8.25.2006

“vexatious” peaches and the nostalgic voice

On a tip from a friend, I turned to the Wednesday New York Times greenmarkets column, Bringing it Home, entitled "Ode to a Peach." As my eyes fell on the first sentence, “Peaches vex me,” I knew I was going to settle in on some entertaining reading. The piece, a perfectly lovely little meditation on flavor, home made desserts, domesticity and fetishistic description, had a tone that was immediately recognizable, but a difficult one to define exactly. The author CB, an acquaintance from long ago, is a former long-haul Martha Stewart Living editor and the voice she employs, what I call High Martha, is lyrical, allusive, nostalgic. For me, the writing style in general is gag-inducing but intriguing; I'm simultaneously drawn to it and repelled. It parlays the now-familiar commercial "romanticism" of Ralph Lauren (or even, at another price point, JCrew) that makes one yearn for weathered cedar shakes, heirloom candlesticks with evergreen bobeches and a compound on the Vineyard. I am forced, over and over, to "remember" the succulence of fresh-picked berries and pumpkin carving parties that, oh yeah, I never experienced growing up. This nostalgia for what one has never experienced is the most insidious --and fascinating--aspect. A longing for false memories. It is this tension of being both drawn in and repelled, comforted and disappointed, that leaves me with a faint malaise. It is this nostalgia that almost brings the term's medical origins back to the surface.
In CB's column, the tone has less of the prescriptive aloofness that is part of classic Martha, more "just us girls" :
But the best thing I’ve ever done with a peach isn’t something I’d serve to company, or even to my family. It falls into a category of things I think of as single-girl food, since it reminds me of the quirky indulgences that brightened my days before my husband came into my life....Purchases in hand, I rode the elevator upstairs and entered the remarkable quiet of our empty apartment. I set everything out on the dining table. First, I spread the fromage blanc on the bread, then sprinkled a bit of damp gray sea salt over it. With a little paring knife, I cut a peach into slim slices and laid them carefully on top. Then I dipped an old baby spoon into the honey and let it drizzle onto the peach slices.

A soft halo of light reflects back from that old baby spoon and envelopes the reader in the warmth of... mounting queasiness? Envy? Befuddlement. From whence this style? And I don't mean CB specifically, I mean all of it. The whole precious lot of it. I am guessing-- and I need more research and input here-- that the poetic, metaphorical tumbles of MFK Fisher and the arm-in arm, raconteurism of EB White have been distilled, or better still, left to ferment in the mouthblown heirloom glass decanter of self-consciousness...
I will be mulling this over further. [photos: polo.com; Gerry Manacsa]

2 comments:

Andrew said...

I can't help it - I want fresh fruit now! :o)

Andrew
To Love, Honor and Dismay

Clay said...

Where can I buy an old baby spoon like the one CB used to drizzle honey?

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