Saturday, July 9, 2022


 I’ve been reading Georges Perec’s, ‘Attempt at an Inventory of the Liquid and Solid Foodstuffs Ingurgitated by Me in the Course of the Year Nineteen Hundred and Seventy-Four,’ first published in 1976.

And a fine French inventory it is, containing, among many others, Coquilles St-Jacques, two chateaubriands, one jellied daube, 22 dishes involving rabbit, and he scores 75 cheeses, though he doesn’t list them all.  He also has ‘two stewed rhubarb and quetsch.’  I’d never heard of quetsch but apparently it’s either a kind of plum and/or a kind of Alsatian plum brandy.  


Did I have food and drink envy while reading?  You bet.


In the days of social media many of us, one way or another, make inventories of our lives. My plan in this case was to count up how many different things Perec ate in 1974, then I could calculate how many of those things I’d ever eaten in my entire life.


But arriving at a number for Perec is hard.  Some of the language, and of course I’m reading in translation, is strangely ambiguous.


For instance he states ‘eight pâtés’ but then he makes a list of pâtés – ‘one duck pâté, one pâté de foie with truffles, one pâté en croute, one pâté grand mere, six pâtés des Landes.  Now this adds up either to 5 or 10, possibly to a grand total of 18.  But if it’s 5, then are these included in the original eight?  And if that’s the case then what were the other two?  Why leave them unnamed?


It doesn’t get any simpler with sandwiches which he lists as ‘six sandwiches, one ham sandwich, one rillettes sandwich, three Cantal sandwiches.’  Again – you do the maths.  Is this 6 or 9, or possibly 11?  He is a literary tease.  And who knows if any of this inventory is actually true?


My own yearly inventory would include hundreds of sandwiches.  I have one for lunch pretty much every day because it’s easy.  Of course I miss one or two but there are sometimes breakfast sandwiches and even the occasional sandwich for dinner.  I don’t think Georges Perec would have envied me one bit.


This is the closest I’ve come to a picture of Perec ingurgitating:

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