THE KUPU/WORD KAI HAS MANY TASTES – An introduction by Teoti Jardine
At Nadya’s Ma’salama Party – Marjory Woodfield
At the Bay – Vivienne Bailey
Inbound – Caroline Thonger
Picnic – Ian Burn
Same Old (notes to self) – Janean Cherkun
Teatime – Julie Orr-Wilson
Contraband – Sophia Wilson
Seaside holiday – Vera Dong
A white horse with blinkers – Claudia Bolz
linee sottili – Sam Clements
The importance of kai – Evie Jay
Amends – Angela Wilson
Guest Editor: Anton Blank & Panoni te ao Change is the only constant
Iona Winter: On the road with her new book, Gaps in the Light
Piet Nieuwland, with a new book and art exhibit
Agnes Marton’s ‘Mission Jaguar’, and a conversation with Michelle Elvy
Interview: Robert Scotellaro on his new book, What Are the Chances?
Interview: Kathryn van Beek on writing for adults and writing for children
THE KUPU/WORD KAI HAS MANY TASTES
An introduction by Teoti Jardine
When Kaikaraka call, the world stands still. The Tūpuna/Ancestors gather. Powhiri/the welcoming ceremony, has begun.
The Kaikōrero has gathered up these callings. Stands, speaks safely, speaks knowingly.
Kaiwaiata sing to support the Kaikōrero, the speakers from the Haukāika/home side, and the Manuhiri/visitors side. Their voices, lift, swirl and settle the spoken words.
The Kaikarakia makes the blessing to begin the Hui.
The Kaikarakia blesses the Kai, the food that will remove the Tapu/Sacredness of the Powhiri, showing manaakitia/hospitality to the Manuhiri.
The Kairikawera/cooks and the Kaiawhina/helpers are thanked.
Kai, giving nourishment to tinana/body, hinekaro/mind, wairua/spirit.
It is through the kōrero/conversations, over Kai, that the Take/Issues, are most often digested and resolved.
At Nadya’s Ma’salama Party
We eat lunch around the table. There is labna with roasted beetroot and pine nuts. Bright pink. Janet has made fattah. Arabic bread, chickpeas, yoghurt and pine nuts. I ask for the recipe. Brenda has brought a chocolate cake. It’s made with chestnut purée, gluten free, though no one here is gluten free. We drink Perrier. Herbal tea. Ginger and turmeric. Good for the digestion. Lynn has the ninety-nine names of Allah framed on her wall and a Halloween-themed patchwork quilt thrown over the back of a chair. Browns and oranges with scattered pumpkins. Pamela talks about the small dog she’s just saved. It’s Arctic white so she’s called it Polar. So far the cats and Polar are all getting on. There are thirteen of them altogether. She asks if we’ve noticed the night sky. Last evening, she climbed onto the roof of her house. Something’s wrong. She’s sure they’re seeding clouds with chemicals. Sinister forces. Brenda says Basmah’s left Villa 412. Moved to California. Remember their topiary, the neat-as-a-pie Arabic coffee pot and cup. Kevork sent the compound gardeners the minute they left. Men with shears diced and sliced. Now it’s a hedge. Kasuko walks into the kitchen and brings back her green tea ice-cream. Enough for all of us.
At the Bay
I bite into Auntie’s fritter. Small bits of shell stick to the roof of my mouth, stab between my teeth.
The kai is good. Marine-sticky, the heavy taste of pāua comforting, filling my stomach, warming my heart. It helps erase the Riki sadness, the empty space inside.
I’m always like this at the bay.
Huddled on the wharf, I watch briny arms reach up to me. Beckoning. Like Riki’s limbs when we’d surfed the waves. Only these are turquoise and cream-crested, not brown and peanut-butter smooth.
I lick sea salt from my fingers, slide pipis into my mouth, suck the shellfish down my throat. Picture the tentacle-wagging crayfish Riki had once floated into my bath water. Me a city kid, him an East Coast boy from way back. Freaking out, screaming, questioning. Was it a giant cockroach? Get it out!
Later, Riki had taught me how to extricate the delicate white flesh. A taste of heaven, he’d said. Yep.
It’s Matariki. The right time. Ashes escape from the heavy wooden container, float across piles of forestry slash, hover in the bays stillness, descend into Tangaroa’s watery arms. Swirls of grey-silver transforming into ocean-licked blue, rippling against wharf timber, vanishing into salty nothingness. Extinguished.
This is what I’ll remember. Not our final corner, not the squealing, screeching tyres. Not the honking of the oncoming logging truck, fully loaded with Pinus radiata. Not the headlights, dipping and diving like a pair of fleeing demons.
I step out onto the flagstones. The morning light dazzles, while the aromas of breakfast entice me to the table. I sit down on the warmed bench; reach for a hunk of baguette from the woven straw bread basket that overflows with crispy deliciousness. The tiny blue-and-white Moroccan bowls glisten with homemade greengage jam. An exotic pewter coffee pot steams.
Earthenware flowerpots jostle for space around our table. Deep purple morning glories entangle the ancient, curving stonework. We are out on the first floor terrace of this converted pigeon tower. As the sun warms my back, our conversation is muted by the wasps buzzing in the corner around a spiral citronella burner. I jump at the carillon jangle from the nearby medieval bell towers.
Later I’ll descend the spiral stone steps to explore my surroundings. I’ll wander up the steep cobbled streets threading through the ochre and terracotta coloured buildings. I’ll see the hand-painted signs above the quaint little shops. I might smile at the cheerful girls already wiping tables at the pavement cafés.
The earth shook and I reached back, grabbing at grass and dirt. We were out in the backyard, cherries from our tree, muffins and fresh bread on a checked blanket, wine for the adults, juice for the kids. Now we looked around at each other, legs tensed up for a second ready to run — and then nothing.
We all exhaled. “How was that, Hana?” I said to my daughter. “Do you want another one now?” My surly teenager pouted and said, “No,” like some sort of cartoon dog letting out a yap. Ten years back, we’d had the big Christchurch earthquakes — when liquefaction had bubbled out of the ground we were now sitting on.
We’d been looking out at the transforming back yard from our porch. In an attempt to keep things light, my wife, with a three-year-old Hana in her arms, had said, “Well that was a big one, wasn’t it,” and Hana had jiggled up and down, squealed excitedly and said, “Another one. A big one. Another one.”
I pulled my hands back out from the dirt. Under my pinky fingernail among the deep brown of our regenerated topsoil was a tell-tale lighter colour, a small trace of liquefaction even now.
Same Old (notes to self)
The fridge vocalises like a dog: yip yip yip, or yop yop. But I’m the kitchen bitch. Water dripping somewhere invisible and cold, the stop-and-start conduit of the self-defrost function. It’s a boring lexicon lesson, it’s onomatopoeia, it’s whiteware gone beige.
It’s a domestic scene of extremes, with its soft, sad, expiration-driven ingredients, juggled and dropped each day, each week. Self-destruction also happens, but never homemade lunchbox treats. I am the gunk in the disgusting sandwich, ‘cos sure as shit I ain’t the bread.
I speak Fridge. I drip, I drop, I blip, I stop. I breathe complaints and instructions into a mirror with a cranky emoji staring back, so all the words are backwards and the semantics bosh. Leave mess on bench. Use all hot water for your own warmth and comfort, don’t refill kettle. Discard fruit: flesh, skin and all, under old lady’s tree on walk to school.
The sandwich dried out from the misappropriation of plastic wrap. The hot water bottle sprang a leak and the child woke in a puddle of water and sheets as soggy as cereal in a bowl.
The Saint Bernard or the Rottweiler may open her throat now and spill the dangers of running over rocks in melting snow, the hazards of ingesting raw meat. She’ll growl and whine that in this place, the hydatid heart, the bins are full and funky and must go out to the street on Wednesday.
There’s a smell of roast meat from the coal range as he comes in from the bale. The kettle steam is rising. She says not a word, taking down the battered caddy from the mantel, 2 scoops for the pot. He sweeps, gently, a cat from the fireside chair, to sit.
Opening the daily newspaper, for many a moment he is only, time-worn digits, herringbone trousers and headlines. His fisherman-rib jersey the smell of sweet-sour milk.
From behind his printed curtain he does not see her place the china saucer with cup. Three wine biscuits to match. The sweet, vanilla taste. She reaches out a long-fingered hand to his ragged sleeve cuff. There’s a smile as he accepts the brew.
He can feel the warmth of the fire and the thin spring sun slicing under the eave. He knows it’s a raw easterly wind, the way the butterfly poplar leaves flap. Her crocheted flower cushion nudges at his back. His music, the rhythm of her fine crochet needle playing out the double and treble clefs.
And the spheroid of cotton, captured in her pinny pocket will occasionally, silently, fall to the floor. Down, beyond his straw-stuck woollen socks. He’ll reel it in. The ball tensioned between them, the needle hungry for its return. His faded blue eyes twinkle. Reaching out a calloused palm to her Granny-print shirt cuff. She will not smile. There’s not a word.
The sight of neatly arranged jars filled with unprocessed ingredients gave her quiet satisfaction. They were a sliver of life over which she exerted control, a personal stance against the entropy of her marriage.
She supplemented her larder with homegrown vegetables, and, (despite her husband’s objections to the mess they made on the doormat), kept a dozen free-range hens.
When she discovered an oil-soaked paper bag littered with fried chicken crumbs in the passenger-seat of her husband’s car, she visualised hens, radioactive with suffering, coated with saturated fats, corn-syrup and MSG.
She couldn’t hold back: what about the neurotoxic effects of flavour enhancers (palpitations, stomach cramps, shortness of breath…)? his flabby waistline? his cholesterol (brandishing the doctor’s letter)? And what about his support of mass-production poultry farming?
For months, she observed no further signs of infidelity, and felt confident she’d subdued him.
It wasn’t until she opened the caravan for a rare spring clean that she stumbled on his smuggled moonshine of processed food, piled like bootleg before the apocalypse: chicken-flavoured chips, protein bars, beef jerky, instant noodles, canned chicken — multiple, nefarious manifestations of artificial flavours and colours, fats, violating numbers and hen…
Her breath caught and her heart palpitated as she flooded with neurotoxic desire for vengeance.
That evening she dropped the keys to the caravan on the doormat and locked the front door.
Then she checked on her hens, who appeared delighted with their new roost in her husband’s study.
In the morning
“What shall I do to make you happy today?” He kisses her lips, as gentle as pink rose petals.
Chiffon curtains wave in the morning breeze; the sun peeks in, anything it touches reflects a shimmering golden glow; at the nearby beach, the tides move in and out, humming in a soft slow dream.
She feels how his supple silvering hair brushes against her cheeks, telling him she’ll spend the day finishing her book. “The Opium War novel, remember?”
He smiles. “I will book a candle-light dinner along the pool. You can tell me all about it.”
In the evening
Two chunky candles topped with shaky flames stand between him and her; the sea nearby is a deep black hole, unknown and indifferent.
They are fixated on the plates of food. He is sawing away at a cold fried fish like a dead log; she picks up fried rice, grain by grain, chewing it with her front teeth.
“How could you, or anyone, rationalize the Opium War?” she asks.
“It is not me, it is a fact.” he says.
Laughter from other tables grates; the surface of the pool is as flat and chilling as a sheet of aluminium.
A white horse with blinkers
My sister Helga’s handwriting and the Lenin stamp. I shuffle back to the house. Drooping on a chair in the dining room, I stare at the envelope. It is lined in baby blue, a treasure for which Helga must have queued for hours.
She used to be the most fervent singer at school.
From the ruins risen newly, To the future turned, we stand.
I could hear her from the opposite side of the school yard where the younger students stood during official ceremonies. Lenin was a hero, then. He looks cynical on the stamp. Helga could be pretty bossy, too.
Marion comes from the kitchen. She brings a steaming soup plate and a tablespoon.
“Please, Mum, eat,” she says and puts the plate down. “Hot pot with peas and smoked pork sausage. You’ll like it.”
I stare at the green mash with taupe lumps and lower the spoon. Rip the envelope open. The card inside shows smoky multi-storey buildings. A row of parked Trabants. Shades of grey in the fog. A white horse with blinkers.
“I’m allowed to travel for your 25th wedding anniversary,” Helga writes.
My sister is old enough not to be a loss to the Workers’ and Peasants’ State if she defects to the West. She doesn’t write that. The GDR authorities open private correspondence. I can’t inform my sister that there will be no husband at the party. His girlfriend is two years younger than our daughter.
Trento, 2012. That summer. Five days.
That evening, the restaurant with the deep green umbrellas; the delicate aromas wafted through the air and tempted us in.
Linguine, baked breads, white wine, sotto voce murmurs, discreet voices. The refined clink of wine glasses. A place of quiet charm where time melted away at the door.
The crisp linen, bread sticks and uniforms. Those Italian waiters with their curvy tight bottoms that threaded and weaved between tables with butter smooth suppleness. Their joy at my extraordinary appetite, unwittingly having ordered two main courses, their gathered applause as I consumed the last morsel.
The lilt that tumbled the air and floated us back to our hotel beds. The ancient cobbled streets, the coffee, gelatos and graceful plane trees that swept the river bank promenade, their limbs in perpetual dance. The sparkling mineral water and trays of assorted biscuits we’d buy in abundance and feast on at midnight. Missing our train back to Munich that final morning.
There have been 37,278 confirmed cases in Trento to date, and 1,234 deaths. Last year an Italian hell. Still, it bites, cuts down. Some days I find myself walking those streets. These days it’s cold, dark, wet, foreboding. Virus splatters walls and hearts, the restaurants are closed, villas shuttered. I’m suffocating, desperate to leave, to grab the last train before the town is cut off. But I’m lost, disorientated in alleyways curving around me like so many mazes. The air heaves waves of falling doom.
The importance of kai
Rewena bread, paua soup, pork ribs with watercress ….
Matariki: so many ways of celebrating it, but kai is essential. Some talk knowledgably about harvests gathered and storehouses filled; others, of fusing traditional Māori and Pākehā foods. Matariki feasts, it’s said, are about sharing, conviviality, giving thanks for the past year and looking forward to the next.
Pipi fritters, kumara pie, roast duck…
Aimee’s workmates decide to hold a Matariki feast, with everyone bringing a dish. Aimee, new to the workplace, is quiet and shy. She hangs back from nominating her dish. Eventually, she says she’ll bring a green salad or a potato salad. Someone gently points out that these are everyday dishes, not Matariki kai as such. Blushing, she suggests a kumara salad. “I said I’d bring that!” someone else pipes up. Aimee doesn’t nominate a further dish. It’s understood, though, that she’ll be coming to the feast, with a Matariki dish of her choice.
Puha and kumara soup, paua fritters, hangi-cooked lamb…
The feast’s held in Eleanor’s house. By the time Aimee arrives, the others have put their dishes on the table, and are keen to start eating. Shame-faced, Aimee hands over a shop-bought pavlova shell. She blurts out, “I can’t cook! I can make salads and heat up frozen dinners. But nothing else! I just can’t!”
There’s silence. Then someone says “But you can eat? That’s what we’re here for.” Someone else guides her to a place at the table. The feast begins.
I open the door with the key from the lockbox. You park our cases in the airy room. We leave our shoes and cross the floorboards slashed in sunlight. We sink into a couch facing the window together, seeking something beyond. The sun dips, snuffing out the coppery-red grove. The floorboards go cold.
I spark up the wood scraps and get a fire ablaze. You uncork the claret and thaw the frozen curries. We face each other across the table in the window, mellowed by the grape, the heat of the spice. We talk, under the eye of a luminous moon.
She chops onions but does not cry. She says she’s one of the few in the world who can avoid the wrath of the divided onion. She doesn’t say it but you wonder if she’s wrath-free because of decades spent in fast-paced kitchens on the other side of the world. She smiles as if she’s just said a funny joke, and for a few moments you believe her. She’s beautiful, sways in the kitchen to the pop polyrhythm of Spears on Alexa, eyes heavy with concentration. She blinks the tears away. She tells them to stop, and they do. She has power over a dimension you do not and cannot see. She smashes garlic with the side of a knife. She pops clove from sticky husk. She slices cross-sections. She finely minces with effortless strength. She says if there’s one thing she knows, it’s that in heaven there is a place for people who mince garlic by hand and there’s a VIP section in hell for people who use the garlic from the jar. She replies to your question about convenience: she didn’t get to where she is by cutting corners – rather, she got to be the glowing face on cookbooks and on twenty percent of the nation’s televisions by cutting with intentionality. She didn’t cut corners, she says, she cut just right.
Vicious Little Bastards
My brother fell in love with a species of Amazonian fish bought at our local aquarium. “Piranhas have pointy teeth,” he said, tapping his incisors with a fingernail. “But my pacus have straight ones just like us.”
His large tank stood in the corner of his bedroom. At night, the thrum of the pump through our shared wall drove me crazy.
Always a quirky kid, Paul preferred pets to people. Before pacus, he’d bred stick insects, which I hated even more than the fish. I was forever finding them wobbling on their skinny pins in the drawers or up the curtains.
When Paul started high school, everything changed. He refused to tell us what was wrong. As the weeks rolled by, he complained of stomachaches, stole money from our parents, and became withdrawn.
Near the end of the first term, the fish stopped jumping at night. I went into Paul’s room to investigate. There were no longer ten pacus. Now there was one gigantic fish—almost too big to turn. It stared at me and flashed its human-sized choppers.
I pointed to the fish. “What happened? Where are the others?”
He chucked his school bag down and flung himself on the bed. “The vicious little bastard has eaten them all. Why can’t I get away from bullies?”
The pacu snapped its jaw.
Feeding the ducks
The morning started out much like every other. There she was, seated in her viewing armchair with Tinkles on her lap, and a cup of tea and biscuit. The view included some of the road and reserve, where ducks bobbed in the stream. In summer it lay stagnate and malodourous. In winter it often flooded, covering parts of the road.
Today a family was feeding the ducks; a young boy with what looked like his mother and grandparents.
“See, Tinkles, my hopeless son could bring Charlie over to feed the ducks with me.” She patted the cat, who purred in response.
The ducks were snapping with impatience, then the bread was gone and they waddled off. She saw the boy throw his yellow Frisbee into the water. She snorted; Tinkles jumped off her lap in fright.
The boy’s mother paced beside the water’s edge, tried to reach the Frisbee with a stick, but it was too short.
“Just leave it there,” she instructed. “Teach him a lesson!”
Her amusement grew as the woman picked up a log, placed it in the water, then stepped onto it. The log sank, and so did she.
“Silly thing didn’t realise how deep it was!” She roared with laughter. Tinkles yawned, stretched, then leapt back onto her lap.
The bedraggled mother scrambled out and sat distraught. The others helped her up, gingerly patting her back. No one was laughing.
She watched the family wander off together. She almost wished it’d been her.
Tinkles purred loudly.
Alex Reece Abbott
Bridget still loved that word. Sunday lunches, year-round at her grandparents’ small flat, the Formica table extended and cloaked with crisp, white Irish linen.
Coarse corned brisket, bound by butcher’s twine. Boiled beyond resistance, sweet with onions, carrots, golden syrup and cloves. Pink slabs of flaky beef on big plates nestling against glistening shreds of cabbage, served with chunky carrots and ivory wedges of potato, dug that morning. For mopping up, crusty white Vienna loaf smeared with butter.
Waiting to be grown-up enough to take on the centrepiece, the little pot with the dolls-house spoon, brave enough to daub her meat with fiery mustard shipped all the way from Norfolk to New Zealand.
Round two: syrup-drenched hot sponge afloat in a moat of silky custard. Scrapping over the diced, canned fruit salad to win the lonely battered cherry.
Then curled, a koru on her grandmother’s faded Persian rug, cradling her puku, Bridget would snooze, earwagging while the grown-ups gossiped over fruit-cake and rust-coloured tea. Nothing wrong with plain home-cooking, especially in winter, although she secretly thought that there was something very wrong with eating huge, hot meals when it was hitting thirty degrees Celsius outside.
One afternoon, on the drive home, Bridget had quizzed her mother about her grandparents’ deep-rooted lunchtime brisket ritual.
Her mother’s shrug lifted her hands off the steering wheel. “Their Sunday dinner is always hot. Always brisket.”
“Even in summer?”
Her mother sighed something about home.
And Bridget frowned. She’d thought they were home.
Friday 7:46 a.m.
They hurtle into the kitchen, Joseph, Hanny, little Mike. How he’s grown, no time since he was crawling around the table legs, a schoolboy now. He grabs his lunch box with a glance at me.
– Dad, am I going to be late?
– No, Mikey.
Joe looks my way, a tap to my hand, gets out his phone, gives cereal to the children.
– Eat, he says, and Mikey does.
– Han! Breakfast!
– Not hungry, says Hanny, scowling at me.
– I’m going to be late.
Joe looks at me, but I don’t make a sound. What’s the point? Her whole life at 14 is her phone … Facebook, Instagram, worse. Whatever, no time for me.
– Ready dad, says Mikey. He brushes against me, dropping his bowl into the sink. Dear boy.
Joe throws me another glance again and is reminded. Chews a mouthful. Asks Hanny a question. This won’t go well, I know.
– So, Han, about tonight? Ten o’clock, OK?
– Dad, no. I’ll be the only one with a baby’s curfew. It’s not fair.
He looks at my impassive face and knows he’ll get nothing from me.
– Very little is fair in this life, Hahana. Get used to it.
– Fuck you, says Hanny. Mum said I could stay out till 11.
She stares at me as if hoping for confirmation. Oooh, the little liar.
– Enough. 9.30. And I’ll let your mum know.
The right answer!
So I say …
And, as the front door slams …
The last guilt-free July 4th
We set our Whole Earth carryout gourmet picnic on sun-baked grass in the Washington Monument’s shade, chat with fellow-foreigners from all over, find our friends. Someone says, “Last time I was here, so was Martin Luther King.” Everyone wishes us luck with the IVF and we pop brown-bagged champagne as the tropical night rains down in stars and deafening cicadas.
We toast all the new things: tabbouleh and sticky pork and sweet potato salad. The high-five, whoop and yee-hah. ‘The Message’ by Grandmaster Flash. Kids breakdancing to boomboxes. How to wear baseball caps (reversed). The trackpants and trainers that will become the uniform of our lives, and yours. Blissed out, dreaming of babies, in a sea of plastic deli dishes.