Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Two Pigeons and a Fava Bean

Lean Food with Cook Utensils, Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin

My grandfather raised pigeons in his backyard. I used to think the sound of cooing was a hymn unique to his house. To me, my grandfather's garden was an infinite maze of surprise and discovery.

I know if I went back today it would seem small and tangled, but in my childhood it loomed large and full of possibility. The rows of cages on stilts with their tiny doors were the closest thing I had to a dollhouse. Yet I was afraid of the erratic movement of birds each time my grandfather lifted the latch on those doors to "let the little devils out". If he allowed me to accompany him, I trailed behind apprehensive because I didn't much like pigeons outside of their cages. Their flutter, fits and starts between my feet made me anxious and I stood fixed as a pole in the midst of their nervous merriment. But I went for the occasion that occurred most rarely.

It seemed more like a magic trick the first time my grandfather reached inside a cubicle for an egg--like the penny he found behind my ear. I can still see the smooth and speckled orb he cradled in his palm. "How?" I gasped. "Two pigeons and time," he replied. I stared openmouthed as he pulled a white handkerchief from his pocket to wrap the egg. "Take this inside." I dashed like a courier, cautiously holding the bundle in front of me, up the path, past the fountain, to the kitchen, where the woman who cooked his meals after my grandmother died, was bent over a basket of shelling beans. How did beans make more beans? How did pigeons make more pigeons? I remained puzzled over the former, but the latter was less vague and nothing short of a miracle.

I have since learned that in Italy, there is a gentler way of achieving two ends with a single effort. In Italian, a fava bean replaces the proverbial stone to kill two birds. My friend Susanna taught me this kinder expression: due piccioni con una fava. I thought of my grandfather and how in one afternoon, he taught his granddaughter about nature and nurture.