Thursday, February 6, 2014

Snow day adventures

   "Bethany, have you noticed a change in the smell of these kitchen cabinets?" Mom and Dad have been discussing, animatedly, a couple of big wooden cabinet/shelf-type affairs located in the front hall. Mom insists that they smell worse than they used to, and Dad espouses a theory that perhaps the damp is affecting the smell. "I smell a sort of sour-kitchen smell," he says.

   I trot out to the (cold) front hall to add my expert nose to the situation. The cabinets are opened up, revealing an assortment of art supplies. I stick my nose right in and take a deep sniff. There is a musty smell, with a peculiar sulfurous note. I think for a moment, trying to place it…"It's asafetida!" I proclaim at last. (Asafetida is a spice with a ghastly smell akin to rotten eggs or garlic.)
   Dad says happily, "I had some of that, and I was looking for it!" We zero in on a battered yogurt container on the second shelf. Dad peeks inside. "Yep, this is it! I'm so happy you found it!"
   I sniff the cabinet again--the smell lingers. "Yes, you do get a strong initial nose of sour-kitchen, but with a finish of asafetida."
   Dad is still holding the yogurt container. "Do you really want to fully enjoy this? It belongs in the kitchen…it is a wonderful, a treasured spice, very expensive…"
"I don't care how expensive, it's going out!" Mom says. She does not appreciate the rotten-egg savor of durian fruit in the freezer, either.
"Yes, I want to enjoy it, let me smell!" I say, eagerly.
Dad reluctantly opens the yogurt container. "Now, this is not what it smells like, which is rotten onions…"

   We shuffle the first cabinet along the hallway, which runs the length of the house, to the garage stairs. We pause. I sniff the shelf thoughtfully. "It still smells funny...sort of like cat urine."
   Mom says, "Now we're not going to just set them up along the walls and start using them again."
   Dad replies, "Well we're not going to set them out in the snow…"
   Mom considers. "We'll put them here, and use them for a couple days while we get the new ones."
   Dad, quietly: "They'll be there for many days, til we get the new ones…"
   Mom, concerned: "Many days? Why does it have to be many days? That can be the project…"

   We finally get the shelf down the stairs: "One more step..and one more. And just for fun--one more."
   Mom says, "Tomorrow we should take them to Habitat for Humanity." Dad, regretfully: "These are such nice cabinets. We even painted them, inside and out."
   "Yes, how many layers of paint?"
   "Maybe the asafetida smell was layered on to the cat pee or whatever else it was," I theorize. Dad agrees. "Yes, we don't have any idea of the history of these shelves. They may have been in a college rental, and at the end they left the door unlocked, and the cat got in. And the cat stayed, because there were foodstuffs."                                                                                                  

   An electric drill whirs from the front of the house, mingled with tappings and a sound as of a dropped plank. All of this has been going on, ostensibly, because it's a snow day. Of course I don't have classes today in any case, and Dad's retired from teaching in any case, and Mom had nowhere pressing to go today in any case either. But we are baking cookies, doing handicrafts, and planning next week's Valentines party, whipped to a domestic fever by the falling snow. The party necessitates a tidy front entry.
   The entry currently looks like we are moving house. The front door is completely blocked by pots of geraniums.

   Dad comes in as I announce that my college has preemptively cancelled classes for tomorrow.
"I should have stayed one more year," he says, "and then I would have had extreme vacation! Except I'd have to go longer in summer. And robotics is just flailing away at the air right now. I mean as a generic thing. Which robot should they use?" This is a reference to the fact that our old robotics team is currently deciding which of their two and a half robot chassises they should use. He walks away, then comes back.
   "Bethany, I need to ask your advice--I've got this idea, it is like something you'd see in an English castle owned by an eccentric Scotsman who's into occult numbers." He is kitting out the tiny landing at the base of the main stairwell with green laminate tile. The variably-sized tiles have a fleur-de-lis pattern. Dad indicates one small tile, which he has painted with the Golden Ratio spiral in the same color of the rest of the pattern. (He is very keen on the unique features of this spiral: however long it is, it balances at the same position relative to the rest...or something like that.) The top half of the spiral is cut off by the baseboard, however. "I wasn't anticipating that it would be covered by the baseboard. Should I just shave off a small curve of the board, to reveal the tile?"
   Mom, understandably, protests the proposed modification.
   Dad thinks for a moment. "You know in that painting of the Annunciation, there is a place carved out, like a window…"
   I reluctantly discourage the shaving-down of the baseboard, on the grounds that it would be permanent. "Okay, I won't carve it out," he says, sadly.
   Half an hour later, I go back and ask what, exactly, was carved out in the Annunciation painting. He describes Mary, sitting, looking up to a tiny window through which comes a ray of light. He looks upward, reenacting the scene. He says he will repaint the design on the tile. "The paint here is just straight out of the bottle, so it won't be hard to match." I thus discover that the entire patch of "tile" is actually painted--it has been copied from a church floor in England. I am flummoxed. Dad declares to Mom, "Bethany's oeil has been tromped!"
                                                              *  *   *
   Later, Dad investigates a ceramic butter mold, which has been found in some being-tidied corner of the house. There are two figures, one with a large circular item and the other with wings and an avian aspect. I find this latter figure worrisome. It is like a griffin, but it probably dates from several hundred years ago, when a griffin might have been considerably more serious and alarming.
   Dad, meanwhile, ponders the top figure, with the circular object scored with a cross shape--like an Irish soda bread. "Is this the bishop with the communion wafer, or the lady with the spinning wheel? And this guy, what's he doing?" he asks Mom.
She sighs."I don't know; he's getting ready to fly…"

   Yesterday as I prepared to leave the college ballroom dance club's weekly shindig (wrapped in several jackets, so that I could not lower my arms to my sides, but had to waddle, penguin-like), a buddy said he'd heard a rumor that the prediction of 1-2 inches of snow had been expanded to 5-8 inches. I will admit I was skeptical--but I woke up (after 10 AM) to about 7 inches.
   In the evening, Dad and I ventured out onto the roads (after seeing the successful passage of the mailman--neither snow nor rain nor dark of night kept THIS civil servant from his 'pointed rounds). This was an exciting journey. We were glad to see that the natural grocery was open, its new coat of sunflower-gold paint cheery amidst the snow. When I first saw that paint job, on holiday this summer, I knew instantly that it was a good choice: the Co-op gleams like a beacon on a grey day. It was a little shocking just the same, to see that sprawling multi-part off-white building painted bright yellow with dark red trim. Even the water tanks are painted. I like to think of the board meeting deciding on that paint color. Were they apprehensive? Did they worry that it would be too loud?
   We avoided sliding into the renters' car, at my grandmother's house, where we delivered groceries in anticipation of ice tomorrow.
   Dinner was a lentil dal (flavors of cardamon and coconut milk), with chicken and potatoes in a lemongrass-basil sauce from World Market. A little cross-cultural incongruous food combination never hurt anyone.