Alimentary Algebra

My version of a traditional Sicilian Cassata

My middle son and I attend college together. I kind of forced him to take Intermediate Algebra this term as I wanted to make use of the textbook that I had purchased for myself in the fall. It nearly cost as much as the class. Possibly I love the idea of this more than he does, except as I have recently taken the class, I turn out to be an excellent private tutor for him. We have class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We go early to work on homework in the library and then at noon we head to the cafeteria to have lunch together. I am aware that this is a unique and (for me) wonderful way to spend two days a week. I regal him with all of my “don’t do that” moments of math stupidity, but there is always some mental deficiency to rail against on our drive home.

I have to admit to liking Algebra, an arabic word meaning restoration or, my favorite: reunion of broken parts. A method of reduction and balance is one description I read that appeals to my sense of beauty. I derive a childish pleasure out of reducing, eliminating and balancing the equations. My pencil swiftly crossing out and rewriting with abandon.

Although my son and I are a lot alike, I can see that he “gets” the math more than I do. Sometimes when it gets complicated he wants to, and can, understand the why. I’m interested, but am satisfied in being able to simply apply the rules or formula. This is more revealing of my own limitations than anything else. I try to explain to him my feeling for math: It’s like cooking, I expound, anyone can follow a recipe and if they are literate, get a good result. That is my level of math. But I know that there is a higher level- like when you can simulate a recipe in your mouth before you even cook it, when you know that omitting x and adding y will improve the end result. The improvisational aspects that I can grasp in cooking: I am not there mathematically. I am not saying, if I was so inclined, that I could not get there. I’m sure I could, but these things take time. It took me years to learn to cook at the level of letting the ingredients rather than the recipes lead. I’ll probably never be Emilie du Chatelet, but then again, although I make a mean cassata,  I’m not Jacques Torres either. I’m just trying to press up against the edges of my own mediocrity.

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11 responses to “Alimentary Algebra

  1. Look at that cake. And no mention of it specifically…I guess its just a random example of being able to cook…let alone build, decorate, visually conceptualize, etc. WOW!

  2. Thanks Tasha,
    It’s one of those cakes whose taste lives up to the way it looks. Sicilians have another cake which is very similar, let’s just say it’s a cassata to the power of 5, called Trionfo di Gola, the Triumph of Gluttony. Gotta love the name.

    By the by, I do mention the cassata (cake) in the bottom of the post. I had to stop myself from writing -another fine example of my useless skill sets. haha. ha.

  3. Use-less!!?? Bah!! Good call stopping yourself from writing that.

    I had to look up Emilie and Jacques…homeschooling to the rescue. Gosh, I am so impressed. The cake is gorgeous! I had to look up cassata, too. Yours puts the Google images to shame. A glorious thing. It’s funny, the most I ever use math is for cooking. I was SO excited to have been able to figure out the volume of batter I needed to make a wedding cake using pi r squared(had never used that formula before nor have since).

    I envy your time with Eric(I assume it’s Eric); so precious, as you obviously know, these times.

    • If you are interested there is a good book called Passionate Minds all about Emilie, she is unfortunately mostly known as Voltaire’s lover (I believe that is actually on her tombstone!) but she was quite brilliant, she translated Newton’s Principia Mathematica into French. The book is written by Elisabeth Badinter, also an interesting woman, a French intellectual (isn’t it marvelous that there is such a thing in France, people identified as intellectuals…but I digress) There is an excerpt in the March issue of Harper’s of her latest book. In it she rails against La Leche League’s dogmatic style. I don’t always agree with her views, and she seems a rather privileged person thereby perhaps lacking a little bit of understanding what it’s like for the average woman or more importantly the under average woman, but she is interesting none the less and Passionate Minds is good, mostly because Du Chatelet is so fascinating.

  4. I dont think you’re doing yourself justice writign about mediocrity. This is a great blog, about an interesting and varied life lived with great passion. .

    • Well…I guess I’d do okay on a mean scale, maybe I have a high standard, but I’m not really under any delusions, I mean illusions, of where I would place in a scatter plot. Here in America we are all suppose to be such believers in our own greatness…maybe I just suffer from a sort of weltfremd..

      • It’s all a matter of relativity. You do what you do really well, and you write about it in a very warm, real way. You’re not trying to produce a masterpiece of literature, just sharing your life. It’s brilliant. A great breath of fresh air after all the heavy duty research i do. and thanks for following mine. Again.

      • That’s exactly it, it’s all relative.
        I enjoy your blog very much as well because of its depth and humor, so thanks for taking the time to do it.

      • It’s back to avoiding having my head explode if i don’t get the facts out. It’s also a good way to arrange them. I think it was Einstein who said if you can’t say something simply, you don’t really know it, so this is also an exercise in simple clear English.

  5. Yea, I just had to look up “weltfremd.”
    The weltfremd-ness may be evidenced in your self-effacing-ness. A lack of exposure to the greater–much greater, population of unquestioning conformists. Check out the majority of products in the grocery store aisles. Some big group of people is buying that stuff. White Noise. You are an outlier in that scatter graph. THAT CAKE!!

    • Sara, I like you very much. Thank you for all you say. Your cheerful outlook is a salve to my morose disposition of late. Thank you truly.
      I love German, they have the perfect word for everything and when ever I hear a new one I make a strong effort to retain it. Plus they are such fun to say, the words, they kind of bang up against your mouth before you get them out.

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