Posted in book review, 미분류

Democratizing Delicacies

The delicacy of life that sprinkles flavors to our otherwise mundane routine of everyday life is not a prerogative of the rich. American Catholic saint Dorothy Day once gave a diamond ring donated by a wealthy woman to a poor demented old lady and riposted to a chiding onlooker thus: “Do you suppose that God created diamonds only for the rich?” In this light of democratizing luxuries, Chef Marie-Antoine Careme championed the world of haute cuisine available to all walks of life and shared his knowledge and experience of Haute culinary arts for the use and enjoyment of the public.

Born into a poverty-stricken peasant family in 1784, Crame was abandoned at ten by his father, who told him to make use of his cleverness for his future. Before long, Careme found an apprenticeship to a famous patisserie. That was the beginning of his long, epoch-making legacy of master patisserie. With an innate intelligence and passion for culinary art, he opened his patisserie within a couple of years. His ingenuity for culinary art and a happy chance led him to a top diplomat’s chef to cook diplomatic banquets, for which he became the most sought-after chef in Paris. The success catapulted him to opening a famous patisserie at 19 on the rue de la Paix, baking the wedding cake for Napoleon and Marie-Louise of Austria. If Napoleon conjures up an image of a scrumptiously layered piece of Napoleon, Careme is smiling in a constellation of artists in heaven. Careme’s popularity endowed him with a celebrity figure in post-revolution, industrial age Europe where the luminary la dolce vita aristocrats commandeered was beginning to shine on those on the low rungs of social ladders. Careme might have been an ambitious entrepreneur to mark his name all over Europe with the crowning glory of lucrative success, but no one else but he tried to share the taste with the crowd indiscriminating class distinctions in his time.

Careme’s success story has a familiar rags-to-riches repertoire with a combination of chance and apposite time surrounding his rise to success interacting with his talents. But why not the taste of the fame when his triumph of will over strife inspires achievable hopes and approachable aspirations? Careme personifies overcoming the mantra of existentialism that experience precedes essence. The fact that his own indigent family abandoned Careme didn’t dispirit his connatural intelligence nor did it plunge him into a Slough of Despondency. Or that didn’t really matter to Careme with his eyes, nose, and hands tuned for the world of delicacy that used to be exclusive for the rich and whose heart made it accessible to all. Indeed, the man was not a saint, nor do I intend to canonize him. But at least his actions and legacy deserve appreciation and admiration adorned with flowers and bonbons.

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‘The Histories’, by Herodotus – review

The HistoriesThe Histories by Herodotus

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


We are all too familiar with the word ‘History.’ Still, we are seldom comprehensive of its original meaning, making its luster dull with the banality of academic subject we commonly associate. History in its Ionic Greek epistemological root means ‘research, investigation,’ a term nurtured by Father of History Herodotus. An inquisitive travel journalist, a tireless peripatetic lecturer, Herodotus is such an excellent raconteur of the ancient worlds that his engaging narratives of The Histories collapse millenniums between his writing and our reading them. The collective history of ancient people is woven into a wondrous tapestry of collective humankind in multiple strands.

Herodotus uses parataxis, which combines individual storytelling narrative account with associative thinking. It emphasizes the interconnection between ordinary personal lives and the concatenation of events interwoven to humankind’s collective history. Using ‘a-b-a’ strategy with numerous subjects interlocking the thematic of human history, Herodotus does not dictate his historian’s perspective over readers’ views and encourage autonomous understanding of events and causalities universalities of human tendencies in a democratic way. Herodotus is an objective commentator of human dramas in war, cultural customs, artifices, and artificers broadcast in a textual documentary record still appealing to posterity.

Despite the criticism from Plutarch and Thucydides, who regarded Herodotus as something of a lighthearted reporter of a modern-day travel magazine, Herodotus’s innovative narrative style became a model for latter-day European explorers struggling to describe discoveries of terra incognita to their peoples at home. Take Marco Polo of the Silk Roads, Christopher Columbus’s New World, Magellan’s Voyage to the Far East, etc. The European descendants found vivacious inspirations in entertaining storytelling from Herodotus’s Histories that would attract general readers flocking to the books about undreamed shores and unpathed lands populous with exotic natives in wonderment.

Herodotus is a polycentric historian who moves among different peoples in different landscapes without prejudice but with an intelligent passion for learning about them. He believed that the foundation of historical events, such as wars and political insurgencies, as part of humankind’s natural order, say, what comes around goes around, injustice giving rise to retribution passing down from generation to generation. Herodotus lets readers reflect on the past and subject its values to an outside standard of rational evaluations. In short, reading The Histories is like viewing a colossal road map, full of routes, roads, thoroughfares, rest areas, mountains, seas, cities, towns, etc., linked together through Interstate Highways. Histories is a textual equivalent of an ancient road map showing who lived where and what and why they did in a mixture of literary favor and historical objectiveness. No wonder Herodotus Still Rocks.



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‘Socrates: A Man for Our Times’, by Paul Johnson -review

Socrates: A Man for Our TimesSocrates: A Man for Our Times by Paul Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the constellation of philosophers in the intellectual firmament, there is none other than Socrates whose influence on humanity, ranging from academic disciplines to everyday cultural memes, strikes the chords with the contemporary minds at its simplest form. It is this essence of Socrates’s simple but profound moral philosophy that has been enshrined in the pantheon of Immortal Knowledge of our collective human civilization for thousands of years. In Socrates by Paul Johnson, this immortal philosopher is hard to resist and difficult to find fault with through the author’s cicerone guide to the streets of the ancient Athens, where Socrates is in his usual convivial mood to speak in public and welcomes the reader with his genuine warm smile to join his conversation.

The stratagem of moral education in the form of philosophy is to tame the appetites (the senses or the id) and to guide spirits (emotions or the ego) in man to reach the highest level of humanness, which is the reason (the judgment or the superego). The process of this moral education is civilization, a standard by which barbarism is judged and separated from the educated mind, and Socrates thought it essential to implement it in all aspects of Athenian life because it was the surest avenue to happiness, meaning of human life. In fact, Socrates was the first philosopher to democratize the concept of philosophy from lofty abstraction of an academic plane to practical realism of a living guide. Johnson describes Socrates as something of a Prometheus, who translated the heavenly into the terrestrial in the sense that Socrates wanted to unlock the goodness of life for the benefit of mankind. For Socrates was the one who brought philosophy down from the wondering skies, domesticated it the huts and villas of people, and familiarized it with the ordinary life in examination of good and evil.

Socrates seems even more likable thanks to Johnson’s historical accounts of Socrates’s personal traits and physiognomy: the corroboration comes from his young, handsome, controversial, but nonetheless valiant aristocratic friend Alciblades that (1) Socrates was a selfless comrade in battle, fearless in fighting, and artless in helping his battle buddies: (2) commendable hardiness enabled him to wear thin clothing despite the cold and the snow; (3) he disliked letting his emotions show on his face; (4) he regarded poverty as a shortcut to self-control; and that (5) he kept fit in the stadium and gymnasium and even danced because he believed that a healthy body was the greatest of blessings. It is also well known that Socrates was an ugly man with a flat, broad nose and beer belly, especially by the standards of Greece in the 5th century that highly valued regularity of features we would call Byronic today. And yet, Socrates, ever imperturbable and optimistic, was not depressed by his ugliness because to Socrates beauty was not inherent in itself but was by the virtue of its use. It was more of utilitarian nature for practical purpose. Socrates’s way of accepting himself as he is relates to logotheraphy, neuroplasticity, and habit of positive thinking, now bestriding the domain of self-help literature.

I have always been a fan of Paul Johnson’s writing style in harmony with his wealth of erudition and fountain of humor, a fascinating combination that makes his reads so likable and interesting. And here again, he did it again: with his customary witty narrative packed full of lots of unknown anecdotes and personal tidbits on subjects he writes about, Johnson tells the reader about Socrates as precisely and candidly as possible based upon historical evidence to resurrect him in the textual theater of literature. His interpretations draw on his exceptional knowledge of the philosopher and the history of his time, but he wears his learning lightly and always writes with a general reader in mind. Hence, the figure of Socrates in his book is no longer seen as the ancient adumbral thinker but a jovial, avuncular teacher who really cares about the lives of his students of all walks of life in this highly entertaining book. This book presents a pleasant banquet of the mind and spirit hosted by the consummate storytelling narrative of Johnson in the honor of Socrates, the people’s philosopher.