Monday, September 17, 2012

Antonio Tabucchi Week! with a bonus roast goose recipe

Book bloggers just go ahead and declare their own celebrations, and why not?  If the National Jelly Doughnut Council can do it, why can’t we?  So:  it’s international Antonio Tabucchi Week! as proclaimed by Caroline.

I read a couple of tiny, pleasing Tabucchi booklets to celebrate, Dreams of Dreams (1992) and The Last Three Days of Fernando Pessoa (1994), packaged together by City Lights Books and translator Nancy Peters.  Translated from the Italian this time – the other Tabucchi novel I have read, Requiem: A Hallucination (1991), was originally written in Portuguese, a good trick reflecting the author’s most unusual side, his profound interest in and knowledge of Portuguese literature.   Reading Dreams of Dreams, though, I can see that his love of literature as such is similar.  A kindred spirit.

The book contains twenty dreams of two or three pages each.  The dreamers are mostly writers, but three painters, one composer, and one mythological figure slip in.  I am over-simplifying, since every figure is given two roles:  Chekhov is a “writer and doctor,” Caravaggio “a painter and irascible man.”  Many are visionaries of some sort, dream-artists like Coleridge and Goya and Rimbaud, or near cousins, advocates of their own version of Rimbaud’s derangement of the senses, writers like Rabelais and Villon and Pessoa.  Freud rounds out the list, giving himself something to interpret.

Rabelais, a friar, is fasting.  He dreams of food, of a feast with “His Majesty Sir Pantagruel”:

They served François Rabelais two geese, and nineteen to Sir Pantagruel.  Innkeeper, said his majesty the guest, you must teach me how these geese are cooked.  I want to tell my cook.  The innkeeper smoothed his imposing moustache, cleared his throat and said: first you take a fine choucroute and put it to the boil for four or five minutes.  Then you melt the goose fat and sauté the cabbage, lard, juniper berries, cloves, salt and pepper, sliced onion, and then cook it for three hours.  Then you add prosciutto, finely chopped goose liver, and you bind the mixture with bread crumbs.  The geese are filled with stuffing and put into the oven for about forty minutes.  You have to remember, when it’s half-cooked, to collect the sizzling fat and pour it over the stuffing, and the dish is ready.

This description only leads, obviously, to renewed appetite for Rabelais and Pantagruel until the latter belches so loudly he wakes the former, who gnaws on the “piece of dry bread” he allows himself during his fast.

I feature this long, delicious passage for two reasons: first, recipes are enormously popular and lead to all of the likes and thumbs and +1s and “you go, girl”s that are so important these days – I have no idea what any of that means – and anyway I need to have some material in place for my inevitable transition into a cooking blog, and second it suggests a limit to the delights of Tabucchi’s book. 

The reader unfamiliar with the life and work of Rabelais, or who does not know why it is amusing that Freud dreams he is his patient Dora, or why Debussy dreams of nymphs and priapic fauns, may be baffled, irritated, and bored, like he is reading the walkthrough of a video game he have never played.  Tabucchi and I, though, we had a lot of fun playing with our literary toys.

No room today to watch Fernando Pessoa expire.  Tomorrow.


  1. Thanks a lot for this.
    I had a lot of fun with Dreams of Dreams as well. And with Requiem on which I'm posting today. Since your Requiem post a while back I paid attention to the cooking in his books. Food is quite important in all of the books I've read so far. It's interesting to pair such dreamlike action, hallucinations and otherwordly things with something as mundane as food but I think it's key and part of the charm of his writing.

  2. Hi Tom - Thanks for the great commentary.

    I read "It's Getting Later all The Time" for Antonio Tabucchi week. "It's Getting Later all The Time" was also crammed with references and connections to various writers, artists and their works. I too find this tendency of Tabucchi to be very fun indeed! I suppose it is indicative of Tabucchi's style.

    I really want to read Dreams of Dreams when I get the chance. A very intriguing concept indeed!

  3. Is there a chance of posting the names of all twenty dreamers?

    1. Miguel, I did post the names on my post a while back.

  4. Just great, going for the food (there's an awful lot of food in Tabucchi, it seems). I very much enjoyed this. But I'm really looking forward, past Tabucchi, to your "inevitable" cooking blog (and to whatever you'll then post for National Jelly Doughnut Week).

  5. I am inevitably drawn to food, for good stylistic reasons (precision, observation) and also for gourmandizing (a fancy way to say "drooling").

    Good literary dreams - Surrealist, Kakaesque, Carrollian - always ground the nonsense in the mundane. The Alice books are also full of food and eating. "Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!"

    Brian - I know that I have been attracted to Tabucchi's more literature-packed books. The one you read sounded quite good, too - the way you describe it makes it sound like a parody of Ovid's Heroides. But I do not know how common this is. Sostiene Pereira is literature-stuffed, too.

    I would not call it style, though. Literature and culture are Tabucchi's subject. Perhaps an intense focus on a subject becomes style.

    Doughnuts in aspic, that will be my contribution. It's a deconstruction of the jelly doughnut - I put the jelly on the outside!