Sunday, May 05, 2019

Patio and book day

Jordan and Christian worked on the yard this afternoon. It’s that time of year when the pecan tress drops those “worms” all over. You can blow them off in the morning and by mid-afternoon, the patio is covered again. Sophie, with her woolly coat, brings dozens of them into the house—this morning I could follow a trail where she went from French doors, down the hall, and into the bedroom to get into my still-unmade bed, where she dropped more “worms.”

Jordan was so proud that she cleaned the patio while I napped, but by the time I got up, it was littered again. She spray-painted our two metal flamingoes. The paint had been the subject of great controversy. Jacob painted the small one a year or so ago, with a Pepto-Bismol spray paint that was way too pink. I insisted we go to the hardware for a better shade, but that was all they had. So our big flamingo is now an unnatural pink.

I am reminded of my friend, Carol, a purist about many things who once complained, “Why are all my friends’ gardens sprouting this tacky Mexican tin art?” Guilty!

We sat on the patio tonight for a pre-dinner glass of wine. Lovely, peaceful, and green—but those worms dropped all around us. Luckily, none landed in the wine.

Sometimes I feel Sunday is a good day to dedicate to a book, and that’s what I did today, reading most of Ruth Reichl’s Save Me the Plums, the title taken from that marvelously intimate poem by William Carlos Williams. This is Reichl’s memoir of her tenure as editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine. I wouldn’t call it charming, but I would call it mesmerizing. She is honest and frank about her own insecurities as she ventured into the corporate world, one where she was never completely at home. She admits to anxiety attacks, feelings of inadequacy, guilt about her mothering skills—all this makes her so human.

The memoir is in a way an exposé about corporate America, the kind of revelation that makes me grateful for my small-time, no-pressure, no-big-success writing and publishing career. But it is also a book about food, and Reichl is a skilled food writer, one who can talk unselfconsciously about carousels or explosions of flavor in her mouth, bread that makes you think of a forest on a sunny day, flavors that reverberate. I think I’m a fairly adventuresome eater, but she relishes things I would never try, like squid guts and cod sperm.

A few recipes are scattered throughout the text. In spite of the exotic food she eats and her extensive knowledge, the recipes for such things as jeweled chocolate cake or spicy noodles are easily accessible for the average home cook, a thing she kept in mind during her years at Gourmet.

As in most of her books, the shadow of Reichl’s mother hangs over this one. A troubled woman who suffered from grandiose desires and frequent depression. As Reichl enters the Four Seasons restaurant, she remembers how her mother loved going there for a martini and wished they could afford to go for dinner. It made me realize I under-appreciated the one time in my life that I dined in that hallowed spot.

But there was also Reichl’s father—a quiet, gentle man, a book designer with a marvelous understanding of typography and the importance of the interior of a book (or magazine) but also a clear recognition that cover art was not his forté.

Reichl’s style is casual, chatty, friendly. Reading her memoir is like reading a novel, only you know the end—and it’s not good. I haven’t quite gotten there yet, but the handwriting is on the wall.

Me? I wish in another life, I could have a career like Reichl’s, only without the corporate pressure. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

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