— the air on East Bay Street was the wing of a pinned insect: dry and crisp, humming with vibrations (sound? wind?) as if still animate. The man approached us on the sidewalk with a swagger a few degrees too severe to be confidence, two hooks for hands, a face that blended into the darkness. Did we want to buy some flowers? My instinct was no-thank-you, but you uncrumpled a few dollar bills and suddenly we had a little bouquet: a peach rose haloed in anonymous blue blooms and holly berries, with the stems wrapped in tin foil.
We were still cynical in the darkness — were the hooks real? a ploy for sympathy? Later I unwrapped the bouquet to put the flowers in a plastic soda bottle filled with water from the hotel sink, and we saw the tears from the hooks in the tinfoil. Eight years later, the flowers are pressed in a bag in the back of my closet somewhere I won’t happen upon them and be injured.
— a late September night when I was five, when summer hadn’t yet given up the ghost. Both my mother and father were both at work. My sisters and I knew that the weather was growing more sinister. What warned us? Was it the lightning? A phone call from my halo-haired mother at the hospital? A screeching report on the news? I don’t remember, but I remember the odd mix of fear and excitement as we realized a hurricane was coming.
I had vague notions about what to do in severe weather — something about getting on your knees in a school hallway, building a fortress for your vital organs with your spine, your little hands crossed over your head. Or something about being in a basement, which we didn’t have, or in a room without windows, or was it mirrors, or was it both? The hall closet in the center of the first floor housed a hot water heater I felt sure would burst and boil us all in the middle of the storm.
My sisters conferred and decided we would take shelter under the daybed in their room, nevermind that it was upstairs and nevermind that my scrawny five-year-old arms could’ve probably lifted it. Suddenly, their clutches were on me and I was being pushed, prodded, pressed under the bed — the first one under, destined to be pinned in by the wall in front of me and both of their bodies behind me.
As I felt myself being entombed by the bed frame, a bag of bricks settled on my lungs and thick claustrophobia blanketed my esophagus — suddenly I was clawing, kicking, screeching. After a few moments of intense struggle, my battered sisters gave me up for lost and climbed under the bed themselves, probably vowing to kill me themselves if the hurricane left me unscathed. I ran into the living room with a rebellious heart, opened the blinds, and stood in front of the window as if it were a movie screen, watching the weather bend the city.
— the crush as I fell off the end of the slide into the dirt, the crunch as the boy behind me brought his heavy shoe down on my nose, the splatter of blood on the hopscotch court and on my pink nylon windbreaker —
— full body weight on bone, a long night of pain, the eventual sling, the osteal memory: an ache along a marrow corridor.
— the pressure of “using the body to eliminate the body,” the weight of no weight, the bottomless glass of chocolate milk that was the road out.
— my hands pressed under the tiny basil plant, ensuring his baby roots made contact with the new soil beneath.
— freshly made ricotta cheese unceremoniously hanged in cheesecloth, mass and gravity pressing the extra water out toward the center of the Earth,
— a new cast-iron skillet placed on top of the wrapped sandwich and then, when the weight still seemed too slight, a cast iron grill pan added as well. The mass of cast-iron compressing the thick, crusty ciabatta down into a rainbow of provolone, salami, roasted peppers. The pesto negotiating a seductive path through the bread’s caverns.
What are your memories of pressure?
Pretty Italian Pressed Sandwiches
Recipe by: adapted from The Cilantropist
Yields: about 5 servings
1 loaf ciabatta bread
roasted red peppers or tomatoes
sliced hot salamis
sliced provolone cheese
fresh or deli pesto
fresh basil leaves
Note: Make this sandwich a day in advance so it has time to press, but don’t leave it for much longer or it will get soggy. When adding each ingredient layer to the sandwich, your goal should be to ensure there’s complete coverage of the previous layer so that when you cut your sandwiches, the colors will be distinct and complete, with no gaps.
Use a long serrated knife to slice the loaf of ciabatta lengthwise. Spread on a thin layer of pesto (don’t saturate the bread) and then lay out a layer of roasted peppers or tomatoes. Next, add about 3 layers of salami (overlapping slices) and a thick layer of cheese on top of that. Top with a layer of fresh basil leaves. Spread more pesto on the top slice of ciabatta and settle it on top of the sandwich. Wrap the sandwich tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate with a weight on top — I used a cast-iron skillet and a cast-iron grill pan. When ready to serve, use a serrated knife to slice into pretty squares.
P.S. This recipe was part of my elementary school throwback picnic! Visit that post to see more picnicky fun.