Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Barred Owl

On Sunday we were working with a rented chipper-shredder, chipping and shredding high piles of branches from all the cutting and clearing we’ve been doing around here.  It was a good day’s work, shared with neighbours and friends, and we were all getting pretty weary towards the end of the day. 

While it is true that the chipper-shredder does the really heavy work, chipping and shredding whatever we feed into it, our job is to keep feeding it and that can tire a person out.  Se we ended up loosening and hauling branches and small trees from the pile, aligning the butt ends, tilting them up to feed into the hopper, and then pushing and wiggling and prodding them until they had made it through the blades and shot out in a steady stream of chips and shreds.   It was repetitive work that strained our shoulders, arms, and hands, and it took up the large part of our day.

So it was important that every now and again someone would turn the key to shut the machine down so that we could have a break.  It was around five o’clock when we took our last one, and we were all sitting on the back deck, pretty tired and pretty quiet, enjoying the peace of late afternoon without the noise of the machine.

That was when I noticed the noise of the crows.  I am used to hearing them talking and calling over the neighbourhood, but this was different, a real cacophony of sound, persistent and insistent, obviously riled up about something that had interfered with their routine.  I wondered what it could be but was too weary to get up and try to find out.  Then I noticed my neighbour’s wife coming in our lane from the path, and she told us what had happened.  Of course, it all made sense -- an owl had wandered into the neighbourhood, the crows and jays had found it, and now they were determined to chase it out.

Suddenly no one was tired, we all hurried through to their lane and up toward the main road, and there were the crows.  They got quieter and fewer with people approaching, and there, high up in a tree, was the owl.  It was a dark shape, much larger than the crows or the couple of blue jays that were also harassing it, and it puffed itself even bigger when the other birds got close.  No one had a camera or binoculars so there was nothing else to do but try to get closer for a clearer view. 

By the time I got under the tree the other birds had left and the owl was looking down at me.  It had the large round head with eye circles, dark eyes, bars across its upper chest, and vertical streaks down its breast that marked it as a barred owl.  Lorraine and I used to see one now and again over on the Middle Road when we first moved here, but it’s more than ten years now since I’ve seen an owl in the neighbourhood, and I’ve never heard one.

So it was a treat, and I stayed a while, looking back at the owl, noting all of its distinguishing marks, and wondering whether it had just dropped in or was going to be working in the neighbourhood on a regular basis.  Finally we did head back and start the chipper-shredder, and about an hour later found the branch we had been looking for, the last one.  It was getting dark as we shut things down, and I allowed myself to think about a cold crisp glass of pinot grigio that would be waiting once I had showered and changed. 

And I thought about the owl, more peaceful now that the crows had gone to roost, and wished it a good night.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Food Nostalgia: Gölyazı and Yalova (courtesy of the Athens)

On a recent Wednesday we were both teaching and at the end of the day needed to get something to eat before going to an artist’s talk at a local art gallery.  We decided to go to the Athens on Quinpool to split one of their calamari salads and a large draught.  I was glad we did.

We checked out the menu to confirm that the salad was what we wanted and agreed that we would have to request extra olive oil on it because The Athens doesn’t seem to think the calamari salad needed much.  We were sure about the beer but not so sure about whether we should order something more so we explored the Appetizers section.  I was intrigued by the taramosalata, a dip made from caviar, lemon juice, and potato, so we ordered it.  I was glad we did.

The dip came first, with wedges of pita.  What I loved was the fact that the first taste took me right back to Gölyazı, an island in Ulubat Gölü, a large shallow lake just west of Bursa.  Once we watched a fish auction in Gölyazı in the open area just beyond the big yellow camii where the local sellers and buyers stood in a circle around a kind of small arena where various large and strange-looking fish were dumped in the centre and bid on.  I don’t know if any were beluga, but I do remember one prehistoric looking creature with a row of large, thick spikes along its spine.  It must have weighed fifty or more kg and I wonder now if it was a bearer of caviar.

The other connection was to a medium-sized jar with a white plastic top that I bought from a compact man in a sports coat and cap in the market area in front of the camii close to where the minibus parked.  I may have paid only 5 TL for it, but it was a treasure I kept in the fridge back on campus and spread on toast whenever I needed a treat, taramosalata made by the small man in Gölyazı, a memory of a time and place and of a distinct and wonderful taste, sometimes augmented by a cold glass of beer.

Next we had our calamari salad, which the Athens is very good at making, as long as you remind them of the need to add the olive oil.  Here the connection was not so immediate and direct, unlike the taramosalata whose sharp and immediate taste put you right there in Gölyazı.  Instead, the Athens salad reminded us of the kalamar we always ordered at Unsal Balık on the waterfront in Yalova where the ferries from the islands always tied up.

You can read here a detailed account of the great fish soup and salads they serve there.  What we also loved about kalamar in Türkiye was the fact that it was always fresh and always served with a thick white sauce, maybe made from yoghurt and bread crumbs.  We have enjoyed it at Unsal on the Yalova waterfront and from the high terraces of the fish restaurants overlooking the harbour and beach at Şile as the sun was setting into the Black Sea.  It was consistently a treat and often a sign that soon we were heading back to the school and getting ready for another week of work.

So the good old Athens, Halifax’s favourite family restaurant, I’ve heard, provided us with a nice treat for supper after teaching and a nice hit of nostalgia for places and dishes we love and for the good people we shared them with   

Afiyet olsun, they would say over there.  Here it is simply Enjoy, and we do.