Friday, August 10, 2007

The Year of the Goat

August 10

The Year of the Goat: 40,000 Miles and the Quest for the Perfect Cheese is now in bookstores near you, on and elsewhere.
Here are some relevant links:
read the text from the book jacket
Find out when you can meet the author in person
win a t-shirt
look at my friend Karl’s pictures. Karl is the husband of Margaret Hathaway, who wrote the book. Regular readers of this blog might be interested to know that she introduced me to my friend Clark, with whom she worked at Magnolia Bakery.
But that’s not why I’m plugging the book. Nor is it in hopes of getting a free t-shirt, or because I make a brief appearance in it (brief but extraordinarily flattering; Margaret makes me seem like Master Kahn from Kung Fu). I found it to be a really charming look into an obscure world — as is done in movies like Ballroom Dancing, Best in Show, a Mighty Wind and so on. But The Year of the Goat, though occasionally tongue-in-cheek, isn’t mocking as those movies are, but rather a very sweet exploration of self- and goat-discovery.

Here, with Margaret’s permission, via Karl, an excerpt:

“Over dim sum with our friend Bret, a balding, bespectacled food writer who has won George Costanza look-alike contests, is a graduate of the Cordon Bleu, and an ulikely speaker of fluent Mandarin, we ask about the role of goats in China:
“‘In Chinese,’ he explains, gesturing with deftly held chopsticks, ‘there’s one character that can mean either goat or sheep. Sometimes the zodiac is interpreted as a goat, other times as a sheep.’
“But which is it? His recollection of the livestock he encounterd while living in China doesn’t include goats along the lines of the dairy animals he’d seen in France, but they weren’t quite sheep, either.
“‘For you two, let’s call the animals a goat.’ Bret continues, ‘In the Chinese zodiac, it’s considered a patron of the arts and its year is supposed to be one of harmony and creativity and travel.’ He gives us a benevolent smile.
“We suspect that he might be making some of this up, but Bret insists it’s true. Horoscopes aside, he writes the Chinese character for goat on a napkin, which I tuck carefully into my wallet.”

Now, for the record, I merely hold an elementary certificate from Le Cordon Bleu, not a grand diploma, so I wouldn’t call myself a graduate, and even at its best, in summer of 1989, my Mandarin wasn’t fluent. But I’m also not really an all-knowing, benevolent philosopher-food writer who inscribes mystical charms onto napkins that will guide friends through a year of adventure (the napkin re-emerges later in the book, in San Francisco). But I’ll take the compliment.
Besides, the dim sum lunch in question did take place, as did that conversation, more or less, and I did write the Chinese character for goat or sheep, yang (rising tone so it sounds like you’re asking it — yang?) in Mandarin, on a napkin for them.

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