Why France, journalists and the Iliad will always have a place in my kitchen

So, it’s been a slightly dismal week here in Flyover Country. That bitter cold that used to live north of us and comes to visit more often is in town and I am unsuccessfully fighting off some sort of winter sinus-related pestilence. Also, my favorite clothing store is going out of business. And of course, there’s France. France may be a long way away geographically, but when it comes to the free expression of ideas that upset people, it might as well be the house next door.

That hit me particularly this morning. I’d just finished scraping the pan drippings from onions, mushrooms, garlic and a seared bison chuck roast and was putting the mess into my blue Le Creuset roaster.

The “Fancy French Cooking Pot” getting ready for its day trip to the oven.

I got that roaster when I was the lifestyle editor at a small-town daily paper. I’d gotten a press release hyping the brand. I was so broke back then that I qualified for food stamps at one point, and I had only one question for the press contact whose name was on the release.

“So,” I asked. “Tell me why eggs scrambled in your fancy-pants cast-iron frying pan taste better than eggs scrambled in the cast-iron one I just picked up at a garage sale for 50 cents?”

That’s how I got my blue Dutch oven, which I never made eggs in, but did write about in “Messing Up the Kitchen,” my monthly cooking column. Talia and I called it “The Fancy French Cooking Pot,” and that remains its name to this day.

The edgiest thing I did while working at the paper, which I did from 1993 to 1996, was run the city’s (and possibly the state’s) first (and possibly only even to this moment) same-sex-couple birth announcement in 1996. Which is how I discovered that the editor and publisher didn’t read the birth announcements. If they had, I would probably have been out of a job.

I was willing to risk that. I’m not sure I would have the guts to risk – as did those brave French journalists and Ahmed and the other police officer protecting them – my life. I’m deeply grateful to them for standing up for all of us, as they did every time they put out an issue of Charlie Hebdo.

I’m also grateful, this week, to the Frederick News-Post in Frederick, Maryland. County Council Representative Kirby Delauter threatened to sue News-Post reporter Bethany Rodgers for mentioning his name in a story without his permission. The paper’s response was to publish an editorial using his name as an acrostic, a headline and 27 times in the piece. Kudos to Delauter, too, for apologizing – in a statement to the News-Post – instead of suing, as he initially threatened.

Journalism is in flux right now. Papers are shutting down, and much of the reporting that’s done in the most dangerous areas of the world is being done by poorly-compensated stringers for whom what they’re doing is a calling.

There is, however, one constant.

We will never stop needing people who are willing to witness the truth about what they see happening in a place and then take the time and care necessary to accurately inform the rest of us. That matters. A lot. Our survival as a species has always depended on our stories and on our storytellers. Everything from what happened to the person who ate those berries and the fight at the big sale at the edge of town to this:

Anger be now your song, immortal one, Achilles’ anger, doomed and ruinous, that caused the Achaeans loss on bitter loss and crowded brave souls into the under gloom, leaving so many dead men — carrion for dogs and birds; and the will of Zeus was done. Begin it when the two men first contending broke with one another — the Lord Marshal Agamémnon, Atreus’ son, and Prince Achilles.”

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