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  
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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  
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William Faulkner, on Work

This makes me look forward to retirement:

One of the saddest things is that the only thing that a man can do for eight hours a day, day after day, is work. You can’t eat eight hours a day nor drink for eight hours a day nor make love for eight hours — all you can do for eight hours is work. Which is the reason why man makes himself and everybody else so miserable and unhappy.

William Faulkner, interviewed by Jean Stein for The Paris Review, 1958.

Published in: on September 24, 2012 at 11:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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On Rereading

Maybe you can’t go home again, but you can (and should) reread good books:

… you come to a book the second or third time with a different hunger, a more settled sense about how far off the previously-mentioned great horizon really is for you, and what you do and don’t have time for, and what you might reasonably hope to gain from a later look. Every time I open a book for the first time I feel I’m taking a risk. It’s part of the great excitement of reading. It’s like standing in the street and watching a glistening, sequined tightrope walker traverse the empty space between tall buildings. If he falls, I’m implicated because I’m watching. Though maybe he won’t, and I’ll be implicated in a triumph.

But with rereading, less is thrillingly at risk—though it can still be thrilling. Everything just seems to happen on solider ground—not high up. In that sense, rereading is more like what we originally meant by reading—an achieved intimacy, a dappled discernment, the pleasures of volition, of surrendering, of time spent lavishly, the chance of glimpsing (but not quite possessing) the heart of something grand and beautiful we might’ve believed we already knew well enough.

From “Rereading,” by Richard Ford (Eighteen Bridges magazine, Fall 2010).

Published in: on May 27, 2011 at 12:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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On Wartime Culture

Written during the buildup to the war in Iraq:

In wartime the state seeks to destroy its own culture. It is only when this destruction has been completed that the state can begin to exterminate the culture of its opponents. In times of conflict authentic culture is subversive. As the cause championed by the state comes to define national identity, as the myth of war entices a nation to glory and sacrifice, those who question the value of the cause and the veracity of the myth are branded internal enemies.

From War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges (published 2003).

Published in: on January 12, 2011 at 5:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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On the Ruination of Friendships

Writing about Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and how it’s the little things that ruin a friendship.

Whenever I would think of these two men who had been my friends, I would find myself growing fascinated at the way little details, little vanities, little slights, shape all our relationships. It is these little things, not clashes over great principles, that turn people against each other.

From That Summer in Paris, by Moreley Callaghan (published 1963).

Published in: on November 6, 2010 at 11:55 am  Leave a Comment  
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