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«Auto/Biography 2004; 12: 126À146 My Cypriot Cookbook: Re-imagining My Ethnicity Maria Antoniou University of Brighton, UK This article is written in ...»

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Auto/Biography 2004; 12: 126À146

My Cypriot Cookbook: Re-imagining

My Ethnicity

Maria Antoniou

University of Brighton, UK

This article is written in the form of a cookbook. It contains recipes for four

Cypriot dishes, along with my taped and then transcribed commentaries on

preparing them. I locate food making and eating as auto=biographical practices and, particularly, as methods for examining personal and social identities. I use the cookbook to explore my Cypriot ethnicity and to understand the problematic ways it interacts with my lesbian sexuality. At the start of the article, I discuss how, until now, I have marginalised my Cypriotness in order to claim a lesbian identity. But whilst cooking Cypriot food, I begin to re-imagine my ethnicity and to re-story myself as both Cypriot and lesbian.

Throughout the article, I explore memories, reflect upon my relationship to racial and ethnic categories, and examine personal geographies and notions of ‘home’.

Menu Fish with lemon and garlic Baked butter beans Green beans with tomato and onion Olive bread (All recipes serve two people) Fish with lemon and garlic 2 small, whole fish, or 2 fish fillets salt and pepper juice of 1 lemon 1 clove garlic, chopped 50 ml olive oil handful chopped parsley Address for correspondence: Maria Antoniou, Centre for Learning and Teaching, University of Brighton, Mayfield House, Falmer, BN1 9PH, UK; Email: ma8@brighton.ac.uk Q 2004 Arnold 10.1191=0967550704ab009oa My Cypriot Cookbook 127 Wash fish. Put in bowl and season. Pour lemon juice over and leave to marinate for one hour. Put fish in shallow saucepan with lemon juice. Add garlic and oil. Cover and simmer gently until tender. Scatter parsley over. Serve.

COMMENTARY I’m unpacking my shopping bags. I’m looking for the fish. I purposefully ordered fish so that I could make this recipe. I already have the other ingredients. Cypriot store cupboard basics: lemon, olive oil, garlic, parsley. The taste of my ethnicity? I imagine that my genes are marinated in this mixture. I suspect my body fluids carry a lemon, olive oil, garlic, parsley trace. I’m gathering my ingredients together.

Assembling my equipment: bowl, saucepan, knife, fish slice. I’m clearing a space for myself. Wiping kitchen surfaces. I’m taping this.

Recording my thoughts while I cook. A tape recorder is a writing tool. Useful when I’m doing something else. When I have my hands full and can’t use them to write. I can tape my ideas and later transcribe them. ‘You might be working on the hem of a dress and you begin to think about how it was with your ex-husband and you want to write about it. Your hands are busy sewing; you can talk about it into a recorder’ (Goldberg, 1986: 7). A notebook would get wet in the kitchen. I’d have to stop my cooking to write. The food would take forever to prepare. Or the food would burn.

But a tape recorder is more than a practical tool. I’m using the tape because I’m having trouble writing this article. I can’t express my thoughts straight onto the page. I want to write about my ethnicity.

My Cypriotness. How do I define and experience Cypriotness as my ethnic identity? How do I relate Cypriotness to my sense of body and self? What are the implications, more widely, for theorizing the relationships between my body, self and identity? Between my identity, place and ‘home’?

These are difficult questions. Questions I have so far avoided.

Although I superficially label myself Cypriot, my Cypriot self remains unexplored. In everyday life, I marginalize my ethnicity. I repress it. I ram my experiences of Cypriotness far down into my body. And bury them beneath thoughts and feelings about other facets of my identity. But silence is unhealthy. Silence breeds disease (Bays, 1999). And my Cypriotness has become a festering wound.

Now stabbing my stomach. Now tightening my chest. A pain that I try to ignore. Now too painful to write. Attempting to write my Cypriotness straight onto the page is like stabbing at the wound.

Gouging deeper into already butchered flesh. Because writing is too Auto/Biography 2004; 12: 126À146 128 Maria Antoniou harsh handed. Severe. Writing jabs relentlessly at my experiences.

Rips off scabs I grow for self-protection. Delves beneath my skin.

And hauls out what I hide there. I push myself to dig deep with my writing. Because I am a writer. Because digging makes for good text. But writing my Cypriotness À writing straight onto the page À is too much, too soon.

Using the tape recorder allows me to begin this article gently. I do not apply the same pressures to my speech that I do to my writing. I rarely return to my spoken words, to poke and prod them. To polish and perfect. Also, making a tape makes me feel less exposed. When I’m writing, I speak to an audience outside myself. I envisage my words ending up in a journal. In libraries, offices, homes. In people’s possession. As I write, I become public, visible, vulnerable. But no one except me will listen to this tape. I can decide what to transcribe or not to transcribe. How to transcribe. What to let my readers see and know of me.

ÃÃÃ I’m rolling a lemon between my palms. I’ve seen television cooks do this. They say it releases the juice. But I just like the sensation. Hard ball of fruit pressed along the flats of my hands. I’m rolling the lemon up my arm. Across the bump of my collar bone. Onto my neck. Rubbing citrus scent over my skin. But now I’ve become self-conscious, standing in my kitchen, rolling a lemon over my body. Can you see me, reader? Perhaps this tape is not as private and safe as I imagined?

I’m picking up a knife. Slicing into yellow skin. Juice bleeds over my fingers. Flesh exposed.

ÃÃÃ So why is my Cypriotness so problematic for me? Why is it so emotionally painful? The fact is that I’m a lesbian. And CypriotnessÀ like most other categories of ethnicity À is sexed. It is heterosexed (see contributors to Reinfelder, 1996). In dominant terms, lesbians don’t fit into Cypriotness. We don’t even exist within it. The possibility of our presence is totally unimagined. Within the space of my family,

my ethnic ‘community’, my ‘home’, I’m forced to make a ‘choice’:

Cypriot or lesbian. It’s impossible to be both. I’m not alone in these experiences. Black and ethnically Other lesbians are frequently ‘pressurised into making a hierarchy of oppressions’. And ‘the language and metaphors...[we use are] sometimes warlike: choosing sides, betraying one’s culture’ (Morris et al., 1995: 39). Dominant diswww.AutoBiographyJournal.com My Cypriot Cookbook 129 courses divide. Compartmentalize. We have to be either=or. Dominant discourses often lead us (if we are not from ‘dominant’ groups) into confusion about our identities. Into choosing=denying one or other part of ourselves (Fuentes, 1997).

I made my choice early in life. By the age of seven or eight. When I began to desire women. When I began to turn away from the notion of the heterosexualized, submissive ‘Cypriot woman’. The language was the first to go: I refused to speak Greek (although the reasons for this refusal are more complex and are, in part, due to the effects of racism). Next, I started to ‘disrespect’ my Dad.

To badmouth other ‘Cypriot macho’ male relatives. I laughed at their orders, their attempts at domination. My rebellion was initially treated with humour: I was a spirited child, my behaviour would improve when I became a woman, found a man. But as I got older, my rebellion intensified. And I was more and more despised. The warnings=threats began: ‘If you carry on like this, no man will want you.’ The verbal assaults started: ‘What do you think you look like in those [‘men’s’] clothes?’ The start of isolation, low self-esteem, depression, a rejection of all things Cypriot. But, thankfully, access to lesbian books, lesbian images, lesbians. Growing confidence in my sexuality. Myself.

I have run=been pushed from my family. Extricated myself=been excluded from the mainstream British Cypriot ‘community’. But, by the time I ‘came out’ to my family, it seemed there was no choice to make. Silence was not an option. There was no chance I’d remain closeted about my sexuality. Bow to family=social pressures. Be coerced into a (heterosexual) marriage. No possibility I’d take my place in the ‘long line of dutiful wives’ (Smith, 1987). I believed that ‘coming out’ as a lesbian, living an ‘out’ lesbian life, meant losing my family, forfeiting my cultural identification, giving up my claim to Cypriotness. And I retain this belief. I live it out in my self-perceptions. In my everyday life. I have little contact with my family, or with other Cypriot people. Including Cypriot lesbians. I rarely speak Greek. I see myself as not-really-Cypriot, not-properly-Cypriot, barely Cypriot. As far as my Cypriotness goes, I don’t even stand ´ in the borderlands (Anzaldua, 1987). I long ago fled the country. I now live thousands of miles away. (But where?) And I rarely look back.

But this is a lie. A wishful thought. A way of making it easier (harder) for myself. Rejecting my Cypriotness doesn’t make it disappear. I’m always Cypriot and lesbian. In the face of racism, I’m undeniably Cypriot. I’m able to speak and write about my experiences of racism. Because this involves turning outwards. I talk about ‘them’, Auto/Biography 2004; 12: 126À146 130 Maria Antoniou not ‘me’. I don’t look beyond my anger. Stay, like the racists do, on the surface. But mostly my Cypriotness sits quietly. Festers. My Cypriotness is a blister. A sore. Caused by the rubbing, chafing of incompatible materials. The harshness of lesbophobia (and racism).

Against the fragility of my skin. My Cypriotness is a blister. Bulging with anger, pain, confusion. And now I must prick the blister. There’s an urgent need to release the pressure. To prevent explosion.

ÃÃÃ I’m putting a pan on the hob. I’m using a wok. Because it’s big enough for the fish to fit into. I’m putting the fish in the wok. I’m pouring over the oil. The lemon. Chopping garlic. Chucking it in.

ÃÃÃ I’m ‘writing’ this article in the kitchen because here I have distractions. I can use the food, utensils, and my body’s activity as barriers to my emotions. I don’t have to directly confront difficult feelings. I can swat my attention back and forth between my cooking and my text. I often wander into the kitchen when I’m having trouble writing.

Especially when writing about emotionally difficult topics. When I find myself ‘blocked’, I start to cook. At first, I feel guilty I’m not writing. I see cooking as avoidance. But then À as I peel, chop, stir À the knots begin working loose. And if I touch on a thought or feeling that’s too painful, I can switch my focus to squeezing lemons, washing fish. Cooking is like gauze over my wounds. A protective barrier. A screen which I can think through. Cooking is a way of ‘taking away the painful realities of oppression, and introducing some pleasures in life’ (Hughes, 1997 [1980]: 279).

Cooking is also ‘a form of enquiry’ (Heldke, 1992b: 251). A challenge to traditional academic modes of knowing=doing. Cooking is rooted in, and celebrates, ‘embodied, concrete and practical experience’ (Curtin and Heldke, 1992: iv). Examining our cooking (and eating) practices gives us a sense of our materiality, a ‘sense of ourselves as bodily creatures’ (Curtin, 1992: 9). Cooking helps me to grasp and articulate my experiential complexity. Writing often traps me in my head. But cooking acknowledges the holism of my body. Recognizes my body as agent. Western, masculinist philosophical thought largely ignores cooking (Heldke, 1992a). Because cooking is perceived as too embodied. Too animalistic. Cooking involves smell, taste and touch. The most ‘intimate senses’. The ‘lower senses’.

The least cognitive, least masculine, most feminine senses www.AutoBiographyJournal.com My Cypriot Cookbook 131 (Korsmeyer, 1999). Writing this article as a cookbook challenges the mind=body binary. And redefines cooking as ‘mentally-manual’, ‘theoretically practical’, a ‘thoughtful practice’ (Heldke, 1992a: 203). As both ‘hand work’ and ‘mind work’.

But mostly, I’m writing this article in the kitchen because food feeds more than our physical bodies. Food feeds our souls. It is soul food (Hughes, 1997 [1980]). ‘Food is more than sustenance; it is history’ (Allison, 1988: 155). Food is identity, memory, autobiography (Zafar, 1999). Food is ‘home’. Often replacing the ‘home’ we’ve run or been pushed from. Food is ‘one of the most symbolic tools’ that black and ethnically Other people use in ‘our search for roots’ (Hughes, 1997 [1980]: 272). Because food is the remaining signifier of my Cypriotness. Because I imagine and perform my Cypriotness largely through food.

ÃÃÃ I’m washing up. Comforted by the warmth of the water. The rhythmic movement of my body. I listen to the sounds of washing up: rattling cutlery, clanking pans. I’m looking out of the window.

At our scrubby patch of garden. At our neighbour’s scabby cat.

ÃÃÃ I’m starting to see that silencing my Cypriotness is counterproductive. For a long time, this strategy did work. It allowed me to assert my sexuality, to live a life more true to my lesbian self. But I no longer feel threatened by my family. I no longer have to alienate myself from my ethnicity, deny myself the potential of belonging to a Cypriot community. Cypriotness belongs to me too. It is my Cypriotness. I’ve colluded in my own exclusion. Allowed dominant stories of Cypriotness to write me out (Fuentes, 1997). By insisting upon the incompatibility of Cypriot and lesbian, I’ve denied the complexities of my identity (Battacharyya, 1997). By asserting my difference within Cypriotness, I inscribe a lesbian presence into this ethnic category. I queer Cypriotness. I stand as proof that ‘Cypriot’ is not a homogenous ethnic identity.

‘It is possible to create an identity with new layers of meanings, to have multiple subjectivities, without separating the self into different speaking subjects: to be one with many parts’ (Mirza, 1997: 17).


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