The food: ramen
I’m currently in recovery from an exhilarating but exhausting week spent teaching at the Summer Workshop in Creative Writing at the Humber School for Writers in Toronto.
I spent the mornings in class with my delightful students, pictured below with our delightful classroom assistant. At 12:30 each day, I ate a quick lunch with my fellow writer instructors, during which I enjoyed the comedy stylings of Isabel Huggan and Guy Vanderhaege, and spoke only briefly to Martin Amis, the week’s marquee author, who impressed me by making a throwaway yet pleasingly specific reference to a child in a school play being assigned the role of “third moonbeam.”
On the last day of class, I asked my students to do an in-class exercise, and write about a memorable meal. They all produced funny and evocative stories – variously, about uneaten Chinese food; a tart lemon meringue pie; chocolate eaten in bed; and shenanigans at a Rosh Hashanah dinner, a Thanksgiving feast, and an Easter family gathering.
I told them that food doesn’t have to play a big part in everything they write – only in most things I write, including the scene excerpted here, from my first novel, Looks Perfect.
The scene is set in a Japanese restaurant (meant to be Omen, in New York), where, during Fashion Week, Rosemary, the half-Vietnamese, half-French narrator, eats dinner with Brian, a hunky Australian magazine mogul, and some other hangers-on:
Brian served the noodle soup into smaller bowls. “Who would like some ramen?”
“I would, I would!” I said, though I noticed both Anna and Matthew refused any.
I pulled the small bowl close, picked several strands of noodles with my chopsticks, and brought them to my mouth. I drew in the first few inches and started chewing. So far, so good – both taste and texture were satisfying. Soothing, even. I sucked in another wad, looked down, and realized that these noodles were long, I mean really long, and what had started out as a few strands had become a big clump between my lips. And there was no conceivable way of dealing with the clump unless I got into major slurping, or did that biting-off thing that looks as if you’re spitting food back into your plate – a pretty disgusting sight. Especially if the person with the best view would be Brian, who – noodle-less himself – picked this moment to say, “How’s the ramen, Rosemary?”
I nodded in reply, not a smart move, because the nodding action caused some drops of soup to fly onto the tablecloth. So I held my head very still and pulled noodles up to my mouth in tiny increments. But when my wild-eyed glance around caught an expression of amused comprehension on Anna’s face, I abandoned all attempts at decorum and hoovered in the rest of the mouthful in one loud slurp, a maneuver which splattered liquid clear across the table and onto Brian’s shirt.
“Oh God, I’m so sorry. Your shirt – forgive me.” I covered my face with my hands. “Can’t take me anywhere.”
“Don’t worry, “ Brian said. “Slurping’s the proper way to eat soup in Japan, you know.”
Anna said, “Are you Japanese, Rosemary?”
“No.” I looked Anna staight in her deep-lidded eyes. “Are you?”