When the ice box is also the medicine cabinet

Julie Powell, authoress of the Julie/Julia Project, my favorite blog that I don’t write for, has been having a rough time of it lately. Well, as long as I’ve been reading the blog she’s had one rough time or another–not infrequently descending into bouts of self-pity that leave her screaming obscenities or banging her head against a wall. And, like all great writer/cooks, she takes to the sauce a bit when things get particularly rough, or at least when friends come over for dinner. But she’s been sick the last week or so, and cooking less lately, and philosophizing more in her daily entries.

A thought from a recent post really hit me, though.

“So last night, eating fried dumplings and Szechuan beef that I can’t taste or easily swallow because of my cold, which is probably a good thing, I got to thinking about food and depression. Here’s my thought, born of some circuitous sad-sack thought patterns: I think that in order to really care about food, you have to have experienced depression, or at least great difficulties. This is not to say that everyone who’s depressed is a gourmet, of course. But most of the people I know who really, sincerely happy most of the time are also profoundly uninterested in food. Food for them is just fuel to get them through the next day at the beach. Whereas people who’ve experienced great pain, either self-inflicted or not, sometimes come to the preparation and eating of great food as both a comfort and an affirmation of life, sometimes much needed and hard to find.

Or then again, maybe everybody’s fucking miserable, and some of them also like to eat.”

Ok, so I’m sure this is no new or profound thought, but it got me started on thinking about how true this is of the great food writers at least, if not of all people who like to eat. Food, at least for a food writer, is the inspiration for art, but without some connection to life, well, you’re just writing a glorified cookbook or another memoir. It’s the key difference that makes Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone or MFK Fisher’s Gastronimical Me so moving, and Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun merely a fun read about fulfilling a fantasy about moving to Europe and buying an old farm.
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An invitation for abuse?

Ok, I admit, I make fun of Martha Stewart as much as the next person, and many of you already know about my brother’s and my morbid fascination with her. She’s a bitch. There’s no two ways about it. And she represents some weird patrician lifestyle that seems severely out of place in this day of female CEOs (of which she was until today one), online grocery shopping, and personal chef services for people who don’t have enough time to stop at the market to buy the Lean Cuisine and throw it in the microwave themselves.

But then again, she built something of an empire on the whole notion of celebrating women participating in the just those homemaking activities our fair sex has tried to liberate itself from for the last several decades. On the other hand, it’s never been an unthinking adherence to old gender roles that she advocated. Sure, she she might get you staying up late into the night assembling paper dahlias for your garden party, but you also get the whole scoop on the history of paper flowers and the historic meanings various cultures have imposed on the dahlia. So it’s kind of fascinating.

But really, I’ve always been most fascinated by her show when she’s got her mother on, probably the only woman on earth who can reduce Bitch Supreme Martha to an insecure child. I never quite got why she’d continue putting herself through that. I can’t imagine my mom ever assenting to the filming of multiple generations of Sisinni women going at each other in the kitchen. It just so flies in the face of that veneer of housewarm perfection she otherwise seems to be going for.

Anyway, so Martha’s been indicted. She resigned her post in her own company. (How do you have Martha Stewart Living without Martha Stewart to live it, I gotta ask?). And she’s set up a Web site for the whole world to tell her just what they think of her. Ouch. That could be painful. Especially if her mother knows how to get on the email.

Leaving Madrid, Paulette Style

So, I went back to Madrid for my last night in Spain. This makes sense, right? Since my flight was from Madrid, and sure, Toledo was only an hour away and I had a primo parking spot and a really nice hotel room that I could have kept for an extra night. But I thought to myself, hey, Madrid, yeah, cool city, gazillions of hotel rooms, no problem.

Parking, on the other hand…Not so much.

So, I timed things perfectly. Spent the day in Toledo going to the museums and such that had been closed on Monday, working a bit more on my tan, enjoying the city in general, and then heading back to Madrid at rush hour. Yeah. Well, the good thing about that was in stop and go traffic on the highway, changing lanes and all, I realized that I hadn’t stalled once. I’m like total expert stick shift driver. Yeah, I rock in small ways.
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Final dispatch, in the world’s oldest giftshop

Otherwise known as Toledo. Actually, it’s gorgeous here, all windy roads and old stone built on a hill and when cars pass you have to squish yourself into a doorway to not get smushed on their front bumper, or sideview mirror. And you thought it was ridiculous seeing Hummers try to park in compact parking spots? But there are more shops selling damascene and mallorca pearls than there are drive-through coffee shops in Seattle. But the town os gorgeous, it’s sunny and warm, my hotel is so cool (and amazingly still only 60 euros a night, though the most expensive one I’ve stayed in by far) with this elaborate medieval courtyard with fountains and gardens and such, and I might buy a few trinkets, because really other than wine, Ihaven’t bought much here that I could bring back in any way other than as stored fat.
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Dispatch 4, eating my way through San Sebastian

OK, first off, I’ll apologize if anyone is getting tired of my constant talking (yeah, you all thought you could get rid of me for a few weeks–fat chance!), but I’m kind of getting into this travel journal thing.

So, since I’ve gotten to San Sebastian I’ve done very little other than eat, and walk to places to eat, and drink, and walk to places to drink. Today, I drove somewhere to eat.

The amazing thing, though, is that my clothes still fit. Let’s hope this keeps up, but with the amount of food I’ve put away in the last four days (not to mention sidra, tzakolis–literally ¨”green wine” a local product not unlike a light, fruity prosecco) I should be looking like a Macy’s Day Parade balloon. But my jeans actually seem a little loose. It would appear to be some weird perversion of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, where I eat plenty of loaves and fishes, and yet there is no more of me than before. Very odd.

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Dispatch 3, The Short, Unhappy Life of Toro the Opel

Well, since leaving Madrid, I just take the opportunity when I happen upon an Internet cafe, because, well, you never know when I’ll find another.

Excuse the awful typos in yesterday’s post. That keyboard was weirder than most, not just oddly placed letters, but sticky keys and I was trying to type too fast.

Anyhoo, so I might as well tell you the sad saga of my rental car, a cute little Opel Corsa–a very new car but without air conditioning or a radio. The former doesn’t really matter, since it’s been fairly cool and overcast or raining since I left Madrid. The latter might be both a blessing and a curse. No radio means fewer distractions, and it’s probably a really good thing that I pay as much attention to the driving, as I’m going largely without benefit of a map and still not that good at the whole driving thing. On the other hand, no radio leaves me a lot of time to think. And I mean a lot. Which is probably dangerous. When I picked up Toro, he had a mere 6000 kilometers on the odometer. I’ve managed to add another 1200 to that. Poor thing.
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