Monday, July 6, 2020

Birmingham, AL: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 888: Landing and Time Travel

Lunch at Red Sea Restaurant. Birmingham, Alabama. July 2020.

NOTE: My COVID-19 posts are all over the chronological map for now; I'll number them down the road. 

I landed in Birmingham on Sunday, just before lunch time. I had no idea where I'd be sleeping that night, other than it'd be a place with good internet so I could resume work the next day.

When I research new cities, I look for certain little things that perk me up in a place, and which also serve as markers for a city's demographic and cultural life. One of these markers is the existence of an Ethiopian restaurant. (Tucson has four Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurants.) If a city has an Ethiopian restaurant, I infer two desirable characteristics:
  1. There is at least a small habesha community in the city, which suggests the presence of a larger international community (from additional countries); and
  2. There is a large-enough community of non-Ethiopian diners who know about, appreciate, and keep afloat the Ethiopian restaurant, which suggests at least a fair number of residents with broad tastes in life's offerings.

I'd learned there was an Ethiopian restaurant in Birmingham, and that seemed as good a place as any to serve as my google map destination, rather than just "Birmingham."

The universe is a whimsical place. How else can one explain that the Red Sea Restaurant has two menus: Ethiopian and ... Cajun(Creole)!

Dining in

It was actually possible to dine in on my landing day, and I did so. This was risk-taking behavior, and I ain't gonna try to sugarcoat that. I did take measures to mitigate some risk by wearing a mask before and after my meal and washing my hands carefully before and after my meal. The staff also wore masks. At any given moment, there were fewer than five people in the dining and counter space.

Still. I acknowledge the risk.

The chefs

The Ethiopian chef is Gini, and her hometown, it excited me to learn, is Harar. Oh, wild and crazy Harar, how I loved thee.

OK, now get this: The Cajun (and I always add the name Creole when I say it to myself or others because to only recognize one cuisine's parent and not the other, that is playing a role in disappearing a cultural heritage) chef is from .......... Ghana.

I love this.

Because the birthplace of gumbo is West Africa, a Ghanaian Cajun/Creole chef is poetic. Does it matter that the chef has never been to South Louisiana (and to New Orleans only once, if I recall correctly)? No. At least he thinks not. He has the confidence of a chemist (in one of his previous lives) and a cook in the skills he learned from a Cajun/Creole chef.

Time and place travel

The juxtaposition of an Ethiopian and Cajun/Creole menu enchanted me! To be in Birmingham - my present - and eat at a place that references two of my past lives - a bright omen! 

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