; movieschocolatebooks: June 2016


Friday, June 17

The Gourmet or what flavor are you?

It is quite frustrating to be reading, immersed in the plentifulness of the language, and craving for food. Reading The Gourmet by Muriel Barbery, I had to stop every other page to either sigh or indulge into binging. It was beyond frustration, actually. It was indulging in the pleasure of the mind and the senses. Some search for the Grail, others pursue love in its various shapes and elusive manifestations, whereas, by reading The Gourmet, you end up questioning the very flavor of you. Like if I were to define the very essence and weakness of myself, what would that taste like? Would I be arrogantly oystered, shyly layered like artichoke, adventurous as a plump tomato, or dry as wine? But then, how would one flavor be enough to define multiplicity? 

The book intends to help sketch Pierre Arthens, a famous food critic, father, husband, lover, friend, master of the house, owner of sculptures, and above all, a bastard. Self-absorbed and cruel, constantly hurting those around, he is an artist. To everyone, no one in particular, to his pet cat, Rick, mostly: ''What is writing, no matter how lavish the pieces, if it says nothing of the truth, cares little for the heart, and is merely subservient to the pleasure of showing one’s brilliance?”

It is both funny and sad to be loved by the cat only. The only being capable of having felt love, the cat pleads for the Maitre's humanity in a rather non-beastly manner, reminiscent of the Casablanca character that inspired its name. A snob and an obsessed man, Pierre Arthens is dying a quite, yet tormenting death. It is pitiful to be surrounded and evoked by people who only hate and despise him because they never sensed a shred of humanity in his actions. Each chapter is saying goodbye to a man no one is sad he is dying. Despite his fervent search for the absolute flavor, his own is never to be regretted and wished for. This would make him at least bland.

I believe the book to be about life in its many tastes and gustatory pleasures. The way it poured from the eyes and heart of Mr. Pierre Arthens, in small doses of love and pain, mirroring his abandonment to food rather than people. The way Patrick Suskind's character, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, is haunted by perfume and human scent, the same way the famous critic uses his search for the absolute flavor to point at death, desire and decay. Except Mr. Arthens is not a creator of fragrances and flavors, he is a consumer. Trained, demanding, appreciating uniqueness and simplicity alike, he delves into his past culinary delights in search for the taste of pleasure. What is the food that anatomizes humanity in a mouthful? What is better than people, yet profoundly humane? The search for the absolute or the unattainable rendered in the pages of a story that reads witty, evocative and alluring. 

Wednesday, June 8

The History of Love or the lesson of writing

All great readers foster the secret desire of dismantling words to their heart's content and reshaping them into new words that would magically fill pages of books. It is organically connected to our need for stories and the orality of us as human beings. We grow up on fairy tales until we are able to master our own narrative and shape our personal stories. 

My daughter has not come yet to live through books internally, and still picks her readings on a whim. Yet, she wants to write. She fills her pages with random reproductions of daily occurrences and reiterations of images and conversations she or others are part of. She is convinced that a generous amount of written words will grant her free passage into the world of writers. Also, she does it to impress the grown-ups around her, to imitate the acts of beauty displayed in front of her eyes. With children, mimicking means some bonding which generates a set of social and linguistic skills.

She is like one of the main characters in The History of Love, the 14-year-old Alma, determined to bring back love and beauty into her mother's life by finding the truth behind the book that defined their parents' relationship. Beauty generates copies of itself like Elaine Scarry would say in On Beauty and Being Just. Hopefully, beautiful human beings are likely to prompt better, finer versions of themselves in their offsprings. Alma's mother, Charlotte, is a literary translator -aka a maker of words for the beautiful word begets the beautiful deed - who has fallen into depression after her husband's death. Alma, her daughter, takes it upon herself to take care of both her brother's education and her mother's happiness. Loss is embraced in different manners in the book as various characters choose to internalize it and make it quiet or loud, depending on the medium and the filters. It is like the author herself confessed in an interview when asked about the meaning of the story which she sees as ''this opportunity that follows the loss, and this necessary need to act.''

The book reads like a huge memory, where each sequence builds itself like a drawer that pulls out and then returns to its mould only to reveal one stage of a person's loss. Are we just accommodating the thought of  losing one or simply navigating through it? Are we done with bleeding and ready to grow an invisible limb or heart instead of the lost one or bitterly mourning our own version of love that disappeared alongside the beloved? Leo Gursky lost the girl and the manuscript, Alma, named after the female character in the book, lost her father, and Zvi Litvinoff lost himself to the book he translated from Yiddish into English, the book that Alma's father fell in love with. One kind of loss triggers another kind of salvation and so the stories link to each other and weave together in a tapestry of magic realism.

I used to think that every book got me closer to my own pursuit of Greatness and it still does, with every little or huge story I take upon, embody and distill, I am a better self. I cannot imagine word deprivation since being robbed of stories would wither the breathing life of people. Yet, with time, I have come to accept there are no only great books but necessary ones that you stumble upon for unknown reasons and come to cherish for their humor, playfulness, entertaining and humane quality. The History of love has vitality and gradience. You are bound to feel the tingles.