Synopses & Reviews
At The Hearth
I spent the first years of my life beside the hearth in my mother's and grandmother's kitchens, seeing how these wise women, upon entering those sacred places, became priestesses, great alchemists who dealt with water, air, fire, and earth -- the four basic elements that comprise the entire universe. And the most surprising thing is that they did it in the most humble manner, as if they weren't doing anything, as if they weren't transforming the world with the purifying power of fire, as if they didn't know that the foods they prepared and the rest of us ate remained in our bodies for many hours, chemically altering our organisms, nourishing our souls and our spirits and giving us an identity, a language, a legacy.
It was there, at the hearth, where I received my first lessons about life from my mother. And where Saturnina, a servant newly arrived from the countryside, whom we affectionately called Sato, once prevented me from stepping on a kernel of corn that had fallen on the floor, because it sheltered the god of maiz inside, and he couldn't be disrespected in such a manner. The hearth, my family's favorite place for entertaining visitors, was where I learned what was going on in the world, and where my mother had long talks with my grandmother, my aunts, and from time to time some now deceased relative. Held there by the hypnotic power of the flames, I heard all kinds of stories, but mostly stories about women.
Then I had to leave home. I distanced myself completely from the kitchen. I had to study, to prepare myself for my future role in society. School was full of knowledge and surprises. For starters, I learned that two times two equals four, that dead people and rocks and plants can't talk, that there are no such things as ghosts, that the god of maiz and all the other gods belong to a magic, primitive realm and have no place in the rational, scientific, modern world. Oh, I learned so many things! At that time, I felt so superior to the poor women who spent their lives closed up in their kitchens. I felt sorry that no one had taken care of teaching them, among other things, that the god of maiz didn't exist. I believed that the truth about the universe was to be found in books and universities. With my diploma in one hand and the seed of revolution in the other, I was sure the world was going to open itself to me. The public world, of course, a world completely removed from the hearth.
During the sixties many of us participated in the continuing struggle started by other women at the beginning of the century. We felt that the urgent social changes needed at that point in time would take place outside the home and knew we had to join together, get out, fight. There was no time to waste, much less in the kitchen -- a place that besides being disdained, along with household activities that we saw as simple acts with no transcendental significance -- could only hinder our quest for greater knowledge, public awareness, and personal achievement. So, with the healthy intention of accomplishing important social changes that would culminate in the appearance of the New Man, we didn't think twice about giving up our intimate, private world in order to participate actively in society. Alongside our brothers, we took to the streets and handed out flowers and buttons. Our protest songs were heard everywhere. We wore pants and threw our bras out of windows.
While all this was happening and the New Man was being formed, an explosion of love caused me to marry an extraordinary man and give birth to a wonderful daughter. And I had to feed them. Not out of a sense of obligation, rather out of love. But the return to the kitchen was not easy. I wanted my daughter to know her past, to eat what I had eaten in my childhood; however, I quickly realized that I no longer remembered my family's recipes. At first I would call my mother on the telephone, but one day, frustrated with my poor memory, I forced myself to try and remember a recipe on my own. And that is how I discovered, as I had already known in my childhood, that it was possible to hear voices in the kitchen. I clearly heard my mother dictating the recipe step by step. Later, with a little more practice, I could hear my dead grandmother's voice telling me how to prepare one dish or another. I discovered how gratifying it was to tell my daughter the same stories I heard in front of the hearth when I was a girl as I prepared our meals. And that it was easier to cure her with my mother's teas than with medicine. Little by little, my return to the kitchen and my past became so integrated that the day came when I found myself preventing my daughter, Sandra, from stepping on a kernel of corn because it sheltered the god of maiz. I heard myself saying that any respectable salsa had to be made in a molcajete, not a blender, or it wouldn't have any flavor. The time it took to prepare didn't matter, because there is no such thing as wasted time in the kitchen -- rather that is where we are able to recover lost time.
And so, I was mortified to realize that my daughter wasn't paying attention. Instead, she was staring blankly at cartoons, forsaking the hypnotic power of fire for that of the television; the memory of the tribe, for commercials. I was so shocked I couldn't speak! Thousands of questions robbed me of my sleep. What had happened? Where had I gone wrong? What kind of society had we created? What had we women achieved by leaving the home? Yes, we had won rights that belonged to us and we had earned recognition for our intellectual activity and a better place in the world, but with great sadness I was forced to accept that none of the revolutions we participated in had managed to create a proper system for the creation of the New Man. He cannot come from a society out of balance, a society interested only in production and consumption, a society that doesn't equally satisfy the material and spiritual needs of human beings. An immediate change is necessary. We must adjust our value systems and work to modify today's societies, in which economic interests are carried to the extreme and irrationally produce not merely objects, but weapons of war. These societies don't care about the destruction of the planet and mankind as long as they earn profits -- it can't go on like this.
The arrival of a new revolution is imminent, and I don't think this time it will be from the outside in, but the opposite. It will entail the reclaiming of our rituals and ceremonies and the establishment of a new relationship with the land and the planet, with everything sacred. All this is possible in intimate spaces. It is there, around the hearth, where the New Man will appear, as the fruit of a common effort. He will give equal value to production and reproduction, to reason and emotion, to the intimate and the public, to the material and the spiritual. He will encourage the creation of balanced societies and understand clearly that self-realization should not be linked solely to public recognition and economic retribution. He will question his active participation in society, asking himself whether he should work in a factory that grossly pollutes the environment even though he is well paid for his work, and will look for other ways to earn a living. He will value small acts for their intimacy and transcendence and understand that they modify society just as surely as public events do -- each helping to elevate the human condition and allowing us to enter in communion with our past -- and regard them as reminders of where we come from and where we should be headed.
So, suddenly I realized I needed to go back over the path we have taken to highlight the great advances we have achieved and to help restore the essential things we lost along the way. I wanted to share my doubts and my culinary, amorous, and cosmic experiences. So I wrote Like Water for Chocolate, which is merely the reflection of who I am as a woman, a wife, a mother, a daughter. Speaking of balanced beings, I must mention someone who is very important in my life and to whom I owe everything that I am: my father. From him I learned about laughter, tenderness, independence, generosity, and the joy of playing and creating. The love and respect I feel for him have allowed me to establish healthy relationships with the masculine world, and it is thanks to his wonderful influence that there is a balance between the masculine and feminine in my work. You'll have to forgive me this boldness, but I think women are very fortunate that men exist! The gods are very wise and certainly knew what they were doing. They created the sun and the moon, light and darkness, the eagle and the serpent, all for the same reason. They are perfect complements and the mechanism we use to reach heaven.
In my life, this loving, passionate, intense union of masculine and feminine has given fruit to a book and a film that embrace my family's past, my national conscience, my obsessions, my fears, my hopes, and more than anything else, my belief in the love between two people. A love that is now public and circulates in theaters and bookstores all over the world and which has made me worthy of public acknowledgment. Acknowledgment that I feel compelled to share with my mother, my daughter, my grandmother, my sisters, with Sato and Tita, and all the women before and after them who day by day, year after year, have put us in contact with our true origins. I also want to share it with all the women who have not forgotten that stones do speak and that the Earth is a living being. And with those who transform each daily task into a ceremony of union with the universe during the twelve intense, masculine solar months and the thirteen magical, feminine moons each year of their lives without ever being recognized for it.
In all of these essays, Esquivel reflects on the essential way that food connects people to the important, spiritual aspects of life, often promoting her ideal of the New Man....Esquivel has a strong, distinctive voice and a passion for her subject. Collections, though, can be tricky....To get the full benefit of her humor and insight, it's best to take short sips rather than long draughts....this collection of 14 essays will appeal to adamant fans of Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate and The Laws of Love. Some general food readers, however, will probably skip over the title in favor of books by authors with true gastronomic credentials. Publisher's Weekly
"The return to the kitchen was not easy. I wanted my daughter to know her past, to eat what I had eaten in my childhood; however, I quickly realized that I no longer remembered my family's recipes....I forced myself to try and remember a recipe on my own. And that is how I discovered, as I had already known in my childhood, that it was possible to hear voices in the kitchen."
Mexican novelist Laura Esquivel leapt to international fame with Like Water for Chocolate. With millions of copies sold in hardcover and paperback, and with the phenomenal success of the movie, it is truly one of the most beloved stories of the last decade. In her latest book, Between Two Fires, Laura Esquivel continues to sustain us on levels beyond the physical.
Between Two Fires is a wonderful collection of the best of her passionate speeches, short writings, and recipes from the last decade or so, most never published in English. Funny, poignant, imaginative, and insightful, Esquivel muses on all the topics we have come to associate with her -- love, life, family, and of course, the importance of food in all aspects of the human experience -- while also giving us a rare look at what makes her tick. Beautifully illustrated with delightful drawings, this gem is the perfect gift book for her many fans, as well as for foodies and readers of Latin literature everywhere.
About the Author
LAURA ESQUIVEL is the highly acclaimed author of the New York Times bestsellers, Like Water for Chocolate and The Law of Love. Her third novel will be published by Crown in Fall 2001. Ms. Esquivel lives and works in Mexico City.