Valentine Interview: The Idiot and the Odyssey & Alain Passard’s V-Day Bouquet

Valentine Interview: The Idiot and the Odyssey & Alain Passard’s V-Day Bouquet
It’s no secret that Joel Stratte-McClure, American-born larger-than-life former IHT and People/Time contributor, likes nothing better than a cracking good walk. Gathering material for the sequel to his first book The Idiot and the Odyssey II: Myth, Madness and Magic on the Mediterranean took him once again in the footsteps of his hero; Odysseus. The book title takes its’ influence from Greek mythology and JSM, who’s now walked 8,802 kilometres, always packs a weathered copy of Homer’s Odyssey in his backpack. BUZZ was lucky enough to catch JSM on a recent visit to Paris, actually sitting down, at one of his favourite restaurants: La Mediterranée BUZZ: Welcome to Paris, your home for many years. Can you explain your recent adventures, or would you rather order first? JSM: You’ll read in the book that I created a mythical menu for La Mediterranée where the seafood based cuisine combines, creativity, simplicity and freshness. I asked them to prepare an Idiot and Odyssey meal including, feuillatine de saumon Poseidon, osso buco à la façon d’Odysseus, broccoli de Kalypso and crème brûlée de Circe with bread by Telémakhos, wine courtesy of Dionysus and recycled water from the Styx! Sometimes I order the bouillabaisse, which Pudlowski says is the best in Paris. In warm weather I sit on the terrace, watch the world go by and dream a little. BUZZ: So, where did the second Med-Trek take you? JSM: It was a 4,401-kilometer footloose journey from Rome, where I concluded my first book, to the boot of Italy, around Sicily and Crete, to the top of Mount Olympos, into the monasteries of Mount Athos, and around a dozen Greek Islands. Towards the end I walked through the battlefields of Gallipoli, swam across the Hellespont in the wake of Leander and Lord Byron and hiked into Troy, site of the Trojan War. I end my second book near Izmir where the Turks claim Homer was born, though the Greeks are equally sure he was born on the nearby island of Chios! BUZZ: And the twelve tasks that you perform during the MedTrek? JSM: They were “assigned” to me by the Goddess Circe after I spent a year, with her, on her island south of Rome. They finish with the order to: “Make your own homeward journey to your own Ithaka and write a heartfelt and cathartic account about the importance of home and friends”. BUZZ: How was it possible to do all that? JSM: You’ll have to read the book! The fully interactive and cutting edge e-book version of the travel narrative includes 200 photos, several hundred informative hyperlinks and scores of interactive maps that allow the reader to follow my adventures via GPS as I MedTrek and muse on life, meditation, literature, art, the environment, Greek Gods and Goddesses, history, eating and, of course, the art of walking. BUZZ: Did anyone ever tell you you’re nuts to attempt this journey, did you ever tell yourself you’re nuts?  Are you nuts? JSM Who do you think is The Idiot in the title? BUZZ: And the part of the journey that marked you, maybe changed your life? JSM Actually my MO in the book is “the goal is the path, the path is the goal.” So the whole thing, which is a 20-year project because it took Odysseus that long to fight in the Trojan War and return home to Ithaka, has radically influenced every aspect of my life. I started this midlife gig when I was fifty and, now 64, will probably call it a day when I’m 70, though that’s up to me, not Homer. When I’m not walking, researching or writing I’m publicizing the books and staying in shape to stay on the path. BUZZ: The high point of the trek? JSM: The highest point was probably Mount Olympus, where I met Zeus and some of the other gods, but I get high everyday that I’m out walking an average of 32 km. BUZZ: And the lowest? JSM: Getting robbed by Gypsies south of Salerno in Italy and falling off a cliff in Morocco. And, of course, when I reached the bottom of some volcanoes on the Aeolian and Greek Islands. BUZZ: The tastiest food? JSM I love everything about the Mediterranean diet that we all know has such a positive impact on health, weight, cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure and blood sugar. I always tighten up and drop a few pounds while I’m MedTrekking, due primarily to all the walking. But, I suspect that my overall health improves just because, by both choice and dining options, my intake is rich in fruits and vegetables, olives and ambrosial olive oil, low-fat dairy products and fish to create antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. When walking I want ethnic street food or juicy fresh fruits and vegetables from village markets. I rarely take time out for a leisurely meal. Walking also enables me to eat all the olive bread and local deserts that tempt me. My favorite pastry is by far a cream bougatsa for breakfast in Greece. BUZZ; For readers tempted to follow in your Nike-steps, what is the one thing, apart from an Amex Centurion card, they should not leave home without? JSM A second pair of comfortable shoes and lots of water! BUZZ: What advice do you give readers wanting to set out on a similar adventure? JSM: Commonsense Tips for Mindful MedTrekking (the addendum of the book) One of the reasons I have such a delightful time walking around the Mediterranean Sea is because I keep it simple. Do prepare and train to avoid, or lessen, aches, pains and injuries. Start slowly and walk at the speed of the slowest member of your party. For the record, I walk an average of 33 kilometers a day. There’s nothing more delightful than meeting strangers on the road. BUZZ: And the future? JSM: I’ll resume the MedTrek from İzmir to Egypt in April. First, though, I’m returning to Pella, Alexander the Great’s birthplace capital of the ancient kingdom of Macedonia, Greece. I’ll walk from there to the sea; may even run in the annual Alexander the Great Marathon that ends at the White Tower in Thessaloniki, the last capital of ancient…

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Born in Hampton, Middlesex, UK, Margaret Kemp is a lifestyle journalist, based between London, Paris and the world. Intensive cookery courses at The Cordon Bleu, London, a wedding gift from a very astute ex-husband, gave her the base that would take her travelling (leaving the astute one behind) in search of rare food and wine experiences, such as the vineyards of Thailand, 'gator hunting in South Florida, learning to make eye-watering spicy food in Kerala;pasta making in a tiny Tuscany trattoria. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Financial Times Weekend and FT. How To Spend, The Spectator, Condé Nast Traveller, Food & Travel, and Luxos Magazine. She also advises as consultant to luxury hotels and restaurants. Over the years, Kemp has amassed a faithful following on BonjourParis. If she were a dish she'd be Alain Passard's Millefeuille “Caprice d'Enfant”, as a painting: Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’herbe !