Stuff I Like

This is a placeholder because I have so much more to say on this subject. But I am so excited that I had to start now – even at the expense of interrupting cocktail hour – that’s how excited I am.

First. Today I found a kitchen blade that I’ve been coveting for several weeks after watching the brilliant YouTube food channel, AlmazanKitchen.

Checkout to get an idea of what those two crazy nonverbal Czechs cook up in the wild.

So I knew the exact shape of the blade I wanted. And I also learned today the province of the best blades made in Mexico: Sayula, Jalisco.

Insert: Just about the time you think you fully understand something; you realize you don’t know anything at all. That makes me happy – not querulous. It reminds me that life has this mysterious puzzle piece to it. And we sometimes only learn about places, things and the value of those things incrementally.

Incidentally, my kitchen(s) back in the states once harbored both useful and interesting culinary tools. For instance my go-to  chopping blade was an all steel model that that I had picked up with my girlfriend in Singapore. Likewise with my wok. Both were dirt cheap picked up in some local’s market.

And cheap as they might have been they were highly utilitarian and of the best quality. I am a sucker for those kind of tools. I grew up spending hours with my grandfather going place to place as he bought and sold used tools and farm implements so I learned to appreciate old hand warn objects like leather bridles and saddles that might have been ancient but had been dutifully cared for over the years.

There is also something inherently precious about a tool – or any object – preferably handmade that bears that worn patina of repeated use. I love history and I view such objects having a living history which borders on personal reverence for someone like me.

As a consequence, mass produced things hold little appeal. I consider myself to be of that bridging generation that is that final contact point to those people who came before me – before electricity and extreme mechanization – who repaired things rather than replaced them. For them that was a cultural necessity born from their meager economic realities. So the soul of repair vs. replace is still to be found at the very heart of my being.

Back to the knife story. Let me first qualify that I purchase nothing lightly. One, because I am a guest in a country that might or not expel me – after all visa policies are always subject to change – especially given the tension that exists between Mexico and it’s northern neighbor. But more importantly I don’t acquire anything without first thinking about how difficult it will to dispose of it once that time comes.

I have been living with a really shitty knife for a really long time. I paid a dollar for it – made in China – and the damn thing is made from such poor steel it won’t hold even the most meager of an edge. But I’ve tolerated it because it can still dice tomatoes.

But I’ve been watching these mad Czechs at the AlmazanKitchen channel cooking up a storm – outside, over wood fires, sometimes in the winter, in the freezing cold – using the most amazingly shaped handmade blade and after a couple of videos I actually became jealous. Me. Jealous. Over a stupid knife.

That’s little boy stuff. And instead of searching out a similar blade for myself I probably should engage in some serious therapy. But that’s kind of moot because I pretty much know what all my problems are (and where they came from). And therapy after all is only for the clueless.

My friend, Beto has such a blade like the one I want. It has a well worn wood handle and a short curved fat blade like a scimitar (but round at the end, not pointy); almost exactly like the one they use on AlmazanKitchen. He runs a carneceria (meat shop) so he puts that serious piece of hardware to use everyday to chop up all that delicious meat he puts out hour after hour; day in day out. And it is important to note at this point that the knife he uses he got from his father who was the owner/operator of the same carneceria before him.

I asked him if he knew where I could get one like his and he directed me outside the Mercado. Sadly all the shit knives they sold now were of Chinese origin with unappealing white plastic handles.

I refused to give up. Several shop owners pointed me a fancy hardware store where they would try to sell me the ubiquitous expensive mass produced German or Swiss knife. No. Not for me. Sorry. No thanks.

What I wanted was a handmade Mexican blade lovingly crafted by some old man who had learned the tradition from his father. And I wanted a wood handle. Not a steel handle. And most certainly not a plastic one.

My friend, Pancho was the man who finally pointed me in the right direction. The best blades, he informed me, came from Sayula, Jalisco. Given that piece of information I now had some specificity from which to direct future questions.

There had to be some shop in town that handled Sayula knives. I just had to find it.

After my visit with Pancho I went home to wait out the hour before the meeting I was to have with the language school at 4:15.

I paced. I brooded. I strategized.

After my meeting walking home I passed a hardware store I’d never been in before although it is literally a block over from my house on Calle Colon. I told the son I was looking for a Sayula knife and he thought for a moment before shaking his head, No. Curiously, his father seated at the counter never once lifted his eyes from his book.

I looked at some of the blades they had on display mostly interested in the 12″ long tubular steel metal knife sharpener that they had priced at a very reasonable 85 pesos ($4.25) while the son stood on a ladder as he rummaged around on the top most shelf.

He made some sort of an aha noise then brought down a dusty box that had a Sayula stamp on the cover. he opened it to reveal the exact – well, almost exact – blade I was looking for; replete with a wood handle.

It was their only Sayula knife. And almost forgotten about at that. I was beside myself with joy and happiness. So much so I bought the steel knife sharpener too. And interrupted the old man to inquire as to what book he was reading.

Victor Hugo? Les Miserables? What? No one reads here. And surely not Victor Hugo.(I somehow must have stepped out of time and crossed into another dimension.)

For those of you who don’t believe in miracles my friends you need to come with me to Mexico. Together we’ll glimpse the impossible And together we will witness the sublime.

Insert: From W. S. Elliot’s immortal poem, ‘The Waste Land’ comes –

“What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

Miracles are both ethereal and mysterious. If you open your eyes – anywhere, not just Mexico – you can find them all around you. The only secret is, to witness a miracle, you first must believe in miracles.

PS – Back on point. The title of this post. Those tangible things I love are: leather, wood, stone, cotton, wool, steel, and paper.

PPS – T.S Elliot’s epic masterpiece, ‘The Waste Land’ (1922) was once reviewed by one critic as ‘the junkyard of an intellectual mind’.

I like that.

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