Book Review #2

I have been promising a review of Paula Young Lee’s Deer Hunting in Paris for what seems like forever, and I apologize for taking so long. Part of it was thinking my way through to what I thought exactly or critically. I loved it and found it intensely quotable; on the other hand I found the tone of some passages a little frenetic, full of word- drunk riffing, perhaps fueled by a deconstructionist lit grad student’s love of multiple meanings.

Curiously, my friend Gerry’s positive but slightly critical review here, which faults her editor for not disciplining her tendency to wander, made me realize that I like such digression! I decided my best way to give you a glimpse of her work was to summarize, quickly, then quote. Read Gerry, then my selections, and you will know whether this sort of book is for you.

Deer Hunting in Paris is called a memoir, though Gerry thinks of it as a journal. Its double subtitles stretch to a Victorian length: “A memoir of God, guns, and game meat; how a preacher’s daughter refuses to get married, travels the world, and learns to shoot.” Paula Young Lee is an ethnic Korean preacher’s daughter from Maine, who when the book opens is living in Paris, France, from which she travels regularly to Paris Maine and Wellesley Massachusetts, to hunt with her boyfriend.

 The book progresses gradually from her childhood through her relationship with her boyfriend (a contrast to her in every way,  Republican to her Democrat, wanting to get married while she doesn’t, country to her city), while describing her education as a hunter. Meanwhile, she riffs compulsively about everything from the nature of hunting to cookbooks to the amazing hilarious Maine sellers’ newsletter Uncle Henry’s and the nature of writing. Some of her observations are serious, some inspired, and some silly, which doesn’t mean they’re not fun.

Each of these are best demonstrated by quotes. Silly? From Uncle Henry’s, a few examples of ads :”I have an unknown sex bearded dragon… Arthritic salmon with flies in box… 3 year old running walker female trained on coyotes cold nose will run nonstop parents were cat dogs… gaggle of running gravelys too old to pull the straps too old to walk behind.” Or her quotes from the index of an 1830 cookbook implausibly titled The Cook Not Mad: “BEDBUGS, to keep clear of; COOKIES, nice that will keep good three months; FEMALES’ DRESS, to put out when on fire.” (I want that book!)

On the writing life: “I wasn’t looking for love, drugs, yoga classes, or any other ‘girl’ narratives attached to stories about free spirits traveling alone. When your trips abroad are being paid for by your father/divorce settlement/ publisher, you’re not free. You’re expensive.”

Pure riffing? How about this one on Squirrel Nutkin? “The death of mice, moles, and minnows don’t get most folks riled up about animal cruelty, especially since cute fluffy squirrels are doing the killing. So what if they’re offering up lesser animals as sacrifices? It’s the only way that the owl won’t eat them, for the powerful are blessed by God, and they keep their wealth by doing His will. Only a nut rejects a perfectly profitable system that forces the poor to beg for food and pay a hideous price for the privilege. Hey ho… Nutkin! He’s a red-headed rebel, a leader of the autonomous collective, a socialist- communist- Nazi- anarchist- terrorist- tree- hugger out to sow chaos in Eden. Wherefore he’s the Devil’s handmaiden.”

Above all, and past all the silliness, she is drop-dead serious about the nature of hunting. “I now insist on eating birds and mammals, preferably wild ones shot by the man I love but won’t marry, their bodies made into meat by our hands joined together. I don’t feel guilty about it, sez the girl for whom a bee sting is lethal. Death is the promise. It is an intelluctable truth, for Nature is a murderous mother offering food every where we look… I am hungry. Such is the human condition. We hope and despair, rejoice and revile, celebrate and curse the profane absurdity of being apes rigged up in angels’ wings.”

“Angels don’t eat. Apes covet meat.”

Maybe I love it because I am a discursive, digressive, riffing writer myself. But I do, and I am liking it better even as I mine the text for quotes. I’d hunt with her any time, and will look forward to anything she writes.

Wolf Miscellany

I think there is an unstated human obsession with wolves, perhaps because they contain in essence both the genes of our species’ best animal friend, and the age -old simultaneous rep as humankind’s most visible enemy. Here are a few recent instances.

I have always heard the some of the big Central Asian flock protection dogs are interbred with wolves. As wolves are among their chief adversaries, and the phenotype is so different, I never took the myth too seriously. I was wrong– apparently there is a surprising amount of fraternizing. One of the scientists involved puts it just that way: “”The shepherd dogs are free-ranging, largely outside the tight control
of their human masters. They guard the herds from wolves, which are
common in the areas where they are used, but it appears that they are
also consorting with the enemy.”

The implications of this, in such areas as nature vs nurture, are enormous. Obviously genes aren’t all, or the offspring would not be useful. Training and loyalty must come in somewhere.

John Wilson participated in a “round- up” of some of the breeding Mexican wolves held at the Sevilleta, where they needed to capture a pair to send to Mexico. I was happy to see they are really being kept in isolation these days, having seen evidence of the contrary a few years back– letting in television news helicopter crews for a shoot is not isolation! Also interesting was how passive and shy the wolves are, offering no resistance. The workers formed a line and swept down the hill to where the den boxes are; the wolves retreated to the boxes; the volunteers then opened the den, pinned the wolves, trussed them, drugged them and carried them out. No one, human or wolf, was injured.

Some notes from John (odd format is from his notes):

Clarissa Dixon Wright R. I. P.

John Hill, (in the middle above), better known here as “Johnny UK”, sent us a note saying that Clarissa Dixon Wright (right above) had died. The surviving member of the “Two Fat Ladies” cooking duo, champions of real food and best known in this household for the multi- species, multi -organ meat loaf known as the “hedgehog”, she was so ardent a defender of field sports that she was arrested for the terrible crime of chasing hares with greyhounds.

She was also variously a writer, the youngest barrister to qualify in England, a cricket umpire, one of two women to become a Guild butcher,  a reformed drunk, a millionaire heiress who descended into poverty and homelessness and came back again, a lifelong Catholic (who allegedly believed in reincarnation), and a TV personality who once discussed eating badgers on the tube. Not only does the world not produce such personalities these days, it no longer produces such names: she was christened “Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson Wright.”

John wrote: “Just heard that Clarissa is no more…..June and I once met her and Johnny (Scott, left above) at a book signing , and I, fortunately,  met her again at a Gamefair and had a long , interesting, animated conversation.

“She was  a remarkable , individual, feisty woman, with a  huge sense of humour ( and presence !) and was passionate about all  “Country Matters”,  that are  being constantly eroded in UK by unknowing urbanites.

“Clarissa was as large in life as on  TV, no different, a real character, the like of whom we shall not see again I am afraid. June and I feel quite sad…  I am sure she ( mainly )  enjoyed every minute of her life, which is a comfort !

“I will raise a glass to her memory!”

Social life, New Mexico

City people can’t even begin to think how active a social life you can have even 100 miles from a city or in a dirt- road downtown town. Only drawback may be that it is harder to resist; a sort of Carpe diem reigns. Or maybe that is just me. So: two photo blog posts.

 First : a party arranged by Bodie and Lindsay in Corrales and centered around his two new monster deerhound pups (the 6 month old male is already bigger than any dog I ever had but half- deerhound Riley). In attendance: two Bodios, California deerhound breeder/ potential New Mexican/ radiation oncologist, and medblogger Miranda (I will keep her anonymity a bit longer); and her friends Helen and Kent, recent immigrants. The entree was elk with green pepper sauce, and the conversation spirited. We need to take Miranda out with hound and hawk– she already has the hounds. Silly pics follow; my only vain reaction is that I need a treadmill and a severe fast. Damn how slow you get with this condition, but we had fun.

From top: Bodie, Miranda,; her friend Helen’s first encounter with a hawk ; me with our host; Lib and Lindsay. To be continued in the field….

Still one more for game…

Eileen Clarke’s new book, Sausage Season, is the best on sausage making I have ever read, and I want to get out a review early enough that you can use it (or give it for Christmas). I have tried my hand making cased sausages, and so have friends in town. Almost always, the results are too hard and dry, without what Eileen calls the “creamy” texture of good sausage. The secret is fat (just as the secret of most, say, French cooking, is butter– read Anthony Bourdain).

To quote her:

“To figure out much fat you like, try the Easy Breakfast Patties master recipe… I would start with the 1:1 fat ratio some morning with eggs and toast. If that’s a bit fatty, make it again in the2:1 lean to fat ratio… My guess is you’ll like the 2:1 for patties or bulk and the 1:1 for casing.”

In a letter to me, she added: “you see the problem with cased sausage. It took me two years to figure it all out, and we ate a lot of bad sausage.”

If you know anything about Eileen, you will know she persisted, and that this basic stuff is just the beginning. She and her husband, John Barsness, have eaten nothing but wild meat at home for decades, and because they are serious cooks– Eileen unapologetically calls herself a “foodie”– they know how to cook in a gloriously varied manner, unlike some friends here, who burgerize everything. Even in what might seem like a good but narrowly focused book, her choices range from Polish Dill Sausage to Goosewurst and even Ginger Potsticker Sausage (one I am eager to try). Her detailed descriptions of technique, always a strong point, are particularly useful in this specialized area. She even tells you how to make your own salami and bologna.

This one goes on my permanent cooking shelf. It is available from Rifles and Recipes for $28 postpaid. You will never have to eat dry hard crumbly sausage again.

Anthony Bourdain on Guns

Westerners and gun nuts alike will be pleased, as our favorite celebrity chef (and good writer) Anthony Bourdain pens a strong defense of gun ownership, and of our state as well. I’ll excerpt a bunch, but really, this is a classic Read the Whole Thing.

Oh, and he is right on Green as chile of choice too…

Take it away, Tony:

“As much as I’d like to wax effusively about the delights of the Frito
pie, a shamefully delightful flavor bomb that pleases in equal measure
to its feeling in the hand like a steaming dog turd, I suspect what
people are going to talk about when they see our New Mexico episode is
the sight of me; socialist sympathizer, leftie, liberal New Yorker,
gleefully hammering away with an AR-15, an instrument of mayhem and
loathing that also has the distinction of being America’s favorite
weapon. 

“I like guns.

“I like shooting them. I like holding their
sleek, heavy, deadly weight in my hands. I like shooting at targets:
cans, paper cut-outs, and—even though I’m not a hunter—the occasional
animal. Though I do not own a gun—I would, if I lived in a
rural area like, say…Montana—consider owning one. Whatever my feelings
about gun regulation—and my worries, as a father, about what kind of
world my daughter will have to live in, I think I should
have as many guns as I like. Even Ted Nugent should have guns. He likes
them a lot. They make him happy—and as offensive as I may find a lot of
what comes out of his mouth, I’m pretty sure, based on first hand
experience, that he’s a responsible gun owner.

(Snip)

“In New York, where I live, the appearance of a gun—anywhere—is a cause for immediate and extreme alarm. Yet, in
much of America, I have come to find, it’s perfectly normal. I’ve
walked many times into bars in Missouri, Nevada, Texas, where absolutely
everyone is packing.  I’ve sat down many times to dinner in perfectly
nice family homes where—at end of dinner—Mom swings open the gun locker
and invites us all to step into the back yard and pot some beer cans.
That may not be Piers Morgan’s idea of normal. It may not be yours. But
that’s a facet of American life that’s unlikely to change.
I may be a New York lefty—with all the experiences, prejudices and
attitudes that one would expect to come along with that, but I do NOT
believe that we will reduce gun violence—or reach any kind of
consensus—by shrieking at each other. Gun owners—the vast majority
of them I have met—are NOT idiots. They are NOT psychos. They are not
even necessarily Republican (New Mexico, by the way, is a Blue State).
They are not hicks, right wing “nuts” or necessarily violent by nature.
And if “we” have any hope of ever changing anything in this country in
the cause of reason—and the safety of our children—we should stop
talking about a significant part of our population as if they were
lesser, stupider or crazier than we are. The batshit
absolutist Wayne LaPierre may not represent the vast majority of gun
owners in this land—but if pushed—if the conversation veers towards talk
of taking away people’s guns—many gun owners will shade towards him—and
away from us.

“Gun culture goes DEEP in this country. Deep. A whole hell of a lot of
people I’ve met remember Daddy giving them their first rifle as early
as age six—and that kind of bonding—that first walk through the early
morning woods with your Dad—that’s deep tissue stuff. When people start
equating guns—ALL guns—as evil—as something to be eradicated, a whole
helluva lot of people are going to get defensive.

(Snip)

“No middle ground is possible when even the notion of a sane,
reasonable person who likes to shoot lots of bullets at stuff is seen as
so foreign—so “other”. Maybe we would be better off– safer, kinder to one another if we were Denmark or Sweden.

“But we are not.

“And riding across the incredible landscape of Ghost Ranch outside of
Sante Fe, seeing the canyons and arroyos that so inspired Georgia O’
Keefe and generations of artists, writers and seekers who followed, one
is especially glad we are not.”

Read it all, please.

Libby with Bourdain. No, we don’t know him, but this is not the first time he has cooked in New Mexico…

Buildings and Food

More marvels of KC:

We had hoped to go to a larger museum that features the work of the weird regionalist Thomas Hart Benton, but it was closed both days that we were there. A small modern art museum and the most unique museum I ever seen, based on a single sunken ship were, however, open, as was Oklahoma Joe’s barbeque. One of our Q-philes had tipped me off to Oklahoma Joe’s, which is in a strip[ mall and might easily be passed by. it would be a mistake. Oklahoma Joe’s meat is sublime, cheap, and amazingly good; I would have to say it is the best barbeque I havae eaten and one that I would like to learn to make myself. I ended up with brisket and pulled pork (the pork was the best pulled pork I have ever eaten) and a good part of one of Jennifer’s ribs. I suspect that each Kansas city place has one outstanding specialty, and I would go back to Jack Stack for the burnt brisket ends, but overall you can’t beat Oklahoma Joe’s. Bourdain though so too; he put it on his celestial list of fifteen places you must eat before you die, which also includes the French Laundry and El Bulli.

The small museum The Kemper, had some interesting pieces, well displayed in a large space and with the unusual virtue of being a small enough collection so as not to induce museum fatigue. It had some pieces that did nothing for me, a boring Warhol (redundancy), an interesting exhibit of art that owed to cartography, some a bit didactic and some like scientific diagrams , mysterious without their texts; a fascinating blown glass structure like a enormous translucent sea creature, and the shop where I found wonderful earrings for Libby, after passing on ones that were made to resemble Sushi. I did get to see a good Benton, of an old cowboy that reminded me of our late rancher Fred Martin, which was hung beside what I think of as a very atypical David Hockney; it somewhat resembled his recent tilted landscapes (themselves in part a homage to some of the stranger mid-western painters). But this one was not a pastoral scene; it resembled jagged volcanic peaks at sunset. Neither fields nor swimming pools were evident.

Outside stood a creepy, brilliant giant spider which when the rain lifted I insisted on posing beneath like another hapless character out of Lovecraft or Stross.

A Young Farmer’s Perspective

NC sent us a link to a fascinating Op- Ed in the Denver Post by an intelligent and analytical young farmer. She says: “People all say words like “farm fresh,” “sustainability,” but they don’t want to actually pay for what it actually costs me to make it. Almost everyone tries to talk me into lowering my price or asks me to give my eggs away for free.” Also: “… If I have customers coming over when I am gathering eggs, I put my hair in pigtails, and I use a small straw basket and make lots of trips. People like to buy eggs from little kids skipping through the pasture with a basket of eggs.” !!

Among other lessons that can be drawn is the indubitable fact that many of the rich are inveterate cheapskates (“How do you think they got that way?” I can hear my old Dad mutter)– and that the average postmodern urban dweller has no idea where anything comes from.

NC has more to say: “That’s the heart of the story. Is it any wonder that the likes of Monsanto dominate food production when the deck is so stacked against small producers? Is it any wonder that local and organic food is so hard to sell when the customers are so clueless that they think it could somehow be given to them for free?

“That was the part of the story that had me in stitches; these people who go to farmer’s markets and think that small-scale local farming exists in this magical bubble that makes it immune to economic reality. Of course they would think that! I bet Marie Antoinette thought that animal husbandry was all carefree giggles when she went off to play milkmaid!

“Inasmuch as any of us have a technophile streak, I think it’s substantially rooted in the desire to understand the human economics of it all. I won’t say I understand computers, but thanks to a high school physics teacher who worked in the semiconducter industry, I at least have some idea of the long hours engineers spend poring over circuit diagrams, of the super-sterile factories filled with unbelievably nasty chemicals for etching silicon, all so we can have magical electronic gadgets. I’m definitely not an electrical engineer, but I watch the trucks carrying wind turbine blades up and down I25, and I can do basic math so when someone says we ought to switch to wind energy, I have some notion of how many more trucks carrying how many more of those blades such a task would entail.

“The goal here isn’t necessarily to understand all aspects of technology or production or economy perfectly. It’s to have some idea of all the sorts of things that people around the world are doing to keep civilization going. The goal is to be able to see some pale reflection of the sweat of other people’s brows in modern conveniences; not necessarily to extol or deplore them. Just to understand them.

“Because the alternative is to go through life thinking that meat just magically pops into existence on supermarket shelves, that alternating current and wall sockets just sprout from the ground, that cars just go and gas stations are sitting above natural deposits of gasoline. In short, to believe that the world is built around oneself for one’s own comfort.”

Photos 2– Weather Here & Elsewhere

It is NOT hot here and rarely is, something I despair of making those who equate New Mexico with Arizona understand (NM is one of the highest states in the Union). Greg, Our friend and Lib’s boss at the PO, had to visit his father in Texas and sent us this pic with the label “What was I THINKING??”

I bet he wishes he were here in the mountains cutting up mushrooms.