Last week my family’s weekend activities were determined by Wednesday, when we were told that there would be a big extended family gathering on Tahiti. The site was a beautiful property in Paea on the west coast of Tahiti, which was once owned by an American named Cornelius Crane, inheritor of the plumbing business fortune. He had built a huge enclosed fare pote’e (round-ended house) with a roof made of local wood and thatch, to which various other smaller buildings were attached over time. The garden was lush and butted right up against the lagoon, which on this side of the island stretches for over a kilometer to the reef and provides a distant view across the Sea of the Moon of the craggy peaks of Moorea.
We went over to Tahiti on the Friday evening so that we would be there for all the action. That night we had take out Chinese food with a dozen or so relatives as a warm up, and then all went off to various corners of this sprawling complex where mats and mattresses had been laid out. Hinano and I and our kids slept under the spectacular vaulted roof of the main fare.
The next morning things got going early – like 5am early. First the yard had to be raked and the pile of leaves lit to smolder for the morning in the corner of the garden. The plan was to BBQ a whole calf, so that fire had to also be lit early – with ironwood logs that would burn long and hot. Breakfast got going a couple of hours later when everyone was up, and fresh baguettes and firi firi (local made doughnuts) were brought from the store and served hot with brie, some ham, and the left over poisson cru from the night before
The veal was attached to the rack about this time and began it’s long cooking session so that by mealtime it would be tender and savory. Every fifteen minutes or so it would be brushed with salt water, then later a special BBQ sauce, to keep it moist. A massive pot of navy beans was set to boil in the kitchen and another one as well with whole potatoes destined for a killer potato salad. Sorties went out to stores to pick up drinks, and dessert, and people arrived with loads of fruit – bananas, papaya, mango, pineapple. Bottles of beer were carefully packed in coolers surrounded by chipped ice, alongside cartons of juice and bottles of white wine. The red wine was lined up on the outdoor counter in expectation of an afternoon of stories, songs and good fun. In the kitchen the preparation of the poisson cru began with the chopping of bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, cucumber, scallions, and the shredding of carrots. The tuna was cut into cubes and put in the refrigerator, and all of the ingredients were stashed until just before mealtime when they would be mixed with lime juice for a fleeting minute and then doused with coconut milk. The boom blaster pumped out Tahitian favorites for the morning, but as people began to arrive with ukuleles and guitars, it was clear that we would be making our own music for the afternoon.
The cooking and meal preparation built to a crescendo and then hung there, food was on the tables, drinks were in hand, it was as if we were prolonging that delicious moment of anticipation… and then someone cracked and rang the bell and shouted tama’a, and we all dug in. The food was amazing, and we ate for what seemed like hours before the last scraps were consumed. The afternoon, there on the edge of the lagoon, drew on with stories, and family history, and songs, and laughter, and even a few tears before the sun set and people began to head home. It was a classic family gathering with the flavor of Tahiti, a splendid way to spend a weekend.