The Flavours of the Road

Every so often, writers pretend to be rock stars and go on tour.

Our federal arts granting agency, Canada Council, funds the plane fare for book tours (though not much else). So, for the last ten days I gave lectures and did readings of my new-ish book Feeling Canadian: Television, Nationalism and Affect, in Winnipeg, Kelowna and Vancouver.

Along the way, there were shared meals and (very occasionally) solitary meals; there were books to sign, shyly handed over by friends and strangers. There were hotel beds and guest room beds, familiar conversations, small talk, friendships rekindled and new connections formed.

A book goes out into the world just the way you wrote it (and you fight with the editor to make it so!) but it comes back changed. In Kelowna, a clutch of all-ages activists came to my reading and made profound connections with the current state of the country. I’d never imagined this to be an activist book, not really. But I realized that we are living in a darkly conservative time when every lecture, every reading can, and maybe should be used, to try and build political awareness.

In Kelowna, the Ukrainian Literary Critic and I drove to wineries or hung out in her living room, talking for hours about writing, teaching and the shared, ravelled threads of our culture. In Kelowna I ate fishcakes, and steelhead trout, perogies and the Literary Critic’s exquisite Nachynka (aka mamalega, aka polenta).

In Winnipeg, an English grad handed over her tattered copy of my memoir, Comfort Food for Breakups for me to sign and said proudly, staunchly: This. Is. My. Favourite. Book. Her prof, who has quietly been putting my books on her reading lists for years, bought me a martini. In Winnipeg, the smallest audience bought the most books. In Winnipeg, everyone knows one another, and people gather happily over food and drink and talk for hours. There, I had exquisite oysters and gravlax. In Winnipeg!

Ah, Vancouver. Food had become a Thing in Vancouver. Yam potstickers and ginger cocktails with The Anti-Poverty Organizer one dark and stormy night at Wild Rice. Seared scallops and bacon-barley risotto with The Swimmer at Les Faux Bourgeois. Dreamy pasta all’amatriciana with The Anthropologist at Bibo. The best coconut cream pie EVER at Acme, on a rare sunny day, with The Conceptual Artist.

In Vancouver, I talked about art and activism with sweet, smart women’s studies students. On the last night of my tour, I read to a cafe full of dykes, activists, organizers, writers, and academics. My book had come full circle, back to the community whose energy supported me while I wrote it. The cafe I’d laboured in was just around the corner. The beach I’d gone to for reprieve was across the city, shrouded in darkness and rain.

You don’t get that kind of audience very often. They are on your side from the the first sentence. So I read from my heart. I read as though to family.

I’m home now. Laundry, phonecalls, bills – so not feeling like a rock star! But I made pasta all’amatriciana for lunch – spicy and salty, it reminded me of tasty conversations and the dusty smoky flavour of being on the road.

Pasta All’Amatriciana
Serves 4
(adapted from Bon Appetit)

2 tbspn. extra virgin olive oil
4 oz thinly sliced pancetta
1/2 tspn crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tspn freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz can peeled tomatoes with juices, crushed by hand
Kosher salt
12 oz. dried spaghetti or bucatini
1/4 cup finelay grated Pecorino, Parmesan or Asiago cheese

Heat oil in large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta, saute til crisp, about 4 mins. Add peppers, onion, garlic, cook, stirring, til soft, about 8 mins. Add tomatoes, reduce heat to low, cook until sauce thickens, 15-20 mins.

Meanwhile, boil up pasta in sea-salty water, until 2 minutes BEFORE al dente. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water. Add drained pasta to tomato sauce; toss vigorously. Add 1/2 cup of pasta water; cook another 2 minutes until sauce coats pasta and pasta is al dente. Stir in cheese and serve.


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