Remembrance and Old Books

This morning I have been watching the Remembrance Day celebrations. The Last Post in Ypres, the 19 240 figurines on the College Green in Bristol, the poppies thrown in Trafalgar Square, the placing of the wreaths, the reading of poems.
Somehow, this year, it seems the celebrations are overshadowed by Donald Trump’s victory and Leonard Cohen’s death. Nothing however can or should eclipse the historical significance and relevance of the Armistice commemorations.

There are many ways to reflect on our history of war and on the many sacrifices that had to made for us to enjoy its ensuing peace. Wear a poppy or a bleuet de France, promote and defend peace according to our beliefs, political convictions and priorities, either with deeds or words, alone or in partnership.
As for my own, personal contribution, I have been re-reading Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy. Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, The Ghost Road. Books on the horrors of the war and its aftermath. Books that should be read and re-read, just as commemorations should be observed, honored and repeated. Year after year.

Repetition, the mother of learning, the father of action, ….

I have done a lot of re-reading this year. Literary novels, historical novels, romance, comedy, the classics.
It is remarkable how the written word contains new messages at each reading, how our personal experiences blend and combine with the decisions and perceptions of our old, literary friends. As we change it seems protagonists change as well. What once seemed insignificant takes on a new meaning. Differing points of view that continue to differ, in a different light.
It is the same with our traditions, commemorations and probably election campaigns and results.

Age? Experience? Who knows?

Returning to our bookcases and libraries, be it physically or in e-mode does not equal reliving or returning to the past. Instead it allows us to give our present a new and fresh meaning. To see how we can do things, see things, experience things in a better, fuller and more appreciative way.
That is what commemorations are about.
The true spirit of November 11.

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VEGANS AND THE POPE

Winter is not coming. Winter is already here. So no GoT opening line. Rather a dull weather forecast of rain, grey skies and falling temperatures. Except in my kitchen. There it is bright and hot.

The pleasures of winter are many. Boots, scarves, gloves. The first open fires, faux-fur throws casually draped over couches and armchairs. Hot chocolate, deep red burgundy, and steaming hot food.

Winter food equals comfort food and the ultimate comfort food has to be a stew.

Stews are an acquired taste. Each country, each region has its own, unique variety, yet most stews boil down to the same principle (pardon the pun) of meat, wine or beer, stock, root vegetables and strong flavored condiments be it mustard, cloves, juniper berries or bay leaves. Just visualize. Venison in red wine jus. Beer braised beef with mustard and gingerbread. Lamb shanks with chestnuts.

Not so new on the block but enjoying a clear revival (the pun is being completed) is broth with as forerunner the good old bone broth.

For my own version of bb, I blanch, roast and boil with minimum interference of carrots, celery stalks, garlic, onions and peppercorns. I use my XL witches’ cauldron, my finest cheesecloth and I have devised a state of the art cooling method that involves ice and transvasing (decant?).

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There is nothing like a bowl of bb under a faux-fur, the open fire roaring and your TV switched on to your favourite program.

This year TV is at its best once more with a remarkable offer of royal grandeur and jewelry (get it?), and, not in the least, the holiest of holiest, the Vatican.

The Pope has indeed made his youthful TV debut with Jude Law as Sorrentino’s Young Pope.

I love the young Pope for all his mischief, his secrets, his sharp humour. I love Sorrentino for his scandalously daring Catholic revival ideas.

Now picture this. A phone call, a friend who wishes to introduce his new partner. A weekend together. At ours. The new partner’s name is _____

‘Oh, and by the way. _____ is vegan.’

I do not care about what others put in their mouths. And it is good to break your routine. Switch off the TV. Go on a culinary adventure.

‘Pasta,’ my better half says when I tell him.
Does not pasta contain eggs?
‘Gluten free?’ he tried.

It was time to Google.

We had a great weekend. _____ was charming. And there is such a thing as a vegan stew. It contains vegetables. Plenty of vegetables. Excellent flavors. Rosemary. Rich.
But, truth be told, it lacks that ‘je ne sais quoi’.
Beef?

Our friend and _____ left. They make a gorgeous couple. I waved them off. Heated up a bowl of bb. Crawled under my faux-fur. Switched on the TV.

Hey Jude!

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Ai No Corrida

Many years ago, decades really, my friends and I were having a late night conversation. Wine, food, music, the need to change and improve the world. We talked about life, society, art, and somehow Hemingway’s Fiesta – The Sun Also Rises. From there we ventured into a different subject matter. Hunting and fishing, women, sex, and, inevitably, la corrida. Bullfighting. Cruel tradition or tradition tout court, animal cruelty, tourist attraction, we liberally shared our points of view until our Spanish friend proffered a different view.

You are not Spanish. You can’t understand. You should not judge.

We were an international crowd. We saw ourselves and each other as intellectuals. He was just being silly.

But he was not silly, he was avant-garde. He had, in our small circle, invented ‘cultural appropriation’. Avant la lettre.

Cultural appropriation, for those who do not know yet, refers to objections by members of minority groups to the use of their customs, culture or even characteristics of their ethnicity by artists (but also the public at large) who do not belong to those minority groups.

At the time, we waved away our Spanish friend’s criticism. Nowadays, we would be more belligerent. What if I am half Spanish, the son/daughter of a mixed marriage, one asks. What if my name is Spanish? What if, from my last incarnation I vividly remember the hooves, the Buddhist ponders? What if I know about ‘being cornu’, our French ami wants to know?

Last week, Lionel Shriver (We need to Talk about Kevin), speaking at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival was given a social media thrashing about her speech and appearance. Addressing her audience, donning a sombrero, she recalled a recent incident involving students throwing a tequila-themed party, wearing sombreros. The partygoers were placed on ‘social probation’, the hosts were ejected from their dorm and later put under investigation. Sombreros, it seems, are only fit for Mexicans. Meanwhile Ms. Shriver has been under attack for her latest book in which she features a black woman who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and is kept on a leash by her white husband. As Ms. Shriver says, are not writers ‘supposed to try on other people’s hats’?

 

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Accused of arrogance and condescendence, one critic claims that ‘those from marginalized groups do not get the luxury of defining their own place in a norm that is profoundly white, straight and, often, patriarchal’.

Don’t they?

I can’t wear a kimono, can’t do yoga, or tae kwon do. White folks in Uppsala can’t eat spicy indian curries, the chinese are banned from coq au vin, all you non-Americans, get rid of that barbecue and don’t get me started on baked Camembert. As we are at it, no avocado for lunch, unless if you are from – where does my staple food originates from – and no coconut oil in your hair unless if you are Caribbean, or Indian, or, I don’t know, as long as blonds abstain. Oh, Mr. Shakespeare? Get rid of your Othello fellow! And as for Bond, James. Whites only, please.

Does this cultural appropriation not remind us of something else? Something we have fought hard to eliminate, are trying hard to exterminate?

Racism, yes, that’s the one.

Is my identity limited by the group I seemingly belong to? Can I only be thought of in terms of white, black, poor, rich, thin, fat, disabled, not-disabled. Is it the other who decides who I am and what I can do, think, feel, based on a few, often dualistic criteria? Am I only ‘either/or’, never ‘and’?

Information and communication works both ways. We express our ideas, we learn of opposing views. We have the luxury of being disputatious. Sometimes we offend. Sometimes we are offended. We live in a climate of scrutiny and often, in our disagreements, we become the victim of self-righteousness. Inadvertence is mistaken for deliberateness. Hurt becomes anger. Movements, based on antagonism, gather momentum. It is me against you. You against us. We lose perspective.

I believe in art in its widest form to bring down barriers, to allow us to crawl into somebody else’s skin, to seek and try to understand ‘the other’, even if most art is shit or, with the words of Ms. Shriver, ‘most fiction sucks’.

The real issue at stake here is the freedom of our imagination. It is our imagination that gives us wings, that allows us to explore, to boldly go where no man ( read no one, but I am a purist) has gone before. If we put shackles on our imagination, we will forever remain chained by the petulance of a few zealots, well-meaning or not.

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

As Marc Jacobs inspired ire with his models, fashioned into faux dreadlocks, does anybody vaguely remember his clothes?

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Meanwhile, Ai No Corrida.

 

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PS. Ai no Corrida is a song by the English singer Chaz Jankel, best known in its cover version by Quincy Jones. The title was taken from Ai No Korida, the Japanese title of the French-Japanese cult erotic film, L’Empire des Sens. Directed by Nagisa Oshima, the film deals with the story of Sada Abe who in the 1930s erotically asphyxiated her lover, cut off his penis and testicles and carried them around in her kimono.

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Talk about cultural appropriation….

 

Charity, Gastronomy and Multitasking

 

We are in Rio and 18 000 athletes and their Olympic entourage need to be fed, three times a day. I have no idea of the dietary needs of the athletes. Does Usain Bolt go to his nearby canteen and grab a turkey sandwich, joining Michael Phelps who is having a spaghetti bolognese? Does Nafissatou Thiam (Rio 2016 Gold Medal heptathlon for Belgium – just saying) ask for a chicken salad, then caves and orders a side order of onion rings and fries? Are there onion rings and fries? Is there sourdough? Baguette? Full fat yoghurt? Skinny lattes? Veggie burgers?

Whatever there is, it is not all consumed and Mr. Massimo Bottura does not like this. He has therefore taken the high road from Modena where his multi starred restaurant Osteria Francescana is located, to Rio where he decided to make a difference. A meal, made from donated, unused ingredients, for 70 homeless people. Good on him.

Bottura is not alone. Juan Roca, Alain Ducasse, Alex Atala and many more have joined. And meanwhile, in collaboration with Brazilian chef David Hertz’s nonprofit organization Gastromotiva, the RefettoRio Gastromotiva is born. A project hopefully to stay, feeding the poor, the needy, the hungry.

Culinary philanthropy and social gastronomy are nothing new. Jamie Oliver did something similar, Milan’s Refettorio Ambrosiano (also Bottura) is still up and going, scholarships, give-back initiatives, … celebrities join in, politicians show their support, designers design for free, the pope gives his blessing.

It is true. We waste too much food. We are overfed. The world is unfair.

Enter the beautiful world of charity.

One needs not be cynical when it concerns charity. Voluntarily helping those in need is a humanitarian act. It is a duty in all religions. Charity takes on many forms. Giving money, making donations, sharing knowledge, dedicating time.

But when to be charitable?

According the Olympic Games to a particular country and town is, as always, a political choice. Committees, lobbyist, I will not mention the unmentionable. But where ever the Games go to, we should not pretend to suddenly wake up to an unknown reality. The favelas in Rio did not appear overnight. The displacement of citizens, new police strategies, changes in law enforcement, it was all to be expected. After all, there are many versions of Rio de Janeiro.

Soon however, the Games will be over. The question then is, which version of Rio will survive?

Crying ‘shame’ and showing a few minutes of ‘social’ coverage is all very well, making a fashionable entry and proclaim your affiliation with a good cause or viewpoint, why not? But the structural needs for change, beyond charity, are all too soon forgotten. And up to the next hotspot we move.

As for Mr. Bottura. He is a talented chef and I am – I am honest – regretful. A bit bitter perhaps. Living at a merely 250 km from Modena, I have missed the Bottura boat. I could, I should have gone to his Osteria, before the multiple awards. I should have made the effort and book a table. Lead, not lag! But, as I said, that ship has sailed. I missed the Osteria, when prices were still affordable, when tables were still obtainable, when Bottura was still in his kitchen.

Bottura has a charitable organization. He has a charitable vision. A plan. He wants to share his good fortune. He is a good man. But he is no longer in his kitchen.

For whoever now books a table at his Osteria, it will be his talented second in command who will cook the food Bottura has invented. And in a way, now snubs.

It is difficult to please everybody. And when one’s intentions are good, why complain? Well, perhaps because, as long as we stay in the realm of the charitable, certain issues, despite all good motives, are not raised. Targeting symptoms, not causes. The unclear distinction between charity, justice and injustice. Who assesses the efficiency of the charity in question? Who benefits from it?

Feeding people is a noble act. Feeding the hungry is virtuous. Taking time out to help your fellow man is admirable. But multitasking is difficult and choosing between our multiple interests, plural philosophical views and ultimately, daily actions and occupations is a different matter. In the end, something always has to give.

As for Bottura, he does not like waste. Perhaps it was written, not in the stars but at least in his menu. Who else could come up with

oops

Oops I dropped the lemon pie!

 

Connect and Catch Up

For most people, the summer holidays are a time to unwind, to ‘dolce far niente’ or at least, dolce far ‘what you like to do most’. Hiking, camping, mountain biking, rafting, sitting by the pool, reading and sipping cocktails. It is time spent away from our daily, heavy schedules, away from work, colleagues, clients and our regular environment and entourage.

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For those who work from home however, the holidays can have a totally different meaning.

Working from home has its upside. Flexibility, a life without public transport and commuting stress, no boss breathing down your neck, no irritating colleagues. On the downside, telecommuters often spend more time alone, creating a routine in which work, office, home, family and leisure blend into one ambiguous, hazy mixture.

 If my home is my office, is my office my home?

Being in charge of one’s own labour and time management, how does one maintain the right balance between toil and time-out?

I don’t have a 9 to 5, I have a ‘when I open my eyes to when I close my eyes’.

Working from home can be liberating. It can help in keeping the right focus and getting the job done. But it can, at times, be a solitary affair.

That is when holidays bring relief. Not just a change of scenery, getting out of the house and expanding your horizons, but meeting people.

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Connect and Catch Up

I am halfway through my summer holidays and I have had the chance to connect and catch up. A daughter who lives, works and studies abroad. Old friends I have not seen or spoken to for years, new friends, friends of friends, children of friends. Their friends. I have called them, partied with them, met them at theirs, invited them at ours. We have spent time together. We have cooked together, eaten together. We have shared memories. We have spoken of the past, the future and the present. We have remade the world, laughed and cried.

The summer holidays are an excellent time to unwind and get back in touch. Leave the house, travel and talk.

Telecommuters unite! Soon enough … but no. Let’s hold off for a while.

The sun is still out!

 

 

Praise The Lard

Would you rather work in a slaughterhouse or a funeral home?
You are on a deserted island for the next ten years. Who would you rather be with? Trump or Hillary?
If you have to choose one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
If, on said deserted island, you can only listen to one CD, which one would you listen to?
One movie. Which one?
One TV series?
One website?
Choose!

I don't know 1

Slaughterhouses are foul. Dead people are scary. Ten years is a long time. Trump’s hair will grow. Hillary will lie. Pasta or bread? Classic or pop? Some Like It Hot? Pulp Fiction? Breaking Bad or GoT? The Sopranos?

I don't know 2

Or: Goop.

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Goop. A lifestyle publication, curated by Gwyneth Paltrow, aka GP (get it?).
Answer to all life’s questions, answer to my last question. The ultimate One-Stop Website: Goop. Shop, go, be, do, make, get.
It is fun! It is new! It is Gwyneth!

Health, spirituality, self-discovery, books and movies and beauty tips, kitchen supplies, detox, vitamins, supplements and recipes. This week I have discovered Yam Lube, Mucuna, Ho Shou Wu, Eleuthro, Shisandra and Ashwaghanda. I now know about adrenal fatigue and epigenetics. I am proud to say that I own the Pelvic Floor Trainer App, am mindful of my sexual disconnection and do daily facial exercises.

Did I mention the recipes? Adaptogenic Latte with a pea size amount of shilajit resin. GP’s Morning Smoothie with maca and cordyceps and a teaspoon of moon dust of choice (yes).
The benefits of the fresh young coconut  and why bone broth is so good for us.

There is no malice. It is all good fun. And healthy. Speaking of which.
What is this? A new report?
A fat report?

‘Official advice on low-fat diet and cholesterol is wrong,’ says health charity 

“Eat fat to get slim, don’t fear fat, fat is your friend. It’s now truly time to bring back the fat”.

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Fat? Good for us?
Outrageous! Scandalous!
But there it is.

For many decades, fat has been the Darth Vader of all foods. Fat, we were told, makes us fat. Fat clogs the arteries. Fat will kill us!
Architects of our own downfall, we desperately set out to omit fat from our diets. And boy, were we wrong.

This is of course old news, at least for those of us who have been brave enough to go against the grain and listen to the many, often boring, long, tedious, man-in-a-grey-suit, powerpointdoesnotwork, heresanotherformula scientific presentations (sorry Prof. Lustig and friends) to come to accept the simple veracity:

It’s not the fat, it’s the sugar.

The message is little by little going mainstream and will soon enough become the new mantra. I personally can’t wait for the new goop scoop. Moon Lard Dust with a dash of Kurkuma.

Arnold Schwarzenegger once said: It’s simple. If it jiggles, it’s fat.
And the fat must have thought: I’ll be back!

And so, here fat is. Saturated and unsaturated. Animal and vegetable. Gooey and jiggly. And healthy.

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Cannes and Océane

 

This week, with the opening of the Cannes Film Festival, France is all about movies. Unfortunately, this year, the Red Carpet, the opening ceremony and the world premiere of Woody Allen’s new film, “Cafe Society” were sadly upstaged by another moving picture, that of the nineteen year old Océane.

For one hour, Océane recorded herself on the live video-streaming app, Periscope, before throwing herself, phone in hand, in front of a RER commuter train at the Parisian suburban station of Egly. Before her death, hundreds, some say a thousand followers watched her at home, sitting on her red couch, staring into her camera, smoking a cigarette, drinking a coke, opening her mail. They listened to her banalities, all the while promising something shocking. “I am not here to create a buzz,” she says. All she wants is for people to react. She fails to say what she wants them to react to and instead urges them to wait. “It is too early,” she says and she promises ‘indications’.

With hindsight, the images are tense but at the time, they must have seemed more of an attention seeking tease than anything else, bound to end with an anti-climax. The live responses to her video are marked by boredom, impatience, curiosity, detachment, on-line apathy and sexual innuendo. One person asks if she is going to kill herself but the question is drowned in a sea of other, live-stream comments and taunts.

Show us your nipples. Are you a lesbian? Why don’t you talk? What’s up with the piercings? Leather or latex?

We did not know Océane. Neither it seems, did her followers. Only when she was at the station, did her intentions become clear. But by then, it was too late. Nobody arrived in time to stop her.

Shortly before her fatal act, Océane accused her ex-boyfriend of raping her. An investigation is now underway.

Hindsight is cruel. Watching and analyzing Océane’s video now, with knowledge and heightened senses we can’t but think that, surely, all the signs are there? But are they? And what to think about her ultimate solitude? Filming and watching herself, she, center stage, if only for a very short while, leading role in her own drama. At what cost? Unveiling which truth?

It is easy to describe Océane as a disturbed woman, a fragile mind, crazy, depressed, borderline, a victim perhaps, and then dismiss her, forget her in the ocean of unfortunate faits divers while her video lingers on YouTube, sinking further and further away with a declining number of views.

It is sad to think that a young woman, contemplating and eventually, committing suicide, spent her last hours, taping and watching herself, reading the vacant comments of a group of mostly unknown followers.

Live video streaming, often in the form of a moving selfie-picture, seems a powerful tool, but as I watch Océane’s video again, it occurs to me that as a medium, it remains deficient; despite the pain and the tragedy of the message, despite the dramatic unfolding of events.

Another lifetime. Océane writes a letter. She takes pen and paper, and in the quiet and solitude of her room, away from the eyes of spectators, with a purring cat as her only witness, she unfolds and records her thoughts.

Would time and privacy have allowed for a different reflection? Would the solitariness of the moment have held a new significance?

We will never know.

Meanwhile Cannes is abuzz. Paparazzi and gossip. Sunshine and pretty dresses. Fake in all its aspects, wrapped in glitter and glamour, the festival pretends to give, through ‘le cinéma’, a glimpse of the truth. But the truth is of a different quality. It is silent, lonely and alone, on a red couch, with few ‘spectateurs’, no applause and no standing ovations. Like the truth of Océane.

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