What to say about Anna Maria Horner?
Celebrate – verb:
To observe (a day) or commemorate (an event) with ceremonies or festivities:
Today we celebrate Earth Day and the joy of life.
To make known publicly; proclaim:
The newspaper celebrated the beauty of her life.
To perform with appropriate rites and ceremonies; solemnize:
We will celebrate the light that her life brought to Earth.
While today we begin our Earth Day Celebration @ The Factory, it is a mixed blessing as Tuesday of this week our friend, mentor and local hero Marigail Mathis passed away. While this is a sad time for all of us, Marigail was the kind of person who made life worth celebrating. Her vision, joy, enthusiasm, support, laughter and kindred spirit will be sorely missed in my life; however, what she has given to me – through her friendship – will be celebrated eternally.
Celebrate the life of someone you love today.
In 1999, at the tail end of the last decade, I chose to leave my life in Vienna, Austria, to spend what I deemed a “sabbatical” on an island off the northern coast of Venezuela called Los Roques. How I got there is a story for another day. What had drawn me there was a woman – Nelly – and “El Canto de la Ballena.” Little did I know that my entire life was about to change.
I credit the beginnings of the work I have done the last ten years with a few months spent on that island. It was a time when hurricanes and storms wreaked havoc and destruction to the coast of Venezuela. I was on this tiny island – due north – as the weather passed through for weeks on end.
I wrote this story in February of 2000 when I had landed in cold New York but still had the stories of Los Roques fresh on my mind… I hope that my translation of Nelly’s words from the original Spanish do her justice.
The point of the whole thing is food,” she said. “Good food. Real good food. A lot of people have forgotten,” she continued. “Three meals a day, sit down, take your time and eat warm food that is prepared with good ingredients and love. That’s the key,” she stresses, “love. It’s the way it’s washed, it’s the way it’s cut, it is the way one touches and it is the way one thinks as one touches. That,” she said, “is food and food is love.”
–Nelly Camargo, December 1999, Los Roques
Nelly made fish soup that day. I remember that is was one of those first days when the waves began to crash onto the porch. I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but I know that by that day, the beach was already gone, taken by the hurricane. And, I definitely remember that it seemed on that day like the waves were coming back for the porch. Soon after this day, we made sandbags because shortly after, the house next door fell into the sea.
The soup took hours. As the weather had been acting up again, everyone had the feeling of being wet and cold. Saying nothing, Nelly just went into the kitchen and started to work. In went the fish, the heads, the bones and just about everything else that could be found in the kitchen and on the island.
I guess that everyone who passed Nelly’s house that day could smell what was going on. So the soup cooked and the word spread, “Nelly is up to something.” And before I knew it, we were five people in the kitchen. Everyone was washing and cutting and chopping and rolling and laughing and talking. I know that I had never seen anything like it before that day. Music blared from the stereo and some were even dancing in the tiny, warm space.
In Nelly’s kitchen there is a window which looks down the hall and out to the sea. When you stand there and see the wooden spoons and the open window and the green-green sea in the background, you cannot help but stand still for a moment and breathe deeply. But that day, no one even looked to the window until about one in the afternoon, when the first faces began to appear.
The islanders were greeted with a big, warm smile and the question, “Are you hungry?” We went on that day to feed what seemed to be the whole island. Many faces and stories and laughter passed through my life that day. Nelly asked everyone, “Have you met Alabama?”
The feast went on into the night and here are a few of the recipes that were made. The fish soup was the best I have ever tasted in my life, but it remains Nelly’s secret. All I can remember is to put in everything you can find (plus coriander – the “spice of life”) and to do it with lots of love and laughter.
Fish in the Pan
Crush 5 cloves of garlic and salt in mortar. Add juice of two limes and a splash of soy sauce Pour over fish fillets and let stand for awhile. Cook the fish on hot skillet with the marinade.
Grate zucchini with skins into thin rounds. Lay flat on a big plate. Cover with juice of lime, salt, pepper and a little vinegar. Finish by grating parmesan cheese to cover.
Cut cabbage into very thin strips. (The cutting is very important!) Crush garlic and salt in mortar; add roasted sesame seeds and crush a little bit more. Add vinegar, a little sugar, a little sesame oil and more roasted sesame seeds. Pour over cut cabbage and serve.
Mix salt (about one-half teaspoon) and warm water (about three cups) in a big bowl with a tablespoon of oil. To this mixture, add ”P.A.N” or Arepa Flour until dough is of a consistency to roll in your hand. Shape into 1/2” thick rounds and fry in hot oil. Cook until brown. When they are finished, you have to “thump” them. If they are really done, they make a kind of hollow sound.
This is just the basic recipe. You may choose to add white cheese, sesame seeds or just about anything you want to add.
Nelly moved El Canto de la Ballena in January of 2000, just after the storms had stopped. The new building is a bit further from the beach and behind the fishing pier.
I left Los Roques a few weeks after the Y2K panic was over and our world continued to spin; however, I don’t think that we would really have noticed any computer meltdown on that island. I have not laid eyes on Nelly since that time and have not spoken to her for much too long. I hope that she remembers me and will be proud when I say that the seeds for my work with the former Project Alabama and now Alabama Chanin were watered in her kitchen.
It is an amazing thing in life when your heroes become your friends. And so it is with friend Les Blank.
Don’t miss this great interview with Les @ Vice Magazine.
My grandmother Christine once told me that she “sewed every dress that the girls” – her three daughters – “wore until they left home.” I remember as a little girl how she sewed everything from nightgowns and underwear to prom dresses and quilts. Although her eyes don’t see well enough to sew these days, she is an inspiration to me and can sit for hours telling stories about fabrics, scraps and how one can tell the weather just by looking at the sky. I am starting tonight to make “Mamaw Chris” these flowers (pictured here) in time for Mother’s Day on the 10th of May. If you already own a copy of our Alabama Stitch Book, start making flowers today for your maternal heroes…
**I wanted to name my daughter after Mamaw Chris whose full name is Fanny Christine. I have loved that name since I can remember hearing it; however, she made me promise that I would not “do that to a girl.”
Robert Rausch just finished our final catalog and lookbook for The Songbirds…
The photographs are lovely – thank you Russ! & THANK YOU to everyone involved. It was a beautiful process. We are working on updating our website and will soon have this and a slew of other new projects going up. In the meantime, here are a few of my favorites:
As you will have noted, I had taken a small break from posting here while we were working on our new collection.
However, during this time, my father suffered a stroke following his third treatment for Multiple Myeloma. I am bleary-eyed.
This has been a scary, trying, and intense time filled also with compassion, caring, and the strength of human commitment to heal my father.
We are thankful to the staff at University of Arkansas Medical Sciences for their support and expertise.
My father received a positive report this morning and he has a wonderful chance for complete recovery. I am extremely grateful and know that my life is filled with HEROES.
And visit Multiple Musicians Against Multiple Myeloma – An event to benefit the International Myeloma Foundation. I received this lovely “Myeloma Sucks” pin while on the Myeloma station at UAMS with my father.
When you are thinking about giving this year, consider the Multiple Myeloma Foundation.
I am sending a wish of health, happiness, peace and thanks to everyone who has helped us through this time.
May we remember to live our lives to the fullest each and every day.
Occasionally in our lives, a person comes along who changes the course of our destiny and makes us a better person, simply by having touched our lives. One such person in my life was a teacher who believed in me before I knew that one could believe.
I came to his studio as a naive, wounded young woman and his quiet guidance opened a path for me that I never knew could have existed. I am the designer, business owner, manufacturer, and person I am today because of the commitment of a teacher/professor and friend: Michael Pause.
Here is a portion of an email that I received from him today:
… Speaking of which, on 30 June I resigned from the faculty, after 33 years. Cleaned the office, put my keys in an envelope, put the years in a box, ribboned it and put it up on a shelf. It was a fantastic run; every student was a gift in some way.
I mourn for the legions of students who will miss his quiet guidance, commitment to pure design, and his struggle to keep a sliver of Bauhaus alive in education today.
Let’s take a moment today to thank all of those teachers along our way who have helped to shape us into men and women we are proud to be, walking paths we are proud to walk.
Thank you Michael. May your days be filled with family, joy, good work, and laughter.
I first became acquainted with Toni Morrison in 1987 when my childhood friend Wendy sent me a copy of Beloved in the mail. Throughout my life, this book remains one of my favorites. The image of “one off-centered orange square” in a quilt on a bed haunts me from time to time.
How can you not love and cherish a woman who has won the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes and recently received the PEN/Borders Literary Service Award?
The current Time Magazine features a reader interview with Ms. Morrison in their “10 Questions” section which reminded me why Toni Morrison continues to be an inspiration and a hero:
I love this question and, her answer:
Out of all the novels you’ve written, do you have a favorite?
—Sarah Henderson, Loma Linda, Calif.
No, I always am most deeply impressed with the one that’s going on at the moment.
Her new book, a non-fiction, “collects three decades of Toni Morrison’s writings about her work, her life, literature, and American society:”
Photograph: Gregg Delman for TIME