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Wednesday, 25 July 2012 17:12

The Fire Never Dies

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The Fire Never DiesOne Man's Raucous Romp Down the Road of Food, Passion and Adventure Richard Sterling

Travelers' TalesSan Francisco, 2001

ISBN 978-1885211705285 pages $14.95

The Fire Never Dies 

The Library of Congress summarizes this book as about anecdotes concerning food and travel. OK, but is it? The title teases us. What is that fire? Is it hungering for food? Or is it another primal need? The cover art shows an Asian woman dressed in a red dress that barely holds in her bosom sitting at a table with some plates of food. It is the sort of book cover (and book) that a junior high school boy would have had to sneak into his room to read. The book's cover still caused many people to question a bald guy in his fifties about the book.

Without telling the "best" parts, what is in the book? This book is a collection of essays about Richard Sterling's adventures from military service in Vietnam to a millennial new year's celebration in a remote village in Baja California and covers a lot of places and activities in between. There are mentions and short discussions of food and even some of cooking in the book, but that does not seem to be what the book is about in chief.

The author includes an essay about eating large insects in a restaurant in Cambodia where the only other diners or customers are a French couple. Sterling tells us about the preparation of the local specialty a large insect. However, this story, as it develops, seems not about the food so much as about the showdown between the author and the Frenchman. Will the effete Frenchman eat the insects since his wife apparently finds eating bugs disgusting?

Another story is about feeding rescued Vietnamese who fled their country in April 1975. The Vietnamese, although hungry, would not eat American beef stew provided by the crew of a U.S. Navy ship. Fortunately, someone decides that Vietnamese might prefer rice. At least in this story Sterling gives us some interesting thoughts about how familiar foods are important to our sense of self and home. They are all the more important in times of stress. Consider the reports of increased comfort foods consumption by Americans after the 9-11 slaughter.

But it appears to me that the real focus of the essays in this book is something else. One story is about the specialized male entertainment venues that existed around and near U.S. military installations in the Philippines. I missed the military and the Philippines. Sportsmen and servicemen I know who have been to the Philippines indicate that these entertainment places did exist. The reports by Sterling more than likely are accurate, given their consistency with other stories. But how is this about food or adventure? It seems pretty well known world you could encounter there. The armed services had films about that at least a generation before.

On a ship between Philippines and Vietnam the author has a strange encounter with the woman who is the barber on that ship. In still another essay some locals in Baja help the author and his friends when one of their four-wheel drive vehicles breaks down hundreds of miles from spare parts and mechanics. Sterling drinks beer with the natives in various mostly tropical locales.

Sterling's stories entertain some times, and at other times infuriate. Presumably for most of us, Sterling tells about places and activities that we will not experience. However, the focus of this publication is wine and food. All things considered, that does not appear to be the focus of this collection of essays.

 

--Reviewer Mike Petersen is an attorney employed at the state capitol who travels whenever he can to try new foods and wines in California and Europe. He especially enjoys cooking and eating Italian, Spanish, French, German and other dishes that he has sampled with the locals here and abroad. Mike is a founder and chair of Mr. P’s Wine Club, a no-load wine club whose members love trying new wines and foods. He also searches for Chicago-style, kosher hot dogs wherever he may be.