Inherited Spices

expat issues, memoirs

The other day, my friend A of pop-up dinner party fame sent Partner-in-Crime a message asking him if he’d like to avail himself of the remains of her wine cabinet, as her movers were there and everything must go. This was an offer P-i-C could not turn down, and when he returned from the collection mission, his spoils of the move included the wine, a juicer (lucky me!), and a bag of spices from A’s kitchen.

As I was putting the spices away that night, I started wondering just how many spice containers from how many friends I have inherited over the years. Spices are inevitably the thing that are hanging around in the kitchen when you move that you don’t want to take with you, but you just can’t justify throwing away – that jar of turmeric that you used less than a tablespoon of 1/8 of a teaspoon at a time, the Garam Masala you bought for a recipe that you never got around to making, and the cumin that you just bought three weeks ago, and is still 3/4 full. You need a staying-put friend to take them from you and give them a good home.

Here in Sydney, I’ve helped to offload the spice racks of two other girlfriends who were moving back to the States. Before that, when I lived in Florida, I was the inheritor of an endless supply of spices (spices and, for some reason, bottles of red wine vinegar) from visiting actors who were going back to their real homes in New York after spending three months or so in actor housing. I did a stint – a horrible, thankless stint – as the “Guest Relations Coordinator,” in addition to my regular duties as the Artistic Director’s assistant, which meant that I arranged travel and housing for our guest actors. When they left, I was responsible for getting the houses clean again. Mercifully, I was usually allowed to hire cleaners, but all the stuff left over had to either be trashed, donated or – as was often the case with the spices – put into my personal collection because, really, how else was I going to get rid of a half empty jar of cinnamon?

That job lasted, thankfully, only six months or so, even if it felt like many long years, but for a couple of my years at the theatre, I lived in artist housing, namely a 1920s Florida bungalow with built in bookshelves, a screened porch with white wicker furniture, and wood everything that we called The Pink House. I have almost nothing but fond memories of The Pink House and the revolving cast (literally) of actors, directors, designers and other visiting artists that I called roommates for a few weeks or months.

pink house
The Pink House

We were on a block with several other artist houses and the big intern house, which I also lived in for a year, was across the street. Most of my memories are from the porch, where many of us would congregate to drink beer and pontificate on life until the wee hours. Maybe someone would bust out a guitar or a joint, though I never partook in the latter. Of course, some folks I clicked with more than others, but it seemed like I was constantly in a new community with fascinating people, some of whom I happily remain in touch with and others who I can just barely remember, but pop into memory from time to time. I don’t recall whose spices were whose, except the “excellent” baking powder I ended up with from the roommate who pretentiously told me that my baking powder wasn’t good enough and oh-so-generously replaced it so that he could make pancakes for the household. It became a running joke between the other roomie and I, and if I ran into him today, we’d probably still laugh about it. I do clearly remember our kitchen and the thin shelves I claimed as my “pantry,” which were always overflowing with my collection of spices and other sundries. I’m not sure who I gave my spices to when I moved out of The Pink House. Maybe I just left them for Emily, the massively talented musician/actress who was living there when I left. Several years later when I’d moved back to Sarasota, to my own place this time, and was leaving for Australia, I gave my spices to my friend/Resident Playwright Sarah, who reluctantly took them. She just so happened to be living in The Pink House at the time, and I imagine her reluctance may have had something to do with her own overflowing pantry from all the random dry goods she’d been collecting, as well.

Porch sitting at The Pink House circa about 2002. This picture is just so, so very The Pink House.
In addition to spices, wine, and a juicer, I’ve gotten many more items from transient friends over the years – books, kitchenware, furniture at a friend’s discount, a bike, plants, a beta fish (true story), toys for Hushpuppy, and so on. But, on the frenetic last day of the move, it always seems to be the spices that find their way home with me.
Unpacking A’s spices, I thought for awhile about all these people whose spices I’ve inherited over the years. Then, I started to wonder why it is I’ve set up my life in such a way that people around me always seem to be there just temporarily. I’m not sure that I know the answer. In so many ways, it’s such a sad part of my life. If I had my way, I’d have my 15 or 20 closest friends all living on the same block with me and we’d just sit on our porches drinking adult bevvies and contemplating the world every day (maybe we’d venture out to eat at restaurants and see movies sometimes). Instead, they’re spread all over the U.S. and the world, very few of them in the spot where I met them, which tells me that I’m not the only one who moves around a fair bit. The positive side, though, is that I’m continually forced out of my shell, always on the lookout for great new friends, and that means that I continue to be surprised by the interesting and kind new people that I meet. My fellow mover arounders have, by nature, an inherent bravery, curiosity, and need to continue pushing their boundaries. That guaruntees fascinating friendships that constantly make my life richer, even as my spice rack grows ever fuller.