The “perfect pairing” of oysters and wine
I think it is true that one gains a certain hold on haddock and sausage by writing them down.
—Virginia Woolf, Diary
The idea for this issue started one morning in the midst of a detour to my neighbourhood magazine vendor. It was an unseasonably warm and sunny morning, especially from a Montreal-in-January standpoint—the kind that demands the responsive approach of answering the call of morning like none other. And because I could have had something else in mind, I should share with you the reader of fashion magazines that I sometimes am. I move toward them, like a halt on the side of the road.
Even though I don’t think of myself as a possessor of streetwise candor, there are certain days when part of my thinking catches up to the rhythm of my walking and the two convoke undecidability and a feeling of right time, right placeness. This is not an entirely transcendental navigation system of course, and one still has to make decisions on the way. But perhaps deciding to take the fashion magazine off-ramp that morning was as much part of a plan, of an élan, as it was an irruption into or out of certitude. That’s the beauty of walking with one’s antenna wide open. Because you’re catching different frequencies and channels [+ static + noise], walking is an activity quickly transformed into a medium for unforeseen transports, in which you just don’t know where you’ll end up.
I’ve been wondering about that a lot lately. Unforeseen transports. I keep thinking that it’s that place in a text (a walk to school, poem, film—dance party even) where the undecidability of an itinerary starts to open itself up to you and you to it, and somehow it’s that place—that street corner where your arrival takes an unexpected turn into the entrance of the magazine store—where, to echo W.C.W., something of moment results. Avital Ronell says that sometimes works seem to set an ETA, but that it can take them years to get to their destinations. Every work has a kind of secret rendezvous, she says echoing Walter Benjamin—a date in the form of a future reader.
Ella Woodward is a food blogger and the author of Deliciously Ella
Sometimes I think this issue is a result of my taking an unexpected call on that January morning in the form of a culinary storytelling magazine called Life and Thyme—a publication dedicated to sharing stories not just about food but about people. In other moments, I wonder if an admiration for an assortment of food blogs and the devotion of their bloggers (My New Roots, Deliciously Ella, You Can Eat Now, The First Mess, Smitten Kitchen) is the machine that propelled me into wanting to explore the literary culture of food and the foodstuff of language. And then there is a book, An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler, which I discovered—not through culinary blogs or cookbooks—but in a fashion magazine, and I was instantly transported.
There I discovered a writer who shared her love not only of cooking but especially of thinking about food, and who wrote about it in such a way as to make you want to put the book down immediately and start cutting vegetables, mixing the tail ends of green onions with olive oil and garlic, turning those unused parsley stems into a paste to be spread on toast. But then the writing itself does something else. It makes you contemplate the various compositions of a meal and the way each part glides into the next like a Proustian sentence. Or the way the finitude of something as small as a fried clam is actually hypertextual, by which I mean it is often sending you elsewhere. It is kaleidoscopic, blending memories of summers at the beach and the salty air of the ocean with the squirt of vinegar on french fries.
So in a way this issue is shaped as much by Adler’s everlasting meal and what Sandra M Gilbert calls the “culinary imagination” as it is by Ronell’s unforeseen transports and Benjamin’s secret rendezvous. When I start to break it down, it seems perfect that that’s how it should happen because food is also so incredibly tied to the company we keep, to the conversations we share around the kitchen table, and to the recipes we keep passing on. This is where the idea of the “perfect pairing” comes from. While thinking of a meal as a formal pairing is somewhat obvious, there’s an expansive character to a meal, and to food, that escapes the codification of language. That’s the beauty of pairings. When you pair an oyster with a Chablis, as my father-in-law loves to do, there’s as much an expression of departure and of taking off that happens, as there is a genuine colloquy (not to mention a veritable loss of words as one experiences one of the most exquisite mise en bouche possible!). It’s as though in pairing oysters and wine, one discovers their most intimate and secret histories—qualities that each literally bring out of one another in the act of accompaniment. A pairing, after all, is not necessarily a matter of symmetry but of complementarity, measure and démesure, simultaneous acknowledgement and incomprehensibility, interruptions, staggers and leaps. To a certain degree, pairings are a result of something—tastes, smells, sights, contacts, blends—being snatched up by one another, being taken over, overwritten, hacked. There is something dispossessing about pairings as well. It is a kind of unbounded alchemy: newness.
Throughout the month of March I want to continue to think about pairings in terms of the unbounded potential they unleash and to pair words and food in ways that spark unforeseen itineraries. To start us going, I have the great pleasure of sharing with you an excerpt from Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal on Friday the 4th of March 2016.
Geneviève Robichaud is a PhD candidate in the Département de littératures et de langues du monde. Her prose has recently appeared in The Capilano Review, Lemon Hound, The Puritan, and Two Times One from the Jan van Eyck Akademie.