My Alchemist Moment
I recently had an “Alchemist moment” involving the town Vicuña in the Elqui Valley and kaki (persimmon). What do these two things have to do with alchemy? Nothing, other than the allusion to The Alchemist by Pablo Coelho where Santiago, the main character, travels from Andalucía and through North Africa in search for treasure prophesied through a reoccurring dream which was further endorsed by a gypsy fortune teller that tells Santiago that his treasure lies in Egypt. After going through a most unprecedented and risky journey for a shepherd, Santiago goes full circle from North Africa and back to Spain only to find his treasure sitting in his backyard. I can make all kinds of obscure literary comparisons and relate them to my life, but when I say I had an “Alchemist moment”, I mean it in the most literal sense.
Francisco and I embarked on our first trip together to La Serena and Vicuna in 2009. We stayed at a hostel in Vicuña (which I recommend!), and a continental breakfast is one of the services that is included. Among the fresh fruit, bread, deli meats, cereal, juice, tea coffee and, per Chilean requirements, avocado, there were a couple marmalades on each table, one of which was kaki. I had never had the fruit before nor the marmalade, but it has such a distinct and delicious flavor that I had to ask our Argentinian hostel owner where he got it from. After telling me that his staff makes it in house, I fruitlessly attempted to purchase some from him.
Although he had nothing for sale, he fortunately was quite generous and gave me a whole bag full of kaki along with a recipe for the marmalade to take back to Viña and make it for myself. I had never had the fruit again after that trip, but I never forgot it. Even when I went back twice to Vicuña to the same hostel, I always asked the owner if he had anymore kaki marmalade. To my dismay, I happened to be there during an off season.
I thought my relationship, or lack thereof, with kaki would end there, but my search led me to a far off land to the middle-of-nowhere-next-to-a-cornfield, AKA Lititz, PA. Kaki is actually a native fruit of China and it is the Japanese name that has stuck in Chile. This fruit miraculously made it to my BACKYARD under the English alias of persimmon.
|To think, a tree like this stood outside of my backyard… (Photo: www.online-utility.org)|
It turns out that my parents have had a persimmon tree in their backyard since 2005, and I only discovered this AFTER I moved out of their house and into my Santiago apartment in 2013! While visiting a couple of months ago, the tree gave us a few fruits and I devoured it in wonder – “It looks so much like a tomato yet tastes so much like ambrosia”. I only realized that it was kaki while I was telling Francisco how delicious the fruit in my parents yard is and how I’ve never heard of a persimmon. As soon as he translated it and told me it was kaki, a million little pieces fell into place. I guess it’s true; “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it” (The Alchemist, Pablo Coelho)