“Der Panther” (1902 or 1903)
Im Jardin des Plantes, Paris
Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehn der Stäbe
so müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.
Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte,
der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
in der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.
Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
sich lautlos auf—. Dann geht ein Bild heinein,
geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille—
und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.
—By Rainer Marie Rilke
I recall the poem from a seminar more than a decade ago. Shortly thereafter I found myself in the Prague zoo and once there this poem came to mind as I observed some of the stupidest children I had ever seen tapping on the glass of a cell behind which paced a leopard. Rarely do I wish ill upon the underage; I would have gladly fed every last one of the little f**ks to any carnivore in range without a second thought.
Last April my brother and I visited the Berlin zoo and visitors were, in general, better behaved than that, though one Italian photographer insisted on antagonizing a puma that I could only describe as looking brain damaged.
I am also reminded of the zoo visit in the first Harry Potter novel and movie, and, finally, the opening of The Dispossessed:
There was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared. An adult could look right over it, and even a child could climb it. Where it crossed the roadway, instead of having a gate it degenerated into mere geometry, a line, an idea of a boundary. But the idea was real. It was important. For seven generations there had been nothing in the world more important than that wall.
Like all walls it was ambiguous, two-faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended upon which side of it you were on.
(Le Guin 1)
The other evening I watched season 1, episode 1 of Good Eats, which involves the preparation of a steak in a cast iron skillet. In Berlin I had such a skillet, but it was not properly cured, it absorbed oil like you wouldn't believe, and things insisted upon sticking to it.
Back to the steak.
The episode made me want to go the my hardware store and get a cast iron skillet and to my grocery store to visit the butcher and get a nice cut of beef, some oil with a high smoke point, and perhaps a few things to go as side dishes.
I also wanted to have someone to cook for or with whom to share the meal, but that's beside the point.
I am reminded of the Julie/Julia Project, Julie Powell's trip through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, as recorded and recounted in Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. It's been done. We can't do the “bo/Brown Project,” but the temptation just to follow a source is tempting. toxicfur mentioned someone going through one of Paula Deen's books.
Today I just resorted to banana bread; I had some bananas that were quite ripe, and quite a few did, indeed, split into three parts longitudinally for me.
It's enough to make one wish for the earlier days of home economics (a wonderfully—or terribly—redundant word, if one thinks of oikos, not that I expect you to).
I did not take home economics; that was required of sixth graders in middle school in my district, but I took the sixth grade in an elementary school. In high school it was merely an elective, the type that many not-so-academically-inclined took for an easy grade. In fact, I do not recall a single case of overlap between people taking AP courses and those taking home ec. The closest I came to such a course was observing those with their their bag-of-flour babies or the eggs they had to take care of. For reference see BtVS, season 2 episde 12, “Bad Eggs.”
I began adventures-in-cooking young enough when I made a fruit salad for dinner. In the 4th grade I won a cake baking context with a chocolate cake in the shape of Frankenstein's monster. I graduated to meat loaf, though by high school I was focusing on brownies and muffins. In college I took a pie and bread baking “course” one semester with one of the math professors, and have not made a bad pie crust since.
The loaves will exit the oven in less than thirty minutes.
Leishman's translation will aid you in understanding Rilke's poem; it won't, however, help in experiencing it.
Jardin des Plantes, Paris
His gaze those bars keep passing is so misted
with tiredness, it can take in nothing more.
He feels as though a thousand bars existed,
and no more world beyond them than before.
Those supply-powerful paddings, turning there
in tiniest of circles, well might be
the dance of forces round a centre where
some mighty will stands paralyticly.
Just now and then the pupil's noiseless shutter
is lifted.—Then an image will indart,
down through the limbs' intensive stillness flutter,
and end its being in the heart.
—Translated by J.B. Leishman
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