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(post, Chris Andresen)
The most memorable and affecting read of the past few years took place in the summer of 1998. My job took me to Ghana in charge of 16 teachers ranging from elementary to university levels, and just before we left for our 5-week jaunt, I tossed a “light” book in my suitcase at the last minute. That book was Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins. I had purchased the book on a lark, and I figured given the limited time to read, it wouldn’t matter what book I took. While I was traveling with the teachers, I had to deal with the individual whims and needs of 16 very different people, and my retreat into this book each evening was the only respite I could find in this very different environment. It was a ride to be transported to the crazy worlds of this book while at the same time I was being exposed to this new culture and experiences. I found myself caught up in the sensual nature of the locations, the hot weather of both Ghana where I was physically and New Orleans where I was literarily, and characters (especially Pan, on whom I think I still have a little crush) of the novel, but the most incredible thing to develop was an obsession with beets. Having been raised on many years of canned, pathetic beets, I have never in my life had one of them enter my consciousness as something good to eat. Jitterbug Perfume begins with a beet, and by the end of the book, I was a woman consumed by little else. Though it offered itself up in a myriad of ways, Ghana was not able to satiate this particular appetite, so after weeks of perceived deprivation, I returned home driven to satisfy this urge (it must have been the influence of Pan…). One home, I ate beets -- peeled and roasted in the oven with olive oil, fresh rosemary, salt and papper -- and beets and beets. To this day, I consider them a very sensual, primal food I have to have now and then, all thanks to Jitterbug Perfume and Tom Robbins.