Sunday, March 26, 2006

Observations on lentils

Since the fall I've made lentil soup nearly every week. A pot lasts that long, and it's wonderful to know that when I get home all I have to do is heat up my lentils. It's perhaps the only thing I can eat for dinner day in, day out, without getting dumpish. In time I've come to know them quite well. Here's what I've discovered.

I usually choose French lentils. With their speckled and swirling greens and blues, each lentil looks like a flattened planet earth. They remind me of Leonardo's advice to his students to lose themselves in observation, to discover a world in a grain of sand or a patch of mould.* A website on lentils says, "These choice lentils were originally grown in the volcanic soils of Puy in France." Those dramatic origins seemed to explain their appearance.
Second choice: beluga lentils, for their glistening blackness. But as these are very small and round, they're harder to handle.
Occasionally I add green or brown lentils. The way red lentils turn into yellow mush doesn't serve my purpose.
Beluga and French lentils are more expensive than the other varieties, and I wonder if that's simply because they're more beautiful.

Sometimes lentils have an electric charge. This is obvious in the way they bounce along the plate, attracting and repelling one another. It's hard to imagine — lentils, so humble and humdrum — but there's no doubt about it.

Some of the lentils sink to the bottom without a fuss. Others cluster in tight knots near the surface of the water. It reminds me of a flat and placid landscape with huge thunderclouds overhead. I have to break up these clumps with my fingers to make sure every lentil gets washed, and little bubbles come up when I do so. Is this phenomenon related to electricity, or is there something else going on?

*Bisogna guardare nel turbinio confuso della vita con quello stesso spirito fantastico con cui i discepoli del Vinci erano dal maestro consigliati di guardare nelle macchie dei muri, nella cenere del fuoco, nei nuvoli, nei fanghi e in altri simili luoghi per trovarvi "invenzioni mirabilissime" e "infinite cose."

-Gabriele D'Annunzio

[One must look into the bewildering whirl of life with that same fantastical spirit with which Vinci advised his disciples to look at patches on walls, cinders of fire, clouds, mud and other similar places in order to find there "most wonderful inventions" and "infinite things."] ["Invenzioni" I think is meant in the broadest sense possible — something found, something made.]

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