¡Bienvenidos! Welcome to the first course of Still Life with Tortillas. You may be surprised to learn, especially if you haven’t eaten in a while, that this not a food blog (although I confess to munching on a handful of almonds tossed with olive oil, sweet Spanish pimentón, and a sprinkle of coarse sea salt, roasted for 10 minutes at 350 F, as I write). And yet, since I’m a lover of most things gustatory, the topic of food is not off limits, nor are life, literature and limones, the three intersecting seas over which I intend to float. I’m delighted to have you along on my maiden voyage.
Limones…sounds like lemons, right? That’s what I thought a while back when we first moved to a small fishing pueblo a few kilometers around the bay from Puerto Vallarta. It was so hot and humid that August that heatstroked cockroaches would drop out the rafters. We’d find them upside down on the tile floor or bug-paddling a few final strokes in the toilet or, worse, in our icy bottles of Pacifico. We had to learn the tropical art of perspiring. This meant showering only twice each day and and allowing salty, stinging rivulets of sweat to run down our backs, between our breasts and under our arms without panicking or slathering on more deodorant. We had to force ourselves through waves of exhaustion and queasiness to stumble out of our air conditioned apartment and into the world of dusty cobblestone streets, snapping dogs, and men riding on the backs of old water delivery trucks shouting “Agua! Agua!”
There were days so hot we thought we might actually be dead.
Our savior was a tiny Nahuatl woman with long braids tied together with a rainbow ribbon and glowing coffee-colored skin. Each morning Xochitl wound her way through the streets with a day-glow green plastic bucket on her arm calling “Limones!” She’d wait at the entrance of each restaurant or casa or apartment building for her regulars to climb out of their hammocks and buy a few pesos worth of produce. Her bucket was full of limes. On that life-altering day when I discovered that limón meant lime and limones meant a bunch of limes, I also learned from Xochitl that the lime is a perfect tropical fruit. It is used as an antibiotic and as a cure for stomach problems. Nahuatl women use lime as an astringent, she told us, her lovely face reflecting the sun, and all over Mexico the lime is incorporated into thirst-quenching drinks, like limonada. If you’re getting thirsty, here’s Xochitl’s translated version of limeade.
“Cut limes in half, as many as you need, and squeeze them into a pitcher, then drop in the cut limes. Add some sugar or agave and as much water as you like. Mix everything together and pour into glasses, if you have them. If you’re a gringa and have ice, you can add that, too. Or not; it will melt anyway.”
This is a fine and simple recipe. Sometimes I add a sprig of mint and drop a few lime slices into each glass for bling. And when I’m too lazy to do all that squeezing I use Layla Pujol’s marvelous whole lime recipe from her blog “Laylita’s Recipes.” Like Xochitl’s, it’s crazy good. Laylita’s Recipes
In their lovely book, Frida’s Fiestas: Recipes and Reminiscences of Life with Frida Kahlo, Guadalupe Rivera and Marie-Pierre Colle include a recipe for limes filled with coconut that is too addictive to reproduce on a non-food blog, like this one, but if you get a chance…
Which brings us to the connection between life, literature, and limones. For me it’s art. Before Mrs. Whalen taught me to write, I sketched what was in front of me in little books that people now call journals. As I grew up, a process which is still incomplete, I started adding captions like “mi hows,” “R kat,” “The Cal 40 My Darling Husband Ran Aground Last Summer.” Now, it’s impossible for me to produce anything visual without narration and, inversely, each poem, essay or a novel I will ever write must include at least one picture attached somewhere. Words and art are beautiful sisters, just like a Mexican fishing village and limones, chile and chocolate, a still life with tortillas. This morning, I drew a few limones for you just for fun and, to snuggle up with Pablo Neruda a bit, because “I longed for lime.”
Thanks for dropping by!