Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Art of Simmering Memories #FoodieReads

These three books are on D's summer reading list for Honors English. And since I had never read any of them, I decided to dig in while he was reading one of his other assigned books.

I already posted about Licorice Laces, Orange Soda, and the curious incident of the dog in the night-time; but this post is about The Diving Bell and The Butterfly by Jean-Dominque Bauby*.

Quick synopsis: Bauby, editor-in-chief of French fashion bible Elle magazine, suffers a devastating stroke at age 43. The damage to his brain stem leaves him with locked-in syndrome - almost completely paralyzed and only able to communicate by blinking his left eye. Bauby painstakingly dictates his memoir via the only means of movement and expression left to him. I read that the book took approximately 200,000 blinks to write with the average word taking approximately two minutes to convey and transcribe. And on March 9, 1997, just two days after the book was published, Bauby died of pneumonia.

Before I picked this up, I had never heard of Jean-Dominque Bauby, never heard of the book, and never knew that it was adapted into a movie. And, after reading it, I'm not sure I want to watch the movie. I was tearing up as I read. I fear that the movie, if well done, would have me bawling in my living room. We'll see...

Tears welled up in my eyes as I finished this book, not because of the tragedy of Bauby's illness, but because I was overcome with gratitude for life. This is very quick read. It's inspiring, engrossing, and considering Bauby’s condition, there is a surprising amount of humor in it. Though you can't help but feel incredible empathy towards him, this is not a woe-is-me memoir. It is an appreciation of being alive.

Though Bauby is no longer able to enjoy food, he describes his memories of food: even as "a tube threaded into my stomach, two or three bags of brownish fluid provide my daily caloric needs. For pleasure, I have to turn to the vivid memory of tastes and smells, an inexhaustible reservoir of sensations. Once I was a master of recycling leftovers. Now I cultivate the art of simmering memories. You can sit down to a meal at any hour, with no fuss or ceremony. If it's a restaurant, no need to call ahead. If I do the cooking, it is always a success. The boeuf bourguignon is tender, the boeuf en gelée translucent, the apricot pie possesses just the requisite tartness. Depending on my moon, I treat myself to a dozen snails, a plate of Alsatian sausage with sauerkraut, and a bottle of late-vintage golden Gewürztraminer; or else I savor a simple soft-boiled egg with fingers of toast and lightly salted butter. What a banquet!" (pg. 36).

Also, he remembers seasonally, he says, "...I scrupulously observe the rhythm of the seasons. Just now I am cooling my taste buds with melon and red fruit. I leave oysters and game for autumn - should I feel like eating them, for I am becoming careful, even ascetic, in matters of diet. ...But today I could almost be content with a good old proletarian hard sausage trussed in netting and suspended permanently from the ceiling in some corner of my head" (pg. 37).

Do you have food memories that bring back vivid sensations of taste and smell? What are they?

*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.

Click to see what everyone else read in June 2019: here.


  1. Great review. I had heard of the movie but like you, may not seek it out. I'm intrigued by the book (from your review). I picked a peach off one of our trees and as I bit in, I was instantly transported back to jam making with mom. :)

    1. Ooo! I haven't seen stone fruits at the market yet. But I can't wait to make some plum jam soon.

  2. Wow...this sounds like quite the book. I have never heard of it or him but you have me intrigued.

    1. I'll bring it to you in August in Paso. D will be back in school and done with it by then, I'm sure.


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