Yes, I smell like fish.
The interesting thing is, only the Russians looked at me twice in my goddessy summer dress, flowers in my hair, big patchwork bag in the thrift store…..
Because they knew the smell that was wafting out of my bag. The smell of smoked Makrelle, or Makeral.
Why am I shopping with a large, whole (with eyes) fish in my indie bag? Here’s the story:
Every once in a while, I drive up a street and see a large “European Bakery” sign, and drive right by, because most of the time, honestly, the European bakeries here in are a huge disappointment to a real Europeans. Today, a little voice said “Stop Heike!” I think it may have been my growling stomach ; I decided even a non European pastry would be the perfect snack for us in between thrift stores.
The store looks a bit iffy from the outside, but when I walked in, it was Narnia. A cornupccia of childhood memories popped into my brain with the first whiff. Everything was in Russian.
No, I am not Russian, but I grew up in Germany, and my Tante who watched me while my mama worked lived in part of town that was inhabited by refugees. People from East Germany, Poland, Lativia (my Tante :)..), it was a small village of eastern Europeans. Actually, not a village, but what many would call a “ghetto” on the outskirts of a large city. Blocks of grey/brown post war buildings, in grids, with courtyards of concrete that were used for playing, drying clothes, gossiping, etc. I went to family owned bakeries, butchers, grocery stores, shoe store, ice-cream parlor, hair dressers….All these people came with nothing, and made something. Most men worked in the steel mill, as did my Onkel. I had a great childhood in the city, and it did not seem like a ghetto to me. What often happens when people flee their country and settle, is that better times are always celebrated with food. It was no different in my family. There was always good food, and family, and almost everything happened in the kitchen. Given this rich diversity of ethnicities, I grew up with the best food, and most talented cooks.
Some of the food I ate as a child might strike the average American child as a science experiment: blood sausage, smoked eel, head cheese, stinky Limburger,raw meat (tartar), noodles with sugar….
I walked in that store today, and it was all spread in front of me :). Bread out in the open in a bin (as my daughter remarked: “That seemed strangely unhygenic, yet everything was so clean!”), meats & cheeses, and smoked FISH! Beautiful fish, different sized, all preserved in their glorioius state from head to tail fin.
And I can proudly say that even though we live here, my kids have that European blood cursing in their veins. There was no “ooh, that is gross!” as I swooned over the fish. My daughter picked a bottle of soda where she could not read the label, out for an adventure. When she asked the nice Russion lady “what it tastes like”, she said it is like beer :)…and I said “It is Kinder Beer” (yes, we have such a thing called Kinder Beer), and the saleslady smiled broadly at me and said “YES!”. My son only wanted the fish, ready to bit into it right away. The women were watching me, because we Europeans can sniff out other Europeans right away. They were trying to see if I was Russian, as I was obviously not American. Once I gave them confirmation that I was something European, they became a bit friendlier, still watching me as I spoke to my kids. Funny little tap dance.
Since we have 100 degrees, and I was on my to the thrift store, i couldn’t leave my fish & kefir cheese in the car. This is why I took my stinky fish shopping :).
My little shout out to you today: Try something new, go on an adventure. Open a door that seems mysterious, you will never know what you will find.
It might just be your childhood Narnia.
Heike (who is waving her European Union flag today :)..)