Some books seem appropriate on trips because they are of the place. Others are complete contrasts – like “A Tale of Two Cities” in a tent, or Ann Patchett’s “Run” during the long airplane flight to Thailand.
Patchett’s story is about the Doyle family, mothers, a father, sons, and a daughter. It’s set during and in the immediate aftermath of a paralyzing Boston snowstorm that narrows the world so people unknown to each other, but possessing the closest relationship, can meet.
The book is wonderful. Patchett so effortlessly buries profundities in snow banks. I loved all the characters in this book, but maybe Father Sullivan best. Suffering from heart failure at 88, “His heart woke him to remind him that in life there was never a limitless number of nights.”
Awake, he considers life and afterlife: “In suggesting that there may be nothing ahead of them, he in no way meant to diminish the future, instead Father Sullivan hoped to elevate the present to a state of the divine.” He realizes, “Life itself had been holy.”
I read another author celebrating the holiness of everyday life on a more recent plane ride – Adam Gopnik’s “The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food.” Gopnik’s little book has an encyclopedic scope, he searches for meaning in the history and culture of food – and in his own accomplished cooking.
I haven’t finished the book, but so far, Gopnik describes French cooking, seasonal food, eating animals “from nose to tail,” and local produce in his insightful, thoughtful language. He tells about the 19th century English writer Elizabeth Penell, “the first to see the cookbook as a literary form,” and includes the emails he writes to her (emails as literary form).
But he hasn’t yet addressed the particular meal I savored while reading him – an Alaska Airlines Mediterranean tapas box – olives, a little tube of hummus, multigrain crackers, almonds, dried apricots, and a tiny bit of dark chocolate. Heavy on the packaging, but at 35,000 feet it’s a great pleasure to pop an olive on the hummus on the cracker, enjoy the presentation, and keep on reading.
Gopnik writes “Good cooking is beloved because, when it is good enough, it gives more immediate pleasure and then recedes more rapidly, more gracefully, into the metaphoric middle distance than any other cultural thing, letting us arrange our lives, at least for one night, around it.”
Or one airplane flight.