The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

On Reading Food and Eating Words

Posted on | November 27, 2009 | Written by Janice Cable | No Comments

I’m a writer, teacher of writing, college professor, and the editor of this blog. I’ve been writing for IWM and for Sergio Esposito for almost two years, and I have a confession: I can’t spell. My spelling makes F. Scott Fitzgerald’s look like H.L. Mencken’s, which is to say pretty egregious indeed. My inability to spell is a deep-seated failure, a source of some embarrassment, and an ongoing shame. I’ve never had much interest in spelling; putting the letters in the correct order has always taken a distant second place to arranging words in aesthetically pleasing and emotionally true syntax.

I can’t spell in English, and I can spell even less well in Italian, French or Food. I therefore have a tremendous and involuntary response of compassion for the poor beleaguered White House menu writer who completely botched the menu for the Obama’s most recent—and first—state dinner last Tuesday night.

As the New York Times reported in its blog The Caucus, the Obamas went all-out to thrill their guests with a newly hired star chef, a tasty menu and a series of carefully chosen complementary wines. Anahad O’Connor reports, “one person the White House apparently neglected to hire was a spell checker.  The special dinner menu — a lavish mélange of Indian and American favorites as well as several excellent wines — was rife with typos.” (You can read the full story here, and you can also find it all over the web—so horrified were journalists and copy editors everywhere.)

Reading that the menu misspelled “Grenache” as “Granache,” divided “chickpeas” into two words, and violently excised an “l” from “Willamette,” the hyphen from “Thibaut-Janisson” and the accent from “geleé,” I felt a profound sense of kinship. Nothing has made me as acutely aware of my spelling deficiencies like having to bang out “Sassicaia,” “Grattamacco,” and “Friuli-Venezia Giulia” on a regular basis. About the only thing that gives me a more consistent horrorsloth of humiliation than having to look up those words each and every time I type them is attempting to say them aloud. Uttering “Castello dei Rampolla’s Vigna d’Alceo” or “Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis” is tantamount to slipping on a Hawaiian shirt so badly does my pronunciation brand me an ugly American.

And yet while I feel a great tenderness for the individual who made the errors on the White House menu, and while that tenderness radiates out to the humming committee who approved it, the hard-nosed editor can’t quite condone it. If the White House can’t spell the menu for their first state dinner correctly, what hope is there for us hoi polloi? We might as well serve a red wine with shrimp curry or call a varietal a variety. It would be complete gastronomic chaos. And no one wants that, however correctly spelled.

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