Wednesday, February 25, 2009

comfort food (for the soul)

"The melon felt surprisingly heavy for its size, the skin freckled with beads of water, the stem end slightly soft. We inhaled and made admiring noises. The melon king smiled, his expression at odds with the eighteen-inch machete he had found in the corner. "Now you must see the flesh," he said, taking back the melon. A flick of the blade and it was in two halves, vivid orange, brimming with juice, a treat that he told us would "charm the throat and cool the belly." (I later found out that he had borrowed the line from a melon-fancier who was also a poet, but it was most impressive at the time.)
.... He let us buy a dozen, throwing in a handful of damp straw to line the shallow wooden box which he gave us to carry them away.
We stopped at a cafe before going back to the car, and found that we had another melon expert in our waiter. The thing to do he told us was to cut of the top, scoop out the seeds, pour a bottle of vodka into the hollow, and leave the melon in the fridge for twenty-four hours. The vodka is soaked up by the flesh of the melon, making a potent dessert of unimaginable delicacy.
Something to charm the throat and cool the belly?
"Voila" he said. "Exactement"
- Peter Mayle, from Encore Provence

I don't just have a repertoire of comfort foods, I also have a repertoire of comfort books, though I acknowledge, the common theme in those books seems to be total escapism (like in the sorcerer world of David Eddings) or homey comfortable books like Lucy Maude Montgomery.

I also have a penchant for books set in France, like the one above, or the swash buckling adventures of Alexandre Dumas. It's books in these three, very general categories, that I read over and over again.

The L. M. Montgomery books are very simple. Feminism is great, I love it, it serves me and I serve it. Equality is great. Technology is great. Modern day relationships are great. But at the end of the day they are also freakin' complicated. So L. M is my escape, along with Alcott and other books of that ilk. Anything Jane Austen is guaranteed to satisfy me.

Also, I just like really old books in general, vanity fair, and Charles Dickens, any book where I'm addressed as Dear Reader. Swiss Family Robinson and others. It's so detached from my world, it was before fiction played games and tried to shock and pain you (the way the Kite Runner or the God of Small things does. Those to books are NOT escapist literature), no those books serve to entertain, they detach you briefly from reality and its great.

Another genre, fantasy. Who doesn't want to move to Hogwarts? De-stressing escapism at its finest, Voldermort be damned.

The foodie books. You need books with good eating. If only to make your eating better. Flip through nigella or gourmet magazine before your super. The perfect prime, and it's wonderful to think about nothing but food for a bit.

And finally, the french culture books which I eat up. I devour them. Or really any book where they romanticize the 1600s and 1700s with swashbuckling musketeers and fainting ladies. I don't know what that says about me. No doubt some Freudian psychologist says it reflects my subconscious desire to be a weak willed sop of a woman.

Either way, these are the books I reread when I'm stressed and tired of my dry academic tomes. Sometimes I'm ashamed so I usually tote Machiavelli with me (or sometimes Aristotle) to make me feel better. Sometimes it works to.

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