The Cosmpolis redux
Guys, this one is for you.
Go MAD! Do dance!
A perfect pop song by a perfect british pop band. I love this tune. I love it because it’s clear, because it’s clean. You just give it couple of beats, you just give it a couple of mesures and then you can read it like an open book.
No secrets, no misteries, it turns its guts upside down. Listen to the airy melodics of Ray Davies and the Kinks. The synth-bass even seems like Pete Townsend swirling his guitar in ‘Baba ‘O Riley’, first track Side One of the album ‘Who’s Next’, circa 1970/1971.
Listen to the echoeing, floppy harmonies of the Velvet Underground. One might think that even Nico is (still) singing up there.
Now, jump ahead. Go twenty years later. Do you feel the shoegazing?
Do you copy the feedbacking trapestries of My Bloody Valentine and the eery, liquid vocals like dripping honey, of Jesus and the Mary Chain’ s Just like Candy ? One can even feel the flapping, slowdiving basslines in his guts.
It sounds a bit like an Angelo Badalamenti’s score for a David Lynch’s movie. Julie Cruise might be moaning in the the Dark right now.
Welcome to Twin Peaks. Welcome to the Lost Information Highway Overload.
A collision of multiple, possible worlds, a crash, an information overload synthetized into just one perfect world. One perfect song. A whole universe, a whole story unfold in 3 minutes & 53 seconds.
Now, let’s imagine this song is a dish. How can a it be as transparent as this song? How can it as readable, as catchy, as immediate as only a catchy song can be? How can it tell its multiple stories, how can it digress at ease without losing its narrative drive?
Who knows? Call it the mysteries of creation. Never to forget: behind the mysteries always lay the memories.
Even if it seems to me that one thing our time is definitely losing Is our remembering of things Of time past. Our memories are vanishing. Gone from the stove and from the libraries. And, twice a day, gone from the restaurants. We seem to live with that.
We seem to do like nothing had ever happened. Things go fast, they get accelerating. They break the frontier Of sound.
We rush into the future. And we believe the future Is in front Of us.
Forgetting what the chinese wise guys always said: future doesn’t stretches In front Of us.
It comes instead from behind us. From behind our backs. Like clouds, like fog falling down.
In a World without memory, Yesterday’s heroes are today’s Unknown Soldiers. We erase day by day whole pans of collective memories. We believe our agenda to be a blank book with pages waiting to be scribbled.
Of course we like the speed. We like the kick of the adrenaline. Speed: in a kitchen like in our daily life, we get high on that. But when we run too fast nothing really moves, nothing really changes around us. We might not even notice what has happened to us. I do not remember who I was when I started writing this story. It’s just a blink Of an eye.
Take the French, they thought their future was their past, already set once and for all in front of them. Where are they, now? Nearly as extinct as the Aztequis, they just left us their pyramids as a gift. A nos bons souvenirs….
Memory serves, Memory slips, Memory lapses. Talking about this, I don’t remember when I last tasted the berce (hogweed?), the wild herb from the Alps. Last time it was for sure at Marc Veyrat, years ago. Five, six, seven years ago. I loved these leaves, bitter, intense, whith a clear hinsight of agrees. They diseappeared from my plate, from my palate, from the kitchen – for years. Then last december I found it back Far from the Alps where it usually grows. In the middle of Paris, there it was, at David Toutain’s, in this place run by a young pupil of the Old Master. There she was again, la berce, like a new born girl. Nobody, none of the clients, none of the food critics seemed to have recognized her from before, but everybody loved her.
Like a Virgin. A new Madonna.
It took five, or six or seven years to completely disappear and to reblossom again. Like a cycle. Some called it a miracle, like it had never existed before.
Continents glide, all regions of memories disappear from our Atlas.
Talking about disparacidos, talking about Veyrat – how long did it take from the closing down of his restaurants, at the zénith of his fame, in Megève and in Annecy, to slip away from the records, to be almost forgotten by all? And now to come back from the past, our recent past, like a ghost .
Memory fails. Yesterday’s héros are today’s tv stars. One wonders when Marco Pierre White stopped being a chef. The chef who, before René, before Andoni, before Chang, before Achatz, before Atala, started the whole thing.
The chef who stood by the idea that being a chef doesn’t mean just being a cook.
The first one who opened the dors of his restaurant, who took society by the Storm, who occupied the front pages. The first media darling. The guy ten years in advance on Creative Communs, on Gorillaz and Gelinaz! who stole his mentor’s recipes and made them his own. Improving a fixed répertoire never to be improved. He was a punk rocker who never turned a new waver.
He might vote for the Tories now, he might do the Knorr cube ad – but without him no Modern British. No Gordon Ramsay. No Blumenthal. NO Tom Aikens. No Marcus Waring. No Fergus nor Trevor. No Claude Bosi. No Jason Atherthon. No Brett Graham. No Mickael Johnsson. No Nuno Mendez. No Young Turks. No Ali Kurshat Altinsoy. And probably no Chevalier Inaki Aizpitarte either. And i know that in the bleakest hours of the night Chang-San asks himself “where CAN I find a COOK with such guts, such passion as MPW In his old days?”. I wouldn’t be here myself hadn’t I stumbled in december 1989 in Marco Pierre White, the man who changed my life. And incidentally pushed me doing what I keep doing, the only thing I know to do, telling and writing True Stories.
It looks like an old Franck Capra’s movie, “It’s à beautiful Life”. What if Marco Pierre White had never existed? Will we all be here today ?
What if Ferran Adrià had not one day taken over the small country restaurant on top of Rosas ? Will we all be here today ? Where René will be ? And Bottura ? And myself too had not I had hitten on a 1994 dinner, my first one at El Bulli, by the strangest menu ever, by its textures, its crispy floppy quail eggs. I remember, that dinner was like entering into Blue Velvet. That’s almost twenty years ago.
Now Ferran, like Veyrat, has closed his premises and getting ready, like Veyrat, to come back with their foundations. You can’t stay away too long. You might risk to miss your train. There’s always a new train leaving.
Imagine this story. Imagine a young chef who left Europe ten years ago, when Ferran and Marco were at their highest in their initial careers. He might have gone at the other end of the world, leaving the Old One to its techniques, its poetics, its rooted memories. He might have come back, a few years laters -three, four, five- not much more, and find the whole world completely changed.
Despite the net, despite the tweets, despite eater.dot.com and all the blogs, he would find himself in a competely changed world. The old idols are gone, not back again yet.
He might have missed the social changes, the euro cries. He might have missed a lot of things: the end of the hegemony of technique in thé kitchens, the extinction of french colonialism, the Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the spanish cuisine from Mars, the Italians always at the starting blocks at always beaten four to zéro. Then, of course, he might have missed the latest establishment, the nordic cuisine big boom.
This young cook might also have missed a change of status of the chef: not just a cook, not just an author, an interpreter of his country, of his land and raw materials. But also a moral figure, a social promoter, a vector for social change. Think of Massimo Bottura, of René Redzepi, of Gaston Acurio and many other smart guys.
A chef enters in the political auditorium, goes to symposiums like this Mad one. There’s a lot of responsability, a lot of weight on his shoulders.
That’s a lot Of responsability for just one shoulder. But I like this idea of responsability because it whips our appetite for knowledge. It feeds the memory – and without memory there’s no lasting appetite.
I’ve called this talk “Cosmopolis Redux” because in its way it is a kind of tribute to a much celebrated book, also recently made into a major Motion Picture.
In his novel,”Cosmopolis”, Don De Lillo imagines the strange day of a trader, trying to reach the other end of NY for an haircut.
Stuck in a gigantic trafic jam, he spends all his day, from morning to night, blocked inside his car while outside the whole world goes havoc. DeLillo’s writing is dry, abstract, conceptual and still has a sort of narrative drive.
It’s very interesting that this young trader, a young wolf, a master of Wall Street, a Master of the World, has inside his car All the technology to control it: computers, simulation screens and tv’s connected to the Dow Jones. But it’s too late: 9/11 has kind of happened, there are riots in the streets, the world Is falling apart, technology doesn’t help any more to control the situation, doesn’t help to control the information, the apocalypse Is coming.
A great spectacle, the ultimate show that he can enjoy through the windows of his car. He stays put and the outside world flows by – like a vision. It’a beautiful vision indeed: he is stuck in his car and the World Outside flows by like in a slow motion.
I’m not opposing slow and fast. I loooove fast food, yes I do. I love fast culture, pulp culture, B and Z movies and, like Massimo Bottura, horror movies too. So, if you think that I’m lobbying for the Slow Food posse, you can shoot me now, right now on these grounds.
But In a time like ours, when speed Is the only dope, when everything we do Is permutated around the world at once, when we don’t even have the slightest bit of time to think about before we press thé buttom, maybe it’s nice -here and then- to slow down for a while. To relax on the terrace and watch our Titanic sinking down. Sink down in the leather chair Of your car and enjoy the sight through the window. Watch the future coming at you from behind your back.
Fine dining restaurants are dying slowly, newspapers are closing. Guides are left with no readers. Food critics are on the dole. And That’s just right: Fuck the Food critics. Social networks are taking over.
We have never been more social and nobody has ever been more alone. It’s à good time to take a seat for the Last Picture Show. But if we don’t want to be just spectators, we need to change our stance, our point of view.
We should Cook like we think. We should do Sustainable Cooking as much as we shoul do Sustainable Thinking. Let’s cook, let’s think with guts and with soul. We should take a step back and watch ourselves from a little distance.
Just let it go – for while. And doing what we do thinking why we do it. For who we do it.
We shouldn’t just think about ourselves, we shouldn’t just seize the instant, this present that wants us to speed up All the time and to react only to it. We should cook, we should do everything we do thinking about our legacy. How we should leave something to others now, something that coud be meaningful, something that could be useful.
Something to be used by generations still to come. Something that could have à Magnetic power, a symbolic strength. Something that goes beyond the contingencies of the present, something that ignores the hegemony of the present.
Here’s an example. We all do menus that follow the seasons. We all cook seasonal. And that’s more than fine.
Living with it’s time, listening to the sound of the veggies growing on the ground. Questioning their nature through pots and pans. Leaving a snapshot of what we think they are and what we think we are. But let’s be in the present with a foot in the future. Let’s conceive something not just for the here and now but also for thé years, the décades to come.
Something that doesn’t just need to breath the air of the present, that doesn’t want to fit just with the present but wants to dream the shape of things to come. Something that might be meaningful now, but even more so in decades to come. Let’s imagine for a second we’re Charlton Heaston discovering the Statue of Liberty at the end of the Planet of the Apes. That changes everything, isn’t it?
We ask a book to open up for us the doors of another perception. We ask a movie to let us enter into another dimension. Isn’t that what we aspire to when we go to a restaurant? To nourrish also our mind, to experience another space and time. To build up thoughts that could nourrish a collective memory and whip up our appetite.
Let’s ferment our thoughts for the future like the boys from the Nordic Food Lab ferment their beans. And see how they react, how the future interact! And what if…
What if being avant-garde was not simply being ahead of his time but finding a space beyond Time”? Acting, Cooking, thinking not just for the present but already In another time.
A Book that could be read, that could reveal its meanderings, that could be meaningful fifteen years from now. A dish that could tell us, In décades still to come, how we were, what we thought, what we have been fighting for and longing for. We need to disappear and already be there.
We need to disappear and already be there. We need to escape, to say Good-bye to the contraints of time.
Good-bye to the personal egos. Good-bye to the Easy, daily routines. We need to say good-bye to what’s just meaningful for today, for the present time.
Picture this….Twenty or so years ago a bunch of searchers, of scientists, of architects, of thinkers, a group of philosophers, of artists and musiciens -Brian Eno among them- has started à fantastic Project. Based in San Francisco, this think-tank has started working on the project of a very slow clock. A clock whose mechanism would move, would click every twenty years, every fifty years or so. A clock that would ring every hundred years.
Think of à Big Ben that would only salute every New century. Think of this symbolic Big Ben, already under construction, that could be found, still working and clicking, in à time when we’ll be already gone. It’s a symbol, of course, thé physical symbol that the survivals of thé nuclear war would find and read as à legacy of what we were, of what we aspired, what we hoped. What we have been fighting for… for a better world.
A symbol to lead us, to help us to adopt another form of thinking. A mecanism that would encourage a “long vision”, a vision opened to thé future, as opposed to a “short vision”, the vision of just the present day.
They call it “The Clock of the Long Now”. Their association Is called “Thé Long Now Foundation” And find out its goal: to rethink time and responsibility. To think In a long term instinctively, to think how to better understand the necessity of the long term responsibility. To define a wider operation scope for the notion of responsability.
When you don’t think short term, when you don’t cook short term, you don’t cook for yorself, you don’t cook just for your present ego, you don’t cook just for the present day. You think, you cook for générations to come, you cook for a future community, you cook for your sons. And your son’s sons. You mean to do something still meaningful In générations to come. The Long Now Is an educational frame of mind to expérience, to imagine a time past our present time. The long now – just the sound, the way its resounds it evoques another Space and time. Now – it’s juste daily service, the deadline to respect, the book to finish, the immediate need, the immediate selfish desire. The Long Now it extends itself into time – a space where past and future meet, where the past becomes the future and future fully acknowledges all his appetite for memory.
I want my appetite back.
I want my memory back.
Once in a while I do my ritual coming out. Last january, during a food event, I did my 2012 Coming Out. And said out proudly and loudly: I love Dan Patterson. He is the only guy who can cook with same form of poetry, of elliptical poetry as Gus Van Sant shoots a movie, say “Restless”.
If you do your Coming Out once, you can do it twice. Here it is, another True Story, just for you. Since my early teens, when Patti Smith was wishing to sound like a real fucking Rock’n Nigger, me I was just kid who wished to be a Jew. That was my dream: to be a Jew like Kafka, like Hanna Arendt, like Susan Sontag. To be a Jew like Saul Bellow or the young Roman Polansky. Like Philip Roth or Darren Aronovski. (Of course, had I been a 100% brew Jew, in another life, maybe I could have married the beautiful Anna Polonski.)
I love the Jews because they certainly know a lot about legacy. They know a lot about memory, about heritage, about legacy. In their own way, they truly believe the future lies somewhere in their past. Their culture is geographically determinated but still in uncharted territories. They naturally know how to separate what is relevant and what is not, what might be useful just for today and what is for later, nobler purposes useful for the whole community.
When they play, when they speak, they speak at the first single person, but in their Words, in their music, in their writing there’s always the shape of à plurality, of a community, of à collective identity. They certainly know how to mourn, how to long for what is lost. They know how to depart, how to turn their back to the gimmicky mermaids of the present. They know how to say Good-bye.
We too should say Good-bye and move forward, somewhere else. We should all say Good-bye to present time and invent All together à new one. Hère’s today’s last tip for you. I want to introduce you to my favorite Jewish band.
They might sound à little mormonish, but they truly come from Israel. Their are called Winter Family and this song is like à mantra, like a jewish mantra – if that can exist. A mantra that can teach us how to say Good-bye. To tell in à four minutes long Good-bye the whole story of our past and future lives.
A four minutes mantra for the Long Now.
Hey, don’t you think it’s time we finally try to learn how to say Good-bye? So, Ladies & Gentleman, at least here’s mine. Good-bye.
Photo by Stefano Bonilli
Graphics by Elisia Menduni
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