Quite a bit of interesting chatter around here on the subject of Madeleines over the weekend, some in the comment fields, some via email, all on the subject of what makes a “true” Madeleine. There can be no definitive answer to that of course, since the perfect Madeleine is in the eye (more precisely, the mouth) of the beholder. For every person out there who claims to have made a textbook Madeleine there’s someone else who thinks it’s dirt. Most of these people live in France, of course. Not only are Madeleines taken much more seriously there, there are bakers who have spent a good chunk of their lives working to perfect them.
I’ll never be a Madeleine maker of that caliber. Where they’re concerned I’m a true dabbler. I make a few from time to time, then move on to something else. I’m a generalist, and content to be so, since I’d make a pretty boring blogger if I weren’t.
However I was reminded of what a poetic and powerful thing specialization can be when I saw Jiro Dreams of Sushi this weekend. If you have yet to check it out, I highly recommend you go rent or stream this lovely film. It’s all about the level of excellence human beings can achieve when they’re at once talented, inspired, motivated and totally single-minded for a stretch of about 75 years. Beyond that, it’s an object lesson in how few simultaneously talented, inspired, motivated and single-minded people there are in this world, especially those fortunate enough to find the profession that perfectly suits them.
Watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi you’re rapt by 85-year-old Jiro’s mastery, yet consumed with pity for his 50-year-old son, who’d much rather be driving fast cars than slicing toro. However due to professional and societal constraints, Takashi is doomed to live out the rest of his days in his father’s shadow. You walk away from the whole film thinking: what I wouldn’t give to be that amazingly good at something! Then you think of poor Takashi. Once his father dies, Takashi probably will be recognized as the world’s greatest practitioner of sushi making, but he’ll wish he was in the car business instead. Bummer.
It reminded me of being in grade school in the Chicago suburbs in the 70’s. My fourth grade teacher was the sister of a then-famous playwright, who visited our school one afternoon to speak. He compared himself to a boy who once went to a market and balanced a ball on his nose for fun. People were so delighted at the sight that they threw money at him. So, he did it again. Before he knew it he was a professional juggler, though he always wanted to be doing something else. Thus, instead of a talk about the joys of writing and seeing your work performed on the stage, the playwright’s speech turned out to be all about regret and the importance of finding a career you love. Talk about depressing for a 9-year-old. Wasn’t this guy a celebrity? Famous people are supposed to be happy!
All of which goes to show…I don’t know what exactly. Other than life’s short, and it’s important not to go through it with regrets, whether you make world class anango or something-less-than-world-class Madeleines. The main thing is to have a good time. If this blog demonstrates anything, I hope it’s that. Now who’s up for some Pop Tarts?