In The End of the Land, David Grossman writes:
At 7:30 in the evening she stands cooking in the kitchen, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, and, for lyric effect, the floral apron of a real, hardworking, eager housewife: a chef. Piping hot pots and pans dance on the stove top, steam curls up to the ceiling and thickens into aromatic clouds, and Ora suddenly knows that everything will work out.
She plunges into battle with her winning combination: Ariela’s Chinese chicken strips with vegetables….Persian rice with raisins and pine nuts….she moves between the oven and the stove top with unexpected gaiety, and for the first time since Ilan left… she feels a sense of affection and belonging to a kitchen, even this old-fashioned, grubby kitchen, which now approaches her tentatively and rubs up against her with its damp snouts of serving spoons and ladles…Piled on the table behind her are covered bowls of eggplant salad, cabbage salad, and a large colourful chopped vegetable salad, into which she has snuck slices of apples and mango… and tabbouleh. She has arrived at the moment when all the dishes have been sent on their way: cooking on the stove top, baking in the oven, bubbling in the pans. They don’t need her any longer. But she still needs to cook.
There is a problem that requires a solution, but she does not understand what it is, and she hurries back to the pots’ thick breath. She does not taste the food…She watches her hand move wildly over a pot, showering its contents with paprika. There are particular movements that always make the phone ring. She noticed this odd conjunction a long time ago: when she seasons food, or when she wipes a pot or pan dry after washing it….Something in these circular motions seem to bring it to life.
Grossman brings the kitchen to life, merging what is going on in Ora’s head with her body and why she cooks – as an expression of love, for therapy and creative satisfaction. An immersion in the colour, aromas and expectation of eating, all without too much thinking. It shows how integrated the process of cooking is with our consciousness and moods, all the way from well-being to worry. There is no mention of efficiency or ergonomics, but there is a sense that she loves being in the kitchen. Her body moves around effortlessly, without too much self-direction. It is a safe place for her to be in relation to the world and it accommodates her cooking and serving up of food to the point where it feels like a place for occupation and contemplation.
There are many motivations for being a kitchen. A key one is nurturing. Domestic duties can turn from obligations to offerings if we can relax and converse with others. Visitors become roommates through easy eye contact or and allowing freeform thoughts to circulate through our consciousness creates a kind of personal meditation. The 1950s image of the suburban housewife and her lonely obligations to service the family is long gone. The kitchen described in Grossman’s passage is a real living space.
Sadly, not every family has the space, resources or mentality for this kind of kitchen. One feels Ora’s kitchen is not an expensive to make, but it needs ingenuity, maybe a little inclination to DIY, and most definitely owners with the right sensibilities. In my opinion, most high end modern kitchens are not an enlightened spaces, but at least design trends in magazines now show kitchens as being sociable places, not back room dungeons or cheerless box-rooms with utilitarian units around the wall. Cookery programmes, for all their dubious glamour, have given the kitchen an enjoyment-come-living -status that was not historically seen in its 19th and mid-to-late 20th century predecessors.
David Grossman writes eloquently about something more crucial – its emotional value. His stream of consciousness writing reminds one of what really goes on in our emotional lives, with the constant need to keep our spirits up. A kitchen should be planned not just with style and function in mind but also as a place that one occupies for emotional recharging.
Editor’s note: You can read Johnny’s previous post on The End of the Land here.
Photograph of communal kitchen at Goats with Wind farmhouse in Galilee, by Katherine Grey.