|Voice of the Nightingale — La Voix du Rossignol|
(1923 film by Wladyslaw Starewicz)
You stay with me, Larry. You can carry the basket. I’ll hold the tomatoes in my apron like the little chickens in the henhouse and then you put them in the basket. When it’s full, carry it to Ramón … he’ll box them at the end of every row and pile up the boxes on the donkey cart.
Look, that is one is ready. Just right. Pinch the little stem right next to the tomato, just a little pinch and twist, right off the vine. Good! When the tomato is ready, a tiny pinch and twist will do, no need to yank … Doesn’t that smell beautiful? Those are little green sighs the plant gives off when you find the tomatoes. That smell is green, a little sour, the way green is. True green. Morning green. Just when you think your nose is so full of the dawn grass and dew and couldn’t possibly hold any more fragrances, you shake the vine and touch the tomato, the leaves sigh, and the air turns green. It caresses your cheeks and floats into your nose, right up to your eyes. Breathe it in. You feel how it gets up there right between your eyes? Keep it there awhile. It’s better than coffee this early in the morning. And the damper the plants, the more that fragrance will stay with you. Yes, pinch right there, see? … Right between your green eyes.
Look how they hide under the leaves. Look for them with your hands, shake the vines a bit. That’s it, gentle but don’t be afraid… brush the leaves like you want to tickle them. They laugh and they sigh. We can’t hear them, but our noses can. That’s the way. Good.
Don’t worry about the water, the wetter the better. Dew on glorious days like this is medicine. A tweeting bird told me just before sunup that today was a magnificent day for finding the best tomatoes. The very first thing I saw when I woke up was a nightingale on my bedpost. Singing! Singing for me. He was looking right at me and singing. You know, I said “good morning little mister singing bird”, and he didn’t get frightened or fly away. No, the tiny thing just kept warbling his morning song. And when he was finished, I laughed and hummed a lullaby, an old Asturian lullaby that I used to sing to your mother. The same one I sang to you the other night, the one with the great big crashing thunderbolts when we played games with the candle shadows. Remember? And he stayed there while I hummed. Then he chirped some more and we did a chorus together. When we were done, l laughed and clapped. He took a little bow right there on the bedpost, very respectful, a real gentleman, and then he flew out the balcony. Just flitted away in a blink. So I knew today was special and we had to come. I told your Tía Tutul, “María Jesús, we have to go down to the patch right now with Larry and his cousins and pick tomatoes today”. We can have breakfast afterwards … A glorious day.
This is like playing hide and go seek with the tomatoes, except they really want you to find them. They’re just playing. The leaves aren’t as happy when you find the fruit, but they understand that the tomatoes have to go. It’s not a bitter sigh, just a bit of farewell sorrow laced into the sweet laughs. Just make sure you tickle them. Now the tomatoes definitely want you to find them. They fill up with the sun all day and with the night air and the morning mist and they get so red and plump and full of themselves that they’re near to bursting. And they will if we don’t find them. They’re so plump and proud … they’re just playing silly when they hide. I bet the tastiest ones are the worst hiders.
Now smell your hands. What do you feel? Promise me you won’t forget that smell all day, even when the sun is higher and hotter. You can sigh it out the rest of the day, little by little, breath by breath, tomato by tomato. Then at lunch when you meet that green perfume again in your salad, your smile will say “Hello mister green air and plump red tomato, I know you!” and I’ll see it in your smile. Promise me, alright? I’ll be watching … and I’ll give you a wink.
When you write home later, tell your mom you got up early with abuela today and came to play hide and go seek with the tomatoes down in the north patch just past the apple orchard. She’ll remember that. Oh yes, she’ll remember that. There are days when it seems they all want to be found at the same time… caress and tickle those leaves … she’ll remember. Gentle, don’t squish. Good, good.
No, not yet. Those aren’t ready, but you’ve got a good eye, they will be soon. Tomorrow or the next day, we’ll get them then. They could win a prize. They’re bigger than your hand. Bigger than my hand. Bigger than Ramón’s hand! Remember the spot. Remember.
|Our daughter María writing her memoirs at the age of two in Mareo (1995)|
This piece is for this week willow’s magpie tales prompt on “tomatoes”. It is inspired by the memories of early mornings picking tomatoes at Mareo, my grandmother’s farm in northern Spain on my first summer there at the age of 11, a summer that changed my world and life. The fantasy world abuela created for me and her six children and large and loving brood of grandchildren and great grandchildren is still very much with me, and I continue reaping those tomatoes and recollections today. The German poet Rilke once wrote something to the effect that the genuine homeland of every man is his childhood. This is the only kind of 'patriotism' I practice. The only one nightingales sing of in the sleepless dawn.
|Abuela — four generations illuminated|
by Saint John Eve's bonfire (1979)
|Abuela sunning herself on the terrace.|
One of my last photos of her.
To see what other magpie tales participants have done with their tomatoes click here.