amarie24: (Chibi Katara)
[personal profile] amarie24
Book One, Chapter Three: The Southern Air Temple

Trigger Warnings: Food

Hi! It’s me, your beloved Amarie with your beloved Avatar: The Last Airbender deconstruction back! Hope you remembered me and this!

(And if not, I assure you that I do not blame you.)

Uhh…I remember some people saying they wanted a whole marathon of this during the summer, so let’s see how this works out, huh?

So, then! Let’s start with a brief recap, since the last time we hung out here was...October…of fucking…last…year. Haha…hah…hah. We met Monk Gyatso, the greatest airbender in the world during Aang’s original lifetime and he was also Aang’s father figure. We talked about how the flashback in which we’re introduced to Monk Gyatso was not so much in the context of showing his masterful badassery as the greatest airbender, but more so in the context of his role as a father figure to Aang.

We also talked very, very in-depth about how the person that will guide Aang on his journey to becoming a fully-realized Avatar…is a firebender. Monk Gyatso was talking about a firebender. And that firebender was incidentally Avatar Roku, the Avatar just before Aang.

And now we’ve come full-circle back to the present and the camera shows us Aang moving forward, towards the temple. Katara wonders about this.

Katara: Where are you going?
Aang: (climbing the steps.) The Air Temple Sanctuary. There's someone I'm ready to meet.

Katara looks at Sokka, who just shrugs, and then they follow Aang.

And now I’ll simply quote the transcript page’s description of the Air Temple Sanctuary:

View shifts to an overhead shot of the three as they approach the entrance to the Air Temple Sanctuary. It is a huge wooden door that is dominated by an enormous woodcut comprised of three air symbols protruding from its surface. They are arranged in a triangular pattern. The symbols are attached to tubes that end in two horns near the bottom of the woodcut.

So the door to the Southern Air Temple Sanctuary looks like this:

We will note here that the position of the three spirals on the door is the official insignia of the airbending peoples. I love, I love.

I also love that this scene stems from Monk Gyatso’s words of wisdom in the flashback: …we can’t concern ourselves with what was. We must act on what is.

Aang is now trying to adhere to that bit of wisdom. He is trying not to concern himself with what was, which was when his home was thriving and alive. Rather, he is now acting on what is-he is the Avatar and so he must enter the Air Temple sanctuary to find that someone that will help him on his journey.

There is one thing that is bittersweet about this, though. See, Monk Gyatso told Aang that he would enter the Air Temple sanctuary when he was ready and we, the audience, could rightfully assume that Monk Gyatso would be the one to decide when Aang was ready.

But many things have changed since then.

Monk Gyatso is no longer with us. His fellow [high-ranking] monks are no longer with us. The originals traditions and guidelines for the Avatar both within the Southern Air Temple and throughout the world at large are no longer with us.

Further, neither Monk Gyatso nor anyone else is around to impress upon Aang that he’s probably not quite ready to access the sanctuary and find the person inside that will help him. But at the same time, both Aang and the audience know that he doesn’t have time to search for someone to give him the O.K to access said person. We all know that time is in fact pressing on him because we have a Hundred Year War going on right now as we speak. So he needs to see that person and he needs to see them now.

There is indeed a great, vast gulf between “what was” and “what is”.

Katara now gives a familiar warning to Aang:

Katara: But Aang... no one could have survived in there for a hundred years.
Aang: It's not impossible. I survived in the iceberg for that long.
Katara: Good point.
Aang: Katara, whoever's in there might help me figure out this Avatar thing!

Aahh, and again with the warning that Aang’s people have been the victim of genocide. But we’ve kinda-sorta established that, at this point (or even well before), Aang is probably unconsciously aware that his people are gone. And we are in fact coming very, very close to the heartbreaking moment when Aang will be forced to consciously, openly realize this fact.

For the sake of the deconstruction though, I think Aang is currently trying to say, “Okay, there’s no longer anyone to play air ball with me. No one to bake mooncakes with me. No one to walk through my home with me. No one to practice airbending with me. So there has to be-there has to be-at least just someone, anyone in this Air Temple who can help me on my journey to becoming the Avatar this world needs. Let me at least have that…”

Aww, Aang baby…

Sokka: (Pops out from behind Aang eagerly.) And whoever's in there might have a medley of delicious, cured meats!

Sokka now does this:

He next strains against the big door with no luck at all of moving/opening it. Our poor, poor Sokka slides down to the floor, defeated and without cured meats.

I’d like to take this time to note that I have heard the term “cured meat” many, many times before…but I’ve actually never understood what “cured meat” is or rather, how it is prepared. So, since Amarie is predictably curious, she found out that our friend Wikipedia says:

Curing is any of various food preservation and flavoring processes of foods such as meat, fish and vegetables, by the addition of combinations of salt, nitrates, nitrites,[1] or sugar, with the aim of drawing moisture out of the food by the process of osmosis. Many curing processes also involve smoking, spicing, or cooking. Dehydration was the earliest form of food curing.[1] Because curing increases the solute concentration in the food and hence decreases its water potential, the food becomes inhospitable for the microbe growth that causes food spoilage. Curing can be traced back to antiquity, and was the primary way of preserving meat and fish until the late 19th century.

Awww, I gotcha, now! I gotcha! So cured meat is not necessarily a way to prepare meat for eating right here and now, but rather for preserving meat until it’s ready to be eaten! It’s basically using a great many of the very same preservatives we use today as the pre-refrigerators before refrigerators were a thing!

And I just ran in excitement to Mommy’s room to ask her if we have any cured meats I can try! Umm…she blinked slowly at me and pointed out that, yes, we have the hickory-smoked bacon (which I rarely eat, as I prefer turkey bacon, which is real bacon. Fight me.) and ham in the fridge. We have freezers and refrigerators to put such foods in today, but same thing, same thing.

Oh, and she also informed that, as far as she knows, there’s not really any other examples of cured meats in our modern world outside of pork, like our hickory-smoked bacon and ham.

So, yeah. Making cured meats was the way to preserve meats all across the world before fridges. And we still have many, many cured meats today even with that new technology. I like that. I like that a lot.

I like that just as much as I like turkey bacon. Which is real bacon. Yeah.

And so now I got a question and it’s a genuine question: is Sokka joking here or…does he really, truly think that there’s a possibility of cured meats in the Southern Air Temple Sanctuary?

Because, see, I’ve been reading through the Wiki (ya’ll know me and the Wiki) on the Air Nomads’ cuisine and, as I’ve long-since suspected, Aang’s choice to be a vegetarian is not simply a personal, individual matter. The entire food culture of the Air Nomads was strictly vegetarian. They ain’t eat their bison, they ain’t eat their lemurs (shhh…-winks-), they ain’t eat any fish from the waters surrounding their mountains. They ain’t eat nothin’ that was alive before.

The only allowances that were made, of course, was for dairy and eggs:

…they were peaceful vegetarians. They did not seem to mind, however, eating eggs and dairy products. On one occasion, Aang was willing to eat an egg custard tart.

Not a single thing about cured meats.

This brings me back to one of my past ATLA deconstructions, “On Hunger & Absent Mothers”. In the comments, WingedBeast brought up a brilliant possibility for why Aang burned poor Sokka’s blubbered seal jerky for the campfire and didn’t seem to realize that it was food. Beast said:

In Aang's defense, he is a vegetarian. His treats are fruit-cake-things (that don't just taste good but are good for airbending at stuffy old monks). He eats tofu. He will dislike seaprunes. It could be that "delicious" didn't register for him at the time. The smell of melting fat soaking into meat... well it doesn't have the effect just writing those words have on me.

So now that I know that the vegetarian diet was wide-spread throughout the Air Nomads, this is more plausible than ever! Thanks, Beast!

Now back to the question at hand: is Sokka joking or does he really not know that there are no cured meats here? It’s highly possible that he’s only joking, but for the sake of deconstruction, let’s all imagine that he’s not. Let’s imagine that he doesn’t know about the traditional Air Nomad diet.

I do want to stress: I do not blame or mock him if he really doesn’t. The Air Nomads have been extinct for over a hundred years by now; Aang is the very first and only airbender Sokka, Katara, and the whole of their tribe has ever seen. Spreading out from that, you have the reality the peoples of the Earth Kingdom and most certainly the Fire Nation (save for Zuko, Uncle, and their crew) have never seen an airbender. So even though people may read up on the airbenders, listen to stories by and about the airbenders, etc…

There’s nothing quite like live, present, actively-existing people directly presenting and sharing their culture with the rest of the world.

So that means that for the entirety of his life before he met Aang, there was no one to inform Sokka that the Air Nomads are pretty swell, but they don’t do cured meats like the Water Tribes do, any more than there was someone to inform about flying bison and air ball. Now, we won’t have an on-camera scene where Aang explicitly tells this to Sokka (or Katara, for that matter). And to speak in the here-and-now, I guess it’s…not necessarily something that Sokka would find too inconvenient, much less distressing. Poor baby is so hungry that he’ll eat just about anything and, besides which, meat simply his favorite category of food (along with sarcasm…teehee!) and not the entirety of what he enjoys consuming.

But to speak on the scale that this presents us…I dunno, I think it’s…sad. Really, really sad. Sokka doesn’t know this because the Air Nomads are extinct save for the one he and his sister befriended. It just makes us recognize all over again that there’s this wide, tremendous cultural gap between the extinct Air Nomads and the rest of the world and it’s the Fire Nation’s fucking fault and this is why Sokka really just might not know that there’s no such thing as cured meat in the Air Temple Sanctuary.

God, it’s sad.

I do imagine, though, that if or when Aang lets Sokka know that there’s no cured meat? I bet that Sokka would deal with both this news and the reason why he didn’t know this news in one of his trademark ways: humor. He’d probably lovingly joke with Aang that his people haven’t tasted real food unless and until they eat some freakin’ cured meat. Probably teasingly complain that he could never commit to the life of a vegetarian ‘cause there’s nothing like biting into a nice, hunky, chunky piece of meat and then chewing on and swalloign that meat and getting some real, good, straight-up protein! That’s the way to do it! Yum!

I bet Sokka would joke like that. I bet it’d be bittersweet like that.

So, then! Before the cured meats gave us all the feelz, Sokka was hilariously trying and failing to open the door to the Air Temple Sanctuary. But as he’s found out that he can’t do that, he now asks Aang for help:

Sokka: I don't suppose you have a key?
Aang: The key, Sokka, is airbending.

And here I’ll just once again directly quote part of the transcript page:

He airbends two jets of air, one from each arm, into the horns at the bottom of the woodcut. The air runs through the tubes and one by one flips the air symbols from the blue sides which had been showing to the maroon sides, which had been facing the interior of the temple. As each turns, it flips another mechanism on the outside of the door unlock it. The two leaves of the door open to reveal the dark, cavernous interior of the Air Temple Sanctuary.

And the doors to the Air Temple Sanctuary are open! Ahh, I love this incredible show of airbending technology! So now the Gaang walks towards and into the open doors…

Aang: (calling inside) Hello? Anyone home?

Ohh…is anybody home? Who or what will they find? Oohh, the mystery, the mystery…
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