Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Nero Wolfe And I

Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe is one of my great literary heroes. I'll summarize the information you can find in Wikipedia and elsewhere. Wolfe is an obese, neuorotic detective, who almost never leaves his Manhatten brownstone, where he has installed a world class Swiss chef and a rooftop orchid greenhouse - food, orchids and books being his big interests in life. He is usually too lazy to work and has to be goaded by his assistant, Archie Goodwin. And this is where the series wone my heart, not the mysteries or the plots, but the edgy affection between the two men, always with a healthy dose of argumentative banter (for example, the eternal debate over Wolfe's contention that "contact" is not a verb). That, and the great attention lavished by Wolfe on the finer details of dining: Preparing good food is an exact sciense and an ongoing task, never to be taken too lightly. Business is never to be discussed at the table. Guests should never go hungry. Drinks are always supplied during conferences and the wines served are often on the order of Corton and Montrachet. To make scrambled eggs properly requires forty minutes, perhaps thirty when in a rush.

All of that is just intelligent wit and good writing. But there is a philosophical notion behind the series that is very important to me and mirrors my own interests in food and wine. Archie is a tough, street-smart operator from Ohio. Nothing in his previous experience had prepared him to live with a gourmand but by the time the series commences he already has a good, understated understanding of high dining. A line like "remembering the Montrachet was being served and knowing the effect it would have on my taste buds, I opted for the white wine" (quoting from memory) is typical. So for me, the important theme is this: intelligence, loyalty, bravery and hard work may be rewarded by initiation into a magical world, where good friends and good cheer, the right sauce for your goose, a well made sausage or a rare brandy are bright stars on the tapestry of heaven.

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