I wasn’t wearing a skirt and my hair wasn’t in a bun, but my butt was high in the air and my elbows were planted firmly on my knees as I gleaned the dried bean pods and individual beans from our garden plot today. We had given up on the green beans when the weather got dry in late July, but they kept growing for a while. As I toiled on this relatively inefficient harvesting job, I saw myself as part of a Van Gogh painting from his "dark" period, and I was reminded of my friend, Claudio Naba Reyes, from Guererro, Mexico, back in 1972, when we spent the winter there camping in a homemade camper van, part of a 20,000 mile Odyssey through North and Central America.
Claudio lived in a tar paper shack with his wife Cruz and two toddler daughters, three hundred feet from the surf on a half mile wide beach between two rocky prominences, and his job was to watch over a partially finished house being built for a rich Mexico City lawyer. It was to be the lawyer’s summer home, part of a new, sort of , "time share" development on the coast of the Pacific Ocean about 50 miles west of Acapulco. Claudio was an Indio, he looked just like the Azteca profiles you see on artifacts from that area. He fished for his protein with a length of line wrapped around a beer can with a lead weighted hook and chicken feather lure, and he grew two crops, well up on the side of the mountain north of the shore. He grew honholee and maize, sesame and corn, slash and burn. He would hack down the native vegetation with a machete, and burn it during the dry period, then he would plant before the next rainy season.
Chris and I walked with him to his plot of ground (not his legally, assuredly) and we brought back some of his crop. We sat and chatted (in our bad Spanish, he had no English) with him and his wife, as they showed us how to harvest the dried corn kernels from off the cobs. These would be soaked in lime and water, and then ground into a paste that would be baked into traditional tortillas on the top of a hand thrown ceramic platter build into an adobe stand with a wood fire heat source (think frying pan/wok). Our fingers ached and were bloodied with the effort of popping the kernels from the cobs.
I didn’t bloody any fingers today, but the dried bean pods are sharp, and I picked up many an individual bean that tried to get away. My back got sore, and I remembered how hard it is to get some food out of the ground and into a place where it will keep so that you might eat it later. I remember you, Claudio. And you, reading this, stop in at Food Lion and buy yourself a pound of dried beans; tell them Claudio sent you.