The world may or may not need another cookbook, but it needs all the lovers—amateurs—it can get. It is a gorgeous old place, full of clownish graces and beautiful drolleries, and it has enough textures, tastes, and smells to keep us intrigued for more time than we have. Unfortunately, however, our response to its loveliness is not always delight: It is, far more often than it should be, boredom. And that is not only odd, it is tragic; for boredom is not neutral—it is the fertilizing principle of unloveliness.
Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.
—Martin Luther King, Jr., "Where Do We Go From Here?"
If I didn’t actually believe in my responsibility to tell Americans the truth about Turkey, nevertheless I did feel it was somehow wasteful to study Russian literature instead of Turkish literature. I had repeatedly been told in linguistics classes that all languages were universally complex, to a biologically determined degree. Didn’t that mean that all languages were, objectively speaking, equally interesting? And I already knew Turkish; it had happened without any work, like a gift, and here I was tossing it away to break my head on a bunch of declensions that came effortlessly to anyone who happened to grow up in Russia.
Today, this strikes me as terrible reasoning. I now understand that love is a rare and valuable thing, and you don’t get to choose its object. You just go around getting hung up on the all the least convenient things—and if the only obstacle in your way is a little extra work, then that’s the wonderful gift right there.
If you were coming in the fall,
I’d brush the summer by
With half a smile and half a spurn,
As housewives do a fly.
If I could see you in a year,
I’d wind the months in balls,
And put them each in separate drawers,
Until their time befalls.
If only centuries delayed,
I’d count them on my hand,
Subtracting till my fingers dropped
Into Van Diemens land.
If certain, when this life was out,
That yours and mine should be,
I’d toss it yonder like a rind,
And taste eternity.
But now, all ignorant of the length
Of time’s uncertain wing,
It goads me, like the goblin bee,
That will not state its sting.
We live in an age that tends to depersonalize even people and is, in principle, averse to anthropomorphism. Indeed, such a tendency is often criticized, erroneously and foolishly in my view, since that ‘rapprochement’ between the human and the non-human is quite natural and spontaneous, and far from being an attempt to deprive animals, plants and objects of their respective selves, it places them in the category of the ‘humanizable’, which is, for us, the highest and most respectable of categories.
I know people who talk to, question, spoil, threaten or even quarrel with their computers, saying things like: ‘Right now, you behave yourself,’ or thanking them for their help. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s perfectly understandable. In fact, given how often we travel in planes, the odd thing about our relationship with them – those complex machines endowed with movement to which we surrender ourselves and that transport us through the air – is that it isn’t more ‘personal’, or more ‘animal’, or more ‘sailor-like’, if you prefer. Perhaps those who crew them haven’t known how to communicate this to us. I’ve never seen them pat a plane, as you might pat a horse to calm or reward it; I’ve never seen planes being groomed and cleaned and tidied, except very hurriedly and impatiently; I’ve never seen them loved as Conrad’s captain loved his sunken brig; I’ve never seen air hostesses – who spend a lot of time on-board – treat them with the respect and care, at once fatherly and comradely, enjoyed by ships.
His name was Peter, and he carried an L.L. Bean canvas bag, monogrammed and trimmed in forest green. It was December 28, 1988, and I noticed him at the gate. Preppy, but kind of cute. And then we boarded, and he took the seat next to mine. American Airlines; JFK to SFO; a DC-10, which meant a layout of two-five-two. I had the window, and he the aisle. We gave each other brief, courteous nods, he stashed his L.L. Bean bag, and I turned back to my book, sneaking an occasional glance his way.
The flight attendants did their familiar demonstration. The plane pulled away from the gate and taxied onto the runway. The plane stopped. The captain came on and made a lame joke. Peter (although I didn’t know his name yet) and I exchanged glances, rolling our eyes in shared wariness. He said something, I said something, and we didn’t stop talking for the next six hours, during which I didn’t look at my book or attempt the movie.
By the time the plane landed at SFO, we knew each other’s names, hometowns, employers, current neighborhoods, and how our mothers didn’t approve of the people we were dating—in my case, because the guy, in Mom’s words, “acted like a kindergartener,” and in Peter’s because the woman wasn’t WASPy enough, a fact Peter underlined by gesturing toward the L.L. Bean bag at his feet.
If you were on the Internet this week you probably heard that love can no longer exist in the age of the romantic comedy. But like all cultural artifacts, while 95% of the output is rubbish, there are some real gems. I love Sliding Doors and Bridget Jones’ Diary isn’t all that bad. Next Stop Wonderland is one of my all-time favorite movies. (NYT captures it perfectly in this 1998 review.) Little Black Book is actually a weird Network-inspired satire and I’d consider Neil LaBute ’s The Shape of Things a rom-com too. To believe the genre is inherently stupid is like dismissing horror because Eli Roth makes movies.