Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Meaning is the Message

I got a letter yesterday. Sometimes you get a card or a letter through the post and it hits you more than any amount of electronically transmitted information or something that comes through cables or tubes can, even if the message starts with the weather and ends with "well, I have to go". Why is that? Communication by way of manual work, articulated directly into individual script, passed from hand to hand, and delivered physically to your post box always means something more. It is more than the message. It seems like a luxury to have a letter written out like these kinds of letters just naturally are. Why is getting a letter from a friend such a wonderful thing?

I think about my weekly phone calls to my mother and I know I could be doing better. There was a time when long distance calls from wintery New York to Nashville were prohibitively expensive, and instead of being an obstacle to communication, it was the golden age of the letter. On my mother's side of the family they preferred to write. My uncle, who was a fiction writer by vocation and trade and lived in Humboldt, used to warm up daily with letters that he would pound out on a typewriter from edge to edge and top to bottom on a cream colored sheet of cotton rag paper to his sister, my mother, before he got started on his manuscripts. He was a person who was capable of the most evocative and believable exaggerations we ever read. It was rare that a day would go by without my mother receiving a letter crowded full of Jesse or a pen written missive centered in perfect English, like prose, on small personalized stationery from her mother 'Cille.

Making soup is definitely like writing a letter. You begin with the rudimentary necessities for it and like filling a piece of stationery with some local news and bit of your own personality, you let the flavors flow from the season into a hand written note. In the best letter writing style, you always try and tie it up somehow. Your signature spice mix always comes into play, as well as homage to themes that float along in the haze around you as you bustle though your day. Your blank sheet of paper is the mixed stock you've prepared at the beginning of the week, sometimes with game in season but mostly with the very basic of parts, a couple of roots that feel right to you, and whatever herbs seem to be plentiful and right. The story that flows from your sharpened pencil or favorite pen is the personality that the soup takes on with what vegetables and meats, sometimes cheeses or even wines that are available to you at the time. The more thoroughly you live, the better your soup will taste.

Loïc has been traveling this week and I have been out eating in the restaurants. The best kind of restaurant is the one where you can get a feel of the handwriting of the cook. On very rare occasions I'll encounter calligraphy or a beautifully worked captivating story, poetry maybe. These are almost never a surprise because people who have found their vocation in this kind of expression rarely go unrecognized. But it is really enough and a great pleasure to get the hand scripted message of a cook in an unexpected place, a message being transmitted, in a dish when I am out on in the neighborhood on a weeknight. Sometimes I want a postcard from a foreign land. Wherever I go, I ask for an honest letter from the cook about what’s the news that day. My only requirement is that it be written by hand. I think getting that letter reminded me and made me happy to have had the chance to explore this week.

Caramelized leeks and scallops are a natural compliment.

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Blogger Christine said...

I haven't words enough to describe how your writing transports me to another place. I feel my head lilting as if I'm listening to a beautiful piece of music.
Thank you.

11:34 PM, March 11, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

Yes, there is a quality to Lucy's writing that cannot be found anywhere else in the blogworld, I agree< Christine.

I had an aunt who was like your uncle, Lucy. She had an acidic and often self-deprecating wit and could make the most mundane topics seem fascinating in her long letters. She was a legal secretary by profession, but she was married to a well-known and very eccentric syndicated cartoonist. I think he brought out the creative in her and encouraged it.

Laura always included little extras in her letters, like cartoons from Nick, and recipes and clippings of life's oddities. You would have liked her letters, Lucy.

3:50 AM, March 12, 2007  
Blogger Linda said...

leek is all over the blogosphere this week. i need to jump on that wagon!

4:55 PM, March 12, 2007  
Blogger Lisa Jean said...

What a lovely post. Makes me want to sit down and write a letter. And have a bowl of soup while I'm doing it. MMMM

8:35 PM, March 12, 2007  
Blogger christine said...

So true and so eloquently written! I sadly admit that I, for one, find it now quite difficult to manually write letters or anything for that matter. It's like I've forgotten how to do script. But after reading this post, I'm inspired to revive that basic method of communication with friends who have moved on to other countries.

11:18 AM, March 13, 2007  
Blogger Helene said...

True poetry in your words: You must have inherited it from your uncle! And yes I garee cooking is like writing letters. In former times I used to write long letters to my then friend and now husband. For some weeks I´m musing to give my photos as postcards to my friends to revive this tradition. :)

12:44 PM, March 17, 2007  
Blogger Katie said...

My mother and aunts still would prefer letters, and until my mother's eyes started failing that was the chief method of correspondance. I still called each week, but letters can be reread, unlike the phone call.
Lovely post bringing back lovely, (but sad) memories.

5:51 PM, March 17, 2007  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Thanks for your comments! I'm so glad the post brought back memories of your own letter writing relatives and the act of writing. The idea of sending postcards is a nice one. Here in France people often send postcards in envelopes. We get a lot of them, in fact, the last one we got, I could not figure out who it was from because all it had was a scribbled phrase and a signature, and no return address on the envelope. Well, someone is thinking of us, anyway!

9:31 AM, March 18, 2007  

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