Now, to be fair our host 2 plus 3 equals 5 anticipated this. In the official challenge post it says, "What am I looking for? Stories about the aftermath of sex, the meaning of sex, what the desire for sex makes us do. About how to talk about sex, or not. About not having sex." So I have to thank the champion of WFC3 for framing the challenge this way. I felt that last time I ended up reaching too much for the theme, rather than telling the story, so this time I hoped to just touch on some of these ideas, kind of go at them sideways, and see how it turned out.
I also had another agenda, which was: I had noticed that plain text files were losing ground to HTML (and increasingly fancier HTML at that) over the course of the WFCs. I'm as much a part of this trend as anyone, going from text to relatively plain HTML to largely unnecessary CSS (that in the end failed to disguise the weaknesses of the story). So I wanted to tell a story that worked with a minimum of formatting, primarily to show my support for .txt, and also because I often seem to work better the more pressure is applied, however (or perhaps especially) arbitrary it may be.
When you look at all the above criteria, it seems obvious in retrospect that this would lead to chestnut pr0n.
Well, OK, let me back up a bit.
As I also said elsewhere, I think that there is a natural, if not totally unoriginal, connection between food and sex. I stole the premise of "Mont Blanc" from the book I was reading when the WFC opened. Julie and Julia is a memoir by Julie Powell about her crazy (and successful) attempt to cook every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking during the course of one year. In that book, there is a tangential anecdote not directly related to the Project, containing this passage:
(Yes, it is a royal pain in the neck. But there is something intensely erotic in making elaborate, nearly impossible food for someone you'd like to have sex with.)Elsewhere, she explains how at one time or another she had collected all manner of obscure kitchen gadgets, but that as a result of a series of New York City apartment moves, the only one of these she has kept is a potato ricer. As I was reading a description of her putting something-or-other through a ricer, I had a flash something like my narrator's in front of a display of chestnuts, only instead of "There is only one thing I know to do with chestnuts," it came into my head by way of "There is only one thing I know of that uses a potato ricer."
(In my experience.)
The recipe isn't nearly as involved as the one Julie Powell was referring to in the above quote, but have you ever shelled chestnuts? It is a royal pain in the neck. The version in the story is adapted from one I found on the 'net, though as far as I can recall it is similar to the one I'm familiar with (which, yes, is currently in my mother's recipe drawer. No, I do not make this dish every year.) Felicia is the name of a family friend (who died when I was very young and barely knew her), and McWilliams was Julia Child's maiden name, for all you foodies out there. I liked that the recipe bypasses the whole painful process of arriving at "1 lb. chestnuts, shelled and peeled" -- it really is (to steal a phrase from Julie quoting Julia) simplicity itself to make once you've got the first ingredient listed. Also, playing with a ricer (the cooking implement not the tricked-out car) is fun.
By contrast, even after I had the general idea and most of the elements, I found the writing of the story to be far from simplicity itself. I think I wrote and threw away almost as much as there remains in the posted version. (Fewer than 1250 words and some of you still guessed it was me? Damn ...) I started on a few tangents that were going nowhere good -- more stuff involving the narrator's brother (distraction), more of the general family ritual that first Christmas (we get it already, less is more), and this whole bit about how the dessert is named after the mountain, Mont Blanc, "the white mountain," which is also called Monte Bianco (there's a dispute between France and Italy about whose mountain it actually is), and how in fact there are Italian versions of the dish named after its Italian name, though a lot of them involve chocolate which just seems like a travesty to me (er ... the narrator) and aren't you glad I left that out?
I wrote the chestnut peeling bit about half a dozen times, ditto the section about the books and recipes. Actually, I think I took more than one shot at almost every part of it. It seems that one of the problems with my WFC entries is that my endings end up weakly connected/cheesy/tacked on/overdone and I did consider this time whether my ending was any or possibly even all of these things. However I wanted to hit that final note, to draw the line from the narrator's mother to her down through to the next generation. And maybe I was reaching just a tiny bit to get Aaron one last scene. I'll defend the inclusion of something like the ending, though by that point my editing reserves were running low and I think the execution leaves something to be desired. Which is a bad show on my part, considering how often I go on about how endings make or break a story.
By the time I submitted it I had spent so much time on the thing that I really couldn't evaluate it in any way. I was satisfied that it at least wasn't plumbing the greatest depths of suck (by the way, ever since johnny accused me of writing pr0n, everything I write seems a little dirty) but that was all. I'm gratified by all the comments and the votes.
In closing I'd like to suggest, if you have some time and patience, that you try making the dessert. The way I do it actually uses a ring mold, with the whipped cream (beaten by hand for extra masochism, and, uh ... damn you, johnny) in the center, so maybe it's more of a Volcano Blanc, but the principle's the same, and it tastes just as good. Don't smoosh all the little chestnut worms that come out of the ricer.
Also, I recommend Julie Powell's book. It grew out of the blog she wrote during the Project so it has a very witty, informal style, and it's about the power of doing something crazy and living to tell the tale; the importance of good friends and loved ones and even Internet strangers to keep you going; French food (of course); and, to be honest, not all that much sex (just so you don't accuse me of false advertising). It's a bit girly, but so am I sometimes.
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