THE SPICE OF LIFE
(from More Magazine — February 2008, via peggymarkel.com
In the humble kitchen of the Kasbah du Toubkal mountain retreat, a Berber chef named Omar Errami, dressed in a traditional white robe and cook’s apron, chopped ingredients for a lamb, fig and walnut tagine. On the counter a clay pot sat on a wood fire; the oil in it sizzled as he added the lamb, heaps of red onion, ginger, garlic, saffron and a good amount of water. He covered the base with its conical top, propping it on a wooden spoon to let in air. He spoke no English, but our teacher and guide, Peggy Markel, carefully explained all that he was doing.
IN GOOD COMPANY
(from More Magazine — November 2007)
On a corner in Fort Worth’s Southside, my friend Donatella Trotti (known as Dodi) has opened a tiny trattoria. It is called Nonna Tata, after her grandmother, and is in a 500-square-foot cinderblock building on a seemingly lonely street. The cozy interior is completely designed by Dodi, the walls sponged a pale yellow, tables and stools laminated with flowers and photographs and old Italian adages: LIFE IS TOO SHORT FOR BAD WINE. AT THE TABLE YOU FORGIVE EVERYONE, EVEN YOUR RELATIVES. Now widely popular, Nonna Tata took nine months to open. ”Like a baby,” she says to me in her strong, exacting Italian accent. Of course, I had to visit. Dodi is one of my oldest and closest friends. I am who I am because of her. She is who she is because of me. We met, as I like to say, when I was 16 and she was 17. ”Yes, I am a year older,” she admits with a roll of her eyes when I tell our story. A Rotary Club exchange put us together.
Gone With the Wind
As young girl watching the Million Dollar Movie with my sisters, I met Scarlett O’Hara and fell in love. Her dark curls and green eyes, her swishing hoop dress–determined and strong and brave, Scarlett did as she pleased, both good and bad. My sisters and I rooted for her as she stole boyfriends, married men she didn’t love, helped Melanie birth her baby, escaped a burning Atlanta, tore curtains from windows to make a gown so she could look like a queen for Rhett, kneeled in Tara’s garden and vowed, “If I have to lie, cheat, or kill, as God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.” She did kill, she did cheat, she did lie, and she was never hungry again. My sisters and I were good girls who already understood that girls were expected to behave well and be quiet. Scarlett struck us with awe. In tough times, my sisters and I would say to each other, “Pretend you’re Scarlett and push through.” I watched the movie many times until I was old enough to read the book. I learned through Scarlett that characters could be as real as living people. She infused me with courage and taught me what a freedom it would be to live life as she did, by her own rules, unburdened by the opinions of others.
JONATHAN COE’S THE TERRIBLE PRIVACY OF MAXWELL SIM
By Jonathan Coe
(Alfred A. Knopf; 314 pages; $26.95)
At the beginning of Jonathan Coe’s beguiling new novel, “The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim,” Max, in Australia visiting his estranged father, observes a Chinese woman and her young daughter at a restaurant. They are enjoying a game of cards, “bonded to each other, with a strength and an intensity” while the other diners distract themselves with cell phones and Nintendo DS devices – the protective wall of modern technology that keeps the other out.
A WISE BOND TRADER INSPIRES A NOVEL, ‘DEAR MONEY’
from the Wall Street Journal
Six years ago, I found myself at a garden party, speaking with a bond trader of mortgage-backed securities. Excuse me, what? I was interested in him, exuding so much wealth and confidence. He seemed to own the room. We were standing at the edge of a glass dining room, near sliding doors that led to a terrace overlooking a vast yard where children darted about while adults sipped afternoon wine.
I wanted to know exactly what he did. For a good hour he explained, speaking with a fluency that seemed like another language. Descriptions of the MBS market were put in simple terms –- as though he were speaking to a foreigner who might just understand if the metaphors were clear. He was kind and generous and downplayed the job of the trader, describing them as nothing more than used-car salesmen, suggesting anyone could do it, even I could do it…
THE NOVEL EXPERIMENT
from Business Week
I was propositioned by a Wall Street trader. Actually he was a manager of mortgage-backed-securities traders at a well-regarded investment bank. We were at a garden party in the country, and I noted that he had arrived in a chauffeured town car that waited for him. I knew he was a Wall Street type, and I was curious about what he did, and how he, by the look of the car sitting outside, made so much money. He generously explained the job of a mortgage-backed-securities trader and humbly suggested there was nothing to it. Traders were nothing more than used-car salesmen who understood supply and demand, he said. Anyone could do it. Instead of cars, they were selling mortgages, people’s puny mortgages bundled together into giant pools, then sold around the globe to insurance empires and pension funds, even foreign countries. This process, he said, had allowed interest rates to drop, making mortgages easier to get and providing a lot more people with the great American dream of homeownership.
I was fascinated. The idea of amassing the small debts of so many dreamers on a colossal scale—a scale bigger than the entire combined value of the U.S. stock markets, as it happened—and chopping them up and sending them around the world seemed like quite a plot. Swept up in my enthusiasm, he told me: “If you give me 18 months, I’ll turn you into a trader.” This was 2004.
FINDING LOVE OVER LASAGNA: MY LIFE IN RECIPES
From More Magazine
I bought my first recipe book during my junior year abroad in Florence: a leather-bound volume with a peacock-feather design in salmon, pink and tan, creamy blank pages and leather straps that tied it neatly closed. On the spine I had Martha’s Recipes printed in gold. I took it home to my small apartment with a view of the river Arno and called my father in Princeton. It wasn’t quite six am his time, but I wanted his recipe for chocolate mousse. His tired voice came over the static of the international connection, asking if everything was all right. Relieved to know that all I wanted was a recipe, he spilled it out from memory. “A real mousse,” he had said so many times, “has no cream.” In his version, adapted from Julia Child, the egg whites give it the light lift. He took his time explaining, “The egg yolks are beaten in a bath of warm water . . . the whites in a bath of ice water.” I scribbled it all down. My Italian boyfriend, Giulio, was arriving from Milan that night, and I wanted to make it for him. We would be together for six years. Now, some 25 years later, the book has fallen apart. The cover is lost. Pages have been torn out and stuck in any which way. Water and grease have smeared the ink and leaked through to other pages. But I still love my book. It occurred to me not so long ago, while thumbing through both my grandmothers’ recipes, that our collections are like archaeological artifacts, time capsules taking the reader to a past that can be reconstructed and relived through food….
JOURNEY ALONG THE EDGE OF THE UNDERWORLD
From Conde Nast Traveler
For as long as I can remember, my father has been explaining the world to me, taking it apart and putting it back together like a puzzle. He speaks in deep time, millions and billions of years, and as he speaks, great mountain ranges rise and disappear….
From More Magazine
I went to Todi, a Medieval hilltop town in Umbria, to reclaim my Italian, a language I learned when I was 16, had mastered as an exchange student by 18 but had abandoned by 24. During the long interregnum between then and now, I have imagined dreamily the alternative life in which my love of Italian would have thrived….
AND THEN CAME HEATHER
From Cookie Magazine
At 2 months old, Livia was a colicky baby who would only stop crying if at my breast or near the loud, rumbling sound of an 18-wheeler. Twenty hours a day, she would cry. My sister, who lived nearby and who was pregnant with her second child, would not visit, so afraid was she that her baby would be like mine. My husband had a teaching job in another state and lived there most of the week. I suffered chronic mastitis that left me sick and with suspicious lumps in my breast that needed to be aspirated. The apartment was a mess, my daughter’s fingernails were long and scratched her, and I was living on brownies….
LET NOTHING YOU DISMAY
From the New York Times
In my mother’s basement, the Christmas after my grandmother had died, I found the top of a box that had belonged to her. My mother and I were down there retrieving ornaments and lights so that we could decorate the tree, a painful Christmas that year, 1995. My stepfather had died not long before my grandmother. The box top — 18 inches by 18 inches, watermarked, frayed and torn — had once covered a wreath, but the wreath was long gone, and now the box held ornaments, each one neatly wrapped in tissue. I lifted the lid off the box, and immediately I noticed my grandmother’s handwriting, a jumble of words that spilled out to fill the room. My mother would later tell me that she had known about the box top but had never read it, that after seeing her mother’s handwriting she had shut the lid: Pandora’s box. But I could not shut the lid. I had to know what was written there.
REAL FRUSTRATIONS TRAVERSE A FICTIONAL REALM
From The New York Times Writers on Writing Series
My stepfather, Dan Sullivan, came into my life when I was 4, driving a turquoise Cadillac with electric windows that hummed like flies as he put them up and down. He was a poker-playing Texan who won big and shared those winnings generously, throwing the cash into the air so that it fluttered to the ground beautifully before us — my mother, sisters and me.
From Life Magazine
It exists in our collective consciousness as something warm and wonderful: the family sitting together at the table, passing around bowls of aromatic food, discussing the events of the day, the weather, nothing at all. The image is informed, perhaps, by Norman Rockwell, or by Leave It to Beaver, or by memories of our own youth. In our reverie, we wonder if it ever really was as good and true as we envision it, and if it could possibly be replicated in the harried, hurried world that we live in today. Can we bring back Sunday Dinner?…
HOW TO AVOID DIVORCE
From Self Magazine
I married the same man twice in four months, and over the span of 18 months we went on seven honeymoons. We traveled to New Hampshire to watch the leaves change; we skied at Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies; we sipped tea in Morocco and trekked on camels through the Sahara; we spent Easter in Seville, Spain; we toured London’s museums; we strolled the streets of Amsterdam’s red-light district; we watched kites illuminated by candles sail in the night sky above the Ganges River like so many stars. We had no money (he’s a poet and I’m a novelist), but we’re dreamers, and we patched the trips together in one way and another…