On the Move: Contemplating Nuances of Exile

You shall leave everything you love most: this is the arrow that the bow of exile shoots first.

~ Dante Alighieri in “Paradiso”

As a senior in high school, I endured an almost 3,000 mile journey to a new home, far from the place I’d called home for most of my young life. With that rupture, I began to sense the difficulties faced by people moving from one place to another, not to mention across cultures, up against language barriers and prejudice, bigotry, intolerance. I knew, in a small yet poignant way, a bit of how exile felt like in the mouth, the lingering tang of loss.

Exile as a concept has always fascinated me ever since.

Under the umbrella of “exile,” a term which can be loosely defined as “anyone separated from his or her country or home voluntarily or by force of circumstances,” I think we can include the following:

Diaspora
Expatriation
Migration
Pilgrimage

All of these indicators of cultural mobility account for the movement of vasts number of humans, starting around 80,000 years ago from the grassy savannahs of East Africa. Migration occurred for many reasons, exploration, conquest, and trade being the most widely discussed. But displacement by conflict, banishment, royal edicts, pilgrimage, and enslavement played a tremendous part in forming the world of today.

Since this purports to be a type of food blog, I’m planning on another journey, this one inspired by my eye-opening taste of exile. You might argue that, to the contrary, what I experienced wasn’t true exile. I maintain that it was, as were other incidences over the years when I lived – yes, voluntarily – in cultures not my own.

Here I list other words associated with human journeys, some not so kind, bestowed as they are by those who stay in their places of origins, without ever relishing the riches that often come with migration:

Tourist
Traveler
Wanderer
Wayfarer
Rambler
Rover
Peregrinator
Refugee
Displaced person (D.P.)
Émigré
Evacuee
Expatriate
Alien
Nomad
Wetback
Transient
Sojourner
Migrant
Bird of passage
Itinerant
Drifter
Hobo
Tramp
Vagrant
Newcomer
Greenhorn
Immigrant

A closer look at exile seems apropos now, given the ongoing furor over immigrants around the globe.

And when it comes to food, I always recall Mark Twain’s flavorful lament after many months of, well, exile in Europe, longing for the food of home. He wrote, in A Tramp Abroad (1880):

“It has now been many months, at the present writing, since I have had a nourishing meal, but I shall soon have one—a modest, private affair, all to myself. I have selected a few dishes, and made out a little bill of fare, which will go home in the steamer that precedes me, and be hot when I arrive—as follows:

Radishes
Baked apples, with cream
Fried oysters; stewed oysters
Frogs
American coffee, with real cream
American butter
Fried chicken, Southern style
Porter-house steak
Saratoga potatoes
Broiled chicken, American style
Hot biscuits, Southern style
Hot wheat-bread, Southern style
Hot buckwheat cakes
American toast
Clear maple syrup
Virginia bacon, broiled
Blue points, on the half shell
Cherry-stone clams
San Francisco mussels, steamed
Oyster soup
Clam Soup
Philadelphia Terapin soup
Oysters roasted in shell-Northern style
Soft-shell crabs. Connecticut shad
Baltimore perch
Brook trout, from Sierra Nevadas
Lake trout, from Tahoe
Sheep-head and croakers, from New Orleans
Black bass from the Mississippi
American roast beef
Roast turkey, Thanksgiving style
Cranberry sauce
Celery
Roast wild turkey
Woodcock
Canvas-back-duck, from Baltimore
Prairie liens, from Illinois
Missouri partridges, broiled
‘Possum
Coon
Boston bacon and beans
Bacon and greens, Southern style
Hominy
Boiled onions
Turnips
Pumpkin
Squash
Asparagus
Butter beans
Sweet potatoes
Lettuce
Succotash
String beans
Mashed potatoes
Catsup
Boiled potatoes, in their skins
New potatoes, minus the skins
Early rose potatoes, roasted in the ashes, Southern style, served hot
Sliced tomatoes, with sugar or vinegar
Stewed tomatoes
Green corn, cut from the ear and served with butter and pepper
Green corn, on the ear
Hot corn-pone, with chitlings, Southern style
Hot hoe-cake, Southern style
Hot egg-bread, Southern style
Hot light-bread, Southern style
Buttermilk
Iced sweet milk
Apple dumplings, with real cream
Apple pie
Apple fritters
Apple puffs, Southern style
Peach cobbler, Southern style
Peach pie
American mince pie
Pumpkin pie
Squash pie
All sorts of American pastry
Fresh American fruits of all sorts, including strawberries which are not to be doled out as if they were jewelry, but in a more liberal way.
Ice-water—not prepared in the ineffectual goblet, but in the sincere and capable refrigerator.

Americans intending to spend a year or so in European hotels will do well to copy this bill and carry it along. They will find it an excellent thing to get up an appetite with, in the dispiriting presence of the squalid table d’hôte.”

With this list, Twain demonstrates quite concretely the terrible hunger of the exile. Note his exhortation for Americans to carry this list with them. Perhaps, had he known how to cook, and I have no idea if he did or not, he might well have ventured into a kitchen on a slow, rainy night somewhere in France and taught the chef a thing or two.

For the time being, let’s start on this journey, seeking like pilgrims the impact of exile on the kitchen, as well as other aspects of life, not just through a list of recipes, but maybe going deeper, touching the raw nerves that surface when home suddenly disappears. Letters, memoirs, diaries, journals, newspapers, archaeological evidence, menus, cookbooks, market and shipping lists, conversations – no stone shall remain unturned on the path.

Footprints 1 rs

© 2015 C. Bertelsen

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. HI Tony, so great to hear from you. Sounds like you know a bit about self exile. Thanks for sharing. India is also one of my fascinations, not sure at this rate that I will ever get there unless my eye clears up, etc.

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  2. Tony Flananag says:

    Hmm. Loss? Exile.
    My first shift was at age 11 from Northern Ireland (UK) to Republic of Ireland [ Belfast to Dublin.] shortly after the move Belfast exploded into 30 years of violence. Pretty happy to have missed all that shit.
    After the divorce I came visiting an old friend in Africa. That was 1996. Still here in Johannesburg. Love it. So, home? Ja Belfast.
    Do I want to go back there? Yes, but only on a day trip. I get claustrophobia there. And to be brutally honest the food wasn’t that good.
    Dublin where I did High school and College? a pretty, but hicky town where I learned some useful skills. The rest of the world? I’m working on that. So far India leads. An unfinished book to be enjoyed.
    My 5C

    TonyF (previously tflanaga@ unisa.ac.za

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  3. Thanks, Kitty, yes, I’ve now seen it. Looks lovely!

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  4. Sharon says:

    Extraordinary post! I was just watching a program last night on public tv about how we, homo sapiens, evolved from prehistoric man. You described it so well.

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  5. Kitty Morse says:

    Great post, comme d’habitude. I listed the previous one in my eNewsletter. Do you get it? Best,

    Kitty Morse >

    Like

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