Mediocre egg roll

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When I spend such a vast amount of time reading – losing track even of how many hours pass with my nose in a virtual book – of course I see connections. Most often these are thematic connections that crochet together, however loosely, disparate books and ideas from different parts of the world.

Sometimes though there are just coincidental mentions that seem strange – for instance, choosing randomly to read a Philip Roth (Goodbye Columbus) in which he mentions egg rolls, only to be followed immediately by a Joan Didion (Play It as It Lays), which also mentions egg rolls.

It has no significance. But why is that the one connection… and the one thing I remember? (I do recall my last trip to Iceland when my dear Jane brought over egg rolls and had somehow ordered two orders of them rather than just two egg rolls, and it was actually the best thing about the meal – they were quite good!)

Overdosing on reading, I took a little break Friday evening to watch a “triple feature” of Jaime Rosales’s understated, slice-of-life, ultra-realistic films (on MUBI, of course). And what do they show other than the tedium and brevity of life, punctuated as it is by bits of bad news, manipulative people and occasional dramatic events that upend our lives and sometimes disturb our very souls. And yet the backdrop remains the same: the humdrum, the mundane and the mediocre. And this is a place where the small, almost imperceptible happinesses reside: where a character meets a waitress who comments on how cute her baby son is, where a character can enjoy how much light comes into her flat, where characters at dinner can comment at length on how simple and good the meal turned out, where a character can move little by little past the individual and collective tragedies. We don’t get to see this “striving for normal life” much, certainly not in mainstream films, and certainly not in films that exceed two hours in length (as Solitary Fragments/La Soledad was) or which are essentially without dialogue (Bullet in the Head/Tiro en la Cabeza).

The films were there for me to watch at exactly the right time. After reading an article about the desire for a mediocre life, which unexpectedly struck chords with many of my friends, and thinking about how the simplicity and calm of an average and non-dramatic life is exceptionally fulfilling, the normal and mediocre nature of life as portrayed in these films was illustrative and almost life-affirming. And the things in life that often give us the most are the things that are the most unassuming, the least glamorous. These things, as a 2016 University of Otago study concluded, are small, daily creative pursuits that foster feelings of “flourishing” and make us want to do more. For me, it has often been baking (everyone knows that once I start, it’s hard to stop because I feel productive joy from this simple act and giving the results to others); for others, it is long-distance running; for others, like my mother, it’s knitting. Things that don’t necessarily require excessive resources or expensive equipment, exciting or exotic locations or anything particularly demanding.

Especially after being hit Friday evening with a brief wave of deep sadness and a feeling of loss that sprang up seemingly from nowhere to choke me as I waited in a long, endless Friday evening line at the store.

By the end of the night the feeling had completely washed away, soothed by returning to reading (The Things They Carried and I Do Not Come to You By Chance) and some always-restorative words from a fellow, in his words, “misanthropic mugwump”.

Photo (c) 2011 Annie used under Creative Commons license.

Silly me

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I started reading Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie … and almost immediately recognized the story. A chapter in, I realized that it had been clumsily adapted into a movie I had seen years ago – not a great movie but certainly an interesting and much more cohesive book. I am not sure why, when I have multiple books by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in my to-read list, this is the one I read first. Hmm. Or why this is what I chose when I have a bunch of books in the list I’ve already begun. It ended up being not what I thought it would be.

I’ve watched a few films in recent days as well – Hidden Figures, Fences, Jackie, Manchester by the Sea, Lion – in the last few days. The Oscar bait stuff – all were okay, but none thrilled me.

And now, at last, it is March 1st. Finally. The arbitrary day I have been waiting for. Halfway through February, I managed to force my way out of my standard February depression but could not find motivation beyond that. The mood improved but the output did not. But finally I am going to fake it, force myself to do everything I need to do – or rather more than I need to.

A bright spot – Jon Stewart stopped by Colbert’s show:

“Nobody says ‘Believe me’ unless they are lying”.

La La La La La

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La La Land: “This year’s other best picture nominees have heart, soul and humanity. Damien Chazelle’s tawdry, dispiriting confection has none – it’s the tale of two narcissists who sacrifice love for self-interest”.

On the advice of someone whose taste and opinions I trust, I decided to break my personal non-cinema-going record (hadn’t been to a cinema since June 2009) and fly to Berlin just to see a midday showing of La La Land. Let’s forget the impracticality of my impulsive leap; let’s forget the fact that, despite my multiple confirmations of getting the original-language version, the film was dubbed into German. Let’s just consider the fact that I still felt deeply saddened by the film, even if I could not understand every word that was said. (I later saw it in English to pick up the nuances and bits I’d missed.)

My trusted source, who had recommended it, felt that it was uplifting, if I may paraphrase his post-viewing thoughts, because the couple (spoiler alert), despite not ending up together in the long run, inspired each other to do great things, to follow their dreams.

As the aforementioned Guardian review points out: “They get together when their careers are failing, and spend their time sharing notes. Once they have co-mentored themselves on to the road to personal advancement, they ditch each other like a rocket’s blast-off section.”

I can see and support this interpretation logically, without putting such a negative spin on it (it is a film, meant to be entertaining in some way, after all). The ‘support’ and ‘seeing talent and beauty in each other and encouraging it’ angle is only one edge of the sword; the other is that both characters were using each other, as the Guardian suggests.

Going by how I felt after seeing it without being able to understand everything being said, I knew that my feelings were not admiring the ‘mutual support’ and the characters being who they needed to be for each other until they made it or didn’t need each other any more. At least it was not the complete feeling. I cried, felt moved, but could not pinpoint exactly what made it so deeply sad for me. I did, after all, share many of the same complaints about the film’s many shortcomings (bad singing, a lacklustre chemistry, the co-opting and simplifying of jazz as a musical genre, and blah blah blah) that the article highlights but still was able to overlook them for the sake of finding some greater meaning.

“Greater meaning”, though, all filters through the prism of your own state of mind and emotional being at the time of viewing and later reflection. Thus I was able to wring mammoth amounts of emotion from even my dubbed German viewing, but this may only be because of my own topsy-turvy emotional state at the time.

It is only now, reading this review, that I see reflected in words what I was unable to articulate: these two people (potentially ‘narcissists’, according to the article) sacrificed love for self-interest. Again, setting aside the fact that I did not necessarily find their “love” all that believable or compelling, it still ended up disposable and was easily cast aside to pursue other things.

“We can now see why these sweethearts separate. On their last night together they pledge eternal love; but they also promise to follow their dreams. For them, the latter was bound to trump the former: self-worship brooks no distractions. If, at the end, Seb seems a little lonely and Mia seems a little bored, no matter. Their final smiles indicate that both have attained what really matters: self-satisfaction.

Still, La La Land is a film for our time. With our self-nurturing, self-promotion, clicktivism, Twitterstorms, sexts and selfies, we are all narcissists now.”

And you know, that is not entirely unrealistic. Do we not meet people when things in our lives are falling apart, less than ideal, and make pledges of undying love and then somehow rebuild around them but then run far and fast as we ‘follow our dreams’?

Unfortunate Coincidence (Dorothy Parker)

By the time you swear you’re his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying –
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.

It happens every day, and sometimes for very good reason (I even applauded the ‘leaving a relationship, forgoing love for personal goals’ move heartily in my previous post on the women of the mostly crap TV show, Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce). I don’t want or need every movie (or any movie, really) to have a standard Hollywood ending wherein the couple ends up together. But when I saw the film, I needed to see (and believe) that love could be strong enough to win and could be stronger than circumstance or even self-interest.

Photo (c) 2017 Lisa Zins

The Netflix foreign language queue

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For the first time in forever – in the entire history of my Netflix subscription (which dates back to the DVD-by-mail-only subscription of the pre-streaming days) – my queue is under 50 objects. It’s astounding to have whittled down the list by so much (two-thirds).

The problem now is that the only remaining items are mostly films in languages I don’t understand at all (Romanian, for example, such as the one I’m watching now – Tuesday, After Christmas) or languages I understand to varying degrees but still need to glance at subtitles now and again (the Spanish language, French language, etc.). Either way, almost none of what remains in the queue is mindless enough that I can just multitask the way I normally do with half-brain-dead English-language fare, such as the seven mind-numbing seasons of Gilmore Girls or the next hurdle, The West Wing, of which I had previously seen quite a lot but not all. Upon second viewing, I’m finding it annoying. It’s great that there are loads of interesting things to see, but they will require my near-full attention, and I am just not sure I am ready to commit (as is the case in so many aspects of my life).

Likelier to be a Dirty Astronaut: Five Admissions

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It’s the last day of March, and I am not fond of listening to most English accents. I admit it. I have gone from an adolescent anglophile to… well, this person who just does not want to hear it. I like to joke about it and imitate it à la “You don’t know me at all. I don’t need to be drunk to talk dirty.” (Because one of the only words that sounds best in English-English and can really only be taken seriously from the mouth of an English person is “dirty”.) Admission number one.

Admission number two. Watching movies in which a character finds out she is pregnant and then has to tell someone else she is pregnant (especially someone who has a stake in the pregnancy, i.e., the father), sort of freaks me out emotionally. Seeing these reactions – fictional though they may be – the processing that takes place… the characters’ place in life – some wanting a baby, some not at all, some shocked or horrified, not even thinking “baby” is on their life’s radar when it comes into being. Watching these reactions makes me think about how I doubt I will ever have this kind of conversation – and up to this point would not have had this conversation even in the event of pregnancy. It occurs to me right now as sort of sad because I have been determined to go it alone. No illusions, no expectations, no surprises – the hard work would be mine alone.

I think this all hit me the other night when I watched the film Short Term 12. The main character (played by the suddenly-everywhere Brie Larson) discovers she is pregnant and eventually tells her boyfriend. His surprise, initial reaction (which seemed almost as though he was stunned – negatively – gave way to a lot of joy and support), interested me as well. The actor’s face registered such shock and surprise in that moment… the reality dawning on him in just a few seconds – I am not sure I have seen a purer reaction in a film before. (Incidentally, I had never really seen the actor – John Gallagher Jr before except in the often-grating and thankfully almost-over The Newsroom, in which he portrays one of the only likeable characters.) I am, and I say this with a tinge of regret and wistfulness, more likely to become an astronaut than a mother at this point in my life.

Admission number three. I am always – always – too curious about things and particularly about people, which almost never ends well. When someone seems really out there and bizarre, I find that I want to get to the heart of their pathology – or at least their deep-seated irregularities. Several years ago, I briefly talked to/had a few conversations with someone who was, for lack for a better or less repetitive term, way out there and completely fucked-up. His proclivities and perverse predilections (insofar as I knew the extent of them, which, as it turns out, I didn’t. What I knew was only the tip of the iceberg – and not illegal) were so bizarre that it was like watching a building collapse in slow motion. He slowly revealed things about himself that were disturbing and sad – but did not even begin to reflect what would come later, long after I no longer knew him. It was a brief acquaintance that ended almost as soon as it began. But my too-curious mind Googled him after a couple of years and found that he had apparently been arrested for something very serious, tried to commit suicide, was put on house arrest and then disappeared before his court date (or something resembling this chain of events). He thus ended up on his state’s most-wanted list of fugitives. The whole thing was rather shocking but satisfied (or even overly satisfied) my curiosity. Then, the other day, after a couple more years had passed, I looked up his name again to see if he had been captured or if anything new had come to light about the situation… only to learn that he is dead. Apparently he died on the opposite side of the country from where he was a wanted man, using an assumed identity – and died of pneumonia!? From the little I knew of him, he was someone who wanted to die and therefore took all the risks a person can take. I am not surprised to learn that he is dead, but it still rests uneasily in my mind – like what a horrible end. What a horrible life, really.

Admission number four. I have often laughed at Swenglish – the fluent but strange Swedish-English concoction that escapes Swedes’ mouths when they quite ably speak English. One of the things that gets me, much more than the “yoy” rather than “joy” and the “shat” for “chat”, is the tendency to form a “dju” sound at the beginning of words that start with a “u” sound when combined with some other preceding sound. You will thus hear something like, “When we worked in the UK” as “When we worked in the Ju-Kay”. Recently I heard someone say, “The views that we works with” but it sounded like “The Jews that we work with”.

Admission number five. “I love everything about you.

 

Why I Changed My Mind: Matthew McConaughey

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I know I am not alone in having shifted my view on Matthew McConaughey in recent months. With the swift one-two punch of his performances in Dallas Buyers Club and, more importantly, HBO’s True Detective, it’s hard to ignore his shift. Half-naked king of the romcom for much of his career, coupled with what seemed like very little personality, McConaughey has always been easy to peg, apart from a few good turns in a few mostly overlooked earlier films (A Time to Kill, Contact, Amistad and Frailty spring to mind. These films touched the surface of what McConaughey might be capable of, but he did not go in that direction – or perhaps he did not get the opportunity to do so until later – confirming the idea that men become more interesting as they get older – at least for me).

His path to “career rebranding”, which some have referred to as his “McConnaissance”, is chronicled in a number of articles that actually point to McConaughey’s wife, crediting her influence for his recent choices – not pushing him but supporting him to make his own choices. I have given that concept a lot of thought (i.e. “Behind every great man is an even greater woman”). While something quite that extreme might not be completely the case, I have seen a lot of cases where a person (man or woman) can be more of a follower until someone who is totally supportive of them and their vision for themselves inspires them to lead their own way. Perhaps this grounding influence moved McConaughey out of the mindless and shirtless romcom arena, in the more thoughtful direction his current career has taken him. As the New Yorker article observes: “The McConaughey that we are getting now is casually weird and much darker than expected. He seems unshackled after decades of trying to be a matinée idol, an affable, guileless human glass of sweet tea.” What better way to describe it?

McConaughey’s roles in small, somewhat overlooked films (later in his career), such as Bernie, quietly propelled him in a new direction. Then with a powerhouse succession of small and large roles in Mud, Magic Mike, The Wolf of Wall Street (the only part of the movie I liked), he was well-primed to take people by surprise in the aforementioned Dallas Buyers Club and the great True Detective.

Considered, reconsidered: I can’t definitively say that I love and revere McConaughey as an actor, but he is the best thing in a great show (True Detective) – I was hooked immediately. I do hope this trend of interesting and unusual choices continues.

Driven by film – at least it isn’t Danish

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When actors die suddenly, à la prolific and talented-beyond-words Philip Seymour Hoffman, I want to spend a lot of time focused on watching films – whether they include that actor or not. Just to enjoy the performances that exist.

When I get sad – for good reasons or no reason at all I am also tempted by sad movies (believing while watching the stories unfold that things could always be worse).

Yesterday, apart from watching a documentary on Mitt Romney (and see his whole Mormon family pray together), I watched The Hunt (Jagten). Great film – disturbing, great performance from Mads Mikkelsen and, in keeping with my preferred theme of “it could always be worse” – I can see that the story of a man falsely accused of child abuse is one such strand. Speaking and listening to Danish is the other such strand. Any language one speaks, s/he can console him/herself that at least it isn’t Danish.

Why I Changed My Mind: Julie Delpy

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Julie Delpy is, for lack of a better term, a real woman. A woman of many talents, not afraid to be herself, not afraid to be quirky. And not even afraid to be a bitch. When she was younger, it was hard to see things like Europa Europa, her guest arc on the TV hit ER or Trois Couleurs: Blanc and see her as anything but bitchy – her roles were sort of icy or manipulative in ways that made it hard to see her in any other light. And things like Before Sunrise with the generally overrated Ethan Hawke did not lend any charm – a favorite “romance” flick for Gen Xers, Before Sunrise, never appealed to me (like most Gen X pop-culture goalposts and anthems, such as Reality Bites – also with Hawke or Singles, which still does not make sense to me).

The subsequent nine-year intervals between sequels to Before Sunrise, though, have made the films Before Sunset and Before Midnight quite compelling – and I think this is all down to Delpy. Since I don’t get and have never gotten the Ethan Hawke thing (somehow he was the one in Dead Poet’s Society who was singled out for attention, when it was Robert Sean Leonard‘s passionate and tragic turn as Neil that got my attention. Or the passionate, do-anything-for-the-girl classic guy-with-crush performance of Josh Charles as Knox Overstreet. What did Ethan Hawke do in that movie that was so remarkable except defy authority and be the first to jump up on a desk at the end? Yet Ethan Hawke has been the movie star and these others have been “television actors” in popular and well-respected shows, such as House and The Good Wife (and no, I don’t mean that in the snide way Warden Gentles did in Arrested Development), I can only imagine that the load is carried in large part by Delpy.

After the aforementioned “cold” roles in her early career, followed by some missteps like Killing Zoe and An American Werewolf in Paris, I think I could be forgiven my rush to harsh judgment. None of this is to say that her talents went unrecognized – I never watched these films and believed she lacked talent or was just playing variations of herself. I just wondered how it was that she always played this aloof or sometimes misguided character (thinking here of her “Leni” in Europa Europa – she was passionate all right, but the passion was wholly devoted to producing children for Hitler’s “pure Germany”. Perhaps in hindsight I can applaud Delpy’s believability because that role had to have been hard to pull off).

My re-evaluation of Delpy began when I saw Before Sunset. Yeah, I know – I hated Before Sunrise but still had enough curiosity to see where Jesse and Celine (the characters) ended up. I like to torture myself this way, watching things I don’t like, listening to music I don’t like – perhaps just to remind me that there are other, much more beautiful things to watch and hear in the world. But Before Sunset surprised me. Later I saw Delpy in other roles but really decided I liked her after seeing Two Days in Paris (and later, the even funnier Two Days in New York). (I also enjoyed the on-screen keying of cars that Delpy’s father engages in – dismissing it as “normal French behavior” – exactly what I have been trying to tell everyone who isn’t French!) Her performances were subdued and grounded in reality – and that transformed the way I saw her and interpreted her roles.

The change in my opinion also came about because I liked learning that Delpy is so active behind the camera as a writer and director – I love the idea that someone creates the stories they want to see, or they want to appear in. I have read a few interviews where Delpy has kind of downplayed the uniqueness of being a female director, particularly because France actually has quite a number of well-respected, well-known women directors. But this is rather an anomaly in the cinematic world. Not every country has a Claire Denis, an Agnès Jaoui, a Catherine Breillat, a Josiane Balasko, a Mia Hansen-Løve and the countless other women who direct films in France. Delpy can, I hope, forgive the rest of the cinema-loving world for admiring the rarity of her multitasking, multitalented jack-of-all-trades approach to her artistic career.

My feelings should not be overly influenced by what I read or the person Delpy is or appears to be – but the truth is, reading about her own feelings of insecurity or feeling like “a cow” after her child was born – and seeing how she actually looks like a real woman – a stunningly beautiful and stunningly natural woman – imbues her performances with a kind of earthy reality that is not easily found, felt or seen elsewhere. I don’t often have commentary on how actors and actresses look. They are resoundingly “perfect” and put together most of the time, and the especially beautiful and polished are slathered in accolades if they do anything that might make them seem anything less than perfect. It’s like becoming a regular or slightly unattractive person makes a beautiful person an automatic consideration for acting awards. Is that really the measure of how well someone acts? How much vanity they are willing to give up – temporarily, note – to alter their appearance?

Not the point. The point is that Delpy actually looks and sounds the part (“the part” being a woman in her 30s/early 40s). Contributing to the scripts for both Before Sunset and Before Midnight, the conversation – content and pace – throughout feels almost dull at times but in a refreshing and good way. Why? Because that’s how real conversation is. Sometimes it digs into emotion, sometimes it digs into feelings and insecurities and vulnerabilities, sometimes it is witty, sometimes it is just the kind of petty shit that people hurl at each other in moments of weakness, despair, anger. It’s not perfect – but in that way, it’s perfect. A perfect reflection of everyday life. In Before Midnight, Delpy especially – but really the whole cast (which is mostly Delpy and Hawke) – captures, with almost no action – the up-and-down nature of a relationship. Before Sunrise was lauded for supposedly capturing this, but it’s easy to have two young, idealistic adults meet and talk all night and have it be the most romantic night of their lives. Before Midnight, though, is entirely another level of “romantic” because it had to capture two people who had actually idealized each other when they were young – it showed the reality of what happens if someone pursues the “what might have been” or “the one who got away”. It isn’t going to be ideal. If anything, the dialogue and performances convey perfectly the fragility of relationships. All the things unsaid, the resentment, the misinterpretations – and the question of whether love is ever really enough.

Why I Changed My Mind: Lucy Liu

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The other day I wrote a lot about Julianne Nicholson (and every time I write “Julianne” I am very tempted to write “Julianne Moore” since she springs to mind first) – which made me think a lot about the cast of Ally McBeal – one of the shows I have disliked most in my prolific television-viewing history. Many actors associated with the show earned my dislike simply because they were in the show. Some have redeemed themselves in other ways – at least partially – including Lucy Liu.

Lucy Liu has a long television history that I won’t recount. Her bit parts here and there in her early career were not memorable or offensive, but only worth mentioning to note that she has been around for a long time, paying her dues.

She has also been in a bunch of high-profile films, like Charlie’s Angels, which I could do without (even if I am quite sure she was, to use a phrase I would never use but am today, kick-ass in her role).  Perhaps more notable – and about when I started to change my mind about her – the Kill Bill films from Quentin Tarantino. Liu owned her role as O-Ren Ishii and is actually one of the more memorable parts of the Kill Bill series for me.

Another role that made me think twice was Liu’s presence in the musical Chicago. The first time I saw it, I hated it but sat through it anyway. Subsequent viewings have softened my feelings – and I have begun to appreciate it. Liu’s role as Kitty Baxter was not huge – but it was another that remains memorable.

I caught Liu’s roles in the inane Cashmere Mafia (not sure that one is forgivable), the sometimes very entertaining Dirty Sexy Money and ultimately a surprising role that I found quite redeeming, Officer Jessica Tang in the underappreciated cop drama, Southland.

Considered, reconsidered: Where I went from just appreciating Liu and feeling she had been fully absolved of her Ally McBeal and Cashmere Mafia guilt to actually really liking her has been her starring role in Elementary with Jonny Lee Miller. Her serenity and subdued smarts play well off Miller’s portrayal of the over-the-top mad genius, Sherlock Holmes. Liu embraces what has traditionally been a male role and turns it into something all her own in the Elementary version of this classic tale.

Why I Changed My Mind: Jamie Oliver

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In the overwhelming tidal wave of television chefs who show up everywhere, there are very few who interest me. I like to look back to the old days of TV cookery to the seemingly awkward Julia Child or the stark raving drunk Galloping Gourmet, Graham Kerr, filled the screen. Cooking on TV has always been a thing, often relegated to the domain of public television alongside quite tame “educational programming” (which was, fair enough, not always tame – most foreign films shown on American TV in the old days appeared on PBS – and those films are very rarely what anyone would call “tame”. After all, it was on PBS that I first saw the original version – not the inane Guy Ritchie/Madonna remake – of Lina Wertmüller’s Swept Away).

But things change, and everything is fair game as entertainment – even cooking. Enter the era of the celebrity chef, which arguably has made people a lot more interested in cooking stuff for themselves but has unfortunately launched some, let’s say, unqualified characters into stardom. Undeserved? Who knows? If someone wants to watch Rachael Ray, for example, who is a businessperson and entertainer – not a chef – and supremely annoying to boot – that’s up to them. These celebrity “food handlers” (since they are not chefs in many cases) entertain, bring in viewers and that’s the bottom line now that there are entire TV channels devoted to all manner of food, cooking, taking shortcuts in cooking and so on.

Most of these people – I can take them or leave them. Jamie Oliver is one that I could – or thought I could – easily leave. His accent alone bugs me (just for Esteban: “the shit just got reaw” – not even sure how to linguistically render in writing the dropped-off “L” at the end of words so characteristic of Oliver’s speaking), but then the messiness of his approach to food – always getting his hands deeply dug into all kinds of greasy, slimy foods – even to the point that he advocates wearing gloves to do it sometimes – makes me a bit queasy. I can’t pinpoint what exactly it is that annoys me. Even going to the grocery store and seeing his line of pastas and spices and whatnot – that is just too much. The overcommercialization does very little for me. Why would I buy a Jamie Oliver skillet when I can get a much cheaper and superior cast iron skillet and be happier with it? Personally when I buy kitchen goods, I don’t want any pseudo-celeb’s face on it. I will stick with the basics (even if there are times when tools that go beyond the basics and are extremely useful, even if singular in their use – like garlic presses or a “cupcake holer”. I am usually a firm believer in the “for every task, there is a proper tool” school of thought).

For those frequent cupcake-filling emergencies

For those frequent cupcake-filling emergencies

But I will be damned if I don’t get pulled in every time I accidentally end up on a Jamie Oliver program on TV. I don’t even own a TV at home, so these accidents rarely occur. But because I spend most weekday evenings in hotels, I’ve got a wide range of channels – and twice in the last year, I’ve landed on Jamie Oliver shows and found myself glued to the TV. After he finished each recipe, I prompted myself, “Change the channel, damn you!”

But I was paralyzed. And why? Truth is – he was making stuff that sounded really amazing. Believe me, I don’t use the word “amazing” lightly because I believe it is one of the most overused and misused words in the English language. When someone tells me it would be “amazing” if I could make a tight deadline or deliver a box of cookies for their party, I think “amazing” is definitely overstating the case. But when you can create something that really wows the taste buds without overexerting yourself or spending all day doing it – that IS amazing. I am positively gobsmacked every time I can manage to cook actual food that really amazes someone.

The first Jamie Oliver program I saw (Jamie’s Great Britain, which was a fascinating look at food in Great Britain, in case anyone imagined that food there completely sucks!) featured roasted chicken and potatoes – I have now made both several times to great success, albeit with my own little alterations.

Yesterday, I turned on the telly and it was a program (Jamie at Home) dedicated to pumpkin and squash – be still my heart. He really highlighted the versatility of these kinds of vegetables – making an absolutely fantastic butternut squash soup, a duck and pumpkin salad and some butternut squash spice walnut cupcakes. Naturally I am going to try this stuff out next time I have a guest to feed. I don’t get around to cooking for myself but for others, I will go all out.

Considered, reconsidered – the important thing here is maybe that I can find Jamie Oliver annoying until the end of time, but what he does turns on my culinary curiosities and experimental bent – so he is definitely doing something right. The fact that the recipes are easy to follow and he makes them look easy if you follow a few steps does not hurt – and the results have always exceeded expectations.