Monday, June 27, 2011

Back to Basics and Butter

I was roused from a deep sleep by a poke at my thigh. I don't know if it is customary for flight attendants to wake sleeping passengers for meals but apparently this one seemed to think it  necessary that I tuck into the little tray provided for me by the airline. I begrudgingly opened one eye as she folded down my tray table, set a plastic wrapped "meal" on it and wheeled away. Summoning myself from slumber I poked at the chicken salad and cherry tomato rolling around the tiny tub. I was exhausted and had little lust for the pre-packaged food. My eyes had been as rainy as the sky that morning and my body had been racked with sobs only a few hours earlier as I hugged Sam close to me then watched him disappear behind the airport security clearance. I was still reeling from the blow. But the 4am wake up time had also left me drained so I idly picked up the white roll and unwrapped the sausage-tight cellophane. Dubious of the chicken and unwilling to eat a naked roll, I dug out the little pad of butter from under the utensil packet and smeared the contents on the bread. As soon as I bit into the sweet, salty spread I was immediately struck by how far away I was going from everything I had known for the past two years. The image that plopped itself in front of my eyes was of me sitting on the  floor a mere week or so before in the little, low Kazakh dwelling we had come across on the way to Tavin Bogd and eating homemade butter that old women had painstakingly made from the milk of their animals grazing just outside the door. It took me by surprise. I let myself sit with that memory for a while and absorb the fact that I might never meet such a family again. I would never eat salty, sweet yak butter made by old women who supplied generations of offspring with virtually everything they needed by the toil of their hands. I was flying away from those who lived on the land and towards a world of highrise buildings and complicated food served to people too busy to bother with its origin. It was like I was preparing to visit the Jetsons. In recalling this memory of the Kazakh family I realized how distant my own family is from their lifestyle. The butter in our fridge, fridge!, isn't butter at all and it even comes in a plastic spray bottle. Though the phrase "bread and butter" is a ubiquitous saying to indicate basic necessities, I don't know a single American that ever chows down on this former staple. Indeed, I didn't know if there would be a time in the near future that I would ever consume this fatty, carb-y paring again in hyper health conscious America and I was struck with nostalgia. Bread and butter actually is a common meal in Switzerland and while granola and fresh berries is a slammin' breakfast, thought of the American morning repast waiting for me at the end of my journey made me homesick for sitting at breakfast with Sam and chatting aimlessly over our morning toast. Decadently, he eats butter with both Nutella and honey in addition to the more traditional jam. When I told him there was no way I'd eat such a meal at home, he was stunned. "But why?! You need some fat!" he said, expressing a concept that honestly had not occurred to me. But now those breakfasts were just shades of what had been and I had finished my roll along with half the little tab of creamy, yellow butter. So I sank back into my seat and closed my eyes again, hoping I'd slip into dreams of my butter loving boyfriend and green fields filled with fat, lactating sheep as I let the plane take me far away from what I had known for so long.

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