I want to give Paris Hilton a copy of Gael Greene's new memoir Insatiable: Tales from a Life of Delicious Excess and make sure she reads every last page. Paris was recently quoted as saying that she prefers food over sex. (And this theme is hinted at in the forthcoming memoir I’d Rather Eat Chocolate: Learning to Love My Low Libido.) Greene, the longtime restaurant critic for New York magazine, proves without a doubt that food and sex are not only compatible but a luscious combo, and each page practically oozes with both. This is a rich, sensual story of her unabashed enthusiasm for the finer things in life, and her feistiness is made clear in the first chapter, where she seduces none other than Elvis (she doesn't remember much about the sex, but he ordered a fried egg sandwich afterward).
Interspersed with recipes that relate to her story, such as Infidelity Soup with Turkey and Winter Vegetables, The Morning-after Orange Fruit Soup and Jean Troisgros's Figs Candy Blue (named after her scandal-causing erotic novel Blue Skies, No Candy), Greene's is a tale of decadence and sensuality. It's refreshing to hear from a woman who’s over 50 who claims her pleasure everywhere she can get it. Greene writes about food and sex in a way that will make you hungry for both.
In the chapter "About Sex and Me," she begins:
The best lover turns into a pizza at 3:00 AM. Who said that? Was it Woody Allen? For me, the best pizza would turn into a lover. I have read restaurant critics who claimed to have tasted chocolate ice cream that was better than sex. I have never eaten anything that was better than sex; almost as good as great sex perhaps, but never better. Though I am sure I was born hungry, I am less certain I began life as a sensualist.
Growing up in Detroit, Michigan, Greene wasn't exposed to the delicacies and worldly cuisine she would late dine out on almost every night, traveling extensively to seek out the best in French, Chinese, American and other foodstuffs. Hers was a basic American childhood, but after graduating college in 1956 she was determined to get a job as a writer, and started out at UPI (which led her to Elvis). She soon found herself in New York and took no time getting acquainted with its ways, worshiping at the pen and palate of Craig Claibourne, building up her portfolio before joining upstart New York as the Insatiable Critic.
Aside from detailed accounts of endless meals, including the ups and downs of the restaurant world Greene becomes immersed in during her time in the “mouth trade,” the bulk of her story is about her affairs, which she's refreshingly up-front about. Speaking of an affair with a friend's ex-husband, she writes simply, "He touched me and I burst into flames," juxtaposing their lovemaking with missing her longtime husband, who she was still married to and had been exclusive with for nine and a half years up until that point. While Greene doesn't gloss over the pain she felt when her husband's affairs became known to her, she never apologizes for being a lusty, empowered woman intent on getting what she wants, not in a vicious, bitchy way, but in a liberated, of-the-moment way. She knows the power of seduction but is not in it to gain power, but pleasure. Her descriptions of sex, men and food are so sumptuous, they will likely make you think twice about having lackluster sex or eating a bland meal when you could be having a sense explosion.
She also tracks her own learning curve when it comes to pursuing pleasure. While she doesn't disavow her bedmates, she looks back on her younger self and what made her tick, upon meeting Don Forst, who was engaged at the time but who later ditched his fiancé for Greene. In one of her most honest moments, she recounts a pitfall in the dating landscape:
It's easy to see now that all that traffic in and out of my bed before Don was due not just to my uninhibited appetite for sex but a way to get close and make somebody love me. I was rarely cool. I thought getting a man was like getting the story. You had to be smart and aggressive, tie up the phone, park on the doorstep, and shove interlopers out of the way when necessary.
Seeing her transformation into someone who knows what it is to love and lust and doesn't have to resort to games is one of the highlights of the book, which is filled with grand adventure inside the kitchens of chefs around the world, providing insight into both the restaurant business and painting the scene of New York dining over the decades, as well as documenting her romantic and sexual triumphs and low moments. When she winds up dating porn star Jamie Gillis, he introduces her to a whole new seedy world, one she initially recoils from but soon finds herself so enamored of him they embark on a relationship that puzzles many of her friends. It's this ability to make bold choices that her peers may have eschewed, from pulling no punches in her reviews to taking on extra-marital lovers, making waves and seemingly not looking back until now, that makes Greene, the character, one you want to follow until the very last page.
And yes, there are movie stars, Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds among them. You'd think it would be the salacious details Greene highlights, but instead she has a way of humanizing her lovers, showing the beauty she saw in them. On Reynolds (after quoting his ex-wife on what a great lover he is in her Cosmo profile of the star):
There are men like that. Men who love women, really love women . . . men who get into a woman's head and play you like a violin prodigy, sensitive to every nuance of the female response, of one female's specific response. A man who takes you out of your mind, sends you somewhere you've never been, shows you the sexual woman you can be. Usually superlovers are the most ordinary men, short or bald, attractive perhaps but not likely the classic Adonis, certainly not the movie-star sexpot with box-office allure. Or so I would have thought.
Bottom line: I am not a foodie in any way. I am happy with takeout Indian food, a piece of spinach pizza, Burritoville, Tasti D-Lite or Taco Bell. I don't care to know every ingredient in what I eat as long as it tastes good. I don't read Gael Greene's restaurant reviews (or anyone else's). But I loved this book because of her passion—not just for food or sex or men, but for life. The Greene who starts out by seducing Elvis is not the same person we see at the end, one who's gone through marriage, countless affairs, starf*cking galore, divorce, losing friends to AIDS, losing her mother, starting Citymeals-on-Wheels, writing several books, falling in and out of love and lust. While Greene doesn't dwell on the low moments, they are there, buried between truffles and halibut and Michelin stars. You don't need to be a foodie to be insatiable, or to love Insatiable. It may be a dubious honor (though I don't mean it as one), but I think even Paris would savor it.
Labels: book reviews