Let’s Eat — A Writer’s Guide to Cooking

The following story is one I heard many times at our table and in the homes of relatives while I was growing up. If memory serves me correctly, I met the uncle in question when I was a child — although “met” is probably the wrong word. Let’s say I was “in his presence.” But the pleasure was short-lived. As is all too often the case, the adults talked, then we went home and I never saw him again. Fortunately, this has done nothing to diminish the influence he had on me.

The Art of Fasting

One of my father’s fabled great-great-uncles is said to have been a mystic. But as I understand it, he also possessed a practical side that he was unaware of and unable to keep concealed. For the most part Mihran was considered a joke — not an ordinary joke, but an indispensable and precious one. No one was ashamed of him, and no one tried to keep him hidden. On the contrary, his advice in spiritual matters was forever being sought out by members of the family.

Mihran filled the role of seer humbly and naturally. His answers, spoken in a high voice and accompanied with a twinkling in his eyes, were said to hold hidden meaning. They had to, because, taken at face value, they either contradicted each other or made very little sense. This, of course, is what made his advice so popular.

One story I remember in particular concerns Mihran’s fasting habits. His belief in the importance of fasting was well known. At the same time, so were his plump cheeks, rosy complexion, and ample belly. Still, Mihran maintained that food was hardly necessary, and claimed that if push came to shove, he could live on nothing more than sunlight and air. Owing to his spiritual nature, this scene wasn’t hard to imagine. His ability to sit in his patio for hours on end with his eyes closed was well documented.

But as everyone knows, fantastic claims need to be questioned. And so it came to pass that a certain bold and comedic nephew one day challenged Mihran’s assertion. “Uncle,” he said, “certainly you don’t mean sunlight and air only. What about water?”

And the great mystic replied, “A small amount of water, of course, is permitted. When I said that I could live on sunlight and air, I was fully aware of the fact that air itself contains moisture. Usually, this is enough. But if it is one hundred degrees in the shade, only a fool would pass up a glass of water.”

“I see,” his nephew said. “Sunlight, air, and a little water. But wouldn’t it also be wise to consume a few crumbs of bread, at least to keep the stomach from shrinking?”

“Bread,” Mihran replied after a moment’s thoughtful silence, “is harmless in small amounts. After all, if not for sunlight, air, and water, bread would not exist.”

“Couldn’t the same thing be said for cheese?” his nephew said, perhaps a little too quickly.

“Of course,” Mihran replied, raising an eyebrow. “Look about you. Bread and cheese are inseparable, just as members of one’s family are inseparable, as well as all living things. I have no argument against eating a little bread and cheese.”

For a long, serene moment, the two sat looking at each other. Then, one by one, the nephew queried Mihran about other food items, ranging anywhere from raisins to traditional home-baked delicacies. Unperturbed, Mihran made exceptions in each and every case.

“And what of spring lamb?” his nephew finally wondered aloud.

“If prepared correctly,” Mihran said with obvious interest, “and with the right amount of garlic, spring lamb is truly an offering to the gods. Who can be offended by such a sacred feast?”

“No one,” his nephew replied. “No one at all.”

Mihran smiled. “Then you understand?” he said.

“Yes,” the nephew said, allowing his eyes to rest briefly on his uncle’s stomach. “I think I’m beginning to see the wisdom in fasting. It is a matter of attitude more than a strict code of rules. Thank you for explaining it to me.”

“Think nothing of it,” Mihran said, rising to his feet. “You are young and in a position to learn. I am old and in a position to know. Now, come. Let us have lunch.”

Also by William Michaelian

Winter Poems

ISBN: 978-0-9796599-0-4
52 pages. Paper.
Another Song I Know
ISBN: 978-0-9796599-1-1
80 pages. Paper.
Cosmopsis Books
San Francisco

Signed copies available

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