Found treasures

I’ve always loved finding little things that it seemed I wasn’t supposed to, particularly photographs. I’m not alone there, although I don’t know if anyone else obsessively reads other people’s shopping lists found in the bottom of their supermarket trolley.

My camping reading this time was Marion Halligan’s Eat My Words, an entertaining although somewhat relentless memoir of loving food and cooking which I bought in a local second hand shop. And looky what I found inside –

Do you know this man? I wonder whether the place it shows is in Goulburn (about an hour north of here) – it doesn’t look local, but of course it could have come from anywhere.

It’s not just photos and shopping lists I love. I’ve never been one to really value books as objects, but I know many do and that they probably don’t share my love of marginalia.

It’s hard not to fall in love with the physical presence of Gay Bilson’s Plenty, though. And wow, can that woman convey emotional intensity and deep intelligence. I bet she’s a Cancer. I find it bizarre that one of the judges who awarded the book The Age Book of the Year prize in 2005 (see link on title) said:

A generous, hospitable book that offered reading as a slow pleasure, Plenty connected food and the intellect without emotion or nostalgia, says [historian and judge Clare] Wright.

“It is a memoir, yet it is not self-referential,” she says. “It is about the intimate workings of her mind, not about her emotions. It was a very brave book in a lot of ways and I quite admired the way she was able to keep herself to herself.”

I wonder why it was so important that the book not be emotional? Perhaps Wright is one of those historians who thinks that the intellect should trump emotion but knows that in real life and real kitchens it’s usually the other way around, or that in a certain kind of person the two are so entwined that it’s pointless to try and tease them apart (and I bet Wright’s a Virgo).

I borrowed the book from the library, but of course will have to buy it now. I’m considering stealing the aptly decorated post it note I found inside the library’s copy for myself. It’s stuck over a section describing Bilson’s 1993 Symposium of Australian Gastronomy dinner, which has become famous for a never-served dish of blood sausage made from the hostess’ blood.

To make sense of the note, you need to either read the text in the image, or know that Bilson and her chef Janni Kyritsis made a forty metre long tripe tablecloth for the dinner – Halligan said on the First Tuesday Book Club that it was the most beautiful tablecloth she’d ever seen – and that Bilson’s daughter Sido emerged in bandages from a mound of fruit at the end of the dinner bearing menus for the diners:

14 comments ↓

#1 Dr Sister Outlaw on 31.10.08 at 1:15 pm

erm, I hope you badged this as not safe for vegans (although is serving your own blood animal unfriendly?)

#2 Zoe on 31.10.08 at 1:17 pm

I don’t think so, but have made it NSFV anyway ; )

#3 Julie on 31.10.08 at 1:55 pm

Ha! I got that book out from the library too, post-it note and all…

#4 Zoe on 31.10.08 at 2:50 pm

Hi Julie – I have to leave it there now, I think, knowing that you remembered it too. Tell me, did you find the book devoid of emotion?

#5 Kirsty on 01.11.08 at 7:48 pm

Perhaps the judge confused ‘emotional’ and ‘sentimental’? I understand the problem with the latter.

#6 Zoe on 01.11.08 at 8:00 pm

I’ve just this minute finished it , Kirsty, and no-one who’d read it would call it sentimental. No-one sensible, anyway.

I wonder whether the journalist asked a poorly worded question about the emotion suffusing the book, and Wright (over)reacted to that?

It is a wonderful book. I don’t want to take it back to the library!

#7 Dr Sista Outlaw on 02.11.08 at 11:55 am

nah, she’s just a historian what has had the passion about literature beaten out of her

#8 St33v on 04.11.08 at 7:24 am

Gay Bilson sounds pretty cool. I like how she collects birds nests, partly because they have no value at auction.

#9 St33v on 04.11.08 at 7:26 am

btw , the dates in your comments are arse about. I guess you already know that. Another thing the ‘romans’ have give us.

#10 Zoe on 04.11.08 at 6:52 pm

Thank you St33v, for pointing that out so graciously. I’ve fixed it.

And Bilson talks quite a bit about nests, including the posties confusion that all the parcels she receives are hugely heavy (books) or weigh nothing (nests).

#11 worldpeace and a speedboat on 06.11.08 at 6:30 pm

that book sounds fab. will have to keep an eye out for it!

why was Sido bandaged/bleeding?

#12 Zoe on 06.11.08 at 8:10 pm

There’s a wonderful piece by Cherry Ripe that describes the whole event. But the short answer is, for Art.

#13 worldpeace and a speedboat on 13.11.08 at 6:17 pm

ta for that Zoe – I needed more context!

#14 Julie on 14.11.08 at 8:36 pm

Somewhat belated answer: In retrospect I guess it was, but it wasn’t missing it.

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