Sunday, April 3, 2016

Forays in food and film

It may not seem like it from a conversation with me or after a cursory meander through my blog but I am bookish. I have a great love for reading. Hardcopy, electronic, hardback, newspaper, pamphlet, brochure, billboard, food label, instruction manual, biography, political treatise, graphic novel, children’s book, self-help guide, service provider terms and conditions, if it comprises written words I am drawn to it. Microsoft Word has offered me “erudite” as a synonym for bookish because I thought bookish was too bookish for my purposes. I love the word erudite because it reminds me of the boffins in the book/movie series “Divergent.”  I thought against it as a descriptor for myself because for some reason it seems a bit desperate and/or pretentious to describe oneself as erudite. So I’m not saying I’m erudite, I’m saying MS Word thinks I might be! And who am I but a mere mortal, near-native speaker of English to argue against the great brains behind the Microsoft Office dictionary! I think dedicating five sentences to the word erudite should be enough to as humbly as possibly express the message I am trying to convey about myself in relation to reading. There is a hash tag referring to a “humble brag” that one might justifiably use right now.

Here’s the thing. While I am not a lazy reader per se I am a rather slow reader burdened with a desire to acquire a vast quantity of informational, philosophical and emotional capital in the little time I have here on Earth (85 years according to There are several ways to overcome the conflict between the things I want to know and the time constraints within which I must expose myself to them. One is to hang around different kinds of people, siphon their knowledge and vicariously experience their version of life and its many splendored things. Another less leachy method is to simply go to the cinema. An offshoot of my love of reading is my love for film. I love, love, love movies. I think of them as books for lazy readers. All you do is sit back and watch the story instead of having to co-imagine the characters and the setting with the author. And because they require less intellectual investment, films are an easy way for me to explore themes or topics I wouldn’t ordinarily explore through literature. An example is the culinary arts. I wouldn’t buy a book about how to cook – cookbooks or recipe books I think they’re called? I definitely would not buy a novel about cooking, like the book on which the movie Chocolat was based. But I can take two hours out of my day to watch Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche living out a sensual tale about inclusion, exclusion and the freedom to be and love whoever you please, whatever you please and wherever you damn well please. I loved Chocolat. It’s a quiet unassuming piece of work that has a captivating soundtrack, doesn’t try to be too many things and accomplishes so much in the process.
Last year, a person for whom I was having butterflies in the tummy made me watch Chef. He said he loved it because he loved cooking, music and Jon Favreau and the movie was about all three. We watched it over wine and Nandos chicken and I absolutely loved it too, although for the purposes of ego-checking I may have only told him I thought it was okay. But I love, love, loved it. I’m such a cheap date! I loved it so much I play the soundtrack in my car everyday. The cinematography is warm and balmy like sunset in Miami or Los Angeles should be as all these years of Hollywood movies have taught me to expect. The main character is a lovable, highly talented curmudgeon of a chef in the form of Jon Favreau and I think the movie is about stripping down your life to the people and things that are really important to you. It’s about finding or re-committing to your calling in its purest sense and it’s about loyalty, family and friendship. And good food! Man, that food looked amazing. Even the way Chef Carl makes a grilled cheese sandwich for his son’s breakfast is enough to make me want to up my gwedge*-making game just because of how meticulously he works and how seriously he takes it. 
I also like the clear message that the people you work with are your friends and family when your hearts and visions are perfectly aligned and you are a truly effective team. And the fact that your ex can still be your biggest cheerleader and friend, who helps you to be the best possible you. I also like the idea of legacy, through the father-son dyad- how you can nurture something that outlives you by nurturing your relationship with your child. Such a great movie! Checkout the cracking soundtrack:
After Chef I watched Burnt. And wowaweewa, boy did I love it. Firstly the food looks incredible. Secondly, it’s about a really talented guy who makes a huge mess of his life and his journey in redeeming himself both professionally and as a man. I can totally relate to that because I have made massive mistakes of the permanent damage kind. This movie shows that you can build a new path for yourself in spite of your colossal shady and maybe even highly public failures. It also taught me something important in that redemption is not a one-man show. We NEED other people to believe in us, to work with us to make our dreams come true, to call out our nonsense and maybe even just to remind us how great we’ve always been. There’s always something in these movies about discipline. Watching a sous chef cook halibut over and over and over and over and over again so she can get it just right is a major lesson in discipline. And please note, this is the food industry. If she doesn’t get this halibut perfectly right, no one will die. World peace does not hang in the balance. But she pushes herself because it’s her craft and it is her duty to execute it to the absolute highest standard possible. I love that. Perfection for it’s own sake…
If you’re a tightly wound perfectionist interested in cooking or interested in what it would look and feel like to have curve balls thrown your way and in the process have the carrot stuck in your butt removed, please watch The Hundred Foot Journey. Oprah and Steven Spielberg co-produced it with Juliet Blake and it stars the indomitable Helen Mirren. I love it because it’s about migrants making a life in a new world and I am a migrant making a life for myself in a world than can often be very hostile to “foreigners.” The idea of being a foreigner is weird to me because if you’re an Earthling then you can’t be foreign wherever you find yourself on Earth. And migration is a natural behavioural pattern for many living things. We move around. It’s what we do. How absurd to make migration a “thing.” It’s as absurd to me as the concept of “land ownership” but that’s a conversation for another day. Anyway The Hundred Foot Journey is about fusion: of cultures, of hearts, of philosophies and of food. Awesome! Also, this movie reminded me about how I am yet to taste the perfect omelette.
Thematically, I found the movie No Reservations to be similar to The Hundred Foot Journey in that it explores the idea of life after loss. The gorgeous Catherine Zeta-Jones plays an uptight perfectionist chef who likes her life just so but has all of that completely discombobulated by the arrival of a free-spirited man she must work with and a “challenging” niece to care for after her sister dies in a car accident. Why does love always come riding on the back of a crazy curveball? It’s so frustrating! I guess the lesson is that by leaning into love and the vast unknowable universe in which it resides, we can find ourselves living our richest, most bountiful lives. I needed that one. I used to be a perfectionist and still have errant perfectionist tendencies.
Finally, but by no means least is the movie The Trip To Italy, a very simply shot film of the mocumentary style, which I absolutely loved. The thing that I loved second best about this movie was getting to see how beautiful Italy is and all the mouthwatering cuisine that awaits my future husband and me after we get married on Capri. The thing that I love the most about the movie was the banter between two friends as they traversed the country and experienced its food and attractions. It’s the kind of irreverent laugh out loud banter I regularly engage in with my friends. I remember having lunch with a friend at The Green Peppercorn in Johannesburg and laughing for thirty minutes straight as she just basically conducted a one-man stand up show with her witty observational humor. Thirty back-to-back minutes of her talking and me laughing as we drank wine and people watched. This happens a lot when I eat, drink or generally hang out with my friends. As I watched the movie and enjoyed the dynamics of the two friends egos and personalities I couldn’t help but long for the day my friends and I will finally get our acts together and head out for the open roads, seas or skies of the world. It’s tough because there are work schedules to be considered, degrees to be obtained and budgets to be aligned… Nevertheless, I loved the Trip To Italy because it reminded me of what fun simple human conversation can be. I also loved their hilarious and spot on movie impersonations such as that of Michael Caine and Christian Bale in Batman:
... and their completely off-side comments that one would definitely say with friends but not in front of a camera, like how eating game is akin to eating Mo Farrah because it’s an animal that’s been in the wild getting plenty of exercise and natural nutrients...
“But what if he was mortally wounded? Would you eat him then? If he was paralysed from the waist down, it would be rude then wouldn’t it?”
... which led to musings on the variable nutritional value of different people's legs resulting in the conclusion that it would be foolish to choose eat Rob (Brydon)’s legs over Mo’s but you could reject Stephen Hawking’s legs in favour of Rob's. I was killed!

I have enjoyed my foray into the world of food related film and I am considering what might make a good follow up theme to explore. I have recently been forced to watch Jerry Maguire (apparently it was an unforgivable shame that I had not watched it to date) and someone has been holding a small gun to my head and demanding that I watch Cool Runnings. So perhaps sport is where we're headed next. Either that or unrequited/doomed/star-crossed love because I do like my romances with a bit of complexity. In the meantime, I've been reading and thinking about creativity, ideas and how to curate and realise them.

* Gwedge is old skool Zimbabwean slang for sandwich. Because some Zimbabweans pronounce the word sandwich as “sang-gwej.” It’s totally not a big deal. Never mind!