Post #78: The Treasure Map

FullSizeRenderSo real  so beautiful  so rightly royal!  There they are, snugly enrobed in a peacocks array of colors:   apricot, cerulean, deepest mauve.  Run your hands over the nubbled cloth, tingle to the strong backbone of the spine, caress the rough edges of the  pages with the tips of your fingers.  Ah! Are you ready?  Hold them in your hands, they are mine but please oh please oh please make them yours.   Deep breath!  Time to turn the pages….

***

The Nutshell Library  by Maurice Sendak

All dressed up and a visit to the Hudson’s Department Store bookstore.  A whole stack of them pyramided  to the sky!  One little box plucked from the top. And tucked inside?

Alligators All Around

Pierre

One Was Johnny

Chicken Soup With Rice

Four small books for one small person? There they were, tightly packed into a case all their own.  The drawings dance across the pages, the words fly! 

In March the wind blows down the door,

and knocks my soup upon the floor,

Blowing once,

Blowing twice,

Blowing, chicken soup with rice.

from Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendak

I can hold them in my hands but my eyes fly across the pages my heart soars!

I can read.

***

The Quarreling Book by Charlotte Zolotow

“No fighting, no biting”, said Else Homelund Minerick, but shamefacedly my sisters and I did both. Bad moods were as contagious as flu, traveling  sneeze to sneeze. But in The Quarreling Book the bounce back of joy could spread just as fast! I was learning.

***

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, illustrated by Louis Slobodkin

I have never been the same after reading this book.  I have never forgotten it.  But that, of course, was exactly the point.

***

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham

A cold rainy day in my messy, book-crammed room.  I am sixteen—pretentious, insecure, intellectually snobbish and oh so full of myself. Oh a whim I pluck the book from my shelf. It’s been there ponderous and unread for years. But I turn the page and a world I didn’t know I needed, one of warmth, of gentleness, of friendship,  of kindness, blossoms before me. I thaw. It remains for me forever and always open book.

***

The Art of Eating by M.F.K. Fisher

Can you savor? Can you revel? Can you see? Can you feel? 

To truly tell a story one doesn’t necessarily have to turn oneself inside out.  Can you delicately stir acute awareness with experience?  In other words, to taste.

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Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

A chance to see the world as it was through the kaleidoscope of decades past.  The Swan, The Time Machine, Statues! Is it possible that in  remembering ourselves we create ourselves anew.?

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Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

What kind of inner lives simmer and boil beneath the surface of each of us?  And if none of us are who we appear to be, how can we connect with each other?  Or can we?

***

Northern Farm by Henry Boston

See and sense the world around you.  Find joy in the simple pleasures. Choose your words with the precision of Vermeer, let the rhythms of life flow like a Mozart concerto.   More than anything, live and appreciate the sheer beauty of the world around us.

***

These are a few of my best beloved books.   With care I  move from one to the other to discover the treasure map of my whole life, of who I am and why I am.  Each book, each dot on my map stays with me always, deepening and mellowing with the patina of time.

Come and read!

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THE ART OF EATING (ALONE)

I was standing in line for my obligatory take out salad recently when I saw something remarkable.

A girl came into the restaurant by herself. She was holding a book. She took a seat at a table and after a glance at the menu placed her order. Then, with a contented sigh, she opened her book and began to read. She was completely immersed and didn’t look up until her order came. There it was, a thick waffle with whipped cream and fruit. She sighed and looked pleased.   She then put down her book , picked up her knife and fork and gave lunch her full attention.  She ate slowly and deliberately and I am assuming very happily.

It occurred to me, as I scurried out the door with my foil-wrapped salad (which I planned to eat in my car with a plastic fork, while simultaneously scrolling through emails) one of us was on the right track and it didn’t seem to be me.

I have eaten literally thousands of salads in my lifetime. And don’t get me wrong, salads are a great thing to eat, nice, crunchy, healthy whatever. Which is fine. That is, if what one truly craves is in fact a salad.

When had I last given a menu an actual reading with the thought of what I might actually like—or need—to eat? When had I last made a date with a book to sit alone and unfettered, to be catered to and fed whatever lovely food I craved? And when was it that I ate what I wanted to eat, rather that what I thought I would look good eating?

I’m not sure I can answer that. I am not sure I want to answer that. But I should.

Over the years I’ve been to my fair share of events and luncheons, snake pit like affairs rife with remarkably toned and impossibly lithe women. Events where mammoth trays of wrap sandwiches and “litely” dressed pasta salads remained untouched as everyone elbowed their way to the fruit tray.

The hardest of events to bear were the teacher recognition lunches at my childrens’ schools. The teachers, who ostensibly were being feted by the way, had to eat because they wouldn’t survive the working afternoon without sustenance. But eating a plate of food was humiliating for them because the moms sitting with them at table ate virtually nothing. How could they? People were watching. I used to think it might have been kinder, made more sense if we’d just skipped the formal lunch and gave everyone take out bags to grab and eat in the privacy of their own kitchens. Or for the teachers, in the privacy of their empty classrooms. But as far as I know that never happened.

But that kind of eating alone, furtively, guiltily, and shrouded in privacy, is the antithesis of the solitary lunch the girl in the restaurant was reveling in. There is no real joy in self-righteously mashing through sprouts in public when in the back of your mind you just know you’re going to dive head first into a half gallon of mint chip at 2 am in your dark and otherwise empty kitchen.

There are far weightier issues in the world than personal weight, but for most of us, weight is a load for us all to carry, no matter what number is on the scale. How could it not be? For most of us our self-image is inextricably bound to how thin, or how fat, we feel on any given day.

Most people will say when they’ve lost weight, “I’ve won the battle.” Which is a wonderful thing, I’ve been there too. But if anyone else is like me that sense of pride and power is shadowed by the fears of it all insidiously creeping back. I’ve been literally terrified by eating, post diet, afraid to add anything to my own “self-approved list of diet-friendly foods” (you may insert “salad” in this spot).

And I grimly munch away, not tasting anything that I am eating. Not really appreciating anything that I am eating. In thinking about that salad in my bag, full of things like mango and pumpkin seeds and kale, that I don’t really like any of it. It’s not what I need right now. It’s one of the reasons I am looking longingly at the girl with her hot, crisp waffle, covered in whipped cream.

“Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you what you are.” Long before Iron Chef rattled that brilliant aphorism to roof of the absurd “Kitchen Stadium”, Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin was focusing not simply on the pleasures of food, but on proclaiming the power of what we eat as the essence of self. Or in my case, perhaps the transformation of self.

The girl in the restaurant knew this instinctively. She sat calmly, almost regally at her table, savoring the meal she craved most at that moment . She took her time, appreciating and really tasting everything in front of her. She was enjoying the best company of all. Her own. She was, in essence, being supremely kind to herself.

And so, it is clear. It is time to make a luncheon date with myself.

***

The title, by the way is an expansion the title of MFK Fisher’s unparalleled compedium THE ART OF EATING, which contains some of her finest work, including

Serve It Forth, Consider the Oyster, How to Cook a Wolf, The Gastronomical Me, and An Alphabet of Gourmets

The most sublime and miraculous of food writers, Fisher’s career began with her excellent English translation of Brillat-Savarins’s The Physiology of Taste.