I need to have 450 words written by midnight. If I write at a speed of approximately four words per minute, my goal will be accomplished, but the empty space behind my eyes, where I am used to finding thoughts, might mean that the 450 will be nothing but gibberish and that will not do. The oven, supposedly my inspiration, is sitting in the dark and the cold, I know the stars above it are easily visible in the clear sky tonight, but my desire for thoughts is not great enough to move me off of my couch.
I want to write more history, but the facts all feel dry tonight. Where are the stories? The history of the people who built the ovens and used them is what I really want to read, not the paragraphs on the development from round bowls to hive shaped mounds, to extensions from the back of the house until ovens were a metal fixture to blend neatly into the squares and rectangles of modern kitchen walls. Besides being dry, the facts here are tersely stated, mentioning no variation from the average standard.
I tuck my thumbs through the holes I have worn in my sweatshirt sleeves, turning them into comfortable gloves, to keep my fingers warm as I type here in the basement. With the gas fire turned off for the night, the air gets chilly quickly.
According to the encyclopedia, Greek bakers would build bowls of clay and heat them in the ground, then place their bread dough inside the bowl to bake. As knowledge of yeast developed, so did covered ovens, to provide the surrounding heat necessary to bake these new types of dough. The oven and bread have revolved around each other since earliest histories. In Rome, under the Emperor Trajan, a college for bakers was established. Our oven is of Roman design, a design that has persisted through time and across oceans. Metal ovens did not begin to appear until the end of the 18th century. From Trajan until then, 1500 years, ovens where you heated bricks, cleaned out the ashes and baked your bread on hot rocks were normal.
I suppose that it’s no surprise that people were eager to transition from masonry to metal, to our modern digital, self cleaning, self regulating ovens. There are many things that would be much more difficult in those wood-burning ovens. And no matter how you look at it, I have to admit that our kitchen ovens are much more time efficient than the outside oven. They always turn on, even if it has rained recently. Howling winds don’t effect them, or me, when I can stay safe inside the warm house. They are appealing in their own way, smooth polished curves, a gleaming whiteness set into the wall of the kitchen. The masonry oven, which is in reality just a carefully arranged pile of rocks, is oddly exotic next to these bits of normalcy. It is part of the romanticized past, a part of those stories that we cannot reach and therefore invent out of recorded fragments, making the past exciting, depressing, the best time in the world or the worst time in the world. ‘The grass is always greener’, is the saying. Are we always looking to another place or time for comfort? I am content to be able to sit here in comfortable laziness and speculate about the past, I know I would not want to switch times with anyone. I think there are plenty of people who feel the same way, who realize how much easier day to day tasks are in our modern world. But the simple contrast in realities is not quite disillusioning. There is always something ethereal about the past. No matter how many terrible hardships are put into words, no matter how many glorious triumphs are recorded. Perhaps, as we try so hard to articulate the abstract, even for others in our own times, you forget that you can only know what you have lived.