Sunday, March 8, 2015

Appearances: How Would It (You) Look?

Difficult as it now seems to believe, there was a time when you could neither abide the taste of coffee nor countenance its aroma.  The time for this was when you still lived with your parents, and needed at the family breakfast table to request your father to please put cream in his coffee so that its aroma would not waft its way into your immediate presence.

True enough, your mother had no special relationship with coffee in that remarkable chemistry she had with so many other items of cuisine, but this was not a fault you could lay before her, any more than you could explain your deep, abiding aversion toward squash or, for that matter, fried tomatoes, a dish your mother prepared to the delight of your immediate family and any number of guests at what you now think of in fond retrospect as Annie's table.

Perhaps it was a simple matter of the appearance and effect of hormones as you grew beyond larval stage.  Of equal possibility, your flirtations with adventure against the background of boredom and an urge to rebel against targets you could not yet identify.

Through various rites of passage, you have made your peace with coffee, all varieties of squash, and tomatoes in any form.  By the time you'd reached twenty, these anomalies in your pretty near omnivorous approach to food was gone, even forgotten until such times as these when you remember in amused wonderment how you could ever have had issues with coffee, squash, or fried tomatoes.

At the moment, you know at least two individuals who have limiting approaches to food, meaning they in effect have to face boring and limited diets.  You know one or two vegetarians, at least one vegan, and a number who have well-articulated idiosyncrasies related to foodstuffs such as, say, cauliflower, asparagus, or Brussels sprouts that you consider conventional.

For the longest time, say age twenty to  the recent past, a meal without some hint of wine was unthinkable, your preference running to fruity reds but by no means excluding such spectacular whites as Folle blanche, Gewurtztraminier, chardonnay, and a broad spectrum of champagne.  

The corner of your kitchen reserved for wine has remained unchanged for the better part of two years, the bottle of pinot grigio yet chilling in the refrigerator these many months against a luncheon of salmon or salad Nicoise yet to come.  In a shift of taste and temperament, you now seem to prefer a pilsner-type beer or a pale ale, both of which augment another sudden interest, the liverwurst and pickle sandwich, taken on a dark, yeasty pumpernickel, perhaps accompanied with a slice of onion.

The pleasures of the table and the bookshelf occupy your thoughts and time as well as a significant chunk of your disposable income.  Each has some bedrock from which tastes ebb and flow.  You expect this and welcome it, well aware how any number of the bottles on store will taste if and when you get to them, equally aware how certain bookshelf items will offer nuances and experiences to salve expectations, but will also provide surprises you missed on previous trips through.

Through various other rites of passage, including your own awareness of your desire to write, your actual ventures into writing, and your in effect conflating the library with whatever the contents of the refrigerators of your youth, courses of action were set, contents of your own refrigerators and bookshelves underwent strategic reassessments, and you sit before your computer and, have immediate recourse to a refrigerator and book shelves, all reflections of your tastes, curiosities, blind spots, and idiosyncrasies.  

You still very much value the essays of George Orwell.  Your favored short story writer is Deborah Eisenberg.  You have only this evening polished off a bottle of red cabbage slaw and a lone chunk of gefulte fish, sprinkled with pecorino Romano.  Your pile of leisure reading, ready for the interim between teaching quarters, contains the collected short stories of John Cheever, a new collection of essays by Slavoj Zizeck, and the latest Richard Price novel, The Whites.

Also in the pile is Sartor Sartorus, by Carlyle, and an eleven-hundred-page study of the novel by Michael Schmidt, and another go at Richard Schacht's Alienation, while your immediate attention is required by Carson McCullers' haunting The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter for your class on women writers of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.

There is a pile of things in the larder nearing their use-by date, including a tube of anchovy paste, two cans of Aunt Penny's Hollandaise sauce, a tin of liver pate, and several boxes of brioche toast crackers.

There is a pile of books on the kitchen floor of an entirely eclectic nature, along with some unread Paris Review and Sewanee Review.

There is a photo lying about in which you were captured at a recent reading, wearing reading glasses while holding a book up to eye level.  To your immense joy, you quite look like your father.  For reasons of what you suppose to be sentimentality and nostalgia, you've begun using the shaving brush given you by your pal, Barnaby Conrad.  Watching the nuances of your facial hair in the mirror, you conclude you look different using a shaving brush than you do using an aerosol bomb of foam lather.

Considering all the things about you, including the contents of your refrigerator and book shelves, you would not think straightaway that they are any clue to the way you appear now, would you?

But they are.  And you do.

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