Monday, September 15, 2008

Beans: A roof over your stomach

I was reading Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck yesterday. It's about a rather lovable group of paisanos, bums, out in Monterey California. The paisanos had decided to help out a widow lady with eight kids, so they went to work thiev...ur...gathering food for her and her family. You see, usually the lady and her kids would go out and glean the bean fields, winnowing the chaff of bean plants and pods that had already been harvested by the farmer. They usually got hundreds of pounds of beans this way, and this was the family's food. However, this year the bean harvest was ruined by rain and the lady's family was facing starvation... so the boys took up food for them.

In the midst of all this, is a wonderful paragraph:

“When you have four hundred pounds of beans in the house, you need have no fear of starvation. Other things, delicacies such as sugar, tomatoes, peppers, coffee, fish or meat may come sometimes miraculously, through the intercession of the Virgin, sometimes through industry or cleverness; but your beans are there, and you are safe. Beans are a roof over your stomach. Beans are a warm cloak against economic cold.”

I love it--beans are a roof over your stomach. Isn't that a great line, a perfect description? That's when you know you are in the presence of a great writer, when you read a line like that one. How many times have we heard, "at least they have a roof over their heads..." and that is a cliche. But to twist a cliche to make it true, make it real, is an art and only fine artists can do it.

Tortilla Flat is a fine book, btw. It's a book about a group of "bums," yes, but they are also the knights of the round table, and the book weighs the philosophical questions of materialism vs. spirituality, and how little material goods you need to lead a good life.

It was a nice break from worrying about SHTF and all of that doom and gloom.


1 comment:

HERB TM said...

Wow this is great!