September 3, 2009
At this rapturous time of unemployment, my life is one long blissful espresso break. I have been ravaged by books, and literature is once again seeping into my bones like milk into toast. I am indescribably happy doing virtually nothing but what I want to do. Why doesn't the rest of the world look at not "working" this way? It is best we set down travail, and we will be rid of travails -- we hope!
As my reader or readers know, I have read much Bourdain. His glowing one-liners grace the cover of almost every book related to the culinary arts in the bookstores I frequent. He lauds a waiter's rant, another chef's expose. He is a generous man, there is no question about that. He is also getting tired of his gig, and soon -- although one hopes not -- he will be getting sick from it. "Notes from the Road" in The Nasty Bits details this very well. He is going to have to find some tricks to keep up the pace. Fasting on planes is one. Just drinking water between fetes will certainly help. Dang if the cliche doesn't apply here as well -- There is such a thing as getting too much of a good thing!
I've been balancing the onslaught of my mental palate with some other reading as well that I'd like to pass along. The Devil's Cup - The History of the World According to Coffee by Stewart Lee Allen (also endorsed by The Big B), is a little acerbic for my taste, but has some interesting references and asides, and if you love coffee -- or espresso, as I do -- it's a must read. Did you know, for example, that historian Jules Michelet attributes the birth of civilization in the West to espresso? Drink enough of the brew and you may also long to travel to Jiga-Jiga on the Ethiopian-Somali border to drink Kati (or Kotea), a potent concoction made of roasted coffee leaves.
Body of Work -- Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab by Christine Montross is an illuminating, truly poetic account of a soon-to-be doctor's relationship to the human body, the patients on whom she operates and the corpses she dissects. The book is full of important questions and provocative insights, some of which are not without humor or irony. The following is an example: "I tell her two things, both truths, the first comfortably removed and political. I tell her that I learned that hysterectomies remove most or all the lubricating capacities of the vagina and that some result in vaginal shortening. I tell her that the hysterectomy is the most commonly performed surgical procedure in America, and we lurch into a long lighthearted discussion about how if the most common surgical procedure was one that resulted in erectile dysfunction and penile shortening, there would certainly be a great bloom of innovation to find alternatives."
Another fabulous read, melding art and science, favorite interests, is Proust Was A Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer, who writes for The New Yorker and is an editor for Seed magazine. Among the subjects Lehrer explores are Walt Whitman, Marcel Proust, Paul Cezanne and Virginia Woolf. He examines Proust's moments bienheurreux (fortunate moments), which are described as epiphanies experienced when recollection seems like an apparition. Cezanne investigated how the "moment is more than its light." And Woolf, at the age of 40, wrote in her journal that she was "beginning to learn the mechanism of my own brain." Lucky woman, she, if that was indeed true.
I read both to escape and be inspired. The best literature helps me find ways to leave my body and my mind so that I can return to them refreshed and renewed. And so I navigate from the mental/sensual to the metaphysical, knowing as I do that the mind (just like the body) can suffer from ingesting "too much of a good thing!"