An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of January 8, 2017
Issued from Rancho Regenesis near Ek Balam ruins 20kms north of Valladolid, Yucatán, Mexico

SOUP JAZZ

Jazz has a stage, and with soup jazz the pot is the stage. Every stage is different, so I tell you now that my soup pot, the size of a big muskmelon, is an old Mexican one with a wire handle. The pot used to be mottled blue outside and solid blue enamel inside, but now outside it's all black with campfire soot, and inside it's mostly black, too, though I'm unsure what causes that blackness. Every stage has its mystery, curtains hiding things and the question of who all these people are and how the performance will affect them, so my pot's inside blackness is analogous that mystery. To tell the truth, all jazz has its black heart around which the music comes, so maybe that's why the blackness in my pot seems right to me, and I don't do anything about it.

Soup jazz starts with a pot full of water, the Key of C, no sharps, no flats, but that'll soon change. How my soup jazz gets improvised depends on what's in the garden, and what I've been able to buy in town and carry home on the bike.

This time I begin with enough Maseca -- very finely ground dry cornmeal poured from a white paper bag -- to thicken the water a little, start out things mellow and down-home, pure corn. Sprinkle in a few short, curved cylinders of macaroni, which settles to the bottom where I like to see it when I'm almost finished eating, all soft and glistening, something upbeat about those silly little curved tubes, and I especially like the ones with ridges just because they're funny, sassy little toots in just the right places.

Now a little handful of soy protein granules -- lots of Maya Seventh Day Adventists in the area and the missionaries teach vegetarianism, so the frutaría in Temozón carries it. A sprinkle of salt, and then all is stirred and set over the fire: Black pot, orange flames, white smoke back-lit by morning sunlight slanting low over the papaya orchard below, and already there's a simple morning melody in the air, and things are beginning to feel jazzy.

Chop up red onion, orangish habanero, red tomato and a good sized green bouquet of purslane , Mizuna mustard greens, and red-bottomed amaranth leaves, add to the pot, and now this jazz is green, red and white, colors of the Mexican flag, as rainbowed and ragtag hot-spicy as any Mexican backcountry village or barrio, onion-syncopation, tomato cymbal crashes, cilantro clarinet and habanero cornet, the green stuff a groovy base beat, all mingling the way it wants to, simmering as the firewood tunes to a lower flame and ember glow rhapsody.

When this soup jazz starts bubbling and along its sides foam oozes up, you're starting to get the feeling of what this jazz is all about, so its time to get down to final business. A little vegetable oil from a plastic bottle and two eggs dribbled in and stirred so that little white egg-tatters of coagulated protein the size of beetle legs form, wispy snare-drum strokes saying it's all alright.

And then it gets eaten, that jazz becoming part of me, so ka-boom, howdy do, and toodle loo!