On Spaghetti in Western and Japanese

Richard Brautigan and Haruki Murakami write about spaghetti a lot. To them it seems a lonely task. A gentle boil with a simple means to an end kind of task.

I find I usually make spaghetti alone. When the house is quiet and the only sound is a water droplet shivering in anticipation of falling from the leaky bathtub faucet. When the play of light and shadow on the wall become familiars. When my stomach makes itself audible and I descend back to my body from thought.

“Nineteen-Seventy-One was the Year of Spaghetti,” one Murakami story begins. The story is about a man who makes spaghetti by himself and for himself for an entire year. He imagines someone is always about to knock on his door when the water is brought to a boil. He imagines the phone will ring. And when the phone does ring, he pretends he is making spaghetti, excuses himself. The cooking of spaghetti is simple, yet timely. A minute too long and it is ruined. The story ends like this: “Can you imagine how astonished the Italians would be if they knew that what they were exporting in 1971 was really loneliness?”

I had forgotten about spaghetti until I lived alone in my mid-twenties. My apartment had the shape of a box of spaghetti noodles, long and narrow. On one side of that box I slept. On the other side, right before the bathroom, the narrow wall of the kitchen. Here I would boil water in a small pot. I would stand near the heat of the dwarfed stove and look out at my private patio, or if the blinds were closed, I would watch the shadows of tree branches waving gently in the breeze. When the water was roiling, I would turn the box of spaghetti upside down like it was a rainstick. I would let a handful fall into my hand and snap them at the center. Spaghetti is easier to eat when the sticks are broken in half. None of this snipping it apart later. None of this twirling on spoon and fork.

Brautigan wrote about spaghetti, the loneliest meal to make, and I ate his every word. I saw him in everything. In the boiled potato light bulb over the kitchen sink. In the reflection of glass on a rainy day. On the damp pavement and the cracks in between where moss and grass grappled and grew. How did he tether himself to the earth? Did he eventually get caught in a bubble of thought, too high off the ground for reality? Too alienated by his own loneliness? When he wrote about trout fishing was he casting a line? Were his familiars too busy making spaghetti to notice?

Spaghetti takes 9-11 minutes at a gentle boil. One has to be quick with the straining, careful for the al dente noodles not to sit in the water a second past 11 minutes. I prefer to set a timer for 9 minutes. Then I can leisurely stroll to the flat cheese grater I use to strain the noodles. Then I have a full two minutes to complete the task, but it never takes me this long. This time allows for the possibility of distraction. I use a flat cheese grater to strain the noodles because spaghetti for one looks sad in a big colander. A flat cheese grater lets you tip your small pot just enough to rid it of the steamy and starchy water.

In 2010 Buca di Beppo Italian Restaurant in Garden Grove, California surpassed world records for largest spaghetti bowl by filling an above ground pool with 13,780 pounds of cooked spaghetti and tomato sauce. It took 20 people working full time to prepare this spaghetti feat. Passerby snapped photos and it is recorded that people remarked how incredible the sight was. Instead of having a big community spaghetti feed, the restaurant donated the spaghetti to local livestock owners for feed, making it the loneliest giant bowl of spaghetti to ever hold a world record.

Sculpture: Le Solitaire by Theo Mercier


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