Issue 7 - Fall 2013
  • Brings to mind the Cook at the Banff Springs Hotel and wondering if another set of cooks and cooks’ assistants and chambermaids are there now. Layers upon layers of cooks and assistants and chambermaids and waitresses have come and gone. Hotel service archeology.

    A whole new layer since 1978, that damn cold winter Jim and I hitchhiked through a blizzard to find jobs at the Banff Springs Hotel. Toes freezing in my knee high, lace up, leather police boots at the interchange outside Kamloops, the wind blowing snow like a dervish through the orange highway lights and night coming on so we squeezed into a truck stop to warm up, desolation creeping in behind my eyes. We said hi to a guy with a gray beard who told us he used to hitch hike all over North America, that’s nice to know, we agree, and then we’re back out on the road and freezing—and I don’t mean this figuratively but dangerously close to the real thing—when a car stops, a red station wagon, and it’s the man from the truck stop like a grizzled angel, he picks us up and takes us home to sleep on his floor for the night and drives us back out to the highway in the morning. So, you know, life repeats itself, life goes on.

  • I think about Banff and then again maybe the Cook never left but still prepares roast potatoes and elegant vegetables every night and at the end of the night sits out in the dining room, smoking a cigarette and flipping through the recipe book that is his mind, dreaming of roué, as I do: brown as mahogany. Of a key lime pie he will bake for the smorgasbord tomorrow. And of the new girl with the dark brown hair.

    And then I think he doesn’t own the hotel—what if he’s comfortable (his feet up on the red upholstery of a dining room chair) and they fire him?

    A worker at the whim of the owners. And this gets me thinking about the body and my cracked feet and my grandmother’s cracked feet, always in leather riding boots, or gumboots or red rubber thongs. Striding across the open fields, an open door to those wandering, those coming in off the road, those on horseback or some other means of transportation, hitchhikers from America during the Vietnam War falling asleep on her couch as she worked ceaselessly, tall and butch, then bent and aging, those cracked heels always a reminder of a walking, working life. Body archeology. My own feet cracking as I speak.

  • The freezer is broken and so I have to cook all the meat. That’s ten good size Italian sausages and half a dozen chicken thighs. I slice all the chicken from the bone, hack the sausages into bite sized bits. I search through recipes from Louisiana for a recipe for gumbo.

    In 1979, Jim and I left the Banff Springs Hotel and hitchhiked up the highway to work in a hotel near Jasper. I am watching Jim cook that awful stew that he threw cinnamon into indiscriminately.

    Jim was from somewhere in the South but I don’t think it was Louisiana.

    Only two days after achieving the Banff Springs Hotel, I try to have an affair with a blond kid from California whose skin tone and hair seem exotic and meaningful to me and we ride up the ski lift together, getting high (where was Jim?) and later, California takes me to dinner in the formal dining room with his wealthy parents who disapprove of my stringy brown hair and pale Canadian skin but seem desperate to maintain something resembling contact with the blond boy who is their son and I get  ............

  • to eat with the patrons that night instead of sitting on the stairs in the damp hallway behind the kitchen. But it doesn’t last.

    And the next night, the Cook is in a bitter mood ruining the food and piercing his staff with short, accurate, stabs. And the timbre of the kitchen matches perfectly the pitch of my heart since California flew south and Jim pretends to be indifferent but he won’t touch my body for three whole days. The weather continues cold.

    And what if I get fired? In the middle of composing a roué in my mind—the body attempts suicide and I (I?) become redundant.

    Twenty two years later, I live in California and think likely some kids, maybe a young couple, are hitchhiking to Banff right now to try and get a job in the kitchen of the Hotel, then leaving that job after a few months to look for something or somewhere else, hitchhiking up empty highways in the off-season of late autumn, trees on fire and snow about to fall. Leaving each other a few months after that. And some golden-winged creature with no ties to that landscape will fly in and ski a few runs and fly away again while the kitchen staff put away the dishes and the  ...........................

  • chambermaids clean the rooms. And despite our different status, skin and eye color we all leave a trail. Layers of maps over the same landscape. Layers of footprints and boot prints and the parallel perfection of slalom skis trailing like fingers down a glacial face that is also moving slowly toward some warm extinction.

    My time as a cook’s assistant at the Banff Springs Hotel is done, but not the roué which takes forty-five minutes stirring all the while to achieve a rich golden brown and my skin is now a rich California brown even as my grandmother’s cracked white Canadian feet are staring out at me from under the table.

    Go stir.

    At the Banff Springs Hotel the Cook is sitting at a table and the wait staff are laughing in the kitchen: it’s the end of the night, plenty of steam from the dishwasher, load after load and last of all, the new kid with the stringy brown hair has to scrub all the pots by hand. Brown roué sticks to the side of the tall steel pot deep as my arm.

  • I am composing a roué deep in my mind which inhabits my body in the small brown room which is my studio in the house my California lover owns—like my body—very much like my body—and I have no assurances, no tenancy agreements. In fact I think I should call the landlord about these cracks in my feet.

    Brown the meat and put aside. Stir in three tablespoons of flour and cook for forty-five minutes on low heat. Put aside the body after a certain amount of time. Put aside the meat and concentrate on the roué.

    I am looking for the Cook. So abruptly fired from the five-star Hotel where he has lived and worked almost his entire life. I dream he has returned to France, not Canada at all, to live in Orleans, his childhood home, right beside the river, where he grows walnuts, grapes and pears. And things are not as cold there and the language rolls like home around his tongue while he hunts for truffles with a stick under damp leaves in the fall.

    Am I closer to the sun in California, a thousand miles closer to the center, the equator, or in Banff, attempting altitude? On a round planet, who then is higher and where is there to fall? And I think  ............

  • perhaps we are golden, we are telling and we are told, we are older now and falling and one day we will fall home.

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