I START WRITING a poem when Ellen is still alive, and it is the first thing I write that I am proud of. It starts with a title (it is part of a sequence) or maybe a number, and then: I was afraid of Easter / stuffed with walnuts and dates / moulded then sugared / (why mould if you’re sugaring?).I forget the next part of the verse, which concludes: moulding and sugaring and Eastering Arabic cakes. Even approaching ninety and losing her sight, Ellen, my grandmother, would make hundreds of the cakes I am writing about, called ma’amoul (and I have subsequently learnt we really did Easter those cakes, cakes also made for Muslim festivals such as Eid and Jewish festivals such as Purim).
These cakes are shared across the region, although I wonder (but do not know) how Muslims account for their iconography, which I understand as follows: one cake is moulded with many ribbed lines that converge at the centre in the shape of a dome – a cake filled with walnuts and rose water (sometimes orange blossom water, according to preference) that is said to represent the sponge of vinegar offered to Jesus (a man who is terribly thirsty, though he expresses this appetence in Aramaic and I do not know what that utterance sounds like, although I can say that whatever the language, in the mouth of our Saviour, this utterance must have sounded painful), when he is nailed to the cross.
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