Being: Conscious, mortal existence; life.
Every month we welcome two families, two people, two voices to share their stories in whatever way they chose. We hope that you find joy in their daily lives, and their simple habit of just being.
The air was hot and heavy with humidity despite being only seven in the morning. My 35mm camera felt heavy in my hands as I walked down the narrow cobblestone street. My heart gave a flutter as we turned the corner, there at the bottom of the street was a woman carrying a board full of bread dough on her head. I looked to my left and saw smoke rising out of a little doorway blackened by centuries of bread baking. As I approached the door an old woman about a foot shorter than me was dipping a broom made of tree branches with the leaves still on into a wooden bucket of water. She had her hair tied in a bun and on top of that was a headscarf. She wore a pair of leather boots and a knee-length flowered dress. Her hands we strong and calloused from decades of tending to the oven. With a quick grin she invited me in as she plunged the broom with one quick movement into the mouth the oven. Steam rose from the wet leaves as she cleaned away the ashes and moved aside burning logs. She was preparing the space for the dozens and dozens of loaves of bread to come.
Stepping into the oven room I had to duck a little, making sure not to bump my head on the door frame; hundreds of years worth or soot had turned it black as night. The floor of the room was just dirt and the walls unworked stone. What little light there was came from two candles, the mouth of the oven, and the doorway. Lining the walls were floor to ceiling shelves to hold the finished loaves as they cooled. The heat was stifling but necessary to give life to such delicious treats.
Then I heard jesting and cackling outside as three women down the street arrived; they had been meeting every Friday morning for the last fifty years to bake their bread in this oven that was 400 years old. The thought of 400 years worth of history going into the bread every week was enough to take my breath away. These women worked with such ease; they had rhythm that was as seamless and ingrained into their bodies as the soot was to the ceiling.There was always an order to be followed: to the left of the oven they lined up all their bread yet to be baked; one woman would place the bread from the board onto the peel; the next would make the special mark on top so they knew whose loaves were whose. Finally the oven master would slip the peel into the oven, arranging each loaf just so, according to size and time requirement; a knowledge only years of practice could perfect.
The entire sequence took about ten minutes for all 30 loaves plus 20 or so pizzas to go in. Then the baking began. As they waited they made fun of each other and told me stories from when they were girls. They told me how each week they kept apart one piece of dough to use the following week. One woman had had the same culture in her family for over 100 years. Every week they lovingly made bread for themselves, their families, and their neighbors.
I think of this experience every week when I make bread, kneading the dough leavened from my own sourdough starter that is only a year old. I hope one day I’ll be able to say “I’ve had this starter for 50 years”! As I wait and wait for the oven to heat the baking stone to just the right temperature, I think about the oven master getting up at four in the morning to light the fires that will create enough heat to bake 30 loaves of bread. Then as I slip my one loaf in and hear the hiss of the water in the pan create humidity for a crackly crust I remember that leaf broom. And of course as I pull the bread out of the oven with its intoxicating aroma, I remember how they gave me foccacia to snack on and thanked me for sharing this experience with them. This was an experience which I vow never to forget. The history of their actions that day changed me for good. I was only 20 then, but it sent me down a different path in life; one that would eventually connect me at every level to my food and the way I live my life.
This month we welcome KC to the blog to participate in the Being series. We look forward to reading her reflections and seeing the world from her perspective through her posts here each Monday. You can learn more about KC by visiting her blog, Little Homestead in the Desert, where she writes with equal parts humor and heart.
Rhythm of the Home is an online magazine for families that focuses on creating with children, nature explorations, seasonal celebrations, conscious parenting, and mindfulness in all that we do. To learn more about us, please visit us on Facebook,Pinterest, and Twitter.
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