I don't get out much these days, but last week I got to see a friend of mine star in a community theater production of 33 Variations. In a nutshell, the play is about a musicologist with ALS studying Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, racing against time to complete her manuscript before she loses the ability to do so, while struggling to understand and communicate with her daughter. She is baffled by Beethoven's interest in what she considers an insignificant, trifling theme, and pores over his manuscripts, trying to understand why he would invest so much time and energy in exploring and composing variations on a little waltz so beneath him.
In the end -- both of the play and of her life -- she realizes that Beethoven's approach to the theme -- writing an entire variation on the opening turn, the descending fourth and fifth, the repeated notes and so on -- is an attempt to warp time, slowing it down, exploding something that would take only 50 seconds into something that takes 50 minutes to play. He can slow down time, by appreciating the minutiae that is usually lost in our rush to finish the waltz. The gift of this understanding comes just soon enough for her to appreciate her last few moments with her daughter, and for her to pass on her insight to her and her boyfriend, who are about to embark on a new life together.
It's a beautiful play, heart-wrenching because the understanding comes so late, but hopeful, because of what the musicologist offers to us, the audience. How many times have we wished we could stop the inevitable forward march of time?
Today is Leap Day. The amazing calendar phenomenon that happens once every four years. I once had a babysitter born on Leap Day, and though I was barely six at the time, I remember her joking that she was still a teenager, since her birthday only came every four years. Lots of people apparently get married on Leap Day, because it's something really special. If you celebrate a special occasion on Leap Day, you really savor it. It's like a stolen day.
I was thinking about this and about the play yesterday afternoon, sitting outside with my daughter. It was a beautiful afternoon, the first in a long time when it was light enough and warm enough to go outside after her afternoon nap, and we sat in the waning sunlight on the edge of the sidewalk, pulling blades of grass and turning them over in our fingers. There were airplanes to look at, and people passing by walking dogs, and the occasional car going by. And through my daughter's eyes, you could hold a year in every one of those moments. The awe with which she saw things. The newness. The brightness and sharpness of sound and color. The clarity. So much of it is a blur for me, on any other afternoon. Knowing that things may change again around here in the not so distant future, that the pace may quicken, I found myself feeling grateful for the minutiae. The blades of grass.
Like a lot of lentil stews, you could easily see this as a blur of orange and brown. But try to really taste it. Find the lemon. The garam masala. The tomato. The firmness of the chickpea. It's almost meditative. Maybe dinner will last a little longer than usual. That's not such a bad thing.
Chickpea, Butternut Squash and Red Lentil Stew
2 t. cumin seeds (I used 1 t. cumin)
2-3 t. garam masala
1 T. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. red lentils
4 c. vegetable broth
1 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes
1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped into ¾ inch cubes
1 can chickpeas
juice of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste
small bunch of cilantro, roughly chopped (save some for garnish)
Heat a large pot and dry-fry the cumin and garam masala for about 30 seconds, until just fragrant. Add the olive oil, onion, carrot, garlic and saute for 5 minutes, or until the onion and carrot are softened.
Stir in the lentils, stock, tomatoes and butternut squash, and bring to a boil. Simmer until the lentils are cooked, about 20 minutes.
Stir in the chickpeas, lemon juice and salt/pepper to taste, heat gently. Remove from heat and stir in the cilantro. Serve with a garnish of cilantro.