I don’t feel like writing a post, so I’m going to drop in a “a propos nothing” reminiscence.
I remembered this in the kitchen, because I was having a very small slice of cheese as a snack, and the cheese was mild and vaguely sweet, so I started noodling making some kind of low-carb desert with it.
Not that I’m in any shape for noodling. Yesterday I was still very congested. Today was my first day not wanting to fall asleep every five minutes. But I thought, you now “Hey, wonder if I could make a desert from this?”
And then I remembered the first time I heard the word cheesecake, and what I thought it would be like.
To tell this story, I must explain my 3rd year English (and techniques of translation) teacher. She was a maiden lady, emphasis on the lady probably in her fifties. (For a long time I thought her being unmarried was due to her looking exactly like Marat in the picture Marat in his bath. I mean enough that it made you think of reincarnation. but it turned out she had a lover (?) or perhaps boyfriend, she had been in love with for 20 years. They couldn’t marry, because his wife was insane and in a madhouse, but he was Catholic and wouldn’t divorce her (which is why I’m not sure if he was a lover or merely a boyfriend. More on this relationship later.)
This woman was …. formidable. And she terrorized most of the class. Probably the only reason I eventually could become native-fluent in English was that year. She gave us lists of vocabulary until our eyes bled. (I’m still wondering what I was supposed to use all the collective nouns for. I mean, an exultation of larks is cute, but….) And she didn’t tolerate bad grammar.
We had to bring the Oxford English Learners dictionary to school every day and put it on the right side of our desks, precisely located, or we were marked absent. It didn’t take very long to learn it had to be perfectly placed because if you said anything wrong, she grabbed it and hit you with it. If you said something VERY wrong, like one of my classmates who, I swear, was incapable of learning English despite having chosen it as a specialty in 9th grade, she’d hit you with it over and over. I sometimes wondered if the poor girl had concussion.
For inscrutable reasons, she never hit me. At one point she made me answer something very difficult, (I can’t remember what.) then reached for my dictionary and my heart about stopped. Then she opened it and said, “Oh, you’re right. But you’re using an archaic form of that word. I wasn’t sure of the meaning.”) Eh.
Once I’d figured out I could do no wrong, I wasn’t afraid in her class (everyone else was) but I still studied really hard because the woman was a damn perfectionist and I didn’t want the look of “more in sorrow than anger” which she sometimes gave people.
As I said, without her, I might not have had the foundation I had, on which to build to writing fiction in English.
As an idea of how the school regarded her: I once passed out in her class. Yes, I’ve been having these episodes where my potassium gets suddenly extremely low and I pass out since I was 12 or so. This one, I just felt like everything was receding and collapsed in my desk. Since apparently I go all stiff when I pass out in those circumstances, I later got an earful from the classmates who had to extract me from the desk.
I woke up in the nurse’s office, with three nurses around me, being really nice and saying things like “What did the mean witch say to make you pass out, sweetheart?”
Being me, and still muzzy I said, “Nothing, she’s very nice to me.” At which point they all stepped back and looked at me like I was Satan jr.
Anyway, she was one of three teachers who gave me a recommendation for becoming an exchange student. And once I was placed in the US, she started telling stories of the one and only time she’d come to the US. She stayed in NYC for 2 nights. The second night she saw a sign that said “Open all nite” and decided she couldn’t endure that sort of barbarism, so she changed her ticked and flew back home.
She told us, though, that while she was there, she had cheese cake for dinner. We asked her all sorts of questions about it, and she said it was like a pie, and she couldn’t figure out if it was made with cheese, or why they called it that.
So, under the principle of “different cultures.” In Portugal at the time, cream cheese was unheard of. In fact, it was only introduced about 20 years ago, and it was a “luxury” type thing, so people would put out cream cheese on crackers (with nothing else) to be classy.
In fact, there were two kinds of cheese: a gouda type, and “da serra” which is a runny cheese made with sheep’s milk and very tangy.
Before that class was over we all had come up with ways and reasons that we could make a “gouda type” cheese pie. I no longer remember if I tried one of the ideas out, or not. If so, it was nothing like cheese cake, but might have been good (or at least I don’t remember any spectacular failure around that time.)
I have to say when I found out how cheese cake was actually made it was a little bit of a let down….
Oh, and my dyslexic friend had the same teacher two years later, and had a wonderful grade. I was very confused, because my friend was at least as smart as I was, but twice as dyslexic. The woman who thought “nite” was enough of a violation of the English language to shun an entire country had given her a B? How in heck.
Later when I was in the school to apply for some papers I needed for college I met the teacher. She’d gone from all dour and authoritarian to all smiles and really sweet. As she walked away one of the school employees told me that the teacher’s boyfriend’s wife had died and he’d finally married the teacher about a year ago “And she’s been all flowers and butterflies since.”
So, I guess there is much to say for love at any age. I’m sure the lady is gone now. Or if not very very old. But without her none of this — including this blog — would exist. Or not in English.
If I figure out how to make a pie with a Gouda type cheese I’m going to name it after her.