Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Coffee and After

Just in case you think I have been a tad shy on the name dropping I think I ought to share my encounter with a real hero of our times.  At coffee I noticed a tall gangly chap standing alone and read his name badge - none other than Harold McGee.  Reader, I almost fainted.  I went into full gibber mode and told him that I think he is wonderful.  He looks about my age, perhaps a bit younger, so must have written On Food and Cooking when he was a child - I told him that too.  I bought my copy back in 1984 (I rather like the odd first edition and have a few) and told him it was the first really serious book I ever bought.  For someone who failed physics O Level it takes a lot to buy On Food and Cooking.  He gave me the most enormous grin and told me I had made his day.  Apparently everyone is frightened of his intellect (my words not his - he just said that people don't talk to him) and so he never gets praise from perfect strangers.  And they don't come much stranger than me in full gibber mode.  So remember this and if ever you see one of your heroes, tell them they are, you just might make their day.

I then went back to the lecture theatre for the three papers on Celebrating the Jewish Way.

The first was given by Felicity Newman who is a lecturer on feminism and cultural diversity at Murdoch University in Brisbane.  The title was "Keeping Kosher: Cause for Celebration?" and her argument was that the Kosher kitchen has both social and financial costs.  Since in the Jewish home the woman is responsible for all food production it follows that in the 21st Century when women also have careers and professions there is an increased workload for her.  She made the comment that in her experience levels of observance are increasing and that the Kosher kitchen can be isolating from the community in general.  The ordinary salaried woman who is also a housewife has the option of going out to supper or buying a takeaway after a hard day at the office, not so her Jewish sister.  There is practically no ready prepared Kosher food available to buy and very few Kosher restaurants left. 

The second paper was delivered by Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus who as well as being a professor (but I am not sure where - somewhere in America) is also a rabbi.  He showed some delightful photographs to illustrate his talk "Sukkot: The Paradigmatic Harvest Festival" and if ever I find out what paradigmatic means I am sure the lecture will make more sense.   He said that he always invites his first year students (I think that is what freshman class means) to Sukkot at his home and it looked as though they were having plenty of fun.  The symbolism of the herbs and the lemon was illustrated with a clip from a French film where a man's very expensive lemon for which he paid a small fortune is simply cut up by an uninvited guest to make a salad dressing. Very funny - but not for the chap who had bought the lemon.   Apparently Sukkot must have guests, real, imaginary, whatever.

The final lecture was called "Celebrating Purim and Passover; Food and memory in the creation of Jewish identity.   It was delivered by two people, Susan Weingarten, an Australian archaeologist and Georg Schaefer a German Doctoral student from Cologne.  I should state at this point that the lovely Georg looked about twelve and wore the only tie I saw all weekend apart from those worn by college staff.  The lecture itself made many parallels between Hellenistic and Jewish customs and I am pretty sure that Dionysus got a mention somewhere but I found both speakers very difficult to follow.

I need another little rest to marshal my thoughts but will return.

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