It’s summer and I’m doing trendy takes on oldies, minus the ancient Tupperware. Instead of mayo-laden potato salad made with clumpy-pillow Russets, I’m going all capers, buttermilk and Yukon Golds. Instead of nightmare-inducing jellied salad I’m thinking watermelon and cuke salad with rice vinegar and fresh basil. Makes me think of food moments in literature: Bloom’s ecstasy over the uric tang of frying kidneys (lord!), or boeuf en daube in Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. Or the vividness of Les Halles market in Zola’s under-the-radar novel The Belly of Paris.
And summer? No one beats Nabokov for waxing poetic about the fairer months:
A sense of security, of well-being, of summer warmth pervades my memory. …. a bumblebee has entered the room and bumps against the ceiling. Everything is as it should be, nothing will ever change, nobody will ever die.
(OK, so Isaac Babel said Nabokov “can write, but he’s got nothing to say.” But who cares? He excels at saying nothing. That is an accomplishment.)
This brings to mind the perfect summer word, “languid,” which you should learn and slip surreptitiously into casual conversation when sipping bourbon in front of a smoky beach fire, or if you must be trendy, in front of a $1000 hand-hammered copper fire bowl.
You can’t speak of food and writing without mentioning MFK Fisher. If you haven’t read her, it would be like never eating a roasted marshmallow dusted in dirt and pine needles (cuz you dropped it), or a fresh, briny Fanny Bay oyster. She does summer by sitting down to a “queer dream-like dinner,” of three-year-old Fauverges and roast pigeon on a bed of herbs, on the terrace. (BTW, I dined recently on pigeon breast at the Chelsea Physic Garden in London. Divine. Yet off-putting to later see said birds strolling about the grounds.) To get an idea what you have missed out on, consider this classic Fisher sentence: “We ate…. little crisp gaufrettes baked in the village by Francois’ witch-like mother.” Even if you don’t know what a gaufrette is, there is no denying that this sentence crackles. I can’t help being a little jealous of a woman whose summer dining idylls are likened to a Breughel painting.
Fisher’s summer memories include a bowling alley in a mountain meadow in France. Really? Where I recall stinky shoes and cigarette ashes, she conjures up piney slopes and “the air full of fragrance.” I recently bowled after a 45-year hiatus. It was not pretty, nor fragrant. While others in the party were busy cracking out strikes with elan (not to be confused with flan), I was firmly convinced I needed an Old-Fashioned to get me properly in the retro mood.
In closing, go trendy or go old-style. Whatever you do, get out there, people. It’s summer. The living is easy.