I have enjoyed a decadent few days. Lots of feminist theory – always a treat – but accompanied by Camilla Gibb’s The Beauty of Humanity Movement.

Gibb’s words have me savouring pho in all of its complexities: its flavours, yes, but also its smells, textures, colours. I am captivated by the sensuality of making pho. The rituals, the time, the slow swirl of fresh herbs, the scent of ginger, the hint of coriander.

But more than this, I am overwhelmed by the narrative sensuality of pho, at least as Gibb describes it. Pho tells stories: stories of communities, of nations, of histories, of politics. In its waters, you can hear whispers of hauntings, horrors, loves, losses.

Pho is a passion. A life story. A political commitment. It is the heart of community. I am entranced.

“The history of Vietnam lies in this bowl, for it is in Hanoi, the Vietnamese heart, that pho was born, a combination of the rice noodles that predominated after a thousand years of Chinese occupation and the taste for beef the Vietnamese acquired under the French, who turned their cows away from ploughs and into bifteck and pot-au-feu. The name of their national soup is pronounced like this French word for fire…” (5)

And later in the book…

“…It reminds me of a poet I knew who lost his tongue.”

“But how did he eat?” Tu interjects, the steam rising from his bowl.

“He used his imagination,” says Hung, “his memory of taste.” (191)

If you haven’t read it, check your local library. That’s where my copy came from.

Camilla Gibb: The Beauty of Humanity Movement. Toronto: Anchor Canada, 2011.


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