NYR iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Jill Robinson

Jill Robinson

Posted: November 23, 2009 02:31 PM

Poutine, With Apologies to Calvin Trillin

What's Your Reaction?

I returned to America from 25 years in London around a year and a half ago, really excited at the possibility if a lot of us got involved we could elect an articulate President who had some serious and good principles and wrote his own books. Seemed to go well, and, in what now seems truly a miracle, we did elect this President.

However, just as the British have trouble clarifying their territories Australia and New Zealand, referring to them simply as "down under," so I have had trouble for many decades clarifying our "up over" territories Canada and Alaska. It certainly never occurred to me that anyone from these lands would consider the Presidency of our own actual States. (Or are these now the Reality States?) Never understood why John McCain selected his vice-presidential candidate from up over unless he believed, as many of us do, in his own immortality.

Then, yesterday I read the latest edition of the New Yorker to reach Los Angeles - the one with the Atomic Bomb Pumpkin Pie on the cover. Calvin Trillin, a man who, like the two other best funny American writers does not grin, has written a perfect study on what he says is Canada's National Food: the poutine, a mash of cheese curds, French fries and meat gravy. Like many excellent stories driven by character, you know this must be fiction and you don't Google "poutine" to be disillusioned, so well and carefully does Trillin make you understand how the national fondness for poutine explains Canada and our chilly attitude about the place.

What does this have to do with Sarah Palin? Trillin writes of Canada so knowledgeably, of the various local territories, the variations on the poutine, and, of course, he reflects on the National Animal, the Moose. So as I read, I realized I was confusing Canada with Alaska, and, why not, both being up over, chilly and not somewhere we have been. I mean we still feel Europe is just right there sort left of New York, and necessary to literary completion and dressing well.

In spite of the last election reassuring me that this up over personality was out of our serious new lives forever, I have been unable to avoid Sarah Palin over the past few days. So as I read Calvin Trillin treatise on the culinary vulgarities of the poutine (imagining that sometimes moose stock might make the gravy that is slupped), I decided that perhaps this person's persistent thrust into our media's cheese-curd consciousness is due to her hefty diet of poutine. I could see she has evolved from a moose DNA. Visualize antlers. Yes? Did she have moose parents -- and what is the plural of "moose"? Can you remember her parents? God knows we know more than we would wish of her daughter's former hunk. Is a hunk a curd? What, in fact, is a cheese curd? Trillin was careful to point out a real one as opposed to an invalid cheese curd as well as gravy that does not have the savory force of moose. Does the former V.P. candidate have savory force? Is this what drives the mobs of suburban Michigan outlanders from places even pilots miss during their computer games. Places with hoards of readers ganging up for orange wristbands saying, "I have read this book"? At least they want to read: the publishing industry is thrilled. There are readers UP OVER all eager to sit, up to their elbows in poutine, carefully protecting the orange plastic bangles they'll leave to their children, legacies of the literary, or is it political or is it celebrity thrill of their lives?

Can you catch celebrity; if you get close to it, maybe touch the book she touched. If we need shots to avoid swine flu, is the orange band a vaccine against moose flu? Hang onto the bracelet and in ten days you'll be coherent. You'll read a book by a person who wrote it. You'll be back to actual reality.

There is no other name on that book, and there's been concern. How could she do that to the writer? The writer, it's said, took off 20% off her royalties not to have her name on the book and has never, she told Rachel Maddow, even visited UP OVER, nor, even been at the same table with a poutine.