When I was a kid, I watched wwaayy too much television. Most children like to play outside, but Southeast Texas’s humidity and mosquitoes discouraged that desire in me. So I read, played dolls, and watched TV. I may in fact have been the only kid whose main concern the day before kindergarten started was that I would miss my soap operas, “The Edge of Night” and “The Secret Storm,” while Mrs. Tompkins was teaching us colors, numbers, and how to stand in a straight line to walk to the playground. Happily, my mother volunteered to keep me up to date, so it all turned out okay.
Of course I’ve forgotten most of what I saw, which is probably good. But the power of Madison Avenue is evident in what I do recall, because my memories are mostly of commercials. The award for the most obnoxious ad goes to one for Bold. In it, an unsuspecting housewife was on trial in front of a male judge. She was charged with “improper laundry,” which “wasn’t clean and white, when you could be washing bright” with Bold detergent. This makes me cringe even now.
There were happier commercials, though, and one of them was for Zest soap. Do stores still sell this brand? The ad I remember came with a snappy little jingle: “Zest has changed! Zest is zestier! Now feel cleaner than you’ve ever felt before!” Now, I never actually used Zest. My mother claimed I had sensitive skin and therefore only could tolerate Camay. (Having sensitive skin and naturally curly hair were my two most feminine accomplishments as a child.) But skin notwithstanding, I begged for the mysterious wonder soap. Its name was the key. What a great word is Zest! It means enthusiasm and vigor and love for life. Who wouldn’t want to bathe in that? I wanted to be zesty.
Imagine, therefore, my surprise when, as an adult, I learned that flecks of citrus peel were also called zest. Still loving the word, although no longer craving the soap, I even bought a zester for my kitchen. It’s a tiny grater on which I’ve skinned many a finger trying to generate enough zest for a recipe. (Before you ask, I do take care not to bleed on the food.) My zester currently resides in Texas, so in Spain, I cheat and use the food processor. And we have such gorgeous citrus here that I’ve become, well, obzest. The pictured muffins were made with lemon zest, and I put orange zest in my cereal most mornings. We have a lot of celery left over from a batch of soup, so I’m making a celery pasta sauce that’s topped with orange zest. Waste not, want not, right?
Yet there’s another kind of zest that I need right now, that we all need right now. Being hunkered down, even in the best of circumstances, can bring on a bit of melancholy. That’s why we need zest, enthusiasm, love of life. Mark and I are trying to invest time in activities that we love and which bring us joy. Our plans for hearing an opera at La Scala are scuttled for the time being, but the Met is streaming past performances that are really amazing. We spent an evening with MacBeth and his lady the other night, and the production was fantastic. It brought us joy. I’ve baked muffins and bread and made vegetable and creamy celery soups. This makes me happy. And since there’s no one currently living in the other two apartments on our level of our building, we’ve taken over the elevator lobby as a dance floor. Mark hooks up the speaker to his iPod, and we swing dance and two-step on the terrazzo while light filters in through the frosted glass window. This makes us both really happy. It puts zest into our days.
So maybe today will bring you television, or muffins, or a swing dance. Who knows? Whatever the day holds, I certainly wish you safety, but I also wish you joy. May there be much zest in your life.