Saturday, June 22, 2013

Memory & Paris and Barcelona...

One of my all-time favorite literary cartoons is 

"No-fat Madeleines"

I still have this clipping from when I was in grad school. Proust is not my favorite, but the cartoon is brilliant...
(It's crazy, the continuing American obsession with no-fat-or-low-fat...I mean, come on, EAT what's GOOD ONCE in a while...and don't be sedentary! Voilà. Eat fat--good fat--slowly...and then go for a run. Memories require flavor. Taste and see...)

Okay, so I'll finally admit it: I, a French teacher with an M.A., have not read "À la Recherche du Temps Perdu" from cover-to-cover. I mean, it's THOUSANDS of pages! (And here's a snarky column about Proust's chef d'oeuvre, from The Guardian.) And, as for getting 'The Proustian Moment,' well, countless people 'get' what that is without having to read all those pages...Alain de Botton's book (How Proust Can Change Your Life) has been widely cited, and then there's the scene in Disney's "Ratatouille" (when food critic Anton Ego has a flashback to childhood upon tasting the film's namesake dish)--all viewers can identify with that sensation, even if they've never read THE early 20th-century French passage about the madeleine-in-the-cup-of-tea...

Bon. 'Nuff said. 

But yes, taste & memory--such a rich part of life...and speaking of memories, a week from today, I'll be back in a city that made so many memories--I lived there only for a year, but what a year, Paris:
--I've been playing around with this snapshot from years ago;
this was the view from my apartment, and on one serendipitous afternoon, a rainbow appeared above the Eiffel Tower, ending at the gold-domed Église des Invalides, where Emperor-worship continues (site of Napoléon I's burial)...

Memory--it can compartmentalize our past,
selectively coloring what it wants to, eh?

Now, back to tastes and eating;
a couple of local restaurant reviews.

On the East side, New Mexico-style breakfast:

Breakfast at a mom-and-pop-restaurant--there's just no better way to get a local-flavor-start-of-the-day when you're from out of town. In Tucson, you can't go wrong if you get a hearty plate at "Poco &Mom's."

Yes, "New Mexico food" may not be entirely 'native' to Arizona, but Tucson is just a few hours down the highway from Hatch, NM, famed for its chile peppers. Poco & Mom's gets all their chiles from there, and their unpretentious menu is a Tucson treasure. The love for chile peppers knows no borders in the Southwest...

My favorite is the "Santa Fe" breakfast: a blue corn tortilla topped with beans and eggs, along with hashbrowns...I like to add 'machaca' (shredded spiced beef)--and when the waitress asks "you want red or green chile, darlin'? (and yes she really says 'darlin!'), make sure you say "Christmas" and you'll get both. Along with the bottomless cup of coffee--fresh house-made salsa!

Try it for breakfast...and you may come back for dinner; the green chile rocks!

(There are only 12 tables, plus an outdoor patio--come early if you want to try it on a weekend...and it's on the east side of the city, not far from Saguaro National Park East--perfect for post-hike refueling.)

In downtown's "Penca," a taste of Puebla for dinner:

"Chile en nogada": a poblano chile pepper, stuffed with "picadillo" (shredded meat, aromatic diced dried fruit and spices), topped with a walnut-cream sauce and pomegranate seeds--this dish from Puebla is not often found on menus of Mexican restaurants in the U.S. It's not even that common south of the border, except during the August-September season surrounding Mexican Independence Day. But if you're in downtown Tucson, you can try it at "Penca."

In a re-purposed space with exposed brick and hip cocktails, this restaurant is also a worthy destination for brunch or late afternoon tacos--choose from carnitas, fish, lengua, cabeza, nopales, carne asada... The corn-tortillas are hand-made right after you place your order. (The tortillas alone are almost worth coming for.) Mexico City is the inspiration.

The food is fresh, and the scene is full of optimism; downtown Tucson is reinventing itself with a new streetcar for a live-work-play vibe. Taste and see how this desert city continues to evolve...

After dinner, the sun was just setting (ahh, long days),
and the curving lines of this parking garage (so scenic) around
the corner from the restaurant,
leading to the desert hills west of the city,
 caught my eye:
So, when does using apps make an image cross the line from being "a photo" to being "not a photo?" I find the term "iPhoneArt" a bit awkward, but it's out there and being used...

Back to Penca--
a few days after S. and I had dinner there, I decided to go back for lunch;
it was still early so I didn't feel as self-conscious taking a quick pic:
From Portland to Brooklyn and brick is de rigueur...
and trendy or not, I like it. So. That's Penca. If you're in Tucson, check it out. If you visit us, we just might take you there...


I went for my long weekend run this morning--
but by this time of the year, you have to run early enough 
so that the sun isn't baking the canyon floor;
enjoy the shady 70's before the triple-digit-temps take over...

This is how the desert feels by mid-morning in June,
the heat colors everything--the slightest breeze
feeling, not welcome, but like a hair-dryer...
or, what it must be like to be inside a convection oven...
(So, is this still a photo? or has my 'apping' de-photographed it, morphing it into something 'arty'...or just overly processed? Not gratuitous filtering, though.)

...but early mornings are still cool, 
and the nocturnal cactus blooms haven't closed up yet for the day:


I have less patience with novels now.

But here are a couple I felt it was my leisurely-'duty' to read, in preparation for this upcoming trip to Europe--one set in Paris by a British author, and the other in Barcelona, by a Spanish writer.

And I found them in Costco.
(Does that make it 'middlebrow?' Oh, snobbery...)

Briefly, then--
"Paris" by Edward Rutherfurd.

I did finish it. (Rainy nights while in Georgia earlier this month...)

Hmm...well, 'turgid' and 'didactic' come to mind. Not so kind, but those are honest adjectives.
As a teenager, I read Rutherfurd's debut novel "Sarum" (synopsis and review here); it was indeed epic, but a couple of decades later, perhaps the formula has worn thin? That being said, it's still a worthwhile read if you want to get the historical sweep of Paris from the middle ages to the mid-20th-century without taking a class...but I did use the word 'didactic' to describe the novel. Parts of it read like a wikipedia entry. But hey, I like facts. I guess that's why I stuck with Rutherfurd until the book's end.

"The Shadow of the Wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

This novel has been a best-seller in Europe for years. And the New York Times critic put it succinctly (and made fun of himself for doing it) when he writes: "Gabriel García Márquez meets Umberto Eco meets Jorge Luis Borges for a sprawling magic show." Magical Realism is not something I can eat bucketfuls of, but once in a while, it's a clever diversion..and the sense-of-place for Barcelona is strong. 


...ending tonight with another recently "apped" photo, 
another scene of Paris--
a view of the Latin Quarter from the Bell Tower of Notre Dame cathedral...
This is one of those clichéd post-card scenes of Paris,
but when I took it (wow, over fourteen years ago),
it was new to me...

Ahh, Paris. 
Lived there for a year...then took my wife there for our first anniversary (her first trip to Europe)...and after that, one more visit...eleven years ago(!)...and then years of travels to Central and South America, Canada, Korea...Now, it's time to return.

And, by the way, "cliché" in French means, photographically, a 'negative'
or even, sometimes, just 'snapshot.'

So, if the cliché is truly yours
ignore what others say and enjoy.

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