06 August 2009

Rewind to Motivation

I was laid off from work as a software engineer in May after parting ways with a relationship (not the other person in it) in April and decided I needed and was finally able to take some me-time to do some of the exploration I've wanted to do for a while.

Let's see. I have studied and worked and trained as a linguist (of various flavors) since 1993, if not before. Language and culture have been part of my interests for as long as I can remember, going back probably to kindergarten or first grade, when I remember going to a friend's house to play led me to encounters with his monolingual grandmother. Asking or thanking her for the wonderful Nicaraguan food she seemed to make all day every day had to take place in Spanish. That was the beginning of what would eventually become a long-standing relationship with the Spanish language. A little more recently, my PhD studies were in cognitive science and linguistics, largely because I liked the interdisciplinary nature of cog sci in approaching how people think, communicate, and exchange information (optionally, with machines). This carries over to lots of areas. I enjoy and think I'm relatively good at seeing patterns, connections, & similarity in general: in nature, in food, in dance, anthropologically speaking...

Knowing that 'gumbo' has its roots in Africa (from one or more of the many Bantoid or Kwa languages) is one thing, but experiencing a dish in West Africa that truly reminds me of a form of gumbo is the kind of thing I'd be floored by and the kind of thing I think might prove interesting to some audience somewhere. Of course, I fully realize that southern and western Africa do not share much in common other than that they're on the same continent, so the aforementioned discovery may not happen on the upcoming voyage. However, a ceremonial Zulu dinner with/for the Nkosi could have elements that are not unlike some you might see on a table in the southern U.S. (probably easy to recognize) or maybe even a Roman feast (more exciting to notice). Some observations are apparent, while others may require research. Either way, the lightbulb moments one could expect from such research seem highly rewarding from my perspective before the starting gun goes off.

I learned to cook mostly with my Great Aunt and my mom. I was always in the kitchen with them or even watching cooking shows with my Great Aunt on TV and even taking notes as a child. Creation, in the culinary sense, is an art form just as valid and appreciable as painting or sculpting or working with tile or glass or metal. It's arguably more ephemeral (and tastier).

Similar things can be said about music. Drawing parallels and observing differences between music of seemingly disparate cultures can be eye-opening for the uninitiated. I remember a Chieftains performance in the early nineties where they played some music inspired by (or maybe even prepared as part of) a tour they had done in China. The cross-cultural musical references left an impression on me as a musically-inclined teenager: How could Chinese instruments and music be so similar to Irish instruments and music? Although I have not made it my task to find an answer to this question, I have kept my ears, eyes, nose, mouth, and mind open to perceiving further phenomena in this vein.

While I'm not trained as a chef in any way, I think I am getting more and more interested in considering what it would be like to prepare food for more willing guinea pigs. I'm reevaluating what I'm doing and think that when (if?) I come back to the U.S., food will need to play a bigger role in my life. Some would argue that it's not feasible or practically possible. (Them: "Keep it as a hobby." Me: "OK, but it's a hobby I can spend more time enjoying!") I'm fascinated by the effect food has on [some] people. It has the power to nourish, heal, satisfy, delight, surprise, repulse.

What can I do with this? Who knows. Maybe write about food from a certain internationally parallel perspective, relating food histories and development. Maybe food photography would be enough. Hosting dinner parties has always been something I've enjoyed; that isn't going to change. Seeing people come together to socialize and appreciate each other's company and the dishes before them brings me joy, whether it's two people or ten or (although I haven't one it yet) 20. When I cook dinners for friends, even if I'm self-critical, the reviews are generally positive and those friends typically want subsequent invitations to dine.


  1. The winner of "The Next Food Network Star" was a home chef...stay at home mom who created infinite possibilities around food. I'm just sayin'.

  2. Well there you have it. I already have one possible connection with a small restaurant in Knysna, S.A., and I'm looking forward to a dinner in Windhoek, Namibia with the family of someone I'm staying with. Food Network, look out!

  3. David, I am enjoying your blog. Just discovered a little of what you are/have been doing around the world. It is awesome and I am living vicariously through you! Great points on food-you forgot "feel loved" :) Sorry to hear about the job/relationship but it is great seeing you doing what you have always wanted. Miss you!
    PS You are welcome to visit Atlanta in your travels if you need a place to stay or have a layover.