High Bonnet

Full Title: High Bonnet: A Novel of Epicurean AdventuresHigh Bonnet by Idwal Jones
Author: Idwal Jones with introduction by Anthony Bourdain
Publisher: Modern Library (Random House, Inc.) (2001)
Number of Pages: 136
How long it took me to read: 1 week, 6 days
Where I bought this book: Used bookstore in Sacramento, CA
ISBN: 0-375-75756-2

Like a Moth to a Flame

I bought this book, along with Eating Crow by Jay Rayner, as a souvenir from my first visit to Sacramento, CA. I discovered both at a shop we yelped before leaving the hotel one morning as we prepared to embark upon a naive and blissfully ignorant walking tour of the city. The Book Collector is established in the fine art of buying and selling used books since 1995, which quite honestly doesn’t sound like a very impressive history, but when you consider that most streets in the state’s capital are lined with boarded-up storefronts, tainted with the failure of not having managed to survive the recession, 1995 isn’t so bad. In any case, I didn’t enter the store; I didn’t have to. The $1.00 racks just outside the entrance were stocked with more than enough discarded treasure to satisfy my appetite. The books I chose both happened to be food-related, which surely must have had something to do with the fact that I had been walking for four foggy miles on an empty stomach.

Favorite Five

Whittling 8 down to 5…I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “Into the Rue Mouffetard we entered. Its air sparkled with frost under a chill and blue December sky. A week of mild heat and nights of plumping rain in Brittany had garnished the stalls with the splendor of early vegetables: hampers of endives, truffles, mushrooms, and cress; a plentitude of herbs; and crates of geese so fat that ancient kitcheners leaning on sticks, dewdrop on nose and coat collars turned up, gazed at them lost in dreams.” (p.93)

4. “He served the Montepulciano. The aroma of it – a mellow, winy tapestry, woven patiently by six decades of time in some dark Apennine crypt – filled the room. We were not alone. History, art, and religion crowded in with the music of trumpets and gnawing horns.” (p.42)

3. “After three or four puffs her opulent forearm, like a sack of semiliqueous fat, looped delicately at the bangled wrist, fell; the Baroness was asleep.” (p.8)

2. “She dabbed with lumps of bread and pushed them, dripping with sauce, into her mouth in absorption, as if listening to the orchestration of flavors echoing against the soundingboard of her palate.” (p.12)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “Pierre mixed the salad. The romaine and cress he doused with walnut oil chilled to an emulsion, turning it with wooden forks so that the bruises showed on the green in dark lines. He poured on the souring of wine vinegar and the juice of young grapes, seasoned with shallots, pepper and salt, a squeeze of anchovy, and a pinch of mustard. At the Faison d’Or the salad was in wedlock with the roast.” (p.24)

New Words

Words are wondrous creatures. Put them together and they paint a picture. Rearrange them and the scene changes. But to be able to see what they are saying, we must first know what they mean.

Out of the 10 I had to look up, here are a few new words that came to me through this book:

New Word: predilection (noun)

Definition (Source: WordBook iPhone App): 1) a predisposition in favor of something; 2) a strong liking
Synonyms: preference, orientation, penchant, taste
Origins: From French ‘prédilection’
As in: “Early chefs’ predilection for alternating unbelievably obscene tirades with withering sarcasm became overnight an art form to be appreciated and emulated – even when I was a hapless target of their scorn.” (p.xii)

New Word: sybaritic (adjective)

Definition (Source: WordBook iPhone App): displaying luxury and furnishing gratification to the senses
Synonyms: epicurean, luxurious, luxuriant, voluptuary, voluptuous
Origins (Source: Word-Origins.com): From sybarite (circa 1500s): Sybaris was an ancient Greek colony in southern Italy. It was a flourishing trading centre, and its inhabitants put their considerable wealth to the service of unrestrained self-indulgence. Their luxurious and debauched ways became a byword in the ancient world, and Greek Subarī́tēs ‘inhabitant of Sybaris’ came to be synonymous with ‘pleasure-seeker’, and also with ‘lecher’ – both heterosexual and homosexual. English acquired the word via Latin Sybarīta, and has rather toned down its connotations.
As in: “A goose may be erratic, but it is never dense. Loathing discomfort, as sybaritic as a peacock or a swan, it prefers a warm shelter to a hammering in the gale.” (p.10)

New Word: erudition (noun)

Definition (Source: WordBook iPhone App): profound scholarly knowledge
Synonyms: eruditeness, learnedness, learning, scholarship, encyclopedism, encycloaedism
Origins (Source: Word-Origins.com): From erudite (circa 1400s): To be erudite is literally to be the opposite of ‘rude’. Latin rudis (source of English rude) meant ‘rough, unpolished’, and so ērudīre, a compound verb formed with the prefix ex- ‘out of, from’, signified ‘take the roughness out of’, hence ‘polish, teach’. Its past participle formed the basis of an adjective, ērudītus ‘(well) taught’, which as borrowed into English has acquired the greater gravitas of ‘learned’.
As in: “Monsieur Paul had erudition in his craft and a knowledge of art and the classics. His endowment was an exquisite palate, curious yet austere, and so edged that it could cleave through a strange dish and its complexities to the intent of the chef, as swiftly as a yataghan to the heart of a melon.” (p.20)

New Word: arcana (noun)

Definition (Source: WordBook iPhone App): information known only to a special group
Synonyms: secret
Origins (Source: Word-Origins.com): From arcane (circa 1500s): Arcane comes from the Latin adjective arcānus ‘hidden, secret’. This was formed from the verb arcēre ‘close up’, which in turn came from arca ‘chest, box’ (source of English ark). The neuter form of the adjective, arcānum, was used to form a noun, usually used in the plural, arcāna ‘mysterious secrets’.
As in: “Furthermore, he was a geographer, and so learned in the arcana of foods that if you mentioned any point on this revolving globe he could tell you whatever it produced edible, and how much it was entitled to respect.” (p.28)

New Word: indurate (adjective)

Definition (Source: WordBook iPhone App): emotionally hardened
Synonyms: callous, pachydermatous
Origins (Source: Dictionary.com): Indurate is derived from the past participle of Latin ‘indurare,’ from in-, intensive prefix + durare, “to harden,” from durus, “hard”.
As in: “Connoisseurship exacts too often its penalty. Savors pall, the taste buds dull, the palate grows as indurated as the sole of an old boot or the conscience of a judge.” (p.32)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“I won’t lie to you. I won’t pretend that I’m not excited about starting this book. I’ve been eating the same four meals everyday for two weeks. I feel healthy, but my taste buds are protesting and that’s saying quite a lot considering the generally calm, subdued nature of my buds. I’m hoping a little culinary verbiage will satisfy their appetite for new flavors, at least until I find the time to update the weekly menu.”

“Having just finished Bourdain’s introduction to the book, I can’t wait to read Medium Raw (a book high on my depressingly long wishlist). His implacable tone is as sharp as a cleaver decapitating the dullness of modern-day delirium, forcefully yanking me out of the dull haze of forced sterility – the kind you find sauntering through 21st century kitchens or adding just the right amount of stale seasoning to the words on so many of our pages.

“In some parallel universe, a medlar vendor pedals his fruit to patrons filling their glasses at cafés along the Toulon wharf. The ripeness of the fruit brings news of April’s arrival, heightening the excitement of the winter-worn as summer prepares for her fashionably late entrance.

“In my universe, the one this one of me inhabits, showers have finally subsided, allowing for the fragrance of fresh blooms to flood the air with fountains of erupting scents. I see the flowers rushing by in a blur through the mottled train window, occasionally catching glimpses of the glistening morning dew moisturizing their delicate flesh. It’s April here, too. Now, we’re connected, the book and I; it’s page one.”

“Some would say, “It was really dark.” Idwal, on the other hand, arranging a beautiful sequence of thoughts:

“In the dimness where one could see little, in a silence that was complete except for the doves on the roof tiles, the olfactory nerves were the one channel to the senses.” (p.7)

“It makes me wonder, how does expressive writing affect the reader? How do I change as a person, as a reader, as a writer, after stepping into the creative caverns of a writer, who found time and reason to write more than was necessary, for what I can only assume was a desire to indulge the reader?

“I’m happy and I’m convinced that I’ll have a better day, all because I read something beautiful this morning. Regardless of whether it truly was the words that brought me happiness or whether they were just the conduit for a change of perception, the fact is that I’m better for having come across them. I’m even inspired to weave my own verbal tapestries, which goes to show that my muse isn’t my only source of inspiration. But what’s most disturbing is the feeling of sadness that threatens to coat the back of my mind like the thick fog blanketing the fishing fleets in the Kingdom of Fife. I feel disconnected from Idwal’s world. I live in a land of twits and faceless books, where people don’t spend time with each other anymore because their reports are overdue and the groceries refuse to buy themselves. If only those reports were made up of words worth reading, words that sparked splendor and detonated the inner delights that we so proudly pack away in the chests of toys that eventually make their way to second-hand stores and lists of the Craig and Bay kind.

“Did I get out at the wrong station? Was I late for my train? I don’t seem to understand how to reconcile the differences in values. Maybe that’s what second-hand bookstores are for – to cater to those of us left scattered like marbles on a playing field that feels…mangled.”

“Certain scenes resurface memories I made with Joanne and Vianne in The Lollipop Shoes – the musty shop in the village square catering to the gluttonous desires of high ranking locals, the detailed descriptions of the alchemical transformations of orange peel and spices. Perhaps it’s been my muse all along, preparing me for my journey with Idwal, enticing me with the scents of spices; perhaps that’s why I’ve been using such a heavy hand to season my coffee with cinnamon all week; perhaps all things beautiful are connected.

“Yet not all of any one thing can be entirely beautiful, as was the case with the ptarmigan scene. After impatiently rummaging through dank cupboards in search of something to cook for dinner, Uncle Abel ‘hooked in a vast, fighting harpy of a goose,’ who was desperately struggling in front of his shop to find solid footing in the mistral gales of that dark night. I’m convinced that its fighting stance it adopted on account of an inner knowing of its impending fate as the ptarmigan, coated in wine and tangerine essence, that the ravenous group would feast upon that night. It just so happens that the same day on which I briskly walked through the dark alley of that unfortunate scene, a flock of geese chose my neighbor’s roof across the courtyard as their pit stop to a land of sun and warmth, free from any signs of northern French winds. I much prefer the bravado of their honking chorus to the mental image of their crackling skin in a private inferno. That reminds me, must restock supply of cannellini beans for upcoming week’s dinners.”

‘No meal could have been simpler. Invigorated as by a tide, we felt a renewal of bodily and spiritual strength.’ (p.71)

“Oh, dear Idwal, so did I! Today, I feasted on artisan bread – the kind whose crust crumbles in chunks, thick and dark from the flames of a real fire. I fondled its flesh, admiring the hours of kneading the gifted baker devoted to setting the scene for a lunch I traveled hundreds of miles to enjoy; a lunch that brought me back to memories thousands of miles away.

“The elegance of a simple dish made of real ingredients that play to each other’s strengths is enough to bring tears to my taste bud’s eyes. I sometimes wonder if dietary restriction makes food taste better when you actually indulge. I sometimes wonder if it isn’t the food at all, but the memories it makes, that feed one’s ravenous soul. And yet, although I feel the suggestion of a renewal of bodily and spiritual strength, I find myself growing increasingly impatient for a proper night’s slumber, uninterrupted by violent alarms and cackling crows. Just a few hundred more miles until we return to the ground, just a few more clusters of cloud. Soon enough, I’ll dissolve into my feathered haven to retreat into my unseen worlds. Until then, I’ll attempt to blend the memories of my simple meal with Idwal’s account of his own, pretending, at least for a moment, that our worlds have crossed once again.”

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  1. […] It’s a souvenir from my first visit to Sacramento, CA. You can read more about that trip in the High Bonnet review. […]

  2. […] High Bonnet: A Novel of Epicurean Adventures by Idwal Jones […]

  3. RICHARD says:

    Yes, Sacramento, CA always makes bad impression.
    Thank you for marvelous review.
    I can’t wait to consume this Book!


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