Persephone’s picnic

A meeting of minds in the desert

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  • Published 20160503
  • ISBN: 978-1-925240-81-8
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

THE OLD STONE quarry sits in the range high above Ilparpa Valley, on the south side of Alice Springs. Once there was a road leading up here, washed away now, leaving just a narrow track. At the top there’s a flattened turnaround where trucks and machinery and men would have laboured. How it all ended I don’t know. There’s still the stone here for a fine facade or two, tumbled from the jagged yawn in the cliff face. In the late afternoon, the reds and orange of the west-facing rock blaze with light. Birds of prey wheel in the updraft, the sky almost violet above them. It’s a place of beauty and of damage.

It was here that we gathered on two evenings in August and September 2015, to eat together – a Mediterranean picnic – and to take part in a performance of the ancient story that stands at the head of that food tradition: the story of Demeter, mother of corn or seeds, and her daughter Kore/Persephone. When Kore disappears into the underground realm of Hades, Demeter’s grief settles as a deep winter upon the earth, a time of great hunger. It thaws only with the return of Kore, renamed Persephone by Hades. In the warming land, plants blossom and bear fruit again. Persephone’s reunion with Demeter, though, is conditional on her spending part of each year with Hades. Her descent marks the onset of winter; her return the arrival of spring. This understanding of the northern hemisphere seasons and their cyclical impact on plant growth is the underpinning of European food cultivation and harvest.

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