Love in the Time of Coriander

Thoughts on food & more.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Eating One's Shoe

I heard Werner Herzog on the radio a few days ago being interviewed on Fresh Air. Terry Gross was absent and was replaced by a man who asked similarly naive questions. I caught the tail end of the interview.

Listening to Herzog, however brief, did remind me of his incredible commitment to doing one's creative passion. The interviewer asked him about the strenous, life-altering journeys he embarks on in order to get his films made. Herzog interrupted him abruptly to tell him, "That is bologna." He claimed he was unmotivated by the transformative aspects of the process, but that he is just solely dedicated to making the art happen, whatever that might be.

E had asked me the night before whether I would just become more and more obsessed with food. This was in the back of my head as I heard Herzog speak and remembered the Les Blank movie, Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. Coincidentally, I had also been reading about Les Blank in Ruth Reichl's book, Comfort Me with Apples. In it, Blank is shooting Garlic is s Good as Ten Mothers. I know that Les still lives somewhere near me and continues to make his kooky but thought-provoking documentaries.

In Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, Blank films the unfolding of a bet between Herzog and Errol Morris. At one time, Herzog was Morris' professor and encouraged him to finish his first film. If Morris did, Herzog promised to eat his shoe, the leather one he was wearing at the time of the bet. Not suprisingly, Morris made the film, Gates of Heaven, a documentary about pet cemetaries and the people who bury their pets in them.

Alice Waters marinated the shoe in duck fat, garlic and other herbs. If I recall this correctly, she then slowly simmered the shoe until it was tender. Don't think you'll ever see that on Chez Panisse's menu! Herzog, standing in front of a crowd in the UC Theater, a precious gem filled with history and sitting unused at the moment, proceeds to give a talk and eats his shoe. I believe that he actually eats the entire leather portion, the edible part, of the shoe.

Perhaps one of the most inspiring parts of the film--and it is definitely a film worth seeing--is the footage that Blank has of Herzog speaking about his vision of what an artist should be. At one point, Herzog describes difficulties he had in the making of Even Dwarfs Started Small. There were accidental fires, and one of the cast members got very hurt--not uncharacteristic of Herzog's films. (See Les Blank's Burden of Dreams.) Because Herzog felt so badly for the pain that his cast of midget actors endured, he promised to throw himself into a cactus when the filming was done. In Eats His Shoe, he of course reveals that he painfully threw himself into a cactus bush.

There is also a stellar moment in the film, when Blank is interviewing Herzog in the back seat of a car. I don't remember the exact quote, but Herzog is talking about activities which most closely attain perfection. Not surprisingly, he lists his own passion of filmmaking. He then goes on to say that an alternative to such an ideal would be "cooking" and, then, lastly, adds that "walking on foot" is also quite special. From the time I saw this movie, I loved this scene. It was always poetic to me. But it was also ephemeral, something I didn't quite understand: that filmmaking and cooking and walking on foot would all, almost equally, bring me closer to nirvana?

Now, faced with E's question of whether I will continue to become more and more obsessed with cooking, I feel confident that I am engaged in one of the most powerful, ascendent practices.


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