The flesh is weak

Other people’s words about … well, elimination

Writers don’t often describe bodily functions in literature (other than sex). After all, reading is about escapism, right?

But in ‘The Prophets of Eternal Fjord’, Kim Leine describes the main character’s afflictions with — ahem — a sensitive colon so evocatively that his physical suffering becomes embedded into the story.

His intestines are in an uproar. He senses the ominous ripple of diarrhoea in the bowel, the quivering alarm of the sphincter.
(p. 114)

Morten Falck is an eighteenth-century missionary in the Danish colony of Greenland.

His bowels emit a series of shrill tones of varying intensity. He grimaces, then collects himself.
(p. 127)

This is a story of suffering, weakness, morality, intestinal discomfort and (perhaps) redemption.

It gushes from him the moment he pulls up his cassock and sits down on the privy seat, a mud-like mass, almost without smell, an inexhaustible landslide of brown. His intestines writhe in agony, and yet there is a considerable element of joy at being able to release, to discharge this spray of filth and empty the bowels. He groans, bites his hand and chuckles. His sphincter blares and squelches, and then there is silence. He feels more is to come and shifts his weight from side to side, bent double, his head between his bony knees, his hands massaging his stomach, but nothing is forthcoming. It is as if something is stuck inside him, a thick log of excrement blocking his passage. But most likely a fold of the intestine, he considers. He recalls images of the corpses he dissected and drew as a young man, and he sees now his own colon in his mind’s eye and the blockage that has occurred. He imagines its slow release and the sudden slop that comes with it. The thought of it helps. A new deluge is evacuated and his anus trumpets a fanfare.
(p. 151)

Seriously, how can you not admire such a vivid description of intestinal torture?
Come on, admit it — we’ve all been there at some time!



Other people’s words about … headaches

One of the things I love about reading is the sense of kinship
you can find in another person’s words.
Sometimes, the smallest phrases from a book sing true.

Since he left, a headache had followed Laura, the kind like a bird that settles and soars.

from ‘Questions of Travel’
by Michelle de Kretser

(p. 177)

Sometimes I, like Laura, get headaches that come over me, varying in intensity —
for a few hours, or days, or weeks.
Medication doesn’t help:
and I’ve learned just to sit the headache out.

… she could feel a headache coming on, the close-fitting, all-over kind like a swimming cap made of lead.

(p. 498)

So I find solace and companionship in these words of Michelle de Kretser.
I may never meet her.
But I know how her world is coloured,
and I know that she is kin.

Bitter greens

It’s enough to make your hair go curly …

These days, I wouldn’t consider myself particularly faddish about food.
I don’t drink coconut water.
I can’t stand quinoa.
I can take or leave chia seeds.
And I could never, never give up cake.
So imagine my delight when I tried out a recipe for kale loaf …
… and actually liked it!

Maybe I can tolerate a little faddishness in my life, after all.

Especially with a smidge of butter …

And only if it tastes good.

Why I bake

So many of us like to believe that if we eat right, exercise frequently, practise moderation and stay positive, we will be healthy — physically and mentally.
But I think it’s more honest to admit, in all humility, that we can only do so much.
The rest is — well, serendipity.

Here’s what one of my favourite cooks, Belinda Jeffery, says in her wonderful cookbook Mix and Bake:

As to the health factor, a number of people have said that they feel my writing this book is quite a risky enterprise when there is so much emphasis on obesity concerns these days. However, the words of a dear friend ring in my ears every time I start to wonder if I’m quite sane in doing this. When I told him what I was up to and voiced my concerns, he smiled gently at me and said, ‘A slice of homemade cake never made anyone fat, and it certainly made them smile’. And it’s true — like everything else in our lives it is all about balance, and I would far rather enjoy eating a piece of cake made with love from good eggs, butter and flour (with no preservatives, food additives or colourings) than something bought any day. I have taken these wise words to heart.

As for me, during a recent bout of illness, I began baking again.
I thought: Why can’t a slice of cake be a part of the everyday?

Why not indeed?