Sunday, August 19, 2007

Alternative Forms Of Travel

On the boardwalk in Brighton Beach, we went to a Russian restaurant, which is like saying we went to a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. Brighton Beach is more Russian than American, which is wonderful. For the price of a subway ride, you can go to a foreign country.
- Jonathan Ames,

When I read this passage in Jonathan Ames book of essays, I love You More Than You Know, I immediately though of an old bartender I used to work with named Frank, and a conversation a friend and I once had with him. Frank grew up in The Lower East Side and was extremely proud of the fact that he had never been more than 300 miles outside of the city. He was well into his sixties by the time I worked with him, so this was quit an accomplishment I suppose.

The conversation began when my friend and fellow waitress Kara was talking about visiting her parents in Indiana
"You girls, always flying off to these exotic places..." Frank interrupted with a heavy NY accent.
"Frank, Indiana isn't exotic, its the Midwest!" Kara replied with a look of astonishment, "its not like I'm going to Paris or something like that."
"Paris, Indiana, same thing," he barked back.
Kara Turned to me to share her look of utter disbelief. She is a girl who likes to debate, me not so much. If I hear some one make a claim that is miles from the truth I, for the most part, won't dispute them. Kara on the other hand, being a brazen Taurus and a talented debater, would not dream of backing down from an opportunity to challenge somebody's mistaken opinions.
"What!" she exclaimed, ready to pounce.
"Have you ever even been to Paris?" I asked Frank, finally joining into the debate.
"Never been 300 miles outside of New York City" Frank responded with glowing pride.
"Why not?" I asked, now intrigued by his urban yet somehow provincial philosophy.
" Why would I? Everything they got over there," he was waving his arms in the direction of this unknown land of there, "we got it all right here."
"But Frank, its not the same thing!" Kara cried out with frustration. His inflexible determination was beginning to wear on her mental well being.
"How can you even say that, if you have never been to Paris or to Indiana?" she continued.
"I watch the Discovery Channel!" he barked back with all seriousness, defending his reasoning with a retort that simultaneously discredited it.
Kara, finally realizing the hopelessness of the debate, threw her arms in the air in a gesture of defeat.

When I eat out in NYC, I often think of Frank's argument, and in the context of food, it kind of makes sense. Eating out can be an alternative way to travel. However, we must never mistake eating in a French Bistro in Brooklyn for the real thing. Though the chef may adhere strictly to the statutes of French Cooking, the ingredients he has to work with are ultimately, American, the people he is cooking for are almost all Americans, and there philosophies of food and of eating are predominantly, American. You may be able to get a taste of France, Thailand, Mexico, or Japan in this great city, but it will only ever be a taste, and not the whole enchilada.

1 comment:

Kara said...

God, I remember that! And, as I sit in Indiana right now, I can say, as much as it is not the hayseed certain New Yorkers think it is, it's certainly not Paris! (Not that I've ever been to Paris, but, unlike Frank, I would go - and would count on there being at least a few differences!)