Monday, September 22, 2008

Pesto improbable, says Bond

James Bond (who was, one surmises, brought up on wartime English food) discovers pesto sauce:

Signor Kristatos picked up the menu. [Note Italian honorific with Greek surname. These wog chappies all look the same. -- Ed.] He said 'I do not beat about bushes, Mr Bond. How much?'

'Fifty thousand pounds for one hundred per cent results.'

Kristatos said indifferently: 'Yes. These are important funds. I shall have melon with prosciutto ham and a chocolate ice-cream. I do not eat greatly at night. These people have their own Chianti. I commend it.'

The waiter came and there was a brisk rattle of Italian. Bond ordered Tagliatelli Verdi with a Genoese sauce which Kristatos had said was improbably concocted of basil, garlic and fir cones.

-- Ian Fleming, 'Risico', c.1960

This story appears in Quantum of Solace: The Complete James Bond Short Stories, just published as a tie-in with the new Bond movie of the same name. The title story also appears in this collection and while it bears the marks of a heavy debt to W. Somerset Maugham, it has absolutely one hundred per cent nothing to do with the synopsis of the movie. Go figure.

The phrase itself as Fleming uses it, however, is the kind of thing you tend to remember when you're thinking about how reading literature has given you many useful tools for living your life.

'... I think it's the same with all relationships between a man and a woman. They can survive anything so long as some kind of basic humanity exists between the two people. When all kindness has gone, when one person obviously and sincerely doesn't care if the other is alive or dead, then it's just no good. ... I've seen flagrant infidelities patched up, I've seen crimes and even murder forgiven by the other party ... But never the death of common humanity in one of the partners. ... I have called it the Law of the Quantum of Solace.'

Bond said: 'That's a splendid name for it ... Quantum of Solace -- the amount of comfort. Yes, I suppose you could say that all love and friendship is based in the end on that ... [When the] Quantum of Solace stands at zero, you've got to get away to save yourself.'


fifi said...

That is indeed a very useful thought for living life.
I should check the balance of the Quantum of Solace here more often, I think.

Anonymous said...

"James Bond (who was, one surmises, brought up on wartime English food)"

I've only ever read the one Bond book, but recall reading elsewhere that he was supposed to have graduated from Cambridge in 1938.


PS the "Risico" story formed part of the plot of the "For Your Eyes Only" movie.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Ah -- Depression English food then. Probably worse.

Re 'Risico', the plot thickens -- there's also a quite separate story in this collection called, wait for it, 'For Your Eyes Only'. Wonder if any of that made it into the movie.

Anthony O'Donnell said...

"Ah -- Depression English food then. Probably worse. "

What Elizabeth David was brought up on.

Equally important as the period was the class location. In the upper classes, one would never congratulate a hostess on the food because that would imply that she, rather than the cooks and domestics, had a hand in its preparation.

I plead ignorance as to the class location of James Bond's youth

Pavlov's Cat said...

'What Elizabeth David was brought up on.'

That'll be what drove her in desperation to the search for new culinary pastures then? I don't know as much about E. David as I should. M.F.K. Fisher, on the other hand ...

I don't know anything about the class location of JB's youth either, but if he was at Cambridge in 1938 then it was probably fairly high up the food chain.

TimT said...

The main characters in spy/detective/police dramas often seem to have flamboyant food tastes and a wide knowledge of foods available. I remember watching part of a 1970s Michael Caine movie where, at one point, he cooks a meal back in his small apartment using ingredients which must have then been exotic. (At least, his guest thinks it's exotic, because she makes comments to that effect.)

And in Life in Mars, that improbable time-travel/police drama about a detective who travels back from the world of 2005 to 1970s Britain, there's also a scene where he cooks a meal and is mocked for using garlic.

I guess the point being made is that, while these characters are able to shoot other criminals down, etc, they're not *just* brutes... their ability and appreciation of culture and food sets them apart from the thugs they routinely have to deal with.

Then again, there's nothing sophisticated about Marlowe's alcohol addiction, though his sophisticiation shows up in other ways - his appreciation of chess, for example.

Anthony said...

Ah yes, the Michael Cain film would be the Ipcress File: he played a kind of rundown, bedsit-dwelling anti-James Bond figure, albeit one who could cook.

There was a series of books featuring a Catalan detective, usually dealing with shenanigans in the local communist party (I remember one title was something like 'Murder in the Central Committee'), and he too matched the obligatory gumshoe weariness and cynicism with the observations and habits of a gourmet.

And don't forget the TV series 'Pie in the Sky' where the detective actually ran a boutique restaurant in between capturing crims. I recall he never travelled anywhere without his personal pepper grinder in his waistcoat pocket.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Then of course there's Kay Scarpetta, cooker of classic Italian gourmet fare. And Lord Peter Wimsey takes fine dining for granted.

But it's not a rule or anything. Rebus lives on single malt, fish suppers and Irn-Bru.

Anonymous said...

And let us not forget "We're the Sweeney, and we haven't had our dinner yet."