All the way back home

I’ve been home a few weeks now, but somehow it took until now to really feel like I’m home. Last night we hosted our first dinner concert at the Nomad Chef. We often have live music and have even done a house concert where we served canapés. But this one was special. It was a magical evening, one that inspired me in so many ways. We were packed, 24 guests, sold out days before the evening.  There were three musicians. Two of the artists came from the US to do a 10 day tour with the friend who organized it, a friend they knew from New York. It was day 2 of their tour.


A Gig with Alex Berger, Chrissi Poland and Caleb Hawley @ Nomad Chef Music from kozue nagano on Vimeo.

The menu worked well, or so say the guests, a typical fusion of multiple cultures. We started with guacamole and chips served with Dirty Soho Mojitos, what I may start thinking of as our signature cocktail (Soho Lychee liqueur, Zacapa dark rum, lime juice, mint, sugar and sparkling water). And then we started the meal with clams with spicy black bean sauce (Chinese). I tried to get razor clams, and in fact called all over London for them. Sadly there were none. I think that those nameless people who normally dig for clams were too busy enjoying the sun on the weekend to bother with the digging. My loss… their gain. Anyway, even though the little clams weren’t exactly what I wanted, I’m sure my guests didn’t notice they were missing those elegant, long tubes that look so lovely on the plate. Next was another Mexican component, a vegetarian enchilada casserole with our signature salad dressing (grated garlic and ginger, fig balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, lemon juice and olive oil). And then a lamb Mrouzi that simmered for hours with no less than 15 freshly ground spices and tons of onions and raisins, among other typical Moroccan ingredients. And last, but not least, the pudding – crepes made with some of the lovely (and very expensive) Zacapa rum, with a hot toffee sauce and chantilly (otherwise known as whipped cream) served with the same rum, but this time served as it should be, neat.  Yummm…. You heard it here first!

Tonight was day 3 for the “US and Brit” tour, which included the same incredible musicians that graced the Nomad Chef dinner: Alex Berger, Chrissi Poland and Caleb Hawley. I’m not sure if the “US” is meant to mean the United States or just simply “us” as in “us or them” but it kind of sums up my own identity. I’m an American girl living here in the UK, a kind of honorary Brit – US and Brit. Tonight was a kind of reunion for me with them, a 24 hours later reunion where this time I got to sit and listen and watch without thinking about the food I was either cooking, plating or serving. And musically their gig tonight was a fusion of culture and genres. The little red headed wonder white girl, Chrissi Poland, sings soul music as if she has lived the pain of all of my African American ancestors. Alex Berger sings something that is pretty cross-genre but in some way reminds me of the kind of music that only legends like Barbra Streisand can pull off, and he does just that but with his own original sound and style. Then Caleb Hawley plays the frets off his guitar with one hand that seems like 2 (or more) and a voice that matches the wizardry of his instrument (the wooden one). The music tonight was a lovely dessert for me. I took a few friends and some others met me there. Though English, Alex Berger somehow feels like an American to me. He gives the best hugs of anyone I know in this country, something I imagine him learning during his 6 years in New York. So when his two friends, Chrissi and Caleb arrived and gave me a hug I felt transported into the arms of my birth country, California, where hugging is as instinctual as breathing… not so in my adopted country.

And this is where it gets a little emotional for me. There are advantages to being the busy chef and hostess when this kind of music is being sung in my beautiful conservatory, when I can hear it but don’t have the time to react. Tonight I was fully present to the words and the music. I cried a lot. Chrissi sang, “Trying to hold your heart in your hands and all it does is bleed,” and I felt she was speaking the words I feel so much of the time, “Angel Weep For Me.” My own heart is bleeding from the surgical removal of my son from this life, from my life, and there is no one who can hold the blood that pours out of my wounded heart, least of all me.  “So you call on the angels….. And you say, ‘angels wait for me,’” and that is me… asking my son the angel that he is now to wait for me. I heard this song last night, but saved the feeling and crying for tonight when I heard it for the second time.

And then, Caleb sang these words in Other Side of It, “Ever since the world began, when people go down they get right back up again.” I’m not sure that it’s true for me. I always used to get back up but I haven’t gotten right back up again from my latest and biggest blow ever, but I am sincerely trying. Maybe ‘right back up’ isn’t meant to be taken literally… maybe a space of a few years still counts as getting back up again, or maybe going out and being in the world counts too, even if it is not always completely standing. And, “I know that it’s hard to imagine, But it’s gonna happen – and I’ll see on the other side of the all.” It is hard for me to imagine getting beyond my loss, but I’m going to trust this lovely young man’s faith because I’ve lost my own.

I grew up around a lot of musicians and there were often jam sessions in my house. So it is kind of a full circle kind of thing that I now have a house where there are lots of musicians coming to play and eat; like mother, like daughter. While I was listening to the music tonight I realized that I once had a family of two, that was zeroed out when my son died. 2-1 does not equal 1. He was the whole that was greater than the sum of the parts and I was left with zero. Yet I feel the tiny little green shoots of a new family. I saw them tonight. I’ve adopted Alex into my new family and through him some of his friends. I saw many of them tonight at the North London Tavern. I need this new family. It’s one of the reasons I opened the Nomad Chef – to meet the strangers who have yet to become my friends. There will never be a replacement for my irreplaceable, beautiful, bright, creative son. But I felt his arms around me tonight, a big, tight, California hug.  The music embraced me. I cried but felt something or someone holding me.

Caleb sang another song, a Randy Newman cover, with what I could almost imagine singing myself:

A window breaks down a long dark street
And a siren wails in the night
But I’m alright cause I have you here with me
And I can almost see through the dark there is light…

Feels like I’m all the way back home where I come from

And the evening ended with the three beautiful musicians singing James Taylor’s, You Got a Friend…“You just call out my name and I’ll be there.”  I wondered who was really singing to me tonight? Was it my very own little angel, my son, who wanted me to know that he’s always here with me even when I can’t feel him? Sometimes I have to listen to the music to hear him between the notes. For a little while tonight it felt like I was all the way back home where I came from and that he was here with me.

3 thoughts on “All the way back home

  1. Colleen Simmie

    Shelley: I am so touched by the words that you write and the feelings that you are feeling. You are and inspiration to me as I, too, continue to try to move forward. I love the energy you are putting in to your life and the way you are making your new family. I know how hard it is but you have a spirit and his spirit with you too.

  2. Hewete

    Beautiful write up! And it was a magical evening with utterly delicious food and music that touched me to my core. I’ll be back for more.

  3. Joyce

    You are magnificent, Shelley . . . what a beautifully written piece. I am so impressed that you are trying to ‘get up again’ after such an unimaginable blow . . . I am so glad you have found these wonderful young people, and they have found you. Love, Joyce

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