Food can be sensual and evocative in a world where cooking defines a women’s role. In Shadows of Olive Trees, the second rise of feminism battles against defined traditions of sexual roles and gender equity. Tessa, the good daughter of Greek immigrants is torn between the restrictions of traditions of the past and the dangerous freedoms of independence.
The Greek food is comforting, delicious, voluptuous, overflowing, all encompassing, blocking Tessa’s pathway to self determination. The cooking and feasting is part of daily life:
The priest honours her parents with a visit to the house. Mrs Kassis and Tessa lay out the dolmades, taramasalata and spinach squares on the coffee table in the sitting room. The priest is punctual. His long black flowing gown and dark beard are familiar and Mr Kassis welcomes him into his house.
The priest is a stern man, unwilling to compromise on the stringent morals of his Church. Around him, Tessa is nervous, and she hopes he doesn't sense her other life, hidden behind her serving. The priest compliments Mrs Kassis on her dolmades, making her smile. Mr Kassis and the priest talk politics and social order while Peter listens respectfully, speaking only when a question is directed at him.
The women clear the table and bring the cakes they have spent days preparing. Tessa licks honey from her fingers as she carries sweet baklava laden with honey and nuts to the table. Almond pastries, Greek sweets, kataifi lie on the table like wanton women ready to be taken. Tessa smiles as the priest and her father being wrapped around the pastries.
The priest leaves, content. Mr Kassis goes to his room, because he is tired from the long hours in his factory. Peter sees that his mother is tired too, and takes some plates to the kitchen to help her. Mrs Kassis kisses her son. Tessa and her mother continue cooking and baking for the events that mark the visiting and feasting of Christmas.
Tessa and her family visit John Pappas and his parents. John Pappas has been approved asTessa’s potential husband. As the visit continues, the food and drink reflect the two worlds:
After the greetings and the ritual compliments on each other's appearance and the house, the men go to the lounge room. Mr Pappas opens the bottle of ouzo and pours a glass for Peter and Mr Kassis, then himself and John Pappas. 'Strong.' Mr Pappas approves and smiles. Tessa and Mrs Kassis are already in the kitchen helping Mrs Pappas with the meal ...
The table is laid with silver service. The centre-piece is a painted glass bowl overflowing with out- of-season peaches, plums, cantaloupe and strawberries. The meal is generous, overflowing like the fruits in the bowl. Moussaka is layered heavily with black eggplant and the leanest cut of topside mince. Salads of red tomatoes from the garden and black olives and white feta spill over the edges of bowls. The bread is fresh, bought from the bakery because the parents only eat freshly baked bread, like it was at their Greek village.
Food is so seductive. We want to make the honey baklava with its flaky thin pastry, nuts, dripping with honey. We can feel the love Tessa has for her family and traditions, like the pleasures of eating baklava. However, the honey sticks and Tessa has to make the decision to be all she can be.
Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Susanne!
Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award nominee, you'll find Susanne in Istanbul speaking to 1000s of kids about NO bullying; advocating for the United Nations Vision2020 in a campaign for sight, recording The Boy in the Big Blue Glasses for Vision Australia; in remote indigenous schools bringing literacy to kids from pre-schoolers to young adults. Susanne Gervay’s loved books include her anti-bullying I Am Jack books; YA books Butterflies (disability), Shadows of Olive Trees (feminism); picture books Elephants Have Wings (Harmony Day), The Boy in the Big Blue Glasses (Vision2020) and Heroes of the Secret Underground empowering kids to become warriors of change.