I have long entertained a fantasy that Ina Garten a.k.a. The Barefoot Contessa is criminally insane. I have no proof. It makes me laugh, which is enough.
I imagine her as a beautifully dressed, outrageously talented, occasionally barefoot, alarmingly delusional paranoid schizophrenic shut up in a mansion in the Hamptons. A lot like a Kennedy girl. I imagine the Food Network camera crew politely smiling and nodding at her fictional husband — this handsome phantom of her own imagination she calls ‘Jeffrey.’ She cooks her extravagant meals alone, eating Jeffrey’s portion with a 24-carat gold fork, laughing hysterically at her imaginary Jeffrey’s unimaginably racist jokes. Which, she realizes with a sick smile in the gilded mirror above the dining room table, are really just her racist jokes.
But as it turns out, we are all imaginary when compared to Jeffrey Garten.
I am now obsessed with the Gartens in the cataclysmic fashion befitting a woman in the throes of a major depressive episode. I am consumed with a need to know them. I long to be the world’s first Garten scholar. I feel that if I understand them, I will understand my own polar opposites so thoroughly as to collapse the illusory differences between me and them, or more honestly, between me and certain versions of myself with whom I have grown tired of fighting, or disappointing, or not becoming.
There is for me a glittering green-and-red paper-chain that links major pain to minor scholarship. Possibly I only know about the mating rituals of bower birds because I didn’t marry the first man I loved. Why do I know anything at all about the wartime poetry of the North Vietnamese, or Russian tank-gunners in the Eastern Front, or Robert Frost’s personal life, or the design and construction of the Empire State Building? Well, because for all I knew, I was dying.
Except I wasn’t, and I’m not. This is just another fire, and just like the others, I will walk through it.