Spring lamb. First born and first kill. Three to five months old and now on our table, well one of its legs. An offering for new growth and warmer days. Flesh and sign of a flayed god and his ascendance into blue skies. Once upon a time a celebration at the end of fasting.
The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by the Van Eyck Brothers, Hubert and Jan. ECCE AGNUS DEI QUI TOLLIT PECCATA MUNDI (“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”). So says The Gospel Of John, so say Christians in word, music and painting. So writes William Blake, so composes John Tavener, so performs the Tenebrae Choir.
Out on Nacka, we’ve emerged from months of darkness and cold into wildflowers spreading throughout greening yards, deer sniffing around our pool and nibbling our grass, birds excitedly singing to each other, and air warming the windows we open into fresh air.
Our lamb leg hails from Strängnäs, which lies west of Stockholm off Lake Mälaren. Farmers will say that sheep as they graze on plants and grass access deep-rooted minerals, giving a particular taste to the lamb based on where it feeds, wanders and sleeps. We should taste local flora and the Svecofennian Orogeny.
I live where I’ve never lived before. I’m learning to say Kvinnan pratar och mannen lyssnar and Elefanter äter tomater. In Swedish, I exist only in the present tense, for now. I have new government-issued numbers, a new bank account, new healthcare system, and I have a new job leading conversational-English courses for Swedes. I cook as I’ve done for decades, but now I shop at Sandströms Kött & Chark, a local butcher and Hemköp and ICA Maxi. I sleep, rise, eat, play, talk and sleep again with my wife and son as I have for fifteen years, but now in the ground floor of a house with a large yard, many trees, especially spruce and birch, near a train station, bus stop and two lakes. I take public transportation everywhere if I’m not walking. I may never drive a car again.
I write for most of the week, continuing a passion that began when I was a child and developed through instruction and practice from one century to the next. “The novel,” as I call it, as many writers have called their long prose work slowly crawling into being, nears completion and features a man living alone who cooks and eats for and with his dead relatives who return to his house out of hunger for a good meal, hunger to tell a story of who and what they were. And the man listens. And the man remembers. Of course, he has stories of his own. Of course, he has questions for his dead; half-hid memories he’s trying to piece together into a full puzzle of who he is and what he’s done. His wife and son have travelled half-way around the world and wait for him in a new home. He’s trying to get to them, trying to sell the house, and yet he’s fascinated, obsessed one might say, with his dead. And then a twelve-year old boy with antlers shows up at his door and things get weird, things get uncanny. I’ve been working on it for two and a half years. It bridges who I was and who I am.
Time to cook. First things first, I cut four slits into the lamb, skin side up, and then cover it with Kalamata olive juice and olive oil, working liquid all around, in and out. Then I layer the baking dish with juniper and spruce branches cut right outside our front door.
I mix together black pepper, garlic, lemons, olives, oregano, salt;
and then, coat the lamb, wedging lemon slices, garlic and olives into the openings.
This leg of god nestles in the oven at 150 Celsius for five hours. Gabriela is at the gym, Demian works his Magic cards in his room, one cat perches on the window sill, the other scampers up a tree, and I pour a glass of Svensk Rök, a peaty single malt from Mackmyra Distillery in Valbo one hundred and seventy-six miles north of Stockholm. A sip and a chair out in the sunlight. Seventeen years ago, I entered a room and began a journey of conversations and revelations, joy and pain; the suffering of illusions and the casting off of complexes. Counseling and psychotherapy. Alchemy might be a better word. The chair or couch I sat in served as an alembic where in dialogue with an advanced clinical practitioner, a natural philosopher, a detective I heated emotions, habits, memories and thoughts into vapors then cooling through days, months, weeks and years into a distillation of . . . well, of me. Over the next several posts, I’m going to trace what happened within those walls, puzzling out again what I puzzled about me and others around me and in my life as I continue to cut lemon wedges, coat legs and shoulders, roast and stir, drink and eat. Memories of mental illness, if you wish, with recipes. And now, one last lamb.