It’s been a stressful old week Chez Lemur, with an unreasonable amount of work on my plate. I have only myself to blame: I took on too much, not really thinking through when all the deadlines would happen (hint: at the same damn time) and now I’m regretting my enthusiasm for new projects. It was all the more lovely, then, when an unexpected package plopped through my door yesterday. I order a lot of books, so I figured this would be just another brown cardboard book box from that politically-dubious bookstore but it wasn’t! The package was from a former student, Isabel Machado, a Brazilian filmmaker who now lives in Alabama. I opened it up to find two rather wonderful things.

First, there was a book called The Happy Table of Eugene Walter: Southern Spirits in Food and Drink. Lots of my American foodie friends will be nodding knowledgeably, as Eugene Walter was apparently very famous, but he is new to me. He lived, as Isabel did until recently, in Mobile, Alabama and he sounds like a rather splendid figure.

He wrote about Southern food and drinks, and was a huge influence on today’s resurgence of interest in traditional Southern foodways. He was also an essayist and something of a personality. In one of his many trips to Rome, he played the Mother Superior in Fellini’s Giulietta degli spiriti! Seriously, you know he must have been a blast. Further evidence is that this book has fully 50 pages of cocktail recipes, including a dedicated chapter on hangover cures.

The second part of the package was a fantastic short film by Isabel and Gideon Kennedy called Grand Fugue on the Art of Gumbo, a  documentary on that most iconic of Louisiana’s dishes that considers both Walter’s legacy for Southern food and the more recent shifts in perception that have seen the growth of high-end Southern cuisine. The film is playing at film festivals right now, so if you’re in the US, look out for it.

I’m looking forward to diving into The Happy Table just as soon as my deadlines are met. In the meantime, it cheered me up immensely to receive such a thoughtful gift out of the blue – and it’s so great to see former students doing well in the world. Now, is it too early to raise a glass to that…?

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