Tomorrow night I will moderate a discussion on the topic of Alice Waters' new memoir.
For the last few weeks, a coworker and I have gone back and forth (and back and forth) at lunch about this book. She can't stand memoirs. Can't understand why anyone would want to know what Alice Waters ate for lunch in elementary school. Can't get past the tone, fragments, or mundane details. Perhaps this is because she is someone who shares her full life generously and openly with others, while I am not, for better or worse.
I, on the other hand, would be thrilled to have lived a life where 50 (or 10 or 40) years from now, I would be moved to write a memoir. As an introverted, introspective, research-obsessed, detail-oriented, longtime Sunday night journaler with a semi-photographic memory, memoirs (and by extension, biographies, and documentaries) have been my drug of choice for as long as I can remember. All of the intimate information (ok, maybe not all) about this person's very full life is RIGHT THERE, shared in a generous, open way. I don't have to cyber-stalk them, or corner them at a networking event, or duel their publicist with a light saber. It's right there.
I like to think that someday, I would write about that time I hiked too much for too long in Patagonia and the arch of my right foot turned black. About turning inwards and outwards with the seasons in the east, and retreating back west. Shopping for my first pair of eyeglasses in Lower Manhattan with a complete stranger. Misadventures in cooking for one. Food. People. Place. Now whether skeptical former coworkers would find that interesting, that's another story.
Even before I began my work in this field, I was fascinated by the lives of people who at first seemed unknowable to me, such as chefs. Though now that I interact with chefs everyday, including some especially friendly/"normal"/foraging-inclined ones, they don't seem so untouchable anymore. At the local bookstore in my small college town, at one point I owned or had gobbled up every book on the food memoirs shelf. Blood, Bones and Butter is the one that drew me in first, consumed in gasps during a humid summer in Washington D.C. with too many cupcakes. On long Sunday afternoons in northern Italy when all shops, including the grocery store, defying all of my meal prep instincts, were closed, I cruised through memoir after memoir after memoir thanks to yet another dreamy bookshelf in my university's library.
What captivated me most about Alice Waters' memoir was that it filled out my idea of a woman who I have heard speak at many events in the last three years about the same sorts of topics: education, gardening, and the intersection of the two. While I have not met her personally, I have one degree of separation wherever I turn: an assistant, a prep cook, another assistant, or a coffee table dance party host. These people in her magnetic orbit just call her "Alice," and somewhat expect that people on Pluto will catch on. I'm somewhere around Mars.
Alice Waters' memoir paints a vivid portrait of someone who has lived a full life, who is a bit wild at heart but also sincere, spontaneous but also self-assured.
I read in a review of her book that at this point in her life, Alice Waters feels that neither criticism nor praise matter all that much to her. She feels reassured about the contents of her memoir, because it is the life that she has lived.
I hope someday to feel the same.