Monday, April 6, 2009

From Seeds to Cezanne

Last night my husband came in from tennis and said he’d convinced our neighbor, his doubles partner, to plant a vegetable garden on the side of the house. All I could think is: wow. My husband has gone along with most of my green efforts, especially when they include saving money, like changing to CFS light bulbs, using cloth napkins and wipes and shutting off the lights with a vengeance. But it isn’t his crusade.

In fact while we both want to grow some veggies, he’s acting out of fun while I see it as a political act, ever the poli sci major, I guess. So when I heard he’d been urging our neighbor to join us in a victory garden, I knew we were on to something.

I immediately envisioned conversations over the backyard wall, the sharing of extra basil, the sharing of extra zucchini, the sharing of a beer and a barbecue. The whole 50s thing.

Maybe this is what it’s all about. Baking bread, eating a meal with family and friends, growing something - from agriculture to cities to culture. From seeds to Cezanne.

The Economist ran an article recently, What’s Cooking, about the first of five reports from the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science where they look at the evolutionary role of cookery.

You are what you eat, or so the saying goes. But Richard Wrangham, of Harvard University, believes that this is true in a more profound sense than the one implied by the old proverb. It is not just you who are what you eat, but the entire human species. And with Homo sapiens, what makes the species unique in Dr Wrangham’s opinion is that its food is so often cooked.

Cooking is a human universal. No society is without it. No one other than a few faddists tries to survive on raw food alone. And the consumption of a cooked meal in the evening, usually in the company of family and friends, is normal in every known society. Moreover, without cooking, the human brain (which consumes 20-25% of the body’s energy) could not keep running. Dr Wrangham thus believes that cooking and humanity are coeval.

In fact, as he outlined to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), in Chicago, he thinks that cooking and other forms of preparing food are humanity’s “killer app”: the evolutionary change that underpins all of the other—and subsequent—changes that have made people such unusual animals.

So stay tuned. We’ve been tearing up our yard, planting seeds inside and laying out the plan. Our neighbor already has a plum tree. How about a bushel of plums for a basket of tomatoes? And don’t forget the beer and the hot dogs. It’s going to be a long hot summer.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

April In Paris

I am relearning my French, digging through the morass of my oldish brain for vocab learned long ago and having the best time. Can you say pure joy? Much safer than a hormone pill, less sweaty than 30 minutes at my kickboxing studio and way more sexy. Can you say Sarkhozy and Carla? I’m online listening to a jazz radio station from Belgium and watching French talking heads deliver the news. The Middle East situation is ever so much more amusant in French.

What I do for love, this pure hobby moment has no money in it, that’s for sure. Living in SoCal I’d be much better off learning Spanish from scratch than picking up wherever I left off after 9 years of French. In fact I debated for years what to do when the kids were older and I supposedly had more time. I have no time but who cares.

So what if I could actually use Hispanic rather than mes études français in my day job as publicist to the non-stars, and therefore at least get a write-off. Who cares if no one around me speaks French, except my 17 year old daughter, et seulement un peu, but who wants to speak French avec votre mere ou avec ta teenage fille? The Internet has brought all things français to my door and it’s a wonderful world we live in.

I’ve found blogs, podcasts and websites, et aussi des livres d’enfants pas trop cher from the library book sale to help get me up to speed, which could take who knows how long but who cares. My Corsican French teacher from 7th grade who played the flugelhorn, had recorded an album and gave us so much homework by winter break the parents were protesting? Or my German French teacher from 10th and 11th grade who zapped us with quizzes as punishment when we couldn’t answer her early morning grillings? Or perhaps the 12th grade American French teacher who explained her flying lessons to us completment en français and never spoke a word of English all that year. Talk about your stress headaches. Will I ever have time for that kind of immersion again?

So I make do but with as much flair as possible. With my morning café au lait I read women stylists/photographers blogs, sometimes even in French, while I sit in my jeans, struggling with my own digital efforts to eke quaintness out of photos of big box stores and strip malls. C’est dommage mais we have no pâtisseries ici.

The BBC is my new best friend because it allows me to lire, écouter et parler in incremental lessons. And j’adore all those intense French men with the narrow glasses, spiky hair and well tied scarves posed in existential angst leaning over balconies with a Galois hanging from their sensuous lips. Bien sûr I’m married but I’m a woman d’un certain âge so I can turn to fantasy when necessary.

I found a lovely photographer-watercolorist who blogs about pastries, chocolates, elegant shops and Parisians with well-tied scarves around their neck. Paris Breakfasts. It’s like a tour bus ride without the fumes.

And then there’s the French Corner, this super everything about French blog with all sorts of links. I love links. It’s where I found the Belgium jazz. I think. I need to remember to bookmark immediately or else I’m lost in the forest without a baguette-crumb trail to lead me back.

And then, on a blog from an excellent writer, La Belette Rouge, who wishes she lived and wrote in Paris, don’t we all, I found a book, Tune Up Your French, to help me learn street French and the right body language which will help me sound like the real thing. Even as I write this post I’m practicing moving my shoulders in a je ne sais quoi kind of way. I can feel my accent improving with each shrug.

After an hour of parlez-vous’ing myself into a total flow moment I have to control myself from wishing the bank tellers ‘bon jour’. I feel so connected to the world, so cosmopolitan as I run errands with a long scarf draped artfully around my neck. Okay, so I’m living in an uber-suburb. Can you say let’s pretend?

So what is the photo of a torn, well loved petit larrouse at the top of the post you ask? That’s my French dictionary from elementary school. I needed a new one, très triste, because this poor bébé crumbles a little more every time je le bouge. See below. No patina. I need to take it to a café and spill a little coffee on it to break it in.

Now, excusez-moi while I conjugate a few verbs before I run errands and throw smoldering glances at my favorite bank teller. À bientôt.