Friday, January 4, 2019

Of Love and Food

In a recent blog post I enumerated poems or parts of poems that have been amiably haunting me all my life. Yet there is one of them that, though frequently recurrent, I did not mention. It runs “Ce lourd secret que tu quemandes”—this heavy secret that you beg for.

It comes from a sequence of quatrains by Guillaume Apollinaire entitled “Vitam Impendere Amori’ (to overhang life with love,) an allusion to Rousseau’s “Vitam Impendere Vero,” to overhang life with truth. Apollinaire’s sequence was written about a troubled love affair with one of his several inamoratas, and its penultimate quatrain begins “Tu n’a pas surpris mon secret”—you did not apprehend my secret.
The entire concluding quatrain reads “La rose flotte au fil de l’eau/ Les masques ont pass├ęs par bandes/ Il tremble en moi comme un grelot/ Ce lourd secret que tu quemandes.” The rose floats along the water’s flow/ The masks have gone by in bands/ There trembles in me like sleigh bells/ This heavy secret that you beg for.”

I take this to mean that the romance of love is over, as are its disguises; what resonates inside the lover, is a deep-seated tremor, like unspoken sleighbells, which the beloved is reduced to seeking, probably in vain. I have no idea why that last single, solitary, out of context verse should so keep affecting me, perhaps because women could not find in me what they were craving, something very private that remained, however intense, uncommunicated. But perhaps it is just a verse that hangs on through sheer euphony, a musically modulated sound sequence.

So much for this matter; now for something entirely different. What about the presumptive birth places of various comestibles that they truthfully or falsely proclaim in their names, thus adding to their desirability? Take, for example, the so-called Belgian endives. Do they really all come from Belgium, and can they not take root for whatever reason elsewhere, say in our own USA? Is there something about the Belgian soil, climate, or cultivators that is so inimitably unique? Or is it just the exotic aura of foreignness?

Or what about Parma prosciutto? I am aware that in some markets it is available in a cheaper domestic version. But the imported kind from Italy, though quite a bit more expensive, is also tastier, At some outlets, in fact, there are numerous costlier versions, rising stepwise to real luxuries my kind cannot, and does not need to, afford. At the market where I shop, I have seen Prosciutto di Parma convincingly packaged and labeled in giant hunks. Wouldn’t it be nice to shlepp the whole thing home with me? And eating it, think affectionately of Parma’s favorite son in red and black? Similarly, I doubt if most Genoa salame has ever had a birthplace in Genoa. 

Now what about the balsamic Modena vinegar, different even in its opulently dark hue from the colorless domestic kind? I trust that it really does come from Modena,
But couldn’t it be replicated here—or is that already done? I don’t think so, as I see the name Modena proudly displayed on all its varieties, as ladies and gentlemen prefer brunettes to blondes. I truly believe that it does come from Modena, and not just because that sounds so pretty or that Modena suggests a la mode.

And how about ham? Here we run into a plethora of possibilities. Though not so denominated, much of it comes from Poland—either because it really does or because one thinks of wild Polish woods propitious to savory porkers. But one also thinks of Black Forest Ham (Schwarzwalder Schinken), even though most of the real Black Forest, subject to commercial deforestation, is practically gone by now, and is alive only in swine.

In France, there is a delicious ham, called if I remember correctly, jambon de Bayonne (but I may have it wrong, confused by tapestries from Bayeux). This brings me to obviously fictitious origins, such as the tasty Virginia ham, which, I would bet, does not necessarily come from Virginia. I also used to buy a lot of Danish ham, which I think was authentic, though I have a hard time envisaging  something Nordic as not made from reindeer.

Or think of Swiss cheese, Surely it originated, and still often does come, as Switzerland’s cheese, as if it had just skied down from an Alp. But it is a generic moniker and I have eaten Finnish Swiss cheese, just as good as any. And even in America. . . but let us not go there. I have also eaten Swedish meatballs in the heart of Manhattan.

Now what about salmon? Is it genuinely Scotch or Norwegian, or is it even, as honestly labeled, Scotch or Norwegian style? I would hate to think, though, that it might come from the Hudson or East River.

I am also puzzled by Turkish delight, which the musical “Kismet” correctly identifies as Rahat lokum. It is something that I would think can be persuasively fabricated (or whatever the word) nearer to us than Turkey. But, as I say, some of these titular attributes are fake. Have they even heard of hamburgers in Hamburg? Or in Moscow of a Moscow mule?

Ah, well, with potables there are as many nominally inauthentic as authentic ones. Burgundy, to be sure, comes from Burgundy, even as champaign (which the Times always capitalizes) comes from Champaign. Then again, most German and Austrian wines come with geographic names, like my current favorite, the Gruener Veltliner, where the green seems like a redundancy.

And now back to love, with which we began. Is music really, as Shakespeare’s Orlando would have it, “the food of love,” then what kind of food and what kind of love was he thinking of? If real food, no wonder opera divas, ostentatiously in love with themselves, are understandably of Wagnerian girth. Though, happily, recently not so much. And lovers of chocolate, Swiss or Belgian, should we not have to untighten our belts? By what miracle can I squeeze into 38 inch underwear and weigh usually something between 70 pounds and less? Luckily, though I am part Hungarian, I don’t drink Tokay, and though part Yugoslav, do not eat srpski sir, i.e., Serbian cheese. So it has become late, and I can go to bed lovingly thinking  of two favorite cheeses, Humboldt Fog, which I can sometimes afford, and Vacherin Liegois, which I really can’t.


  1. Firstly, (I love using the word "firstly" because it makes me feel so 19th century) I'm fond of this essay because Simon shows us a little vulnerability. He doesn't often do that.

    I like the rhyme with "alive only in swine." I rhymed it too! Simon does this kind of thing with his prose all the time, but I don't think enough people recognize it.

    Food is a nice theme for an essay. Simon doesn't really discuss food, though. He examines the NAMES of food. Not unusual for a language guy. Simon's a language guy.

    I'd like to deliberate on the food itself. How is the food prepared? What should it taste like? Is it good food? I'd also like to discuss why food and good don't rhyme. That pisses me off. I think food should be pronounced "fuud." I need that rhyme for my prose.

    The first food I'd like to take up is head cheese and blood sausage. Use the entire animal. Everything but the oink. No, seriously, I've had both and they were delicious. I just don't want to watch you make it.
    My grandmother made offal. I'd rather eat the oink. I did NOT enjoy offal. It was awful. Check the rhyme box for this paragraph.

    I'm not a fan of most internal organs. Heart, gizzards, kidneys. No, I usually don't go there. An exception: One time, me and a bunch of friends went overnight fishing with a lot of alcohol. Got drunk. We also got hungry and we only had the chicken liver bait we were using to catch fish. I said: "hey, why don't we cook the chicken livers over the bonfire." We did, and they weren't bad. I put my chicken livers on potato chips because of the salt factor on the chips. Nice seasoning. Again, not too bad.

    I have more, but I'm tired. See you tomorrow.

    1. As I was posting I thought, wait, didn't Pops say something about rhyming food and good? Some kind of Leibelization.

  2. Thank you, John, especially for the intriguing verse of Apollinaire. On a lighter note, I like his line: "Now and then it's good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy."

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  6. Budge recipe

    The college campus has come
    To never asking where you from,

    (Of stricter wisdom this fount,
    Poring over your other account).

    Level thinkers hear my plea!
    See, I’m taking the knee!

    For continuing unreasonable good,
    Can’t we just stretch that to food?

    1. I'm now pronouncing food "fuud" It's the way it should be and should always be.

  7. I rewatched "Stranger Than Paradise" the other night. What a great film. I've moved it up into my > "Pop's Top 25 Films of All Time" list. I had to bump "Wizard of Oz" back to number 26 to make room for Jarmusch's masterpiece.

    I hadn't seen the film since it first came out around 25 years ago. The camera setups, photography, and art direction are fantastic. It's a beautiful looking film, especially considering it only cost $100,000 to make. Even considering 1984 dollars, that's incredible.

    Now, some would say the acting is mediocre, and the story is bland. I disagree. The actors played their parts naturally. They were wonderful and perfect. I mean, what do you want? You want Brando playing the Lurie part? Get out of here. The story is good too. I've always been a sucker for road films and buddy pictures, and this is both. Not only that, but you have a female Bulgarian immigrant thrown in for good measure.

    The ending shocked me the first time I saw the film, and it did again the other night. I had completely forgotten how the film ended. Maybe my favorite movie ending of all time. John Lurie's music is very good. I almost forgot to mention that. And, who could forget the repeated use of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell On You"? Magical. Jarmusch is a genius. I know "genius" is an overused term these days, but I don't care. He's that good. When I checked out IMDb, I noticed Jarmusch has a bunch of stuff I haven't seen yet. Newer stuff. I got really happy when I saw that.

    I am now on a Jim Jarmusch movie watching binge. I have the folks down at Netflix working overtime sending me his movies. Next up: "Down By Law."

    1. Pretty ballsy talking about films on John Simon's blog. What do I have to lose?

      For some reason, Netflix shipped me "Patterson" instead of "Down By Law." Smooth move, Netflix. I hadn't seen "Patterson" yet. "Patterson" is a hell of a movie. The film further convinces me how great Jim Jarmusch is. From now on I'm going to call "Patterson" >>> "Pat", without the quotes. Pat doesn't have the audacity of "Stranger Than Paradise," but it's: "full-grown-man" Jarmusch making a movie. "Stranger" is: "talented-kid" making a movie. I'm pretty sick of using the quotation marks.

      Pat is about a guy named Patterson and the town of Patterson (NJ) and poetry and bus driving and marriage and being in love and loneliness and beer and interior decorating and cupcakes. It's about a lot of cool things.

      I love how Patterson and his wife treat each other. They're such sweet people. I asked my wife to watch the film with me so we could observe how to behave towards each other. My wife lasted ten minutes. "Boring," she said. She said she would watch Pat with me if I watched The Bachelor with her. I told her Pat was a great film and The Bachelor sucked. We got into an argument.

      Pat proved to me how jaded I was. I've watched too many Hollywood movies, and I say this as a huge Hollywood fan. I kept expecting something dramatically awful to happen in Pat. Of course, Jarmusch is way too smart for that. There is a scene where Patterson sits down next to an attractive young girl about 12 twelve years old. I was like, oh shit, Patterson is going to make a pass at this young girl. He didn't. Patterson's bus breaks down leaving his passengers stranded. Among the stranded people are young school children. Cars are zooming by. I thought one of the kids was going to get hit by a car, thus shattering Patterson's peaceful existence. Nothing happened. Everything was fine.

      The last thing I'd like to say is how much I enjoyed Adam Driver's performance in Pat. I knew he had been in the Star Wars stuff and some TV, but I had no idea he was this good of an actor.

      I give Pat two thumbs up. You heard me. Two. Thumbs.

    2. Sorry, everyone. Paterson isn't spelled "Patterson." Not the movie, the character, or the town. Just pretend I spelled it "Paterson." I don't feel like rewriting all of this shit. Carry on.

  8. " Take, for example, the so-called Belgian endives. Do they really all come from Belgium, and can they not take root for whatever reason elsewhere, say in our own USA? Is there something about the Belgian soil, climate, or cultivators that is so inimitably unique? Or is it just the exotic aura of foreignness?"

    Mr. Simon didn't mention the Jerusalem artichoke; perhaps because something remains stuck in his craw (one of the quainter anthropological symbolisms equivalent to the heart)...

  9. Pop, thanks for the reviews, I am reading and heeding.

    1. Thanks, Nooch. I figured since this thread is about food and "Pat" is sort of about cupcakes, it'd be okay to post. I highly recommend Pat. A beautiful film with an underlying sadness that's hard to describe. I wouldn't be surprised if Jarmusch and Driver do another film together sometime in the future. They work well together to say the least.

    2. Guys, just got wind of this. Jim Jarmusch has a new flick coming out. And, it's with Adam Driver, no less. The film also has Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton.
      Here's something even better >> It's a zombie flick! I can't wait!

      I'm hoping Simon comes out of retirement to review it. Hey, I can hope.

  10. Jarmusch did a good turn in the show 'Bored to Death':

  11. Thanks for inspiring me to re-watch 'Stranger Than Paradise', which I had last seen on Super Bowl Sunday 1987 at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, MA. Eszter Balint is radiant in the film, the sun around which the two male characters (who look almost identical to each other) revolve. I wasn't bored for a second. Thanks again!

    1. Wonderful film. Nooch, I've been wanting to share this website with you. You'll love it. You can search films in several different ways and they have tons of links to reviews, Wiki, IMDb, etc. I've been known to spend hours on here. I don't agree with some of their ratings, and I'm not even sure who's doing the rating, but it's a great tool to use when looking for movies to revisit, rent, or buy. I'll leave the link for the "years page" and then you can go to the Home Page to check out the other pages.

    2. Thanks so much for mentioning the Films101 website, I've added the link to my FetLife profile.

    3. Yes, anytime you're looking for a movie to watch; maybe something you haven't seen for awhile, start looking around on this site. After ten minutes you'll have found eight films to rent from Netflix. The last three films I've watched that I've found from this site:

      Men With Guns
      The Player
      Grizzly Man

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