Friday, June 27, 2008

Interview: Author Agnes Desarthe on Chez Moi...

Myriam, the main character, in Agnes Desarthe's charming new book Chez Moi, (Penguin) describes herself as "The Biggest Fucker-Upper in the World." Through the course of the novel, Myriam manages to pull herself together by opening a 25 seat bistro and forging some unlikely but nurturing friendships with her collaborators. Ms. Desarthe's book is a tribute to the healing and transformative power of food and drink. Ms. Desarthe was nice enough to correspond with MLAF via email from her home in France about her book and her interesting life...

MLAF: I noticed that you used particular titles of books in the context of the story (like Thomas' Under the Milkwood)-Did these titles have a particular significance to you or are they simply there to make a point in the story?

AD" All of the books quoted have a special significance for me. They are all works that I've loved and which stand, according to me, as litterary milestones. They also, for some of them, have a link with the story I'm telling (especially Lewis Caroll, Rilke, Goethe... actually all of them, when I come to think of it!)"

MLAF: Myriam (the lead character) is a very complicated character who has lived a full but hard life-Yet, somehow she remains a figure of glamour in the eye of the reader? How did you manage to pull that off?

AD: "I'm very happy and touched that you should get this impression. I guess that her sensuality is the quality that saves her from despair and shabbiness. She's always ready for an aesthetic/sensual emotion. There is also a certain generosity in her, and a particular kind of naïveness which contributes to keep her young... I think."

MLAF: Did any of your previous writing efforts affect the way you created this book?

AD: "To me, evry book is a step on the way towards the next one, although I never know what's ahead. But the way I created this book has also been affected by my efforts as a translator. I owe a lot to Cynthia Ozick and Virginia Woolf, whose novels I was working on when I started writing Chez moi."

MLAF: In what ways are food and drink important in your everyday life?
(I know this seems an obvious question, so please forgive)

AD: "My kitchen is like a loboratory. I work there, I think about food, but also about words. One of the reasons I've started writing Chez moi was because I realized I was spending more time at my stove than at my writing table. I daydream a lot about cooking. It's a very creative activity and one which allows me to be certain I'm going to please people around me (a very important and deep anchored craving in my life)."

MLAF: What is the most memorable meal you have ever had?

AD: "It was in 2003. We were broke. I was depressed. We decided to go a very good restaurant in Honfleur ( Normandy ). It was heavenly. I went back one other time (I had earned a little money with one book or another) but the chef had changed it was just ordinary. I can't remember what I had to eat. My memory of the dinner itself is very dim. I'm almost certain that the great feeling had to do with spending when broke. Generally I favor home-style cooking and I've never been to a starred restaurant.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mark takes a random tour of New York culinary institutions and lesser lights....

Lynn had given me a gift certificate to spar with the great Michael Oladje at Aerospace; a sleek boxing studio in the meatpacking district. I sparred for an hour and was in NY on a hot, sunny day by 1 pm. I commenced a culinary wander that went like this:

1. Balducci's-A cathedral like market in Chelsea-I got some tuna hear as a substantial, but light snack-The look of the place was much more impressive than the products-

2. S'Nice-A small coffee shop in the meatpacking district that had shelves full of old, scuffed books, baristas with various piercings, a blackboard menu and no A/C-Managed to evoke a wave of early 90's nostalgia in me-They made a nice au lait (in a glass)

3. The Mercer Hotel-This soho "luxury" hotel was visited by Lynn and I in 2004 about a year before Russel Crowe famously threw a phone at a hotel clerk here-We loved it-This time I stopped in to have a late afternoon drink-I ordered a gin martini (Hendricks with a cucumber) that sounded promising, but had too much lime juice-The bar is also poorly situated in the line of customer traffic and there are no barstools to be found (gravely dissapointing since I yearned to be off of my feet). The staff was very nice, but a little awkward and anxious for a hotel of the Mercer's supposed caliber.

4. Bar 89-The best experience of the day-Caught the bar and restaraunt only about 1/4 full-Had a great martini with Grey Goose, St. Germain and Champagne (plus an edible flower)-A lot of nicely shelved and racked magazines and newspapers to read.

5. Dean and Deluca-What used to be the hot place to shop, eat and maybe be seen is an old standby now. Great take out sushi, but not a place to go to when you aren't in the mood for competitive shopping...


Friday, June 13, 2008

The Hotel Indigo: A promising start in unfashionable Newton, Massachusetts

The Hotel Indigo in Newton, near Boston was one of the real surprises of our recent visit to Boston. This hotel, (a converted Sheraton as I understand it) was unimpressive as far as the facade goes with a shabby, nondescript outside. The inside, however, certainly didn't match the outside. Chic and well-lit, the hotel's rooms had a sleekness that reminded us of the W Hotels. Our room had a very cool shower, a nice flat screen television (no longer much of a novelty anywhere), a safe and attractive windows. The bed was far too soft for our tastes, however, and the hotels view leaves a lot to be desired.

The lounges were attractive and the restaurant had a nice wine list (there was a Simi white that was especially good that hot weekend). The menu was large and had some interesting possibilities, but, ultimately, did not live up to its promise. Even basic foods like muffins, eggs and toast tasted non-descript and of poor quality. A request for a simple cheese and fruit plate could not be fulfilled.

The gym was really nice and there are plans in the work as I understand it, to add cabanas, a sophisticated outdoor bar and sauna. There seems to be plans to add a serious bar and restaurant to the hotel at some point in the near future which will certainly upgrade the choice of food.

This hotel has a couple of flaws, but it also has a promising start and a lot of potential. If the exterior is spruced up (which they were working on when we were there) and if they manage to adjust the quality and availability of food, and they finish up some of their ambitious plans this hotel will be one of the Boston areas best.
Hotel Front Desk: 1-617-9695300 | Hotel Fax: 1-617-4543493

Monday, June 2, 2008

Biltmore Pub in Newton Upper Falls, Massachusetts raises the bar on traditional pub food....

A brilliant "gastro-pub" with a self-consciously sophisticated slant on traditional pub fare, Biltmore Pub in Newton Upper Falls (a suburb of Boston) was a pleasant neighborhood surprise on our recent visit to see our daughter graduate from BAC (Boston Archetecture School)-Within walking distance of her home, Biltmore Pub had nice touches such as pommes frittes with Fish & Chips and blue cheese stuffed olives with a nice, bracing martini-

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I (Mark) have written for The Christian Science Monitor, Clear Magazine, Picture Magazine, Film Score Monthly, Dan's Papers, Rue Morgue, In Flight USA and a lot more publications that I can't remember.... My wife Lynn was a model with the Ford Agency and her photography has been featured in most of the publications I have written for...


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