Thursday, January 14, 2010

One Week Ago...

I was supposed to go to Chicago and see the amazingly creative Jasper Fforde, but alas... I am always optimistic that this winter will be different, but, never really is. Snow, snow, and more snow, and never when you want it! So I still have something I'm planning on announcing with regard to my Shades of Grey Giveaway... but it will have to remain under wraps for a little while longer in case things fall through, as they seem to be doing lately with alarming regularity. But I do have a treat, you might not have my words about Jasper's visit to the windy city... so how about Jasper's?

Excerpt from Jasper Fforde's Shade of Grey, Eggs Benedict Tour Blog:

"I think there is a flight school down in the Mid West somewhere that teaches airline pilots a confident 'Chuck Yeager Drawl', whose breezy tones can allay the fear from even the most nervous passengers. The flight from Detroit to Chicago might have been a nervy flight, especially when we had the 'longer than usual' de-icing to begin with, the machines looking like an adapted Disney ride. It didn't help that we vanished into a swirling snow-storm the second the wheels left the tarmac, nor the fact that a skeleton in a black cloak and holding a sythe was sitting next to me.

"How did you get the sythe past the TSA?" I asked. At first he made no answer, then told that I should switch to short stories if I were thinking of reading on the flight.

It was bumpy but not excessively so, and my black-cloaked friend moved around the cabin, reminding the passengers of past sins, and offering to play chess.

We circled Chicago three times to admire the view through the swirling snow, the pilot demonstrating to us how easily the undercarriage could be raised and lowered, and the flaps deployed, then raised, then deployed, then raised again.

It might, in fact, have been minimally frightening to a lesser human than me. But throughout all this the captain kept up a chatter from the cockpit, telling us what was going on, and how the snowploughs were out and everything was fine and dandy. In fact, he probably could have told us we had run out of fuel halfway to Honolulu with little chance of survival, but as long as he kept up the Chuck Yeager Drawl, we would all have been perfectly happy.

We landed without incident, but oddly enough the skeleton in the black cloak seemed to have vanished..

My talk was at the Barnes and Noble Skokie, and once more an amused and amusing crowd. Notable alumni were Steve, who is a stalwart of the Fforde Ffiestas with his puppets, Betsy who had driven six hours to be here, and John, who is the first person I have ever met who has had their arm broken by a swan.

Now this is remarkable, and certainly worth greater scrutiny, as the old 'don't go near a swan or it will break your arm' is one of those great lies that pepper your childhood, along with 'if the wind changes, your face will stay that way' or 'it's much much better to be cast as Shepherd #17 than Joseph' or 'Wyoming is actually the size of a double garage'. I had to quiz 'John the Swan' about his, and yes, he confirmed that he had indeed been attacked by a swan that broke his arm, although he didn't have any scars, a bent arm or even a note from the Swan's mother. Mind you, the broader issue over the whole 'you really can have your arm broken by a swan' question is that perhaps your parents were actually right about other things, too. That father Christmas wouldn't burn your existing toys if you were bad, or that Lindt chocolate perhaps wasn't 'poisonous to children' as your parents maintained. Indeed, it was even possible that there WAS a troll up the chimney that would come and wipe their bogies on your face while you slept, or that Aunt Beryl was actually a man, as you had long believed.

(I should point out for reasons of fairness that my parents never indulged in such outrageous lies. But I do. My favourite is that the tooth fairy is actually in the maraca business, and fills maracas with children's teeth. It explains why a constant supply is needed, and why you always get the same for a molar as for an incisor. They sound the same)

Chicago in the grip of snow and rain, much the same as it is back home - only here in Michigan and Illinois no-one gets into a panic over some snow. In the UK and most of Northern Europe, temperatures have dropped to record levels not seen for thirty years. Britain, which has six snowploughs, has ceased to function, and salt is running low. We could ask to borrow some from the World's salt-producing nations, but feel it might be impolite to ask, so we are barricading ourselves in our home muttering the collective mantra of the stoical British public: 'Well, mustn't grumble. Tea? Oooh, that would be lovely.'

But the rest of Europe has its problems too: France is wondering what to do with forty million tons of flavourless sorbet, the Belgiums are drafting a constitutional amendment to the EU charter in order to form a working committee to enable the question of 'snow' to appear on a meeting sometime in 2032, the Germans are currently adapting their fleet of Audis and BMWs to be snowploughs, the Dutch are converting their bicycles into 'ski-cycles' and the Swedes, Finns, Norwegians and Danish are doing nothing - its very much business as usual.

The search for the finest Eggs Benedict continues, and this morning I am at the Four Seasons in Chicago. I've stayed in a 4S before, and they clearly have a database of D-Class celebrities such as myself, as their attention to detail is extraordinary. When I arrived there was a chocolate book with my name on it, (see picture) and all of the staff mysteriously knew my name. Service was impeccable, the hot chocolate served with marshmallows AND cream, and the rooms so comfortable that I would have been quite happy moving in and staying, like a sort of modern day Howard Hughes.

And so we turn to the Eggs Benedict. It was excellent, and totally by the book. And that was the problem. It was marred by a certain level of mechanical perfection. Food should be brought to life with a certain degree of interpretation - one has to read the cook in any great dish. The EB was done perfectly. The eggs in particular were probably the finest poached eggs I have seen, but the hollandaise lacked a certain dash and tanginess. The cook would have to say: 'I know how to improve this - a dash of pepper, a pinch of seasoning - to hell with the conventional palate, I want my Eggs Benedict to sing great hymns!' The Soho Grand managed to do this, the 4S I feel did not. The service, however was excellent, the staff courteous to a point that an English person like me feels mildly embarrassed. Fforde EB index: 8.3

I should also point out at the juncture that I am colour-coding my signings. New York was Black pen, Michigan Blue, and Illinois Brown. Washington light Green, California will be red.

Taken around a slushy Chicago by the Veteran Media escort Bill Young. Signed stock is available from the following outlets:

Bookcellar Lincoln Square (773 293 2665), Borders at Evanston, Barnes and Noble at Evanston, Unabridged books at Lake View, Borders at Lakeview, Barnes and Noble State Street, Borders Michigan Avenue, Barnes and Noble Clybourne and Borders Wilmette."

Make sure to check out his full tour blog for the best Eggs Benedict, and of course other interesting tour stuff... it's not all yolk based.


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