Midnight Thursday night: Back at the hotel sitting on the deck with a hastily purchased bottle of good local wine we begin to plan dinner. Earlier we looked over our foraging haul: 48 things. How to approach eating?
We quickly decided that this would be less about a gastronomical meal and more of a chance to feel, sense and join the world directly underfoot. We wished to experience as a group the question: what does it mean to be of a place and not merely in a place?
We would serve what we found: rocks, water, mud, sea-polished glass, roots, stems, leaves, berries, fish, and airs -- doing little to make them meet our palettes in the ways we normally equate with great cooking.
From what we had foraged we knew we would not be making a meal that could fill the sixty plus bellies of those who would be joining us Saturday afternoon. There are other ways to be full: to fill oneself with a sympathy and care, curiosity and perplexity about the immediate world -- not the world we want or imagine, but the one we actually inhabit --this is what we could offer. It would be a meal for renewing a sense of beauty and composition with all those that compose both us and our immediate environment. A meal for composing from and with what is common and we have in common with all other things: this immediate environment -- this Beirut.
It would be a meal for renewing a sense of complex and precarious beauty and composition with all those that compose both us and our immediate environment. A meal for composing from and with what is common and we have in common with all other things: this immediate environment -- this Beirut.
We want to taste and sense our world in its utter strangeness. How does a rock meet us? What are these berries? How do we negotiate with a toxic stream? These are after-all questions that all other creatures must also answer. We have put them off for too long. While our feet might touch the ground, our tongues connect to an ever-changing series of elsewhere. Where is the beauty and manners in that? We wish to join with the weeds. We will experience what they have experienced as we eat them -- and perhaps then we will show a care that is altogether missing from environments?
By two am we had a "simple" plan: dinner would consist of twenty-six small events that follow a line from the sea through Beirut to the top of the local mountains -- a line that would move through both space and time, from sixty million-year-old stones to toxins that would last thousands of years into the future.
Friday: We spent Friday turning plants into ingredients. Picking berries and leaves off stems, scraping and toasting barks, seeds and leaves. Squeezing, zesting and much else.
Saturday we cooked with a remarkable group of collaborators. Tasting, questioning, speculating, laughing, inventing and talking through histories, ecologies, and futures. They made possibilities real (a huge thank you to all our new friends and collaborators!) By noon we were ready and the crowd was growing.
We were invited to Beirut by Christine Tohme to participate in the Sharjah Biennial 13 Tamawuj Beirut Off-site Project: Upon a Shifting Plate. A very special thanks to everyone who helped make this project possible: the whole team at Ashkal Alwan, and Station. Zakaria Nasser, who worked day and night, from sea to sky, we thank you deeply -- nothing would have happened without your remarkable collaboration and assistance.