Welcome to another session of Eating Authors, the weekly blog feature where I ask an author to share with readers an account of his or her most memorable meal. My guest this week is the peripatetic Alma Alexander. Alma was born in Yugoslavia, and grew up traveling throughout Africa, did some of her schooling in the United Kingdom, and somehow ended up in New Zealand and began turning out books, including her YA trilogy “Worldweavers” (Gift of the Unmage, Spellspam, and Cybermage), the popular The Secrets of Jin-shei and its sequel The Embers of Heaven, as well as her recent Midnight at Spanish Gardens with its very special spin on the end of the world coming on December 20th, 2012.
In addition to her fiction, Alma is known for her many book reviews, travelogues, essays, and poetry, which have been published in books and magazines throughout the world. This whirldwind of an author has, at least for the moment, settled in the United States’ Pacific Northwest where she very kindly took the time to answer a critical question.
LMS: Alma, welcome to Eating Authors. While I have you here, tell me, what’s your most memorable meal?
AA: Back home in the Old Country, my people have something known as Slava (literal translation: Celebration) which, in a nutshell, is the saint’s day on which the original pagan family became Christians. Every family has “their” saint, and this is passed down through the generations. The most salient point about this day is that it is a day on which friends and family visit the celebrants, and there is eating going on – there are massive amounts of food of all shapes and kinds as it is incumblent on the host family to feed all comers.
For those of us in the culture, this is a known fact, a given, something that is understood. Foreigners, unwarned, tend not to grasp this idea until… well… on one memorable occasion in London I was visiting some friends who had been invited to a family Slava on the night that I was staying over, and so they took me along. I happened to be sitting next to a hapless Englishman who had no clue what he was in for. When the appetisers arrived, and they were plentiful and varied and you could make a full meal out of many of them, he partook with enthusiasm. Then came the soups (at least two different kinds). Then they brought out the entrees (things like stuffed peppers, and “sarma” which is ground beef or pork mixed with rice wrapped in sauerkraut leaves, and baked cheese pasta dishes, and and and…) so he took those – and then the vegetable side-dishes came out, and one of the women popped out of the kitchen to announce that the roasts were coming (and there was roast goose, and roast pig, and roast lamb…) By this stage our Englishman was starting to look a little green, but when all this was cleared away and the little tea cakes and biscuits came out he gamely took some of those. And then, when another of the cooks poked her head around the door and told everybody to “save room for the cake”, he more or less slid off his chair and under the table and just asked to be left to die quietly, thank you.
Slava meals are always fun and always memorable, shared as they usually are with close friends and with family and with the memory of those ancestors who are no longer with us. But if I may go to the other end of the scale and provide a memorable meal on the other extreme, a few years ago at a big convention a group of us (myself and my husband, writer Elizabeth Bear, agent Jennifer Jackson and at least one other person whose identity now escapes me) sat down to dinner at the sole restaurant available at the con hotel. We were ignored for so long that Bear and I began to wonder if anybody in that restaurant had read her books or mine and hated us with such a deep passionate hate that this was payback for all our sins. Eventually, when some folks who had come in after us had been served with at least a bowl of dinner rolls, I went to ask if we could at the very least have the same privilege until somebody actually deigned to come and take our order. So they brought out some rolls, and I took one and began to slice it in half in order to butter it.
My knife sank into the roll (warm on the outside) and stuck there. The inside of the roll was frozen solid.
Jokes began to be bandied about on variations of “whosoever pulleth this knife out of this breadroll is the rightwise born king…” (honestly, all you could do was laugh…) When our orders were eventually taken, the rest of the meal measured up lamentably to this inauspicious beginning – things that should have been warm were cold and things that should have been cold were lukewarm, and nothing quite seemed to fit, as though stuff had been cobbled together in a hurry in a makeshift field kitchen out the back and not in one of the more upmarket hotels in the city. I don’t think any of us ever forgot those frozen rolls. They return in dreams.
Thank you, Alma. With this year’s Worldcon right around the corner, I’m hoping that sharing your experiences here will provide a prophylactic for the meals coming up in Chicago. Time will tell.
Next Monday: Another author and another meal!
Tags: Eating Authors