Failure and Success – a History Example Translated to Food


As I recently wended my way slowly from France, through Switzerland and Italy, to Rome, I was trying to get in the mood by reading.

My pal A. suggested Patrick Leigh Fermor’s “Between the Woods and the Water” but I couldn’t get it at a bookstore in Paris, only from Amazon in the UK.  

One thing I did read, though, was Adam Begley’s superb Nov 30, 2008 NYT article, that said “…..Perhaps the best way to enjoy the capital of Tuscany [Florence] is to swap your guidebook for a copy of ‘A Room with a View,’” so I did. But I was tired of it after Chapter 2: “In Santa Croce with No Baedeker.” And, after going through Santa Croce that day, I donated it to my hotel’s library.

Instead I took US Grant’s “Personal Memoirs” (a redundant title if ever there was one) and have been transfixed ever since. And, it has led me to contemplate several pressing existential issues. 

Such as – what is success and what is failure?

And can you be a success in some areas and a failure in others? 

Grant has gone down in history as a failed student, failed businessman, failed trust company CEO, failed President, etc. A real dud. 

But he was a successful husband and father, maybe the best General since Alexander, Caesar or Napoleon, and surely the best writer about war until Winston Churchill came along (speaking of which, how do you explain the incredible memories of these “drunks?”) 

So let’s move back/forward to food. What’s success and failure? 

Paul Bocuse, credited with the Nouvelle revolution, led a double life and his daughter wrote (admittedly between the lines) of his inconsistencies. Was he a success or a failure? 

Pierre Gagniere, admired by many (including myself) as the “top,” is rumored to have split with his first wife and friendly face to the public, and kept on trucking. Was he a success or a failure? 

But Grant kept it all together, personal and professional, until he ventured into business or political terrains. Was he a success or a failure? 

Freud defined normalcy in mental health as the ability work, love and play. All three. Not bad for a hide-bound, Victorian, Viennese guy, but a tough standard for both generals and top chefs. 

It’s too bad they don’t award partial points like “My word” and “My music.” 

Blog: John Talbott’s Paris
©by John Talbott 2008

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