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What We Keep

Digital immortality of the worst kind


Puck distributes your latest tweet.

(Honor C. Appleton, 1879–1951)


These days when anyone may accidentally turn themselves into a cat on Zoom or leave embarrassing objects on the shelves behind their heads, I've been thinking about the usefulness, nay necessity of squelching one's capacity for embarrassment, especially since these things now have a half-life of the existence of the internet.


Thus I have been channeling my male forebears, specifically my father and grandfather, both of whom were excellent men but cared very little for certain appearances when practicality was involved. My father was the bane of my teenage years because he kept his raincoat (for the rare California rains) in a zippered plastic pocket in the car, and wore the zippered pocket as a hat when the raincoat was deployed. He also mowed the lawn in an umbrella hat.


My grandfather, who was a judge, tended to put on his winter wear with the shortest garment on the outside, sweater over jacket over overcoat. He once appeared at my aunt's apartment in New York in this outfit, plus a deerstalker hat. When my aunt said, "Dad! Did you come here in that?" he replied, "No one noticed. I ran all the way."


In these days when that picture of you with Something Awful in the background may as Puck said, put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes, it's as well to remember what politicians voluntarily put on Facebook and then have to take down again (alas, screen shots live forever) and that the one with your bra hanging from the doorknob is probably small potatoes. Sweep the room for embarrassing trinkets and gin bottles, and hope for the best.

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First boil your ostrich


In the course of researching any past culture and its ways one occasionally comes on something that begs for experimentation. Cooking for instance, which tends to be largely experimentation anyway when I get my hands on it.


Wanting to get the menu of various fictional dinners right, and to know what one would eat for breakfast, I acquired a translation of the classic work on Roman food, the first-century recipes of Apicius, by two mid-twentieth century kitchen scholars who actually made most of the dishes before publishing their text.


Billed as "A Critical Translation of The Art of Cooking by Apicius for Use in the Study and the Kitchen," like many ancient texts this one derives only from copies of copies, preserved in two ninth-century versions of a fifth-century manuscript. Large chunks of it seem to be additions by the fifth-century editor, so there are the inevitable difficulties. One term, for instance, can mean either artichokes or mussels, which is going to make a difference in your recipe right there.


And there is the issue of measurement, because there isn't any, mainly. A sauce for boiled ostrich (should you be serving one) lists only the ingredients for the sauce but no quantities or instructions, other than to boil that too and pour it over the ostrich.


Naturally I want to make something out of this book, and am fortunate enough to have two mad friends who want to do so as well. When we can cook together again, I'm thinking of Chicken in the Numidian Way with the Spiced Wine Surprise.          


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