Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Guest Blogger Martha Stewart on "Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles"

Watching the Belgian avant-garde'feminist masterpiece "Jeanne Dielman" is a great way to spend an evening. It's a canonical movie that everyone interested in cinema should see, and I felt sure I was doing something very good by watching it.

During the inevitable moments when I found my mind wandering -- it's three and a half hours long! -- I noticed one or two errors in Jeanne's otherwise impeccable housecleaning techniques. I thought I'd list them here because I didn't found a lot written about them when I did a little reading up on the movie.

1. There is a very famous scene where Jeanne overcooks the potatoes, has a moment of anxiety and panic, and runs out to get new ones -- because she always has veal cutlet, potatoes, peas and carrots on Wednesdays. Fine. Many household cooks have a routine. But it's essential to vary it from time to time so your loved ones don't get bored with predictable cuisine. What's more, the home cook must be prepared for these inevitable little emergencies and use her ingenuity and creativity to work around them. Butter noodles, for instance, would have complemented her breaded veal cutlets perfectly! The truly prepared chef should always have some noodles on hand for just such an emergency -- dried goods like this are the hallmark of a truly well-stocked pantry. As soon as she ran out to the store to get another bag of spuds I thought, oh Jeanne, it's far too late to start that now! Whip up a batch of egg noodles and you wouldn't have risked drying out the cutlets on a "low burn" as you did (frankly, the cutlets looked almost charred) and you could have saved dinner, and your sanity.

2. Jeanne only rinses her hands after handling raw meat, then wipes them dry on her every-day towel. She should use soap and hot water, scrubbing for thirty seconds minimum before handling anything after preparing raw meat. If you are going to merely rinse your hands, which you shouldn't, then at least use a different towel provided expressly for that purpose.

3. I noticed her bedspread didn't have a removable, washable cover. That means she'll have to dry clean it to get it really clean. It's much easier to have a removable cover in cotton or linen for frequent, easy washings (and the use of the unsightly white rag could have been avoided as well).

4. Finally, one little nitpick (and this is really more of a personal choice): Jeanne cleans the tub immediately after washing. It's actually far better to clean it immediately before, that way you can be sure you're getting into an absolutely clean tub! And you don't work up a sweat scrubbing the tub right after you've enjoyed your refreshing bath! While that's really just my preference, one thing's for sure: using Ajax or another bleach cleanser while wearing a black skirt is a big no-no; you're just asking for stains.

I think that, if Jeanne had followed these few simple tips, she might have fared better. She'd feel better, her home would be cleaner, more sanitary, and dinner disasters could, with a little foresight, been avoided. Routine is important for efficiency in home cooking, but Jeanne, a little adaptability and improvisation could have done you wonders.

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