, I can’t seem to smile through her stories or pretend I enjoy the cheek-pinching the way I used to. I am not proud of this.  I have no idea how to deal with it, but it’s the truth.

Anyway: Sunday night.  We go to Garage Beirut, an amazing, cheap, Lebanese - coincidentally, three words that also describe me - restaurant downtown.  When we take Mama Greek to restaurants, Tony and I always order, since she doesn’t read English (the reason for the existence of most of my blog posts.)  But MG is a fan of good food, and Lebanese and Greek cuisines are similar enough.  I’m sure she’s going to love it.

I am so wrong.

It starts with the stuffed grape leaves, which I offer to Mama Greek when they arrive.

She shakes her head. “Why? I can eat dolmades at home.” 

She refuses the hummus, and the baba ganoush, because she doesn’t like “soft food.”  (I don’t point out that tzatziki and taramosalata are “hard” food.)  She looks suspiciously at the salad, and really only eats the meat.  Obviously, I take this personally.

At first, I try to laugh it off.  I point at all the plates on the table and name all the food, the way she does when we’re at her place.

“Fattoush?”  I offer.  “Chicken? Beef? Grilled pepper?”  But there’s an edge to my voice.  Tony shoots me a look.  I back off.

Mama Greek launches into a story about how her nephew came to pick her up last Saturday. 

“I see white car, but in front of the Turkish.” (‘The Turkish’ is how she refers to the Turkish people next door.)  “And Peter has red car, so I think it’s not Peter.  I wait at the door, I wait, I wait, but no Peter.  I think, ‘who is this car in front of the Turkish?’ I wait, I wait.  Finally, Peter call from the celery phone.  He’s in front of the Turkish! He has a new car!”

As she is telling this story, Tony looks at me.

“You look so bored,” he says, laughing.

He can do this because Mama Greek’s hearing isn’t great, and if you speak at a normal tone of voice from across the table, she won’t catch a word you say.

“How are the neighbours?” I ask her, brightly.

I already know the answer to this question, but I’m not sure what else to inquire about.  MG describes Maria’s leg problems and how she’s looking into moving into a senior’s home, and tells us how Effie wants to move into a condo. 

“What are you going to do there all by yourself?” I hear myself say. 

Whatthefuckareyoudoing? My inside voice screams. Where are you going with this? THIS IS DANGEROUS!  TAKE IT BACK!

MG laughs.  “I be okay.”

“Why don’t you move closer to us?”


“You mean, upstairs from you?” MG asks.

“No,” I say, panicking.  “I mean, um, down the street.  Or… on another street.”

MG sighs.  “Natalie,” she says, and coincidentally, Tony chooses this moment to leap up and cross the restaurant ask the owner about the 1970s Arabic music he’s playing on the stereo.

“If God gives you baby,” Mama Greek says, “then maybe I come every day.  Stay two, three hours, then go home.”

I know that my eyes have gone wide, and that my face has become very pale.  Clearly MG doesn’t notice.  She adds,

“Because when that baby come, you not go back to work.”

I put down my fork.  “Um, yes I do.”

“Well,” MG acquiesces, “maybe in three, four years.”

I grip the tablecloth.

“In one year.”

Tony is still chatting with the restaurant owner.  I shoot invisible knives at the back of his head.

“Anyway,” MG says, earnestly.  “Don’t think about it too much.”

“I don’t have to think about it,” I say, digging my nails into my thighs.  

“No, I mean don’t think too much about getting pregnant.”

I stop digging.  This is new.  This is strange.  This is… suspicious.

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” Mama Greek says, “I hear so many stories. Women adopt baby, then get pregnant. If you think about it too much, maybe that’s the problem.”

My jaw drops open.  This is woman who has made announcements at crowded dinner parties about how we need to "get busy" and give her a grandchild.  This is a woman who talks about babies the way 12-year olds talk about Robert Pattison.  This is a woman who has stated that she will not die until there is a baby Asimakopoulos.

Very slowly, I say, “I don’t think that’s the problem.”

Thank Christ and all his holy disciples, that’s when Tony returns to the table.

He sits down. 

I start kicking him in the shin, very hard.

“Ma,” he says, “stop talking.”

“Okay, okay!” she holds up her hand in her usual “who, me?” fashion.

He pats my hand under the table.  I take a deep breath.  Put yourself in her shoes.  Just fake it.  Do it for Tony.

I point to one of the plates on the table.  “Tabbouleh?” I offer.

Mama Greek shakes her head, clearly disgusted by the idea.

And because I can, and because this is the only thing I can think to do aside from run screaming from the restaurant, I try to look hurt and push the plate in front of her.

“What’s the matter?" I ask.  "Why don’t you like tabbouleh?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Truth is Not Out There

originally published on 365 Attempts [at life]

In the months after Tony and I got engaged, we argued.  A lot.  There was yelling and temper-losing and storming and door-slamming.  It was very romantic.  Oddly, it wasn’t covered in Martha Stewart Weddings.


        every pre-marriage thought should have its own colour scheme and inspiration board

I had parents who argued a lot.  It started when I was pretty young, and lasted until I was 20, at which point they split up.  Their divorce proceedings were about as amicable as those in The War of the Roses.  This was not a mistake I ever, ever wanted to repeat, to the point that I was against marriage for most of my life. 

“And that’s how you should have stayed,” I thought, lying in bed one day, beside myself with grief and fear.  I was 110% certain that it wasn’t going to work out between us.  


Barb responded with one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given.  She said,
“There is no objective truth.”

I don’t know if it was wisdom or desperation, but eventually, I wrote a woman who’d taught a yoga retreat I’d attended a few years earlier.  I considered Barb a sort of spiritual fairy godmother, and so I confided in her that things were not going well with my husband-to-be, and asked if she had any advice.  I asked what her secret was to her long marriage, and whether she’d be willing to pass it along.  I told her I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing.

In other words, just because I was struggling with my relationship, it didn’t mean my relationship was “wrong.”  Just because Tony and I were arguing, it didn’t mean we were a bad match.  There was no “right” way of doing things that I hadn’t figured out yet - I just had to do my best, and trust my heart.  
 This is the exact opposite message from the one we are given 99.99% of our lives.  At school, we’re taught that good grades mean you're smart. We grow older, and are told that thin is attractive, and money is success, and fame is more success.  Poverty is failure.  Weddings are happiness.  Children are more happiness.  The more possessions we have, the better we’ve done.

Barbs words helped a lot at the time (I married the guy, after all,) but the mentality stayed with me for much longer.  I applied it to everything.  How I keep my house.  How I act in front of someone I’m trying to impress.  My relationship with my family. How much exercise I get.  What I eat - that one never ends, like a parrot with dissassociative personality disorder lived in my brain. I shouldn’t eat gluten. I shouldn’t eat meat. I should eat meat, but only if it’s organic and grass-fed. I only should eat organic vegetables, except they should be local.  Organic isn’t sustainable. I shouldn’t eat grains, or sugar, or drink booze.  Except I should drink booze, because I should relax!  I should have a party! With lots of booze!  I should invite lots of people!  I should make cupcakes, because I AM A FREE WOMAN AND NO ONE CAN TELL ME WHAT TO EAT AND I’M GOING TO MAKE THEM FROM A BOX WHO THE HELL NEEDS VEGETABLES? 

This wasn't conscious, of course.  I didn’t use most of my brain energy this way on purpose.  But one day, I was sitting down to meditate – you know, the thing that’s supposed to bring you to acceptance and a blissful state – and was trying to decide what kind of meditation to do.  I tried one kind for 30 seconds, then switched because that was "the wrong kind."  I did this about 4 times, until it dawned on me that this was how I lived my life, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

I put my face down on the floor, and cried.

I cried for a long, long time.  It felt like a 40 ton weight was lifted from on top of me – a weight I’d been carrying around for so long, I didn’t even know it was there.  I think it’s what Oprah calls an aha moment.  I realized that if I had a mantra, it would have been “I’m doing it wrong.”  And that is no way to live. 

I still catch myself doing it.  The first clue is usually that I’m feeling anxious, or really sad, "for no reason.”  Sometimes it takes an hour to claw my way out, sometimes a week.  I'll let you in on a little secret: telling yourself that you're telling yourself you're doing it wrong THE WRONG WAY is not a way out. Forgiving yourself is. 

Forgiving yourself, and realizing that you've been wired this way. It’s normal to think this way, but it’s not helpful.  

Because if there was only one right way of doing things, the world would be a really goddamn boring place.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Natalie Goes to the Spa

originally published on 365 Attempts [at life]

One of my favourite places in all the world, or at least Montreal, is the Scandinave Spa in the Old Port of Montreal.  I am one of those “cold” people – not in demeanor (I hope,) but in body temperature.  For those who have never done the Nordic spa thing, and apologies to any real Nordics because I have no idea how authentic this actually is, the idea is to get really, really hot, in hot water or a sauna, for as long as you can bear it (usually 15 minutes.)  Then you immerse yourself in freezing @#$*ing cold water in a pool or shower for as long as you can bear it (usually 15 seconds.)  Then you wobble to a beanbag chair/hammock/couch and pass out in a state of eye-lolling cloudlike bliss that would give Keith Richards a run for his money.  At least, that’s the idea.


But the thing about the spa is, and maybe this means I should be going more often, I suffer a sort of amnesia about what the whole experience.  As the deep, bone freeze of winter begins to threaten to stay for good, I start to imagine the Scandinave as my salvation.  I crave sinking into that steaming hot water.  I know it will make my troubles melt away.  I long to be inside those dark, womb-like grey walls, while the busyness of the city continues on around me, surrounded by the sound of rushing water and the smell of eucalyptus…
And so finally, I go.  I walk in the door.  I inhale the steam.  I get my bathrobe and sandals and locker key.  And then the other part begins.  The part in my head.  It goes a little something like this.

Shit, there are a lot of people here. 

Oh, right.  It’s $39 on Wednesdays.  Why did I think no one else would know that?  Do I believe I'm the only person who reads the internet?  I should have come yesterday.  Why didn’t I?  Maybe this is just a flux time, and a whole bunch of people are going to go and have lunch?

 Hmm.  Changing room is quite full, though.  Of people leaving!  Yes, they’re leaving. Go away, all of you.  Especially you, with the 6-pack.

Right.  Off I go.  Now the relaxation can BEGIN.  Wow, that girl is stunning.  How does anyone get to be that beautiful?  I bet her life is perfect.  She lives in a perfect home and never fights with her boyfriend, and is creatively fulfilled and makes loads of money.  How is that fair?  Why can’t I have a bum like that?  Right, I’m cutting out gluten, sugar, dairy and… fruit.  Starting right now. 

 Okay, I’m getting pretty hot.  I should get out and do the cold part.  Except maybe I’m not hot enough.  I should stay longer.  Shouldn’t I?   What if I faint?  Do you lose control of your bladder when you faint?  But if I don’t wait until I’m really good and boiling, will it not work and I won’t get to go into my Keith Richards coma?  WHAT IF I CAN’T RELAX? That’s it, I’m going to have one of the rum balls I stashed in my locker.  The gluten thing can start tomorrow. 

God, I love a good rum ball.

Except now I can’t pass out, because I’m buzzed on chocolate.  I am an embarrassment to all hedonists.  God, that woman has fantastic boobs.  I wonder if they’re implants?  Should I get implants?  Would my life be easier and smoother if I had proper breasts?  How much are they I wonder KARNEEF FOR GODSAKES SHUT UP AND RELAX!

Oh crap, I forgot to shave my knees. 

What if I fall asleep and then fart?  BE QUIET!  Look how beautiful and calm it is!  Why must I ruin it continuously with my thinking?  Right, no more thinking.  Thinking is over for today shit I forgot to tell Alex about the thing!

Should I do it right now?  Except I promised myself I wouldn’t use my cell phone today.  But what if it hinges on me doing it right now?  What if Alex’s entire career falls to pieces because of me?  Will I ever be able to forgive myself?  Why does that woman have so much more hair than I do?  What did she do right that I didn’t?  Why am I still thinking?  Maybe I didn’t do the hot/cold thing properly!  I should have done the cold bath instead of the cold shower.  I should go back and do it again.  But I’m so tired.  And comfy.  And….


They are the most incredible naps on earth, those Scandinave naps.  I could fart an entire symphony and I’d never know.  A herd of alpacas could pass by and I’d smile and snuggle further into my bathrobe.

And when I wake up, I remember: just because I’m at my happy place, it doesn’t mean I have to feel happy.  That’s not the point of coming here.  The point is to feel how I feel, not feel bad because I don’t feel good enough. 

And with that, ironically, I feel much better.

I teeter back to the hot water and sink happily in.  My thoughts join me, of course.  They always do.  

But I no longer but believe a word they say.