From "Tony Wolk: Letters, 1981-2027"
To McDonald McMurdock—Slayton, Oregon
Portland, 29 February, 2024
I just received the invitation to your lecture about my book on Sourdough.1 It was fun reading and I am pleased that you plan to go beyond the mere and rather narrow notions of how best to slice the loaf as the diner is about to breakfast. I do think the children at Slayton Elementary will enjoy hearing about Wolk’s Sourdough, even if they don’t have the opportunity to actually sample said loaf. A word of caution. They might not cotton to your review of other sourdough cookbooks. Nor the detailed history of its roots, family by family. For an adult audience, the historical approach to sourdough might well resound favorably. With children, I am not so sure.
I do have issues with this sort of invitation and feel rather more stymied than satisfied. In recent years I have been willing to play possum regarding sourdough. Right now I’m picturing myself pretending to be stone cold dead in the kitchen, besmottered with the mother. Besides, the more I age, the more accidentals keep cropping up. I find myself forgetting this or that ingredient, not to mention the sequence. Though why should sequence make such a difference—does the wooden spoon give a damn whether the flax comes before the oats?
I did find your references to my recent run-ins with the gendarmes rather distasteful (pardon the metaphor). Finally, is it true that you have never tried your own hand at baking bread, sourdough or otherwise? (I noticed no reference to a gluten allergy.)
Warmest good wishes,
P.S. Last night I succeeded in baking my first loaf of MöBIUS sourdough bread. Hail infinity!
1 The following note was appended to Wolk’s letter to McMurdock: “This morning reading Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985, I came across his letter to Giuseppe Bonura, dated 6 May, 1972. I was sure Calvino was writing tongue-in-cheek. A gift from the gods. I followed suit in my letter to poor McMurdock. For the record, here are the opening and closing paragraphs of Calvino’s letter:
“I just received today your Invito alla lettura. I have now finished reading it and I am very pleased. The idea that one could write a book on a literary output as dispersed as mine has always terrified me, and similarly the thought of the school-students who are made to write exercises on it and write to me and I never know what to reply. Did you know that I wanted to write to you a couple of years ago because I had read an article of yours in Rendiconti that I liked? I delayed because I did not have your address, then I found that you were writing something about me and I did not want to interfere. I am besieged by those who are writing theses and want to ‘interview’ me (this is a rule with American students). Also the fact that you did all this without saying anything to me adds to your merit. In short, I do not know how to express my gratitude to you.”
Yet another delicious sentence from Calvino’s letter: “Despite all the things I have always said with that tone of ‘Now I’ll show you all!’ in actual fact I have only progressed toward rarefaction and silence. In recent years I was very satisfied playing the dead man for a bit: how clever I am at not publishing! How good I am at staying silent!”