Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

11.4.07

Exultets and eggs.

A faint pinprick of light appeared in the distance and then approached rapidly, grew larger and passed with a whoosh of something that whooses as it passes; and then it disappeared into the rear vision mirror of life.

It was Easter.

At least the hot cross buns and chocolate eggs are out of the goddamn supermarkets. Now it's hello, Christmas decorations, I suppose. For supermarkets it is eternally Easter and Christmas, like a cut-rate liturgical calendar.

*

The days were hot and windless and golden. The sun is still powerful but lower in the sky. Every year around this time, Melbourne turns gold and copper and bronze. Do you remember those Copper Art commercials with the Peter Smith voiceover on television in the early eighties? People used to fill their houses to overflowing with the stuff - fake escutcheons to hang on walls, fireplace implements and coal buckets to stand uselessly by the gas heater, kettles you couldn't boil and a thousand pointless ornaments that were today's fad and tomorrow's garage sale junk; and I used to think if they had only dragged themselves off their sofas and away from their lurid flickering TV screens and out into their back gardens, they could have bathed in enough Melbourne-sunset copper and gold to burnish a thousand suburbs and streetscapes and parklands and have enough left over to fill a hundred mines.

*

We were sitting in the Achillion cakeshop on a glorious Saturday afternoon, about three o'clock, with the sun slanting in the window and shining on a tray of honey-gold galaktoboureko. I had a Greek coffee and a glass of water sitting on the laminex table in front of me and Tracy had a cappucino and the babies were in their double pram and William was eating a crumbly Greek egg biscuit and watching the ceiling fan go around. Behind the counter, Greek Easter cakes - the ones with red-dyed eggs baked into the middle - were stacked to the ceiling. We bought one to take to Easter Sunday lunch.

*

Bonfires, darkness and music make the Easter vigil the most obviously dramatic service of the year. When one candle spreads to several hundred tapers, the soaring stone pillars and carved timber detail light up slowly like sunrise in an ancient forest. Then the Exultet. It's the kind of spine-tingling experience that seems to ring down through the centuries, bringing it with something out of history, like a piece of aural archaeology. The cantor's voice was spare and powerful and rang clear like crystal. Then it was over and the last organ notes died away and for a second there was utter silence in the packed church and right then William, in his pyjamas in my arms, threw his little hands skywards and let go with a loud 'Hooray!', as though the Wiggles had just finished singing Big Red Car.

*

Sunday lunch was the usual mega-production at the ancestral home in Essendon. Well, it's been there since 1954. That's more than 25% of European settlement in Australia, so that's ancestral enough for me. Mum will never move out. The place will fall down around her and she will still have the kettle on the boil and something baking in the oven.

The usual assortment of siblings and cousins and friends and uncles and aunts and even someone's ex- gathered around several overladen tables groaning with food and another groaning with mis-matched crockery and cutlery and glassware and a pile of paper napkins bearing little Santas. Mum is not into seasonally-themed table accessories. She's not really into accessories full stop. You can't eat a look-at-me square glass vase. Or the rock in it.

There were roasted chickens and platters of barbecued fish and baked pasta casseroles - cannellonis and lasagnes and timbales - and tureens of spiced rice and a something jalfrezi and side platters of roasted vegetables and cold salad platters and several unnamed things that were anonymously delicious. At the end there was an enormous pear crumble served with vanilla ice-cream and pouring cream, just in case you happened to be hungry.

Mum won't leave things alone. She won't settle. She has to cut up bread, offer things around, make sure no-one is starving to death in a corner, check everyone's drink levels, press some more of something onto a vacant square inch of someone's plate, that kind of thing. She was in the kitchen with a knife and there was a sudden crunching noise. She was cutting up the Greek Easter cake into even segments, including the red egg in the middle. 'I thought it was some kind of fruit in the centre,' she said, 'like in a Danish pastry. I didn't realise it was an egg!'

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