October 2010


I have just finished reading my third book (fourth if you count my having seen the movies The Remains of the Day) by Kazuo Ishiguro, and emerge from the experience bewildered, and yet bedazzled and unable to put the whole experience out of my mind. It also got me remembering my past experiences and got me thinking and needing to write.

I have often told my students that the death knell for a writer is indifference and being ignored. It’s far worse than the ability to inflame, incense, infuriate and other in-terms of the negative nature. (This brings up a troubling moment of self-reflection and criticism about my previous post but having written it I’ll stand by it). Anyway, it’s true of my reaction to Ishiguro – I have come out of his books feeling like I’ve run an unsatisfying race or trekked up a particularly arduous trail and not entirely certain of what I’ve gotten from the experience. Certainly not simple enjoyment…nothing about his books are simple. Nor have they been uplifting (with the exception of some of the stories in Nocturnes, the one book I have unequivocally loved).  But there is something about every one of them that is compelling and in case of the book I read today, Never Let Me Go, haunting and troubling. And I cannot let it go …

Not emotionally in any event. I remember feeling the same way about When We Were Orphans – which I heard as an audio-book – even if I found so many elements puzzling, even downright bizarre. But that is the peculiar power of Ishiguro’s writing I think. Even when it’s hard work, he draws you completely into the half-formed worlds of his narrators (virtually everything I’ve read by him has been in first person). His prose is spare and beautiful, like a particularly raw work of ikebana, I think, stark and knobby but demanding attention all the same.

I think I’m making a hash of this, so I’ll leave off now, I do invite comments from others if you’ve read these or his other books. One of these days, though not too soon, I’m bound to return to one of his other novels, though I’m not sure which one. I any of you have thoughts or suggestions, do bring them on…

… as opposed to back biting, is a perfectly legitimate activity. Especially when the subject in question issued the invitation to “Bite me” in the first place. Uh.. no thanks, I’ll pass.

Believe it or not, “Bite me,” is actually the title of a new food column in The Caravan, AUC’s weekly student-run newspaper. In and of itself the title wouldn’t be offensive or more than just mildly  ribald, since it’s a student paper and one assumes that its staff is peopled with college kids: freshmen, sophomores and the rest. So the humor in it will be understandably enough, sophomoric in nature. The title “Bite me,” with its mild sexual innuendos is sophomoric. But the column is being written by a faculty member. One of my colleagues at AUC, whose name, I shall for various and obvious reasons, leave blank. And that changes the tenor of things somewhat, in my opinion (or imho as some people would prefer to say).

Because somehow, I find the idea of a teacher inviting students to ‘bite me’ just a tad inappropriate. Even if it was meant as a joke, it is inappropriate. Okay, so I’ve worked for newspapers and know that the writer isn’t the one who necessarily comes with the the headlines or titles. But I also know that the writer has input. And the very fact that a faculty member is writing for a student paper means that he can have a say in the title of his column. As it is, the title to me suggests that the writer is trying too hard to fit in with the audience. I suppose that means he’s trying to be sophomoric, and if that was his intent, kudos. He managed it with flying colors. On the other hand, it is just a little bit pathetic.

In more ways than one actually. Two installments of the column have been published and both show the author taking cheap shots at someone else. In the first the target was Omar Sherif’s son, for buying and successfully running a restaurant where the author owned and operated one of his own and ran it to the ground. Two of them as a matter of fact, though the author didn’t mention that little factoid in his column. What he did say was that the son of OS is successful where Man Kai, his own restaurant failed,  was because he panders to the crowd and shows no imagination in the menu and spends all the money on decor. Man Kai was too avant-garde, according to its former owner, Japanese-Italian cuisine with offerings like miso pasta apparently too out there for Egyptian diners. It diverted all its money to the food and kitchen, he claims, and nothing on decor (except perhaps, as he let slip in a momentary slip of self-contradiction, its bathrooms). I would have sympathized on that point, because I like culinary innovation and twists on themes as much if not more than the next person and don’t think that decor should get higher play, but according to some of other colleagues who were reading the paper last week, it was a patently false claim. The main reason the earlier restaurant failed was that the food was exorbitantly priced, said more than reader of the column, most of whom joined me in alternately hooting with laughter and cringing in embarrassment as they read their way through the piece.

One could say that success is the best revenge against petty pot shots, in which case the owner of Trattoria (as the new restaurant on the premises of the restaurant formerly known as Man Kai  and then as Sand) can read this article with a smirk, for his place is doing quite well. Ever the contrarian, I visited the place a few nights ago, when it came up as a choice of eateries, in a complete act of coincidence not long after I’d read this article. I thought it was okay as Italian restaurants go outside of Italy. Nothing spectacular, granted, but quite nice really. Certainly not deserving  of the disparagement our columnist has dished out. And what’s more the experience did not empty my pockets.

I’m not so sure if the target of the cheap shots from the second article would smirking if he read the piece on koshari, but then again, why would anyone outside of the AUC community be reading The Caravan at all? And even if he read it, would he care that a former colleague actually organized his schedule to avoid  him just because he ate koshari by himself. (I didn’t get that – if anybody else reads the column and can explain the connection between the solo eating of koshari and the lack of friends, please enlighten me). The only thing that was suggested as a possible reasons for avoiding someone after koshari was related to flatulence, but why would flatulence be experienced only eating it alone as opposed to eating in with company?? As I said, do enlighten me if you have any ideas.

On the matter of avant-garde food I feel as a foodie I must interject my reaction – that Japanese-Italian doesn’t seem quite that innovative to me. Sure, it could give rise to interesting combinations, but really why such a specific pair of ethnicities? If one were adventurous for real then surely the mixing and matching should have drawn from a larger pool of possible cuisines? After all there’s nothing specific about the stuff we get here that lends itself to Japanese cuisine, over say, Thai, Chinese, Indian or even Brazilian or Mexican? When I commented on this fact to my friends who have been here longer than I have, I learned that it was the ethnicity of the talent (read hired help) that was determining the menu. So much for being imaginative!

Back to the issue of embarrassment, cheap shots, lies, and sophomoric humor aside, there are other causes for it in this endeavor (i.e. the food column) that I could point out. Sloppy editing for one. And inaccuracies for another, opinions stated as fact.  And oh! Just in case I forgot, references to food porn. Apparently a carb overload of the type provided by koshari is food porn. Or if it it is not he doesn’t know what is. Now, that was a comment I found about as outlandish as his claim that falling in love is a group activity. Say what ??? Yes you read right. The author of “Bite Me” claims that falling in love is something to be done in groups.

Maybe he has experience in these matters? As far as I know or have experienced falling in love involves 2. One person falling for one other. Even one more than that makes a crowd. But not according to the wannabe-bitten author, who even as he issues his invitation to bite, is fondly playing his fingers over a knife. I kid you not. In case the words didn’t tell you enough, there’s the picture to add a thousand more to your experience. Readers beware, like all good columns, this one comes with a photo of the author. Only his is more than the standard mugshot. Fondling a knife resting on his lap, he beams benignly (or so one hopes), bestowing his good wishes to the world at large. If you can stomach it, more power to you. Bite him, not me.