Magical Feasts and Flying Carpets
Published Sunday, November 6, 2016
Coming to Omaha was not in the plan. But we had a good reason to come for a while. Staying in Omaha was not our plan. We were abducted by its charms.
When my husband Jim Luyten and I were newcomers, we signed up for one of Outstanding in the Field’s movable feasts. Paul Kulik was the inspired chef. A table for 100 people was set up on a grassy bluff at Branched Oak Farm in Raymond Nebraska. The air was humid, our faces grew soft in the moist heat. As the big blue sky deepened and scintillated with pinks and golds, local producers and growers walked along the table talking with diners about their contribution to our meal. The people who happened to sit down across from us would become good friends.
It was as close to heaven on earth as I have ever been.
Three years later we sign up for The Feast of the Five Sausages, a pop-up dinner by Normandie Nights, which describes itself as “a society dedicated to the idiom: ‘Live, Love, Eat!’ Featuring monthly themed dinners full of gluttony and revelry. By invitation only.” Chef Michael Anderson posts the events on Facebook; they are held at his home, for his circle of family and friends, but are somewhat open to newcomers—So, with the help of coincidence, a little whining and begging, or a little baksheesh (otherwise known as charitable giving or a bribe), you might be the lucky ones. We were.
I want to pause to sing the praises of trestle tables, a key element of both events. At trestle tables people sit in close proximity next to and across from one another, encouraging the art of conversation. Add a prix fixe menu, and just sit back, or lean forward, and surrender, and presto chango—magic! Civilization 101. Because civilization is civility between strangers, based perforce on travelling in each other’s company or eating in each other’s company, or both. Kill each other or get along. It’s that simple. Civilization is just the working out and codifying of some of the basics that make that possible. Like talking instead of shooting. Like agreeing that life is a lot more fun if public spaces are safe for all and people say please and thank you.
Here’s where the flying carpets come in.
Back up in time our three trips to Turkey, especially Istanbul. Back up in time to my oldest brother Graham Fuller, ex-CIA officer (many years back in the Middle East and Asia), but ongoing independent commentator on foreign policy and Muslim populations around the world and, more recently, commentator on what the heck is happening to our country. Recently he has been a target of online conspiracy theories about the Gulen Movement in Turkey, flamed by the increased autocratic behavior of its leader, Recep Erdogan.
Complicated. Look it up if you are interested, but for now come back to Omaha.
My brother’s recent trip to Omaha coincided with calls from unknown numbers in Turkey to my husband’s cell phone. What the heck? Paranoia is contagious, as we all know too well in election year 2016. My husband hesitates to take the calls Finally he does. The guy on the line says he is the carpet seller from whom we bought some terrific carpets in Istanbul. “I’m in Boston,” he says, “I have carpets to show you and your friends.” “Oh,” my husband says, “so sorry, but we moved to Omaha!” “No problem,” the guy says, “I’m coming to Omaha soon!” “But we don’t need any more carpets!” my husband says. “We moved from a big house in Massachusetts to a condo in Omaha, we gave our kids most of our rugs and furniture, and we do not have space for more of anything!”
It seems highly unlikely that the carpet seller is working for people who are working for Erdogan, and coming to Omaha to abduct my brother. After selling us a few rugs. Life is exciting, but rarely that exciting.
End of story? No.
Fast forward to The Feast of the Five Sausages at which we have the most flimsy of connections to only two of the organizers, William Holland and LeAnn Anderson, sister of the chef. People we only know because they struck up a conversation with them at the bar at Avoli some time ago. All others at the Feast are strangers to us. We happen to sit down near a guy who happens to mention that he went to Turkey with his kids a few years back, more or less because at the last minute he couldn’t get a visa to go to the place he wanted to go to.
Hopefully there is a theme developing here. Something like: if you give in to serendipity, most of the time you will have a blast and probably not be abducted, or only in a good way.
This guy mentions he just had a visit from some Turks from whom he bought carpets when he was in Istanbul.
Yup, same shop on a little street not far from the Blue Mosque.
One of the carpet sellers called our dinner companion up recently—as you can imagine tourism in Turkey has taken a hit with instability in the country and the region—and said he’s coming across the country reconnecting with folks who bought carpets from him in Istanbul. He’s just trying to make a living! And with Middle Easterners, just as with our foremothers and fathers on the Great Plains, you hold connections and help each other, unless you want to starve or be an outlaw.
Mysterious calls on our cell phones explained. No conspiracies, nothing to do with my brother.
A plane and a rented van brought us to Omaha. But these might as well have been flying carpets, given the magic and alchemy that ensued.
Movable feasts keep us here. Feasts of food, friends, art, film, theater, farmers markets, prairie—and the inclination to talk to strangers.