Love conquers all food (2015) is the last work of Auguste Corteau (pen name of Petros Hadjopoulos), one of the most creative and popular writers of modern Greek literature.
Auguste Corteau, born in Thessaloniki in 1979 and resident of Exarheia, Athens, is a typical representative of the so-called “generation X” (the offspring of baby boomers; born between 1965 and 1980 according to sociologists – I would personally extend the term to those born until 1982 since they went through the same pit of a certain system of examinations to enter university, whatever that entails). Additionally, he was informed that he had entered the Medical School of Thessaloniki on the same day that Aliki Vougiouklaki left us (23/07/1996).
In Love conquers all food, Corteau assembles a series of independent stories from his extended childhood years, where he describes, in an eloquent – if ranting – manner, a series of funny incidents and freak out events of generation X. The book is obviously not addressed just to the particular age group that belongs to that generation (35-50 years old at the moment), since it makes all readers laugh easily without much effort. However, the members of generation X will find in the book consecutive moments of their own childhood and teenage years, an era without mobile phones and computers (of the era when “Pangaea was divided into Gondwana and Laurasia”, according to the author’s description in the book).
Resting comfortably on the throne of the book’s protagonist is food, the quintessence of life of the baby boomers’ offspring; since their parents, determined that their children would want for nothing (reproducing, in essence, the Occupation syndrome in reverse), stocked the kitchen cupboards of houses with mosaic floors with boxes of croissants, regressed to diets and deprivations to end in the balanced arms of the (best forgotten) red calorie measure of Lala Cook. This is pretty much how, with the help of bourgeois hysteria to have their child study either Law or Medicine (the most difficult schools in Greece), the members of generation X would often derail in terms of diet, taking out their anxiety on food; and the outcome was overweight (sometimes obese) individuals, who would experience much more dramatically the consequences of sweat hyper-secretion or a routine operation). It was much later that the six-pack became the ticket to the vain world of “acceptance”.
Corteau does not shy from self-sarcasm when describing in compelling details incidents of hyperphagia, failed diets, as well as incidents of culinary paradise – like that weekend in the mountains of Fokida, where he accompanied his lawyer partner for the conduct of the local elections and the more than hospitable villagers would not stop treating them to home-made dishes (detailed extensively).
Since we mentioned his partner, we should really make a note of Corteau’s attitude regarding homosexuality. As a genuine member of a generation of homosexuals who, only gradually (therefore often quite late) liberated themselves from prejudice, without powerful social assumptions, the relevant networks and standards (add whatever the above mentioned weight means to self-image), Corteau reveals in this book his consistently – in real life, too – proud attitude as a homosexual. He openly discusses his personal life, his partner (whom he has wed in New York), their travels (to Paris, to Fokida, and elsewhere), the crises that fatally occur in relationships, their private moments. He does that with the subtlety of the fulfilled individual, as well as an imperceptible “outspoken element” to a hypocritical society that still hides its skeletons in the closet.
In 2014, Corteau was the target of a completely immoral attack on the ground of his homosexuality by journalist Dimos Verykios – among others. This particular unprovoked viciousness, however, was the cause of a significant wave of support on the internet social networks where Corteau is stably and notably present. Yet, how can one not admire the bravery of a person who declares that he preferred “girls’ toys” because this way he felt adored; or the description of the “candy to the eye” co-swimmer and the cramp incident? To the country’s latent gay movement, as well as to the average dignified homosexual of his generation, Corteau is – not unjustifiably – a point of reference.
All that said, what to mention first about this condense and tempestuous book? The story of the over 70-year old urban virgins; the unconventional Easter in Thessaloniki (where the author was born and grew up); the experience of national elections in the era of green and blue coffee shops; the lust for passing gas (which is a subtle theme of the book without running the risk of cheapening it); the “necessary” (albeit definitely discreet) diversion to almost illegal substances? Corteau’s language – torrential, labyrinthine, so rich in words as well as in images – succeeds in guiding the reader through long periods without leaps in meaning or boring words; in a way that makes every well-meaning judge unable to interpret (not in the least) the essence of what they read.
Indubitably delightful, with a train of thought that is not compromised by lust for words, Corteau’s book is not yet another “beach read”. In times when euros are not saved for holidays (or are merely withdrawn from an ATM), “Corteau-phagia” (if I may be allowed the expression – but, having read this book cover to cover in one afternoon, I can now only be described as Corteau-bulimic) raises the reader very high indeed: to the abolition of urban legends of the 80s and 90s; to the contemplation of life from the borderline between youth and maturity; to the raw facing of personal ghosts; to the richness of language in itself; to the brave self-sarcasm of a man who, despite the fact that he has been to hell and back (depression, suicide of his mother), is here to enrich our time with the playfulness, the imagination and the analysis it deserves.
Finally, let us note that the cover of Love conquers all food (Patakis Publications) is decorated by an Arkas cartoon. This is a necessary complementary element of Corteau’s image in general, as well as of the overall culture of an entire generation. For the members of this generation grew up reading a particular newspaper back-to-front (starting from the cartoons of Arkas) and remain, like good children do, stubbornly faithful to the “better days” they were promised – and are still to come.