Lo que caracteriza a nuestro María Pandora, además de su decoración caótico-vintage y la luz de los mejores atardeceres de Madrid, son las actividades culturales variopintas que albergamos. Nos proponen ideas y pensamos cómo darles vida en nuestro local, así, hemos tenido obras de teatro, monólogos, cuentacuentos, presentaciones de libros, conciertos, recitales poéticos, tertulias de fotografía…. Cuando creíamos haber hecho de todo apareció Jayne Marshall proponiendo un taller de escritura diferente: no sólo sería en inglés, sino que incluiría una degustación de comida vegana. ¿Cómo negarnos? La experiencia fue un éxito, resulta que en Madrid hay muchos angloparlantes, y también muchos que no lo somos pero queremos aprender. Y ¿qué mejor que un taller de escritura creativa para practicar? Personalmente mi motivación era doble: practicar inglés mientras aprendes técnicas de escritura es genial, pero ¿descubriría por fin comida vegana que me gustara de verdad? Tengo el inmenso placer de decir que SI, con mayúsculas. Aquí sólo podemos reproducir una muestra de la parte literaria, pero os aseguro que la comida casera que nos ofrecieron los chicos de The Hungry Chapter permanecerá en mi memoria como el ejemplo de que podemos ser veganos e inmensamente felices gastronómicamente hablando.
En sus redes sociales incluyen recetas de estos estupendos manjares. Aquí, reproducimos algunos de los relatos que surgieron en esa plácida tarde invernal en María Pandora. Gracias Jayne Marshall, Vanessa Jacques y Eddy Matta! Estamos deseando que llegue la segunda sesión de The Hungry Chapter.
The Hungry Chapter is a project that was set up by three extranjeros – from Canada, Lebanon and the UK. What unites us is a love of food and words. Delicious, beautifully presented vegan food, and creative, finely crafted words, to be more precise.
We believe creativity is an essential part of our human experience; a wide and generous concept that comes in many forms. Some take more planning, like a three-course meal or a Petrarchan sonnet, whereas others are quieter, but no less meaningful. Whatever the form, we need it – everyday – to nourish us, body, mind and soul.
To this end, on the 25th February, we organised our first creative writing workshop in Madrid’s legendary bar, María Pandora. We were delighted to welcome 11 participants who produced some truly impressive prose whilst enjoying delicious, homemade tapas. They worked through two main writing exercises, starting with Proust and his famous madeleine, as a jumping off point to explore involuntary memory through the five senses. The second exercise encouraged our writers to use a set of rules in order to cut the imagination loose. It sounds counter-intuitive, but sometimes limits can be freeing.
Below are the stories written by three of our talented writers, in just one hour and half – an impressive feat in itself, to say nothing of the quality. More workshops are upcoming, follow us at @TheHungryChapter on Facebook and Instagram for updates.
As my legs cut into the hard edges of my grandmother’s kitchen chair, I gripped the sides before sliding my hands along the shiny, fake surface. I could still taste her scones and fruit bread – truly, they were great. Homebaked perfection was the result of decades of practice but I could smell trouble brewing. My grandmother had decided to make me scrambled eggs. The sound of her clinking the fork round and round in the bowl made me feel like a sheep or a pig who was getting fattened for the slaughter. This was a cattle call, the sound of doom.
She turned around, smiling, before dumping the product on my plate with a controlled shove. The steam rose from the table, hit my face, and in the sunlight I must admit it looked prettier than the gold of El Dorado but like clockwork, the smell of eggs began messing with my stomach.
“Eat up,” my grandmother chirped, “there’s starving children in the third world.”
This innocuous and devilishly innocent comment created a surge of guilt and I felt sick. All I would need now is the discovery of an eyelash or a stray cat hair hidden inside the eggs and I’d be finished. As the steam faded and the moisture began to evaporate, I suddenly thought of brains and other gory anatomy resembling scrambled eggs, and an intrusive thought made me wonder what they tasted like too. I sniffed, gripped the chair even tighter, and braced myself to tell my grandmother that I wasn’t really feeling that hungry.
I‘m not sure what year my family moved here. Was it 1956 or 1957? The calendar on the wall is useless. It’s been hanging there since we abandoned this haunted place. Flicking through the pages, I reminisce about days which a psychologist might call ‘false memories’.
I stop skimming through the dates after seeing a message scribbled down.
Could this be some forgotten dentist appointment or an uncompleted chore?
I lean in and attempt to decode the spidery handwriting.
“As raw as ropes,” it said, marked July 5th 1997.
Without question, my father wrote this.
I focus on the details of my childhood: afternoons digging in the dry soil and staring at centipedes through magnifying glasses while lamenting the lack of civilisation. My thoughts take a left turn with the return of a dormant, forgotten fear of my father impaling himself on some rusty machinery just a stones throw from our home, and hundreds of miles away from the nearest doctor.
“It’s not going to happen,” he had said as my mother sobbed fears she bred into me.
I look at the date again, and think of him watching his favourite action movies.
Stories about men who hit women and kicked drug dealers out of helicopters.
Stories about men who got the job done.
“Hasta la vista, baby,” he would say, before blasting the T.V. set with his finger pointed like a gun.
Now the house is empty and the junk serves as ghosts of past inhabitants. Walking outside, I gaze towards the plains where I dug holes, and ignored the dramas of home.
When I woke, my head was cradled in the soft pillow. A welcome sensation after a night I could not remember. But the aftertaste of Mahou and smell of cigarettes lingered like unwanted memories.
The door opened and gentle footsteps pattered into the room. I looked and there she stood, a saviour flavoured light. I looked and looked again at the plate of tortilla she held in her hands, brought to rid me of the taste of yesterday.
She saved me, she loved me, I was touched beyond words.
Writing what I see to an audience of two expectant eyes, but my eyes are on hers looking out away across time to a place as lost as a masked smile. Where exactly I cannot say and I wonder am I over thinking?
The look she has is serious and focused, the look she has is thoughtful and forced. It throws me and challenges me to say something, but it’s not going to happen because I voted for another philosophy, one that screams LIFE HAS BECOME IMMEASURABLY BETTER SINCE I STOPPED TAKING IT SERIOUSLY.
But maybe this ying and yang of perspectives is exactly what makes the world go round, a world I only half understand.
Vanilla Memory Lane
It was one of those hot August days when the entire city was melting down. The ground was so hot that you could easily fry an egg on it. May was walking down the street and the high heels were marking her each step. The city was so deserted that the rhythm of her steps was the only sound one could hear, and it seemed as if a table tennis match was on. Sweat was running down May´s back and her head was so heavy as if all the clouds from New York had decided to have a rest on the top of May’s head. The thoughts kept on jumping from one point to another. Lately she hadn’t been quite herself. What a funny expression! – May thought. Not to be yourself! And do we ever really know who we are? The question echoed in her head. The identity crisis had been triggering May’s mind for quite some time already. And just when she was about to go for the millionth round of rewinding and analysing the latest events, she felt a cold drop on her right arm. It was so sudden that it had pulled her out of her thoughts in a heartbeat. Before she was even able to understand what just happened, she felt another one. And then one more. What the hell…– May protested. She looked around trying to see what it was and where it was coming from, but there was no one else on the street. Only her. She touched the drop on her arm and decided to try it. Before tasting it, she thought how much her best friend Helen would be disgusted and called her crazy. But neither Helen nor anyone else was there to witness this “shameful event”. May laughed out loud and realised that this was the first time she laughed for real after a long time. OK, here we go – May said and licked the drop. Vanilla. The drop on her arm was a vanilla ice-cream. So once again, May started looking around her, yet she couldn’t trace the source. Just when she was about to give up and continue her overthinker’s walk, a loud crunchy sound entered her ears. It was coming from above. And then she saw her – a little blonde girl. She was standing at the window, biting the cone and giving her best to lose as little as possible of her precious ice-cream that was dripping everywhere thanks to that “pleasant summer day” in New York. May was hypnotised by the little girl’s face. It was reflecting pure happiness and carefreeness. It seemed that her only problem in this world was how to win a battle against the heat and have the entire ice-cream for herself. The vanilla taste in her mouth and the little girl’s carefree face took May faster than the high-speed train to those warm summer days she shared with her sister. Everything, each and every little detail of those days came back to her mind. She could even smell the chocolate topping of Gino’s ice-creams and hear her sister´s laughter, so loud and so genuine. And then she saw it – an ice-cream shop. It isn´t Gino’s, but it will serve its purpose– May thought. She wanted to buy one more ticket to that place in her memory. May took the same flavors as always – vanilla and chocolate with an extra chocolate topping. Her sister always made jokes on how one day she would become chocolate herself. May sat down, dip the spoon, and started her journey. With each spoon she would retrieve a different moment, a different talk, a different childish dream, a warm hug from her sister, their loud laughter, a small dose of that unrepeatable innocence. And with the last spoon May had it all crystal clear: I know who I am. I`ve never stopped being that little girl who dares to dream big, to laugh until her stomach hurts, to enjoy little things. Yes, that girl is still there. Now I just need to find the way that would take me back to her. She has been waiting for me for quite a bit now. May got up, smiled at the little girl who was still at her window and started walking. All of a sudden, her head was easy like a feather. Each step her high heels marked was taking her closer to the girl she used to know.
Deep Brown Eye Lake
It was 7PM, he was 7000km away from his home and it was his 7th month there. What an odd coincidence! – David thought. Sometimes, it seems as if this life of ours was just a silly game. He was sitting in a jeep with his thoughts, waiting for John to get back with the meds they needed to take to the other village, when he felt it. He felt it on his skin, on his entire face. It was such an intense look that it felt like a bullet going straight through his body. David lifted up his head and it was then when his eyes met hers. A little African girl with the deepest brown eyes he had ever seen. Just by looking at her he was getting lost in that deep brown eye lake. David was mesmerised by this little girl’s eyes and her long black eyelashes. She was hiding behind her mother’s skirt, observing the odd blonde guy sitting in the jeep. David smiled at her, but she got so shy that she immediately covered her eyes with her tiny skinny hands and hid even more behind her mother’s skirt. The last thing he wanted was to scare the girl, he just wanted her to know that he was a friendly face in this town.
If somebody had told him just one year before that he would end up living in a small village in Africa, away from his family, away from his friends, away from the life he had been building since the day he was born, he would have told them that they were not in their right mind. To be honest, wouldn’t every single person who knew David well said the exact same thing? And even if somebody had a perfectly logical explanation and a good reason for that, he would still say: I am sorry, but it´s not going to happen. All his life, David had everything sorted out: living in a city he absolutely adored, steady job, long relationship leading to marriage – his entire future figured out. Yes, he had it all crystal clear. Until that happened. And then, in just one day, David’s present and future collapsed as a house of cards. Everything lost its meaning. He felt completely and utterly lost, with no strength to pick up the pieces and start building his life again. The little girl’s eyes brought him back to Her. He could feel it again. The same old hole in his heart, a piece that’s missing. It was that exact moment, when David lost everything that he realized and appreciated the figurative and literal meaning of “You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore”. He had to leave his world behind in order to find himself again.
His visit to the past was interrupted by John’s question: Are you ready to go? David had dived so deep into his past that he didn’t even noticed when John got back. Yes, I am ready. John lit a cigarette and turned on the car. Before leaving it all behind, David wanted to take one last look, one last dive into the deep brown eye lake. But it was too late. The car was going fast, and the deep brown eye lake was now just a small dot in a crowd. And then he could feel it. The hole started closing and he could breathe again.
The food: Vanessa Jacques and Eddy Matta are culinarians who combine their respective French-Canadian and Lebanese backgrounds and interest in plant based food to produce delectable fusion dishes. Vanessa is also a food photographer who creates the impacting images on our Instagram account (@thehungrychapter). Eddy has worked in hospitality in Beirut and makes ‘the best hummous in Spain’ – a self-proclaimed title, but you’ll have to come along and taste it to see if you agree (he thinks you will!).
The words: Jayne Marshall is a fiction and creative non-fiction writer who holds a Master’s in Creative Writing with distinction from Oxford University. She has explored various topics in her stories and essays, such as language and identity, Palestine, and orthodontics. Her work has been published – in English and Spanish – in magazines and anthologies in the UK, Australia, the US, India and Spain. In 2019 she was nominated for the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award. Jayne now works as an editor, but for eight years was Director of a Community Arts Space in Bristol (UK) and in 2019 completed an editorial internship at Creative Nonfiction magazine, based in Pittsburgh (USA).
Textos © Los autores: Jayne Marshall, Brendan Duncan, Tim Halliday, Jelena Jesic