Transcript / LoLT: A Celebration of the Big Bang and Two New Books — 23 June 2023

Transcript / LoLT: A Celebration of the Big Bang and Two New Books — 23 June 2023

Friday, 23 June, 2023

This is a transcription of A Celebration of the Big Bang and Two New Books — 23 June 2023’


[cheerful music]

Melissa: Coming up, a family story set in a medieval village in Italy.

David: An exploration of what makes regional food regional.

Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.

David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.

Melissa: Dominic Smith is the author of the historical novel The Last Painting of Sara de Vos which is set in 17th-century Amsterdam, mid-20th-century New York, and modern Sydney. I recommended this book in our Strong Sense of Place episode about museums. The author is very, very good at world-building and characterization. I felt like I was IN that story with those characters. And it packed a nice emotional punch.

Melissa: His new novel is called Return to Valetto. This time, he’s exploring the light-infused hills of Umbria in Italy. His fictional village of Valetto has been mostly abandoned. During WWII, it was a seat of the resistance against the Nazis, but now only 10 residents remain, including three sisters called the widows Serafino. Their nephew Hugh is a historian, grieving the deaths of his wife and mother. He’s written a well-received book about forgotten villages and towns in Italy, and he describes his work by saying, ‘I specialize in abandonment.’ He returns to Valetto for a stay in the cottage where he spent childhood summers. It’s unclear if he’s continuing to run from his life or trying to put it back together.

Melissa: Then the plot thickens. A lady chef from Milan is squatting in his family’s cottage, She claims that HER family was promised the villa by Hugh’s grandfather. As the two grapple with this issue, dark secrets from the War are revealed. One of my favorite story tropes is a long-lost relative returning to their native land and uncovering secrets. I’ve been listening to the audiobook and I’m very exctied to say that food plays a major part in the story. It’s very immersive and when I listen, I’m no longer folding laundry, I’m walking in Umbria. It’s Return to Valetto by Dominic Smith.

David: Anya von Bremzen is a food writer and a cookbook author. She was born in Moscow and emigrated to Philadelphia when she was a kid. She wrote a book a few years back called, Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing. Publishers Weekly called it one of the best books of the year in 2013.

David: She has a new book out. It’s called National Dish: Around the World in Search of Food, History, and the Meaning of Home. With this book, she’s curious about what makes a regional dish regional. Who decides what makes French food French? Why do we associate pizza with Naples? Or ramen with Japan?

David: And then, of course, there’s Chinese food in America, which is different from Chinese food in China. von Bremzen visits six different regions looking through the history, myth, identity, and commercialization of the world’s great cuisines. If you’re interested in food and culture, you’ll probably enjoy this. It just came out this week.

David: It’s ‘National Dish: Around the World in Search of Food, History, and the Meaning of Home’ by Anya von Bremzen.

David: And now, our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]

David: I’m going to read you a poem. This poem comes on a long road. That road started with Hank Green. He’s the brother of John Green, the author of ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ and many others. Hank and John run a bunch of awesome projects, including the Crash Course series on YouTube. That’s a general educational series. It’s brilliant. Take a look if you haven’t.

David: In that role, one of the things Hank does is answer questions about science. He was doing that one day. He was answering a question about the Big Bang. The question was, ‘What direction did the big bang happen in?’ And Hank sat there for a second, and said, ‘Before the Big Bang, there was no up, there was no down, there was no side to side.’

David: And now we leave the Green brothers and start on the next part of the story. Act II. A musician in LA heard that — her name is Reina del Cid — and she wrote a poem that started there. She put it out as a YouTube video about two months ago. I could just play you that video, but I like reading you poems, so that’s what’s going to happen now.

David: This is Reina del Cid’s ‘Big Bang.’

  • Before the Big Bang

  • there was no up
  • there was no down
  • there was no side to side

  • there was no light
  • there was no dark
  • nor shape of any kind

  • there were no stars or planet Mars
  • or protons to collide

  • there was no up
  • there was no down
  • there was no side to side

  • and furthermore to underscore this total lacking state

  • there was no here
  • there was no there
  • because there was no space

  • and in this endless void which can’t be thought of as a place
  • there was no time
  • and so no passing minutes, hours, days

  • of all the paradoxes
  • that belabour common sense
  • I think this one’s the greatest
  • this time before events

  • because how did we get from nothing
  • to infinitely dense?
  • from immeasurably small
  • to inconceivably immense?

  • but before we get unmoored from the question at the start
  • let’s take a breath and marvel
  • at when math becomes an art

  • because we don’t have to understand it
  • to know there was a time

  • when there was no up
  • there was no down
  • there was no side to side

David: I was surprised to find that Reina del Cid has already been on Strong Sense of Place. I used her version of ‘Jambalaya’ in our New Orleans episode.

Melissa: Visit for more about the books we discussed and links to everything you need to enjoy the Big Bang poem.

David: Thanks for joining us in the Libary of Lost Time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent book store to lose some time yourself.

Melissa: Stay curious! We’ll talk to you soon.

[cheerful music]


Top image courtesy of Aldebaran S/Unsplash.

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