Sunday, March 8, 2009

Szivesen means with my heart

This started when someone said, “Isn’t it a lot of work to grow, can and cook food?” “Work?” I wondered aloud, “I think it is about love”. We all have our own.

I fall in love easily. Last fall, I fell in love with a man named Csabi. It was not for the way he smelled, rather, I fell in love with every expression of who he is and what he loves. I fell for the integrity and sensibility with which he works. I fell in love with the way he works; fully and completely in love with what he does. I fell in love fast and it lasted about eighty minutes. Now, I marvel at this unusual love. I work with my hands. I love with my hands. And I try to create something meaningful today from what he unknowingly gave me.

When I arrived at Csabi’s farm, I closed my eyes. The dairy smelled of warm sweet dung and the moist, healthy exhalations of animals living in a good place. The gentle lowing in the dairy barn spoke volumes of satisfaction. There was a quiet hum from a tractor and birds twittering. The animals were happy. Their eyes were bright and alert. They were curious. The cows demanded privacy during milking. The bulls stared, two together, resolutely bullish. And the wary calves moved in skittish side steps and uttered insecurities. Csabi, a veterinarian, has made a model dairy farm from knowledge, common sense and natural systems.

We use words like sustainable, green, clean, good and organic to describe what Csabi is doing. The words antibiotics, growth hormones, transitional, organic tried to find a toe hold in my questions as I took in his farm but they were useless and frankly irrelevant. From one framework, these are good descriptions of his farm, yet Csabi’s methods of running a dairy are rooted in his traditional values. He produces clean milk and delivers it to the community. It is a simple, straightforward and honest plan.

That was the first time within those eighty minutes that I fell. The second time was when I visited his home. I fell hard enough to crack something. Hungarian hospitality is exceptional, though not unique. An offer of a coffee and the use of a bathroom is a given. Csabi opened his home and more. He fed us things he made with his hands; ham, mangalicsa, bread, drink.

Csabi’s home life reads like a perfect short story that tells more than the words written. He knows what order things belong in and his place in that order. Like the best chefs and farmers I know, he tinkers and creates from a deep understanding of the animals and life he husbands. Knowledge and practice sit on a continuum of acquired experience, work at hand and hope for what may come out of his efforts. At his home he maintains a quality and shape of place that is enriched by an ethic of work and love, two sides of the same coin.

Csabi lives on the Hungarian Plains in a small town. He has three pigs with unique genetic histories; a mangalicsa, a wild boar and a mangalicsa/duroc cross, if they are still alive. If they are not, they have become blood sausage and meatballs and they are becoming hams, szalonne and mangalicsa szalami. His curing room and smoke house hold the meats of four pigs. The storeroom is filled with pickles, peppers, jams and palinka, a homemade fruit brandy. The house, summer kitchen and nuclear yard are their own small-scale integrated production system stewarded and guided by principled decisions. The raising, butchering, curing, eating and sharing of an animal is one long chain of reverential events.

Csabi, like many of us, has all the ingredients for a good life. I fell in love with his ability to sincerely combine the elements of his world. I fell in love with his love of mastery and his participatory love of making good quality things like milk, delivery systems, animals, breeds, spaces, food, drink and hospitality. Work, one way or the other, provides what we need and it is an expression of our capacity to love.

I am in love when I am in my yard. I work the soil as if it were my daughter’s hair. I brush it into braids as I think about what can come out of the future.
I am in love when I am in the kitchen, standing before the window that overlooks a small potential of urban land. I am kneading dough on the counter in the sun. With work, it becomes satiny, soft and pliable. Some bodies will be happy.
I am in love when I am alone in my language, in fields, picking corn with my eyes closed.
I am in love when there is a quartet of pots on my stove, simmering, boiling and still. People are coming.

In Hungarian, “szivesen” is how to say, “You are welcome” and it means literally “with my heart”.

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