Friday, April 24, 2009

The Charybdis Picnic

"You will see the other cliff, lower down than the other, Odysseus: they are near one another and you could even shoot an arrow between them. On it is a giant fig tree, sprouting many leaves, and below it, Charybdis swallows down the black water. Three times a day, she vomits it up and three times she sucks it back down. Don't go there when she swallows it back down for no one could save you from disaster, not even the Earth-shaker. But rather, sailing close to the rock of Scylla, drive your ship swiftly by, for it is much better to lose six comrades from a ship than everyone together" (Od. 12.101-110).

I laugh in the face of danger (or speedily away from it as it throws rocks at me). If my middle name were not very long and Hawaiian, surely it would be "Danger" or "Man of Pain." Also, I live on the edge.

It is up to me then, to find out why Charybdis Playground in Astoria Park is named, well, Charybdis Playground. It seems a little odd that a public playground would be named after a scary sea monster in Greek mythology, especially in a predominantly Greek neighborhood. And monstrous name or no monstrous name, it is a lovely spot for a picnic on a sunny springtime afternoon.
I set to work packing a lunch: the previously mentioned Honeyed Mushrooms (the nasty ones, since I did use a whole box of white button mushrooms and had plenty of leftovers), kykeon
(porridge) made according to Dalby and Grainger's recipe in The Classical Cookbook (which is based upon a recipe from Cato's On Agriculture), Ceres brand guava juice (I drank gallons of this stuff when in South Africa and managed to find a tetra-pak of it at JAS Mart on St. Mark's), Ion almond chocolate and some modern egg salad sandwiches and white-bean-and-leek soup so the boyfriend and I wouldn't starve.

I tried making The Classical Cookbook's kykeon as a precursor to Circe's magic potion (still gearing up for that one) since it is remarkably similar, calling for semolina, ricotta, honey and a bit of beaten egg. All that was lacking were the Pramnian wine and evil drugs. Dalby and Grainger cite the kykeon that Hecamede prepares in the Iliad, which requires Pramnian wine, goat's cheese, and barley  (Il. II.638-41). It had symbolic and perhaps ritualistic significance as well, "As a mixture of wine and cereal, it brings together the gifts of Dionysus, the wine god, and of Demeter, the goddess who gave us wheat and barley" (40). Dalby and Grainger declare their search for a precise kykeon recipe an "impossible quest" but its "first clue comes from the name itself, for kykan means to churn or clot or thicken by stirring. This suggests something like a soup or even a porridge."

Cato's recipe, or Hecamede's sans wine and with semolina instead of barley, really was quite good. It was lightly sweetened by the honey and had the consistency of baby food. When my sister tried it before the picnic, she said it would be terrific with bacon. Perhaps if I added some wine and evil drugs, the stuff would produce its own bacon. My sandwiches and soup were pretty damn good, too, and we even managed to avoid losing comrades.
After the very lovely (and totally badass) picnic, I finally bothered to google Charybdis Playground. While the New York City Parks Department calls it a "magical spot along the East River that serves Astoria's children," it also explains that the name comes from the playground's proximity to Hell Gate in the East River, where ships have crashed and treasure still lies sunken.

Dalby, A. and Grainger, S. The Classical Cookbook. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1996
New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. "Astoria Park: Charybdis Plaground."

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