New: Book Report: Garlic and Sapphires

I am basically over my cold, but the sore throat remains. Thus, I wanted soup. Citrus Club, a soup place on the Haight, was closed. I guess they wanted to enjoy their holidays or something. So I did something I haven't done in a while--I bought groceries and cooked dinner, a big soup. It was an evening of sitting around and thinking about food. It was a good evening to read Garlic and Sapphires, a memoir of restaurant criticism.

What is the nature of the self? And how can we shape the self to enhance the ability to experience some of the best and/or fanciest of New York's restaurants?

Ruth Reichl worked a stint as restaurant critic at the New York Times. The restauranteurs knew she was coming, were looking out for her. She quickly figured out that this would heisenbergly prevent her from being a good critic. Restaurant proprietors would trot out the best food, the best service for the Times Critic--better stuff than her audience could hope for.

So she donned disguises. She didn't just don disguises, she made up personalities and cloaked herself in them. She acted differently, moved differently, became a different person. But she seems to have snapped back to herself for a few seconds whenever an especially interesting taste hit her tongue.

If you've read one of her other memoirs, Close to the Bone or Comfort me with Apples, you will cringe when you hear the phrase "Ruth Reichl's mother." At one point, Ruth disguises herself as her mother. Then, posing as her mother, she treats the waitstaff badly.

It also talks wigs and chemotherapy. (This put me in mind of Twisty Faster, former restaurant critic and writer of I Blame the Patriarchy, currently undergoing chemo. Someone who didn't like Twisty dissed her criticism as controversial. Ruth Reichl says that a good critic is controversial. Therefore, Twisty Faster has gone about her life the correct way. Thus do I admire her even as I continue to oppress her in the framework of the patriarchy.) If you aren't a woman of a certain age and you enter a wig store, the propietor worries that you've got cancer. S/he doesn't normally think you just want a disguise. That's what's wrong with the world today: too many sick people, not enough superspies.

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Posted 2005-12-23