Wednesday, April 25, 2007

La Vida Low-Brow

On the advice of rabid reader and writer Anthony Bourdain (see Nasty Bits, Hooves and Snouts blog post), we tracked down a copy of George Orwell's "Down and Out in Paris and London". Published in 1933, this was Orwell's first book, a semi-autobiographical novel about his life in a seedy, colorful Parisian neighborhood and his attempts to scrounge a living after his money is stolen. I threw the book across the room after the second chapter scene when Orwell describes creepy bistro comrade Charlie, who rants about how he discovered the true meaning of love in raping peasant girl over and over again.

Dan, however, soldiered on and enjoyed later scenes, when the book's hero works as the lowest rung on the kitchen ladder of Hotel X with his Russian refugee friend Boris. As a plongeur, our unnamed hero must do anything required to keep the kitchens going, which usually means the most menial tasks, from washing loftier kitchen workers' clothes and dishes, fetching them meals, rolling pats of butter, counting sugar lumps and hauling whatever is needed around the furnace-hot kitchen labyrinths. Lots of cursing in English and French spices up the soupy atmosphere.

Later in the book, our Orwellian buddy heads to London to better his chances of borrowing friends' funds, and this section was not as vivid or interesting for Dan. He sympathetically describes his tramp buddies, but without the restaurant scenes, it just didn't match the savor of the mid-section of the book.

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