For years I've been terrorized by friends' and acquaintances' attempts to cajole me into writing about food and travel. Somehow, because I love eating and traveling, am somewhat adventurous in both, have garnered a certain level of knowledge thereby, and happen to be a writer, I'm obliged to write about these things. Things only got worse with the advent of blogging. I continually resisted this hectoring. In the first place, I don't necessarily want to write about the things I enjoy most; I'd rather just enjoy the experiences without worrying about turning them into some kind of "product." Besides, I'm a perfectionist when it comes to writing for publication. As much as I may know about travel or cuisine, I always felt I needed more comprehensive background knowledge in order to write convincingly about them (an apprehension that many writers have quite obviously managed to escape).
And then there was my fear of the narcissism that pervades so much "literary" food and travel writing (I have no interest in straight journalism). I may be an egotist, but I'm no narcissist. When I finally did write and publish a travel piece, "Mr. Cherches Goes to India," in 1997, these apprehensions were woven into the form of the piece. [I'll probably republish it here eventually.]
Nonetheless, over the years I did share my opinions and experiences with friends, verbally and by email. In emails I didn't agonize endlessly over each and every sentence the way I do with "real" writing. It was casual writing that I would never have presumed to make public.
So what's changed?
I don't know. Whatever it is, it happened gradually.
In 2004 I was working as a freelance proofreader at an ad agency. The freelancers were an especially lively, erudite and cosmopolitan bunch. I bonded in particular with three of my colleagues, Chesley Hicks, Joanna Roy and David Blacklock, all of whom are well traveled foodies. When there was no work to do (and more than a few times when there was) we discussed our passions with great gusto and volume. I loved them, but they did it to me too, damn them: "You really have to start a blog, or a newsletter," and so on.
"I'm really not interested in doing anything formal," I insisted. "I prefer word of mouth."
"That's it!" David said. "There's your title."
I did like the title, so I told them I'd give it some thought. I came close to starting something at the time, but my interest fizzled.
Then, last weekend, I was at a dinner party at the home of Peter Wortsman
and Claudie Bernard. One of the guests, Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett
, whom I've known for years, and who is a scholar of many things, including food and travel, did it to me too. BKG is a great advocate of blogging, and she browbeat me about the joys and ease of it all. I finally cried uncle, and here I am.
But let's get something straight. I don't read blogs. I have no interest in reading blogs. I wouldn't blame you if you didn't read my blog.
Maybe it's a generational thing (I'm certainly no technophobe), but I still have a bias toward print. I've never submitted any of my work to webzines; I still can't think of it as real publication. Of course I'm wrong, but just try to convince me.
Frankly, there's too much I haven't read that I should have read, and I'm sure that's true for you too. Damn, I'm about to turn 50 and I still haven't read Don Quixote.
If you're looking for something to read, there are plenty of good books I can recommend.
Anyway, now that I've taken the plunge, here's what I have in mind. I plan to post a mix of literary, quasi-literary and pseudo-literary pieces, some new, some old, as well as anecdotes, mini-reviews, and annotated lists of favorite restaurants. I'm hoping the form of the blog itself will take me in directions I might not otherwise have considered. When I used to teach creative writing I always emphasized process over product. Here's a place where I can make my own process public. I've pretty much decided to focus mainly on food and travel, but I will allow myself occasional detours. I'll try to post at least weekly, most likely on weekends, except when I'm traveling.
If, after all that, you still plan on following this blog, be assured that your time and attention is humbly appreciated.
[The photo above was taken by Wim de Groot at Kantjil en de Tijger, in Amsterdam, the best Indonesian restaurant I've ever eaten at. Wim is a brilliant painter and one of the most engaging conversationalists I know. Wim, I miss you.