Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ortolan and Being There

This is a comment I made at The Path Less Pedaled... In D is for Displacement, Russ was talking about how he and Laura are pursuing their dream of riding the country, yet often, while actually spending the day pedalling, they aren't really present in the moment and with the aching and fatigue, but have displaced their thinking into other places... they aren't really present in their dream riding. And I remembered a This American Life piece where one of the conclusions was that we were not really capable of being present in the moment all the time...

This reminds me of the Ortolan story on This American Life (it’s on episode 343) where writer Michael Paterniti describes eating Ortolan (where you eat the entire bird, which has been drowned in cognac, while holding a napkin over your head).

This is from his written account in Esquire:

“Here’s what I taste: Yes, quidbits of meat and organs; the succulent, tiny strands of flesh between the ribs and tail. I put inside myself the last flowered bit of air and Armagnac in its lungs, the body of rainwater and berries. In there, too, is the ocean and Africa and the dip and plunge in a high wind. And the heart that bursts between my teeth. It takes time. I’m forced to chew and chew again and again, for what seems like three days. And what happens after chewing for this long–as the mouth full of taste buds and glands does its work—is that I fall into a trance. I don’t taste anything anymore, cease to exist as anything but taste itself.
And that’s where I want to stay–but then can’t because the sweetness of the bird is turning slightly bitter and the bones have announced themselves. When I think about forcing them down my throat, a wave of nausea passes through me. And that’s when, with great difficulty, I swallow everything.”
On the This American Life segment, he talks about how hard it is to eat regular meals after this (my transcription):

Michael Paterniti: it takes a lot of energy and concentration when you really taste a meal. it takes concentration, and silence…

Ira Glass: it’s almost as if you are saying if we were really awake to what the world was giving us in a given meal, it would be hard to eat the meal every single time.

Paterniti: Yeah, I think we would, I feel we would age really quickly.

Glass: But you’re saying that we have to deaden ourselves in order to live.

Paterniti: I think we do; I don’t think we make enough time to eat, and if we haven’t made enough time to eat, then it’s better not to taste what we are eating. It’s easier.
So yeah. I think it’s just part of our biology that, in order to be totally present at any one time, we have to be totally displaced, mostly NOT there, most of the rest of the time.

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