Cakes and Arias

November 2, 2012 — Leave a comment

Plácido Domingo is in my kitchen today. I revel in his company as I chop dates and puree raspberries in preparation for the Finnish delicacies I promised to bake for the 6th International Tea at the University Museum at Texas Southern on Sunday.

I am my own worst enemy sometimes. I am fiddling with runebergintorttuja and taatelirullat, a task designated when I happened to mention that 26 years ago I spent a few days in Finland. I instantly became the authority on all things culinary from that arctic country. It was also suggested I might like to come up with the table decorations as well. Months ago when this was first mooted, it seemed a perfectly reasonable request. As I wait for the cupcakes to rise and the puff pastry to thaw I am beginning to wonder.

Plácido is without doubt helping. I am anticipating Luciano and José’s appearance any moment with equal pleasure but it is Plácido who has always held my heart. There is something about his treacle-rich voice that sends shivers through to my toes and often tears to my eyes.

Nostalgia bubbles at the sound of their voices, stirred together or solo, soaring over the simmering pots. Nostalgia; not because I ever longed for a career as a singer but because it takes me back to my childhood. Sundays in Africa or Asia invariably meant curry for lunch, accompanied by opera. An odd pairing I know, but my parents were eclectic in their tastes. Victoria de los Ángeles, Richard Tauber, Joan Sutherland, Maria Callas and Mario Lanza would all join us and accompany my father as he sang with grande entusiamo but poco talento as we waited for our korma ghosht and daal. He didn’t care. He sang along in Italian, German, French or Spanish – languages he all spoke fluently. The records, some of them scratchy 78s, others LPs, would revolve on the gramophone turned up loud, orchestras and voices alien to the villagers who passed our home on the dusty streets outside.

Music, I think, moves our soul and it doesn’t matter what we listen to and in what language it is sung. I was reminded of this when my husband returned from South Korea recently. Whilst in Busan, home of Daewoo shipbuilding, he and a colleague happened upon an open-air arena overlooking the bay. Ship lights reflecting up from the beautiful natural harbour into which the Nakdong River flows, tempted them to take a seat on one of the concrete benches cascading down to the stage. Not being able to read the script proclaiming the entertainer’s name, or anything about him, they were not sure what to expect though were fairly certain whatever it was would be in Korean. Imagine their amazement when the singer came onstage accompanied by a pianist, sounds of water lapping nearby and crickets settling down for the night, settled into position and let rip with aria after aria, interspersed with Santa Lucia and a O Sole Mio. The tenor, himself Korean, wowed the audience as he sang to them, very few of whom I would think spoke Italian. My husband astounded by the virtuosity of the singer fumbled with his Blackberry and finally managed to record some of the concert to show me on his return to Houston.

So as I put the next batch of sitruunatagot into the oven and the citric aroma from the biscuits waft around my home I am again reminded that music and love are indeed borderless.

Now I really must go, Plácido demands my full attention while I sit with a well-deserved café con leche. But do please, if you happen to be in Houston on Sunday, come to the University Museum. You may sample Finnish treats, along with fare from Vietnam, Brazil and Tanzania with music that will make your heart sing, no matter the language. I think Sibelius will be joining us too.

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