Friday, February 16, 2007

Eating. oranges.

Earlier, while I was sitting at the computer, typing away, K. handed me a large orange, bright as a burning round sun. It was cold in my hands as I immediately peeled and devoured it, the sharp oils in the thick, gleaming skin staining my fingers as I dug my nails into the smooth rind around the pleated navel at one end, peeling it away, piece by piece, to reveal the white pith that conceals the flesh beneath. It was a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity, bursting with juice, dribbling all over the place as I ate it.

Oranges remind me of winter. When I was young we spent most of our Christmas holidays in Taipei, where you could get a kind of orange, about the size of a tangerine, the skin almost loose and a little baggy, thin and easily peeled away. They were sweeter than any other kind of orange I had ever eaten, before or since, only available locally and in the winter. I had some again a few years ago, after over a decade's absence. They were not the same, but then, I didn't think it would. Nothing ever tastes as good as you remember it being, particularly something you loved as a child.

Here in Seattle you can get Satsuma oranges, smaller than those that I remember from my Taiwanese holidays, but with that same baggy, loose skin that peels away so easily you can make one long spiral of the peel. They come with a few leaves still attached, which become dry and brittle as the days go by and they sit heaped on the counter. But of course they never last that long, as I can eat several of them at once. I wait for them all year long and when I see them in stores I know that winter has come again.

And then there are Clementines, packed in crates made of thin wooden slats or cardboard boxes wrapped in plastic mesh, each orange tiny and perfect, with thin, tight skins that, like Satsumas, peel away easily in a single spiral. I find that I always eat three or four of them at a time, leaving a trail of skins behind me like Hansel and Gretel placing white stones behind them to mark a path home. Piles of the abandoned peels gather on every available surface, coiled like empty snakeskins, much to the annoyance of everyone around me.

Navel oranges are a litle different, with their thick skins and acidic sweetness. Chinese restaurants serve them after every meal, sliced into wedges; I would strip the flesh from the skins with my teeth, all the way down to the bitter pith. They always remind me of interminable banquets ending with bowls of sweet red-bean soup, or soccer games where each week a different parent would bring bags and bags of orange slices. They make me think of school cafeterias where the oranges would be piled in wicker baskets alongside red apples and yellow bananas, a study in primary colors next to the cash registers.

Spring is around the corner, but scent of oranges burnt into my skin reminds me that winter is still here.

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