Unleavened Bread for Passover
by Jean-Philippe de Tonnac, translated from the French by Jonell Galloway
Ahava is sitting in the middle of the courtyard, a large terra cotta dish in front of her. She is displaying her riches: freshly ground flour in an earthenware jar with a handle and an amphora containing spring water, a bowl half-full to dip her hands into: the simplest of accoutrements. Across from her, Malka, a child with a sharp, somewhat pinched nose, gossamer skin, and long fingers that turn inwards; Ahava is teaching her 10-year-old granddaughter the art of bread making. Unleavened bread, flat bread, bread for survival. Malka is now of the age to learn to make matzo to be shared at this evening’s Passover seder, the ritual meal marking the start of Pesach. The movements, the setting, are timeless. “An encounter, a meeting,” explains Ahava. “Pesach starts with the union of flour and spring water in an earthenware bowl.” The jar is deep. She has to dig down into its very depths to get the flour. She plunges her hand in, then her forearm, then, slowly, her whole arm, as if she had to give her whole self to it, finally drawing her arm out of its depths and back into the daylight. Her hand, cupped to hold the immaculate white powder, now opens. Though her fingers are closed together, flour disperses into the air like rain caught by a gush of wind, scattering, causing a flood of silence. “On its journey from grain to powdery substance,” says Ahava, her hand still taut and cupped, but open, “the flour has never encountered water.” “It’s never touched water?” Malka says with surprise in her voice. “Never,” replies Ahava.
Translated from Ayzme, by Jean-Philippe de Tonnac, published by Actes Sud, 2016.