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The Raw and the Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand
The 10,000-Calorie Diet
It is easy to remember the cheekbones that once emerged, not surprisingly, above my cheeks. In my unpublished manuscript Zen Sex, I counseled men to pad their boney protuberances to avoid bruising women. If I recall, this was in a chapter titled ?Sensual Compassion: Dos and Don?ts for the Eighties,? which included rather compendious notations on the flip side of the void that is sex, including the advice that it is unseemly to bray and hoot during orgasm. The main thrust of the chapter, however, was a ten-thousand-calorie-a-day diet so that boney lovers might not injure one another.
Not so sad to say, this manuscript was lost to a computer virus called Spritzer in 1981. But I took my own well-considered advice and presently have what women call a ?safe? body, though I rather miss the way they would whisper ?sinew? through moistened lips when I shed my war-surplus jumpsuit. It is not for me to point out that their own sexual behavior is shot through with irony, frivolity, and an icy captiousness that recalls Lola Delmonte at her most discouraging. For instance, a friend in Beverly Hills told me how a very famous (international) actress had aimed her bare bottom at him at poolside as if taking a photo, then rushed into her palatial villa with a trilling laugh, my friend in pursuit. Alas, he was delayed by pain when he bumped his wagging member against the usual mauve wainscoting. He both crooned and bellowed her name as he padded through twenty-nine rooms not including the bathrooms and closets, without success. He later discovered through her previous lover that there was a secret, cryptlike room in the villa where she would hide, lying on a cold, white marble slab, and where she could achieve orgasm only by hearing a frustrated man call out her name, over and over. That would take the cake, should one be offered.
Before being sidetracked, I mentioned the ten-thousand-calorie compassion diet, assuming the one you love deserves it, and this includes any of the three gender combinations. Despite their efforts, it is best not to leave definitions of sexuality up to members of Congress, the governments of the nation and states, and their multifoliate police bureaus. The diet itself is a cross-cultural barrage of feast dishes including cassoulet, feijoada from Brazil?the black-bean stew that contains a dozen smoked meats?a daub made of hindquarters of Charolais and a case of good Burgundy, a Michigan doe for six, a Thracian lamb for four, a Georgia piglet for three, a wild turkey stuffed with fruit and sausage for two, the ten-pound rice-and-fish Sumo stew for one. I forgot the choucroute garnie made of pig hocks, seven varieties of sausage, potatoes, and sauerkraut for seven, and the bollito misto for six or nine, whatever.
The cassoulet is the last dish on this thirty-day wonder, as you must start on the first day with three fat geese to make the confit, then wait at least twenty-nine days for the confit to cure. It is no fun to butcher your own geese, but the supermarket birds are far too lean, and then neither is it fun to live a life where all the dirty work, the realities, are left to someone else by virtue of our purchasing power. Country wisdom says to buy fat geese from a fat farmwife, as a lean woman tends to feed them on potato skins rather than troughs laden with grain and corn, which a fat woman readily imagines to be in order. I?ll spare you the gory details, including the fact that geese do not want to die, and that it is better to lock up your bird dogs in the house because they are overeager to help out in the process.
The rest of the ingredients, including lamb and sausage and a couple of heads of garlic, plus instructions on the processes of cooking, are readily available in sophisticated cookbooks (I?d recommend Paula Wolfert?s). I beg you, though, not to make one of the dreadful shortcut versions one sees featured in the media, especially newspaper cooking pages or in ladies? magazines slipped between articles on estrogen, cellulite, and flaccid-weenie problems (be shameless!).
Now the new you is on your kindly way after thirty days, having gained at least fifteen pounds because you have also eaten all the leftovers. You will immediately notice that women are now likely to tweak at your ears, tug at your wattles, back up to you like a sleepy truck to a loading platform. You have become the teddy bear their moms tossed out when they left for college. If they are also burly, they?ll give you sheepish grins during long pauses at the protein counter at the supermarket. In short, everyone is more amenable, gentler, if not actually happier.
Of course, there are specific drawbacks. Last year I attended the funeral of a southern writer of no consequence who had weighed more than four hundred pounds previous to death, his final go at the diet business and one in which he was to be an odds-on favorite. He passed away a scant week after winning a soft-shell-crab-and-corn-on-the-cob-eating contest, and the resultant impaction, plus a real bad crab, had taken him from us. At graveside his precocious nine-year-old son, who reminded me of Kolya in The Brothers Karamazov, had whispered to me, ?Death is not the less unique for being so widespread an activity.? A true southern writer in the making, already having adapted the coloration of intelligent lassitude?unlike the North, where writers assume a bogus heartiness and wear lumberjack shirts in classrooms and on their drunken forays into nature of whose actual processes they are utterly ignorant, somewhat like the famous blimp New Yorker poet on Nantucket, who raised his face from his desk for the tenth time of the summer and asked his wife the name of the bird, a gull, that perched on the porch railing. For reasons of her own, she rammed a well-bred little finger deep into his ear, perhaps the better for him to hear, and left for good without packing.
So there are downsides to becoming a gentle beast. Compassion can be an impure virtue, a mixed bag containing, among other things, a puff adder. Even now, at this very moment, I am splayed out on a mat on a cold stone floor aiming down my gunsights through the opened door at a Mexican blue mockingbird (Melanotis caerulescens). This bird has never appeared in this country before, and dragging behind him are hundreds of dweeb bird-watchers hanging on my fence with huge camera lenses and spotting scopes. I cannot get up at dawn and bow to the six directions in my birth skin. I am under a scrutiny that far exceeds the nastiness of book publication.
It was severe pain that drove me to the floor, somewhat like Robert Jordan on that bed of pine needles so long ago, a pain so severe that I had to crawl to the closet to get the shotgun. I lift my head above the sights and watch the gabbling row of birders adding this unique creature to what is known as their ?life list? in the sport. They can?t see me and thus are ignorant that this bird can soon disappear into a halo of blue feathers, an unnatural mood indigo. I pause thinking of my pain and how it came to be: Maybe it is the wolf in my body growing not like those chickypoo hyenas in Kenya living off lions? spoils. I can see the enemy coming, but it happened I think in the mountains on surveillance with Peacock when we ran out of the Bordeaux, five bottles, which was very good with the thick, juicy rib steaks we put between tortillas because we had no plates and forks, also the Italian sausages, which were very good rolled in hot tortillas. Then it was dawn and the time of coyotes was gone; also the Bordeaux bottles lay bleak and empty as a politician?s head. We woke and drove hard and well on the rutted red-dirt roads of Indian country to a store without Bordeaux and bought whiskey, which around the campfire that night after hard walks through canyons we pretended was good wine. Not. So I slept on cold ground with frost thick in hair and eyebrows, my body twisted like a pretzel from false amber wine, and when I awoke I could not untwist myself. I was frozen in a bad shape and the javelinas passed upwind without seeing me and I could see two ravens coming up the dry riverbed.
Now it is an hour before twilight and the birders are coming again, as they do at dawn, relentless nature zombies. Mexico?s only a few miles south of here, but the bird wouldn?t ?count? in Sonora. I take aim again at this lovely creature, the grayish blue of wet slate, its eyes turning to my movement through the door. He peeks out from behind my Weber barbecue, and my finger gently touches the trigger, the pain blurring my vision. Beyond the Weber, the bamboo thicket, the turbulent creek and cottonwoods and green willows, the watchers are still coming and I can?t pull the trigger that would send them away. I shot in the air last week, but they came back. In the face of an old woman raising her binoculars I see my widowed mother, who, not incidentally, has 582 birds on her life list. What if she found out? And startlingly enough, against all racial stereotypes, there is a young black couple joining the rest. The blue mockingbird flits up into the bamboo thicket, and I turn on my side, suddenly letting the shotgun fall with a sharp clatter to the stone floor. In a seizure of compassion I think I?ll settle for sending someone across the border for a case of Zebras, setting off the firecrackers, string after string, until everyone is gone.
Out in the wilderness with Peacock it occurred to me again that the natural world is made up of nouns and verbs on which we have heaped millions of largely inappropriate and self-serving adjectives. I wondered how we may shape ourselves, body and mind, to fully inhabit this earth.
Copyright © 2001 by Jim Harrison
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