Selin is a college freshman, longing to be a writer, longing to find her way. Along the way, she fell in love. Perhaps love, although at times it seemed more like infatuation, or obsession. Ivan, the object of her desire, was kind of a free spirit, and I wondered throughout the book what he really wanted from this relationship with her. She sought a summer internship in Hungary at his suggestion. She was to teach English in small villages near Szentendre. Although Hungary was Ivan’s home, he only planned to be there briefly that summer, before traveling to Thailand. When Ivan drove Selin back to the campground in Szentendre after spending a couple of days with him, they said their goodbyes, and Ivan went on his way, leaving Selin reluctant to rejoin her group, needing some alone time to compose herself after his departure. She tried call her friend Svetlana, but was told, “All the lines to that country are busy,” so she called her mother, telling her that Ivan had left for Thailand. Her mother understood just how Selin felt, and told her to go see some beautiful things. Beauty encouraged the production of of endorphins, which helped make you feel better and prevented inflammation. This completely encapsulates how I feel about beauty, and why I, too spend time searching for it wherever I am. Perfect comment for this blog.
The author has captured beautifully, the aching torment of first love. I loved Selin, who was uniquely herself, very smart, very literate and very funny. She went shopping with her friend Ralph at Copley Plaza in Boston. He needed suspenders that had to go with khaki pants, a navy jacket and a burgundy tie. They both like the red suspenders, but not with the burgundey tie.
“Like a fool, I asked Ralph the color of his shoes. “Black,” he said. “Black shoes, navy jacket,” I mused. We looked at each other with identical stricken expressions: “Brown shoes.” We went to the shoe department. This was the beginning of the end, not just becasue shoe shopping was always sad- what was Cinderella, if not an allegory for the fundamental unhappiness of shoe shopping?- but because the shoes were past the pajamas and underwear. The pajamas were where we really lost everything-our sense of purpose and of who we were. The shoes had at least been related to the suspenders. Here, colors were irrelevant-or not relevant, but bearing different meanings. There were boxers printed in red, NO NO NO, with green glow-in-the-dark letters that spelled YES YES YES.”
Svetlana, Selin’s friend, had terrible anxieties at the Louvre when they visited Paris the summer after their freshman year, disturbed by the sheer number of works of art. She was able to control it by focusing monomaniacally on one painting per visit. After staring at a 15th century illumination of a Madonna in a lime-green robe confronting a silver whale, apparently, indoors, Svetlana said she identified with that Madonna more than any other woman in any other painting. Svetlana kept bugging Selin about paintings that she identified with. Selin didn’t identify with anyone in any paintings. Until … “I finally identified with a painting in the Picasso Museum. Titled Le Buffet de Vauvenargues, it showed a gigantic black sideboard scribbled over with doors, drawers, pigeonholes, moldings and curlicues. Two roughly sketched figures, one big and one small, flanked the sideboard. The sideboard was the thing between them.” Svetlana said it wasn’t okay to identify with furniture. I’m no psychologist, as you will quickly see as you read further, but I think that the figures in the painting are Selin and Ivan, with Ivan being …….(wait for it) the bigger of the two. The sideboard represents the many-faceted, complicated reasons that they aren’t together.
THE FOOD: When Selin is in Hungary for the summer, teaching English, she particularly enoyed a uniquely summer food. “I could have eaten a bucket of those cucumbers, which had been pickled in the sun, without vinegar.” I too, am a fan of pickles and grow cucumbers in the summer for that purpose. This recipe really intrigues me, but it’s March, in New England, and it just snowed and is supposed to snow again in a couple of days, so, I’ll post the recipe now, and will update the post when I’ve had the chance (and the sun, of course) to make them.
Hungarian Summer Dill Pickles Recipe
These Hungarian summer pickles are fermented by the heat of the sun, so they should be made in the summer or in warm climates. It’s from Linda Ziedrich’s “The Joy of Pickling” (The Harvard Common Press, 1998), and it’s one of the easiest ways to pickle cucumbers.
1 quart pickling cucumbers (3 to 5 inches)
1 T pickling salt or kosher salt
2 T white vinegar
1 fresh dill head
1 frond of dill
2 C water
Gently wash the cucumbers, and remove the blossom ends. Using a knife, slit the cucumbers through lengthwise just short of the end, so they are still attached. Place pickling salt or kosher salt, white vinegar, and dill head and dill frond into a narrow-mouth quart jar. Pack cucumbers tightly into jar so they won’t float, leaving 1 inch headspace. Pour in water to cover and can the jar with a nonreactive lid.
Place the jar outside in the sun or in a sunny window (place a saucer under
the jar to catch any drips). Bring the jar in at night. Within 3 days, you
should see tiny bubbles, indicating the cucumbers are fermenting. When
the tiny bubbles have stopped rising (around 5 days), place in refrigerator.
They will keep about 2 weeks, refrigerated.