I am, at this very moment, nibbling on a small piece of cheesecake a friend brought me. And not just cheesecake. GOAT CHEESE cheesecake.
Said confection is not only objectively perfect, it is ME-perfect, in the way that I like my fudge to be slightly grittier than those patrician Vassar ladies intended – because that’s what I grew up with – so it’s ever-so-slightly tangier than usual. Each bite of crust feels sandy and salty and yielding, and it speaks of hours in the kitchen carefully tamping graham crackers into spring-form pans. As for me, for my blistering logic, my stoic cynicism… I can form but one parallel.
Consider Beeton’s Christmas Annual published in 1887. A story, detailing the reminiscences of an army surgeon who soon met a rather extraordinary individual. Pay attention to an early passage from “A Study In Scarlett.”
SHERLOCK HOLMES—his limits.
1. Knowledge of Literature.—Nil.
5. Botany.—Variable. Well up in belladonna,
opium, and poisons generally.
Knows nothing of practical gardening.
6. Geology.—Practical, but limited.
Tells at a glance different soils
from each other. After walks has
shown me splashes upon his trousers,
and told me by their colour and
consistence in what part of London
he had received them.
8. Anatomy.—Accurate, but unsystematic.
9. Sensational Literature.—Immense. He appears
to know every detail of every horror
perpetrated in the century.
10. Plays the violin well.
11. Is an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.
12. Has a good practical knowledge of British law.
And yet the baker of this cheesecake? When she talks about vegetable platters? She pronounces them “CROO-dites.”
Fucking CROO-dites. And Grant Achatz’ restaurant in Chicago? ah-luh-NAY-uh.
I mean, let’s be honest, I make Sherlock Holmes references all the time. From The Empty House, I know to distinguish “Cause of Death” from “Manner of Death,” and the tricky relationship between the two. The problem of Thor Bridge gave me the concept of a man’s life having a slight shroud of privacy one clings to for years.
And don’t get even me started about Mycroft. You know, the one Kareem Abdul Jabbar wrote a book about? the even MORE observant but lazy older brother? Triple dog dare you to say the obvious.
Still. CROO-dites. With a cheesecake THIS good. How can preternatural knowledge be SO removed from its sense of theoretical grounding? How can you know how to identify a blood spatter pattern without knowing about gravity, just as you know how to whip up a delicate buttercream frosting after maybe only furtively glancing, with absolutely no formal culinary education or lengthy apprenticeship, at a picture? HOW?!?!
The Mystery of the Red Headed League (the 80s BBC Adaptation of which I wind up forcing upon all friends) ends with the detective quoting Flaubert, “L ‘homme c’est rien – loeuvre c’est tout.” Man is nothing. The Masterpiece is everything. In other words, we are nothing but the work we create.