Beans lay flat
- the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something.
- serious attention or consideration applied to doing something correctly or to avoid
- damage or risk.
- to feel concern or interest; to attach importance to something.
- to look after and provide for the needs of.
Every week, we receive a box of mixed fruit and vegetables at our doorstep. Wonky, ugly, rejected by big supermarkets and prejudiced vendors. Sometimes they arrive a bit bruised and sad, in need of a cuddle.
The latest box brought us green beans – the flat, long kind (none of those silly-short, round little things). The beans of my childhood, which my mum would slice thinly, raw, and drop into a blended soup. The little pieces gave a bright, grassy crunch to an otherwise smooth liquid. They’re like the crisp mornings at the Saturday market, greeting the resiliently old vendors, ladies in headscarves and spikey faces, as they ask about our week. Beans lay flat and tidy in boxes, sometimes nearly slipping out of crates in the sun. Occasionally, we’d get them in bags, pre-cut, mixed with other colourful veg, for ease of soup preparation.
Hiding in the cutlery drawer was a tiny white gadget. A bean stringer. My mum gave it to me when I moved away from home – an essential tool for independent cooking. For lack of the right kind of beans, I had never used it until last week. In a single, swift movement, it strings and trims your beans, turning them into thin, straggly strands of green. But I struggled: the beans kept breaking, getting stuck and squished between the metal strings of the cutter. I FaceTimed my mum: how does this work? Are my beans too big? Too long? Am I doing it wrong? – No, just be gentle. Pull them through, with confidence. See, there you go. You’ve got it. And so I did. A little moral support was all I needed. Boil them quickly, then fry them in a garlicky hot pan, generously doused in olive oil. Salt, and see, there you go.
On the phone, a friend tells me there’s apple pancakes to be made at his place. His girlfriend shouts from the back: The dough is resting under the duvet! Of course it is, I think. All pancakes should rest under the duvet. I want to rest under the duvet, tucked in by loving hands. My great-grandmother used to sleep with her bread dough at her feet, under the covers, I say. It’s true, she really did. To keep it warm and help it rise. Clouds of dough under pillowy duvets, where else would they belong?
On my birthday, a few days ago, I received little parcels of seeds, sent by faraway friends. They came in return for some dry sourdough starter I had posted their way. Not intended as birthday presents, but fittingly so. In amongst the colourful bunch, were seeds for green beans. My home beans. I could hear the tiny white stringer singing in its drawer.
Care has taken on new meanings. Perhaps not new, but renewed. We stay home to protect not only ourselves, but others. To relieve the health system and save lives. We exchange calls and texts with family, long-lost friends and faraway lovers. We share cigarettes on opposite sides of the street, waving distantly to say I’m still here. So are you. We send letters, swap recipes and share seeds. On Thursdays, we clap for our health workers – an unreasonably small token of appreciation for a gigantic undertaking, today, and – let’s remember – everyday.
I can’t help but think that care is what holds us together. Not just as humans, but as beings of all kinds on this planet. Care is a network which supports and carries us, a kind of mycelium on which we grow and find anchorage. Care is how we connect with others, with our surroundings. It is fundamental when we are born, when we are sick, when we are old; when we are scared, lonely, even healthy and happy. Care is friendship, love, food, health, education and respect for the environment.
Whilst bringing care to the forefront, this pandemic has also changed our perceptions of time and space. For those lucky enough to be at home, in comfortable settings, boredom may have set in. Sunday evenings blur into Monday mornings. The work commute becomes a slow walk from the bedroom to the living room, a roll off the bed onto a sofa, slippers on. As we sit behind screens, carefully planning our next shopping trip or standing in virtual grocery queues, we may feel alone, tired, bored, scared. Or maybe rested, awake and aware. We don’t yet know where the current crisis will take us, but it seems to be giving us a chance to change.
I was hoping I could write down solutions, on how to make this change happen. Truth is, I spent my week scrolling through articles and searching in books, looking for answers on how to make the world better. Hoping to find, at least, some tips on how to counteract the practices of neglect that have led us here. As I sit at my desk, slippers on, tea gone cold next to my keyboard, I dream of new, interconnected systems based on care. Of policies that value health, education, culture, the environment. They seem to work fine in my home, in my kitchen, amongst my friends – how can they be stretched, opened up like a giant umbrella?
Suddenly, writing seems pointless. I return to my beans and their stringer – maybe this will be my unknowing contribution to the V&A archive someday. Be gentle, but confident. Be sure. Don’t give up. I understand: we must continue to write, to speak, to cook and to share; to reach out to friends and strangers alike. We must continue to make and listen, for that is care in action.
Beans lay flat and tidy in boxes, and so must we, for now. But our minds and voices are as alive as ever.
Inês Neto dos Santos (b.1992, PT) is a multidisciplinary artist based in London. Co-curator of Open Space’s Tender Touches (2019) art café exhibition alongside Huma Kabakci, she studied at the Royal College of Art (2016) and London College of Communication (2013). Her practice stands between performance and installation – using food, people and spaces as metaphors and prompts for discussion and conversation. Neto dos Santos explores the stories and performative actions behind eating, feeding, and cooking. She has exhibited internationally, including Lisbon, Porto, Madrid, Athens and London and recently undertook a residency at Villa Lena in Tuscany.