On Ragù

Bill Buford explores the intricacies of traditional Italian ragù:

Fundamentally, a ragù is an equation involving a solid (meat) and a liquid (broth or wine), plus a slow heat, until you reach a result that is neither solid nor liquid. The most famous ragù is Bolognese, although there is not one Bolognese but many. Gianni Valdiserri confessed to me when I was in Porretta that when he and Betta married – Betta pregnant, sixteen years old, and still in school – he was concerned that he hadn’t tasted her ragù. This ragù, which she’d learned from an aunt, had been passed down through many generations of her family and would be different from the ragù that Gianni had grown up eating, his mother’s, which was profound and complex and touched something deep in his soul. He also knew that he’d never be able to teach Betta to make someone else’s. A ragù, he said, was a very personal thing. So imagine his happiness when he first ate a ragù made by Betta and discovered that yes, it was different from his mother’s – and better.

From Heat, by Bill Buford (published 2006)

Published in: on December 20, 2014 at 9:41 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

Heavy Efforts

Primo Levy referred to Every Man Dies Alone, by Hans Fallada, as “The greatest book ever written about the German resistance to the Nazis.”  Published in 1947, it is a grim carnival of fools with a black comedic sensibility. Fallada (real name Rudolf Wilhelm Friedrich Ditzen) died a few weeks before publication, at age 53.

The scene: wartime Berlin. Detective Inspector Escherich of the Gestapo is charged with finding the source of a series of anti-Hitler postcards being dropped around town by persons unknown. He’s not a particularly fervent Nazi; he just wants to maintain law and order. But his superiors are bullies and they put constant pressure on him to resolve the case immediately.

Back at Prinz Albrecht Strasse, he had himself announced immediately to his direct supervisor, SS Obergruppenführer Prall. He had to wait almost an hour; not that Herr Prall was very busy, or rather, because he was particularly busy in a particular way. Escherich heard the tinkle of glasses, and the popping of corks, he heard laughter and shouting: one of the regular meetings of the higher echelons, then. Conviviality, booze, cheerful relaxation after the heavy effort of torturing and putting to death their fellow men.

From Every Man Dies Alone, by Hans Fallada (originally published 1947; English translation by Geoff Wilkes published 2009).

Published in: on November 7, 2014 at 11:23 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

On Whaling and Dogme 95

Herman Melville, like many writers before and since, was somewhat bonkers. In setting the scene for his description of Melville’s maladies, Dr. John Ross describes the world of nineteenth-century Yankee whaling, including life on the whaling ships.

Desertion rates in whaleships were high. Whaling consisted of long periods of tedium, punctuated by bouts of terror, rather like firefighting or watching the films of Lars von Trier.

From Sharespeare’s Tremor and Orwell’s Cough, by John Ross, M.D. (published 2012)

Published in: on November 3, 2014 at 10:39 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

The First Great Winnowing

Madeleine McCarthy is now in her early thirties. She’s a comedian and actress, and passes her days and nights amid a coterie of showy show business folks. One night at an after-show party she starts to see things differently.

Early thirty-something existential moment of truth, when you first realize that not everyone you worked with in your twenties is a genius, that some people are “wild and crazy” and others simply have a substance problem, that the alluring sexy-sad people are just depressive, that depression is rage slowed down, that mania is grief speeded up. That first great winnowing.

From The Way the Crow Flies, by Ann-Marie MacDonald (published 2003).

Published in: on February 1, 2014 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

Imaginary Crippled Mother

One of the joys of The Way the Crow Flies is the way the author, Ann-Marie MacDonald, totally nails the voice and the stream-of-conciousness thoughts of a nine-year old girl in 1962. Madeleine McCarthy is a half-Acadian tomboy living with her family on an Air Force base in Ontario.

“Nancy Drew and the Case of the Mysterious Wheelchair.” Maybe they have a crippled mother. Imagine if your mother were crippled. “Come here dear, so I can dress you.” You would always have to obey her and answer nicely because how cruel to talk back to a crippled mother or to run away out of her reach. Imagine her making your sandwiches with her weak hands, wheeling over to the fridge for the mayonnaise. It makes Madeleine appreciate her own mother. It’s good to appreciate your mother. She imagines her mother dead in order to appreciate her better: imagine if it were just me and Mike and Dad. Eating fried chicken every night and going to air shows. I’d wear Mike’s hand-me-downs and people would think I was a boy. She reminds herself that the prerequisite for this all-boy Shangri-La is the death of her mother, and cuts the fantasy short. It’s just not worth it if your mother has to die.

From The Way the Crow Flies, by Ann-Marie MacDonald (published 2003)

Published in: on November 27, 2013 at 9:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

Dangerous Beauty

Gwethalyn Graham, writing in Earth and High Heaven, on the charms of small-town Ontario in the 1940s:

Manchester itself is a tribute to the Canadian talent for choosing a remarkably fine natural setting for a town, and then proceeding to ruin it as far as possible. There is an interminably long, straight main street running parallel with the shore, flanked by the inevitable collection of two- and three-storey office buildings, shops, gas stations, beauty parlors, Chinese laundries, pool rooms, soda fountains, cheap restaurants, movie houses, and the usual Protestant and Catholic churches, apparently dedicated, like most of the buildings in English Canada, to the Puritan proposition that even in architecture, beauty is unnecessary and possibly even dangerous. 

From Earth and High Heaven, by Gwethalyn Graham (Published 1944).

Published in: on October 11, 2013 at 2:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags:
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 361 other followers