Natalie Tan

Simmer Down, Issue #13 09.02.2020

strawberry jam-tinted glasses

A side effect of waiting out a global pandemic is having to endure, amongst other psychological obstacles, nostalgia. I think about the comforts of home, Saturday dinners at my grandma’s, slurping grass jelly and fresh tofu fa during a heat wave. I listen to Dua Lipa’s album Future Nostalgia; while we are sucked into an archaic time loop she bursts in, in a 00’s-era bandana top and loose cargo trousers, claiming to disrupt our repetition (masked as timelessness) like John Lautner building a geometric house on the side of the Hollywood Hills. I think about attending a gathering and meeting someone really great, and tipsily speaking with my hands while lamenting on the current political climate after mentioning ten times that I’m from Canada. I think of McDonald’s pizza. I think of Supreme Pizza on Victoria Drive. I think about buying Wing Wing lap cheong, the lap cheong travelling from East Hastings Street in Vancouver to the Asian supermarket in Alperton that I travel to by red double decker bus. I moved halfway around the world, to the colonizer, to eat Wing Wing lap cheong. I remember my struggle to formulate words, colour, and form around navigating the inherited debris of migration and a cultural duality, my painting teacher telling me to read Svetlana Boym’s The Future of Nostalgia. She might have told everyone to read The Future of Nostalgia. On page 14 of the introduction, Boym begins beating away wistfulness with pragmatism, but not before saying: “at first glance, nostalgia is a longing for a place, but actually it is a yearning for a different time - the time of our childhood, the slower rhythms of our dreams. In a broader sense, nostalgia is a rebellion against the modern idea of time...” I think about Boym randomly when I listen to Lipa sing “let’s get physical” but not in the melody I expect, not along to the tune I’m used to, and the songstress beams me into a dark, smoky intergalactic nightclub.

September 2020 brings my 30th birthday. I think about birthday parties at my house and the ceremonial unveiling of the Dairy Queen ice cream cake, round and stark white, adorned on the top with colourful translucent gel-like icing that illustrates Sailor Moon’s power pose, punishing you in the name of the moon.

An original DQ ice cream cake is formed atop a small base of chocolate soft serve covered with a thin layer of intensely sweet chocolate fudge and a heavy sprinkle of crushed chunky chocolate cookies. A thick layer of crisply milky soft serve fills the remaining height and is decorated with a border of piped white frosting that I usually scrape off. Different from McDonald’s or Wendy’s, DQ soft serve tastes like the physical embodiment of clarity; lifting it to your face brings a waft of icy air that graces your features, like you’re rummaging around your freezer on a hot Summer’s day.

In my family, DQ ice cream cakes are served exclusively during barbeques (sometimes) and birthdays (always), and they never fail to elicit oohs and aahs when they’re taken out of the freezer, plastic domes popped off make way for the knife patiently waiting on the sidelines soaking in a tall glass of hot water. Can anything be better? Enter: the strawberry cheesecake Blizzard ice cream cake.

Y-E-S. Cradled by a base of vanilla soft serve is a layer of surprisingly tart strawberry jam, made of real strawberries. The delight does not end there. On top is a blend of strawberry ice cream with flecks of those tart pops of fruit puree, and squares of cheesecake with graham cracker crust. It’s all finished off with piped frosting, but I don’t scrape it off – at this point, it doesn’t matter because I am entranced. The chocolate, fudge, and vanilla cake is the classic to which I will always owe my devotion, like I will always sultrily sway to Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical”. But the strawberry cheesecake Blizzard ice cream cake has changed the game. It’s the classic, evolved, smashing out of its cocoon (a freezer) in a final form familiar yet spinning at new, high velocities – it’s Dua Lipa’s “Physical”, turning our expectations a total 360º.

Svetlana Boym says that “nostalgia itself is a utopian dimension, only it is no longer directed toward the future. Sometimes nostalgia is not directed toward the past either, but rather sideways. The nostalgic feels stifled within the conventional confines of time and space.” Nostalgia is a tool for escapism in times of crisis, with people looking to the past to cope with our collective feeling of impending doom. Covid-19 has caused universal trauma, felt in varying extremes, splitting our lives into pre and post-Rona, with the latter nowhere in sight. We have lost life because of it, life has been lost in proximity to it, and for many of us we have painfully lost time – time to plan a future within reach, to see new sights and to be with others, new and old. This year, on my 30th birthday, I will not be at home with my family to honour those that gave me life, the palm of my hand cold against a plate carrying a slice of DQ ice cream cake, and without it my brain is fixated, harkening back to it, not calling it by name but through the playback of memories that move between a bounce and a thrash in the confines of my skull, of four walls, and of an island far away from home.