Anar, my love.

I think I was about 10-years-old when my parents asked me what I wanted for my birthday. The very question was jolting because they were old-school: my brothers and I had been trained not to ask for things and to accept graciously whatever we received.  So their query caught me by surprise, but not as much as my answer: “Oysters,” I rapidly replied.

“Oysters!” my mother guffawed, “Where on Earth…” They both laughed, puzzled, trying to remember when and where I had had oysters to make such an odd request. I informed them, reminding them of the restaurant they had taken us, which also had the blackened scallops I liked. 

In hindsight, I think their solicitation of a gift came out of exasperation. Their eldest son was just weird. My school teacher had said I was an old man trapped in a young body.  Boys at that age wanted new bikes, footballs, Legos—yet all I wanted for my birthday was to eat oysters. 

It was not easy to be so young and precocious about food circa 1980 Chicago. So much of our food still came in tin cans. And left to their own taste, my little brothers would have us eat pizza and spaghetti every day. Fortunately, we had what today, I believe, is the underestimated old-school training to eat whatever was placed before us. Only once did my brothers and I put our foot down in a collective mutiny against the slimy and bitter eggplant that my mother insisted she knew how to cook well.  She was a pathetic cook, and she ended up despising my father so much that she also disdained his Mexican food. I wasn’t trapped in a young body: I was trapped in culinary Hell, imprisoned in the wrong place and at the wrong time.

The divorce was a relief for me for many reasons, but not the least of which was the discovery of my shared taste for Greek food with my father, who did his best to expose me to food from all over the world, but most importantly, he immersed me in the incredible food of his original country.

I learned the word granadas in Spanish before I knew the English word pomegranate (which I will never learn to spell!). I will never forget his exclamation of joy in the middle of the Mexican supermarket where he had taken me to buy real fruit—ugly fruit that had taste, something that was impossible to find in the gleaming, wax-fruit supermarkets of America. 

¡GRANADAS! he shouted in jubilation, always embarrassing me, but not as much as the time he had a fit of rage in a supermarket that dared to sell him the most perfect looking, wax-coated oranges that tasted like lemons. I’ll just say that there were oranges rolling everywhere, rolling until the aisle of cleaning products, and the manager will never forget my father for as long as he lives—but that is another story.  

I was fascinated by the new fruit as I always was by any new food, and my father instructed me how to select pomegranates. “These are good; they are big and the skin is thin; squeeze just a little and you will feel the seeds pop; they are ready!”

Our Saturday shopping day would often turn into our kitchen counter banquet that served as a lunch-dinner: fresh tortillas and chicharrón from the Mexican supermarket; feta cheese, kalamata olives and taramasalata from the Greek supermarket; bread from the Italian bakery; he would let me accompany him with a small glass of his Port wine. 

¡Salud!

But on that Saturday I will never forget, my father bought me a special gift, a pomegranate, and he showed me how to crack it open after delicate incisions to pop the seed out. I was amazed by the bejeweled fruit, filled with succulent rubies like a hidden treasure. Crushing the juicy seeds in my mouth, I couldn’t believe the taste. It was the most beautiful and most delicious fruit I had ever had—and it is still my favorite. 

Unfortunately for me, pomegranates do not grow well in the largely tropical clime of Brazil. Although I live in a country that has no lack of blessed fruit, if I had to elect passions, my taste for the fruit of drier and temperate climes is obvious in the way I can gorge myself sick on tunas, the prickly-pear cactus fruits of Mexico, or how I also collapse into compulsion when faced with peaches, figs, and of course, granadas.

Funny that the name of my favorite fruit rolls off my tongue nowadays in neither English nor Spanish— much less Portuguese. When I recently splurged on one, imported and extremely costly fruit in Brazil, the cashier was dumbstruck at the check-out counter. She couldn’t remember the name of fruit, and she had certainly not memorized its code because few buy it.  Staring at me for help was useless; I imagine my face was contoured into the grimace of a mind in labor: Anar, I thought. AnarAnar. Shit! What is anar in Portuguese, again? 

Yes, among other things, I am a translator, but I do not do simultaneous translation. There are too many detours and road blocks in my brain. Between spoken languages I start fumbling like a puppy in the snow, and I am only able to focus for the written word. Therefore, running back across the bridges in my mind as fast as I could to help the cashier, I thought: Dad, and instantly came the word granada, but I hit a cul-de-sac when trying to remember what ought to be a cognate between Portuguese and Spanish but isn’t.

Romã!”  yelled the cashier’s colleague from across the aisle. Romã, of course! I think the word never stuck in my mind because it went into disuse in Portuguese. In Hindi, however, it might be the one word I will never forget.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I ate almost one per day in the many months I’ve stayed in India.  Pomegranate was a great surprise in my travels to the subcontinent, maybe because it was the last of my expectations. I would never have imagined encountering the legendary, grapefruit-sized jewels brought down from the highlands of Afghanistan, together with their Persian name: anar.  

In an effort to try to be a conscientious consumer, I try to buy locally and avoid such imported indulgences, but I recently saw the anar inadvertently in a Brazilian supermarket. Once glance and it was too late: I knew it was perfect, even before I examined it. I put it in my basket and didn’t even bother to look at the price, because it didn’t matter. In the struggle between emotion and reason, guess who always wins?

Reason, however, was able to abate desire upon arriving home, just long enough for me to put away my groceries, water my plants, return my messages, and take care of my stupid cat. Then I turned off my phone, rinsed the anar, and sat on the floor with a knife and a plate. Smiling, I remembered the granadas at my father’s kitchen counter and my aunt’s table in México, but mostly, I remembered all the anars on a rooftop in India, watching the sun turn into the moon, the luscious seeds transporting me not to other places and times, but holding me in the present— the plenitude where there are no further desires.

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A native of Chicago, Ricky Toledano has lived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for over twenty years as a writer, translator and teacher. [a]multipicity is multi-lingual collection of reflections through the humanities.

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