Dinner last night at Pintxo, small dishes of heavenly food in the Spanish or Basque style. Octopus stuffed with crab-meat, tiny Atlantic oysters with a surf of pureed celeriac, beef carpaccio with Manchego cheese, a lovely sardine marinated in something bright, and so on. A candlelit room, perfect service.
We walked back in the cold night to our warm bed at the Gingerbread Manor. And I missed having a book to read at bedtime. I packed the New Yorker food issue and it’s great but I’m thinking longingly of Wallace Stegner’s Mormon Country waiting on the bedside table at Forrest and Manon’s house in Ottawa. Somehow I never read this during my long infatuation with Stegner (I count Wolf Willow among my all-time favourite books) and I began it the other day with such pleasure. Years ago our family lived in Utah for a winter when John was a visiting poet at Brigham Young University. It was our first encounter with Mormon culture and I was fascinated by both the sense of community we found there but also the differences between us and them. We drank wine, we drank coffee (still do!), we didn’t believe in God (still don’t!), and the notion of top-down authority (usually male) didn’t sit well with me (still doesn’t). But the kindness and generosity of the people we lived amongst was wonderful and I loved their sense of the importance of family stories to help anchor an individual within the community.
I always have a big pile of books at hand and this morning I’m feeling a little bereft. I’ve read Adam Gopnik’s account of the battle between the cronut and the pretzel croissant (only in New York!) and Dana Goodyear’s article about elite meat and I want something more substantial — a novel or more Stegner. At home I recently read Richard Flanagan’s brilliant The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Fred Stenson’s Who by Fire which changes forever the way I’ll think about oil and farming. And Olivia Laing’s harrowing analysis of writers and their relationship to alcohol, The Trip to Echo Spring. (I loved John Berryman’s Dream Songs as a young writer and the account of his final years was so sad.)
In a little while we’ll pull our suitcases through Montreal’s snowy streets to the train station. We’re heading to Quebec City for a few days before returning to Ottawa on Friday where Brendan, Cristen, and baby Kelly will join us all for the weekend. And I can finish Mormon Country, a rich and evocative read…