My friend Claudia is an artist and graphic designer here in town. We get together about once a month for lunch. Besides just hanging out and catching up, she brings some sort of drawing and I bring a poem and we swap them with each other. The idea is then she goes home and paints whatever she sees in the poem and I write about what I find in the painting. We still don’t know where the project is taking us, but we are having fun on the journey together, which was our intention.
We meet for lunch at the same place each time: Old Havana Sandwich Shop, which is one of my favorite places in Durham not only because of the amazing pork dishes, but also because of Elizabeth and Roberto who own it. They are good at what they do and they are good people. Their restaurant is a labor of love, and they have worked hard to make it one of Durham’s treasures. This past week, they planted their first crops on their farm that will be connected to the restaurant. The journey has not always been easy, yet they have kept moving forward with grace and focus.
I went a bit early for lunch because I was hoping to get to talk to Roberto, mostly because I love talking to him. He has a kind and dedicated spirit, always ready to offer a hopeful word. I also love to talk to him because he is usually trying something knew, or has something to share that he has learned, and that usually means I get to taste something really good.When I got there he invited me to come back into the kitchen so he could keep working while we chatted. He slow roasts about one hundred and fifty pounds of pork a day, and roasts the whole hog. While we talked, he was taking the meat from the bones and preparing it to go to the service line.
He worked deliberately and carefully, handling the meat with gentleness and even regard. He kept a steady pace, but was not in a hurry. And there was a place for everything; he wasted nothing. As he worked, he answered my questions about how he used the bones, the rendered lard, and even the skin. He told me one of the women who worked in the kitchen was Mexican and showed him how to make salsa de chicharrones, or pork skin sauce, which requires to take the cooked skin and boil it down with tomatoes and other things until it becomes the consistency of paté. It was a part of the sandwich I had for lunch, and it was so rich and flavorful.
During most of the days this Lent, I have not decided on the word for my Lenten Journal, but as he worked and told stories, I knew today’s word would be intention and I would tell you about Roberto, who infuses his life and his cooking with it. He is a man intent on making his best offering.
After lunch, I met Ginger so we could spend the afternoon reading and writing together, though on separate projects. I went back to bell hooks’ belonging: a culture of place, which I have set aside for a few days, picking up where I left off. The essay I read was about her grandmother, whom she called Baba and who was a quilter. hooks described her and her work:
She was a dedicated quiltmaker—gifted, skillful, playful in her art, making quilts for more than seventy years, even after her “hands got tired” and her eyesight was “quitting.” It is hard to give up the work of a lifetime, and yet she stopped making quilts in the years before her dying. Almost ninety, she stopped quilting. Yet she continued to talk about her work with any interested listener. Fascinated by the work of her hands, I wanted to know more, and she was eager to teach and instruct, to show me how one comes to know beauty and give oneself over to it. To her, quilt making was a spiritual process where one learned surrender. It was a form of meditation where the self was let go. This was the way she learned to approach quilt making from her mother. To her it was an art of stillness and concentration, a work which renewed the spirit.
In the margin next to that paragraph I wrote, “cooking”—and I thought once more about Roberto because how she described her grandmother’s connection to quilting is how I felt watching Roberto cook: it was an art of stillness, concentration, and renewal.
The Latin root of intention is intendre, which means “to stretch toward.” I love the image that creates in my mind. To live with intention is to stretch toward wholeness, toward grace, toward connection, toward excellence, toward love. To watch Roberto cook with intention stretched me to see my day differently, as did hooks telling me about her grandmother incarnating the “ongoing practice of patience, combining spirituality with creative imagination” in her quilting.
With our monthly meeting, Claudia and I are stretching toward being better friends and better artists by creating interdependence, even as we are being fed by Roberto, who cooks with patience and kindness and whose dishes taste like invitations. From both of them I am reminded we are called to stretch toward one another, to live with the intention of creative community.