‘Portrait of James Joyce’
Patrick Tuohy (1924-1927)
My reading habits are a lot like my eating ones. I go too long between chapters or meals and wind up short-tempered and salivating.
This often leads to an undignified gorge-fest, leaving me sweating, shirt-stained and ashamed.
And that was just the first chapter of Eat, Pray, Love.
On other occasions my hunger for a book and dinner collide and I find myself, stuck between pages and meals, craving Ishmael’s clam chowder or Holden Caulfield’s Swiss cheese sandwich.
On one of these peckish occasions it occurred to me – what would be my perfect literary meal?
Half the pleasure lies in anticipation, I’m told (by masochists). Ask Leopold Bloom. Standing at the counter of Davy Byrne’s Dublin pub, in James Joyce’s Ulysses, the ravenous, rambling ad-man scans the offerings.
“Sardines on the shelves. Almost taste them by looking. Sandwich? Ham and his descendants mustered and bred there. Potted meats…Cauls mouldy tripes windpipes faked and minced up. Puzzle find the meat. Kosher. No meat and milk together. Hygiene that was what they call now. Yom Kippur fast spring cleaning of inside. Peace and war depend on some fellow’s digestion. Religions. Christmas turkeys and geese. Slaughter of innocents. Eat drink and be merry. Then casual wards full after. Heads bandaged. Cheese digests all but itself. Mighty cheese.
—Have you a cheese sandwich?
Ernest Hemingway in Paris, 1924
A young Ernest Hemingway sits in a cafe at the Place St Michel on Paris’ Left Bank. After dutifully eyeing up a beautiful young woman and finishing “a very good story” he orders a dozen portugaises and a half carafe of dry white wine.
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
A grown-up son returns to the bosom of his mother’s Italian-American table in John Fante’s The Brotherhood Of The Grape.
“The kitchen. La cucina, the true mother country, this warm cave of the good witch deep in the desolate land of loneliness, with pots of sweet potions bubbling over the fire, a cavern of magic herbs, rosemary and thyme and sage and oregano, balm of lotus that brought sanity to lunatics, peace to troubled, joy to the joyless . . . the altar a kitchen range . . . the old children, lured back to their beginnings . . .beguiled and voracious Virgil filled his cheeks with gnocchi and eggplant and veal, and flooded them down his gullet with the fabulous grape of Joe Musso, spellbound, captivated, mooning over his great mother.”
Apple pic. Pic: Dwight Burdette
Dean Moriarty is barreling his way across the United States, fuelled by liquor, pills and the internal combustion engine. Jack Kerouac’s On The Road anti-hero doesn’t spend all this time speeding through the American night, though – sometimes he stops for pie. Like this time, outside Joliet, Illinois.
“I went to sit in the bus station and think this over. I ate another apple pie and ice cream; that’s practically all I ate all the way across the country, I knew it was nutritious and it was delicious, of course…[later, in Des Moines] I ate apple pie and ice cream – it was getting bigger as I got deeper into Iowa, the pie bigger, the ice cream richer.”
And finally, after all else, coffee. Followed by contemplation, and gratefulness – the ‘Nirvana’ of Charles Bukowski’s poem.
“the meal was
the waitress was
unlike the women
she was unaffected,
there was a natural
humor which came
the fry cook said
laughed, a good
the young man watched
the snow through the
he wanted to stay
in that cafe