Look closely at a map of southwestern France and you’ll notice it: a blank spot just west of Toulouse where the place names thin out and the train lines and expressways veer away, like a stream flowing around a boulder. That blank spot is Gascony, one of the most rural regions in all of France. Gascons are for the most part proud of their provinciality, and many of them have developed the curious habit of describing their bucolic land in terms of all the things it doesn’t have: big cities, mass tourism, traffic, urban stress, high-speed rail service, autoroutes, soaring real estate prices, hordes of Parisians snapping up summer homes and so on. I spent most of a year there to gather material for a culinary memoir and can confirm the absence of all those things.
One sometimes hears Gascony referred to as “the other South of France” by boosterish types mindful of the immense popularity of Provence and the Côte d’Azur, which lie some 250 miles to the east. And to be sure, if you plant yourself on a restaurant “terrasse” on the main square of Auch (pronounced OWE-sh) — Gascony’s historical capital — in, say, late September, you might easily convince yourself you’re in Mediterranean France, what with the date palms and the nice-looking people in sunglasses sipping rosé and talking in the bouncy accent of the Midi.
But then your meal arrives, and the illusion vanishes faster than a cold pastis on a hot day. For Gascon food is richer than the sunny cuisine of Provence. It is unabashedly, defiantly rich. Duck fat, not olive oil, is the local currency. Everything gets cooked in it: potatoes, sausages, eggs, and — in the case of confit, that pillar of Gascon farmhouse cooking — duck itself. Gascons consume foie gras, which is made on family farms all over the region, with casual regularity, and consider the delicacy about as decadent as a pork chop.
‘Imagination is more important than knowledge” — so goes Albert Einstein’s oft-quoted remark. Less well known is how the great physicist’s observation continues: “Knowledge is limited, imagination encircles the world.” Some species of world-encircling lies at the heart of Lawrence Weschler’s new book, “Waves Passing in the Night,” a delightfully offbeat narrative about a man with no science training who has developed a theory that he believes reveals lapses in our understanding of gravity and suggests extensions to Einstein’s general relativity.
What makes Weschler’s hero intriguing, even more than his claim, is his pedigree, for the man in question, Walter Murch, is a legendary Hollywood film-and-sound editor, nominee for nine Academy Awards and winner of three. Movie aficionados revere him for his work on “Apocalypse Now” and “The Godfather” series, and his role in helping to create Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece “The Conversation.” Over two decades, when he hasn’t been editing films like “The English Patient” and “Cold Mountain,” Murch has been developing a theory about how planets become arranged around stars and moons around planets. His labors have led him to conclusions that, in his mind, constitute a potential revolution in cosmology.
Borrowing the title of one of Turgenev’s best-known works is a bold statement, directly implying a kinship between Gwendoline Riley’s fifth novel and the Russian master’s tale of an ill-fated love affair. But while Turgenev’s First Love is a linear exploration of the liminal state between childhood and maturity, Riley’s First Love is a more elusive, chronologically chaotic take on the power dynamics of love.
SATAN: Welcome to my Hell! Great to meet you!
WRITER: We actually met last week, at Bob’s party? You invited me to come here and “kick around some movie ideas.”
SATAN: That’s what I said! It was great to meet you then. Listen, I’ve got a golf game with a few former Halliburton execs in ten minutes, so if you don’t mind giving me the down-only elevator pitch . . .
WRITER: “Mothers and Daughters of Omaha” is about the unbreakable bond between three generations of Nebraska mothers and daughters, during war and peacetime. It’s a quiet film, focussing on the small, tender moments that make a family.
SATAN: Scans a little Lifetime-y.