Monday, December 8, 2008

Book reviews: A different type of travel

This book, Heat by Bill Buford, got quite a lot of press when it came out, probably because it is written by a former editor at The New Yorker. The book is long and with small text, so it lasts for a long while, too long in my opinion. This is the true story of Bill quitting his job to go and work in superfamous Mario Batali's restaurant kitchen (at Babbo, superfamous place in New York), where he describes a million details and happenings in minuscule tidbits. After a year he is allowed to make some pasta, the most important station in the kitchen, and after that he decides to go to Italy and learn the real thing - pasta and butchering in Tuscany. The book is full of great portraits of people, and descriptions of scenery and interiors. But it is too long, too long-winded, too scattered, and several times I could not get the timeline right. A lot is written about Batali of course, not always in a friendly way, but not mean either. More observant, standing outside it all. The book detours into story dead ends (or maybe just distractions) of why there is egg in pasta, if the French cooking all comes from Tuscany, why not to become a chef, how to slaughter a pig in New York City (including how to get it up the elevator), and the good and bad of being a cattle and winegrower in Tuscany. There is not one recipe in the whole book, but you might want to read it if you want to know a recipe for restaurant kitchen disasters. It was an OK read, but maybe unfortunately nothing I want to read again. For great food writing with a real feel in fewer words, pick up Ruth Reichl, MFK Fisher, or Julia Child's biograph My Life in France. We have a good expression in Swedish that I thought of a couple of times when I read this book " full av ordbajseri och svammel", but I don't know how to translate it.

And then there is a completely different biographical book. A book full of life, of love of people and places, a book that makes you think, believe and trust in the common good and people's goodness again. The book is Tales of a Female Nomad, and is written by Rita Golden Gelman. It is the story of her life when she in upper middle age is faced with a divorce and realize that she wants to learn Spanish and visit foreign countries. She takes off on a whim and end up in Mexico for a few months and lives with local families, learning their way of living and their languages. Rita is a children's book writer, and by writing a few books a year and her royalties she has a small income, but enough to live abroad for months at the time. She lives in Central America, Bali, New Zealand, Canada... The book is a description of her travels, but more so a description of her fears, loves, adventures, and life - in a very realistic and colorful way. I strongly, strongly recommend this book. I loved it - read most of it on the plane to Africa (17 hour flight... ). Rita is still a nomad, she moves around and you can read more about her on her blog. After you have read this book, it is like you found a new friend.

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