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A Dramedy You'll Love for the Simple Touches.

T.V. critic David Bianculli reviews "The Con" the new telemovie which premieres on the USA cable network tonight. It was written by actor William H. Macy.


Other segments from the episode on March 4, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 4, 1998: Interview with Helen Suzman; Interview with Victor-Antoine D'Avila-Latourette; Review of the television movie "The Con."


Date: MARCH 04, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 030401NP.217
Head: In No Certain Terms
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Marty Moss-Coane sitting in for Terry Gross.

For many years, Helen Suzman was the lone liberal voice in the South African Parliament. A vocal and passionate critic of apartheid, she sparred with conservative members of the all-white government during her 36-year tenure. She fought for racial equality, pushed for the investigation into the death of Stephen Biko and other black activists, visited Nelson Mandela in prison, and worked to bring about judicial reform.

Helen Suzman retired in 1989, just before then-President F.W. deKlerk (ph) began to dismantle South Africa's system of racial segregation. Apartheid officially ended several years later when in 1994, the country held its first truly democratic election, making Nelson Mandela president.

Helen Suzman has had a busy retirement and is a member of South Africa's Human Rights Commission. She was twice nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, has received numerous honorary degrees, and many awards. She is visiting the states to receive another award, the Jules Cohen (ph) Memorial Award of the Philadelphia Jewish Community Relations Council.

Helen Suzman joins us to reflect on South Africa today. I asked her how her life has changed since the end of apartheid.

HELEN SUZMAN, FORMER SOUTH AFRICAN MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT, AUTHOR, "IN NO CERTAIN TERMS: A SOUTH AFRICAN MEMOIR": Well, I suppose really just for the sense of relief that I don't have to sort of battle away every day in parliament to oppose the laws that I thought were so restrictive, and to watch with really disgust at some of the things that were going on in the detention trials and so on. I mean, that's gone.

But my own life hasn't changed enormously. I've always had friends among black, colored and Asian people -- Indian people -- and I perhaps have more opportunities now of meeting with them than I had before. But my own life was always a privileged white middle class-type of life, you know -- living in a good suburb, going to a good school, being able to send my children to a good school and university and so on.

So from that point of view, it hasn't changed enormously.

MOSS-COANE: Are there black families now living in your neighborhood?

SUZMAN: Oh, yes there are. There are. Indeed, I was the member of parliament for Houghton (ph), which was what Americans would call a "silk-stocking" district, and Nelson Mandela now lives in Houghton. So my one regret at not being in parliament is that I can't represent him.


MOSS-COANE: How would you evaluate his presidency and -- obviously came to power under extraordinary circumstances ...


MOSS-COANE: ... very high expectations. Has he been able to deliver?

SUZMAN: I think yes, up to a point; not entirely, because you know some people are very -- are disappointed at the government. I'm not going to put it all down to Nelson Mandela because there is a government in power which hasn't cracked down sufficiently on corruption and nepotism and inefficiency. I mean, that they could have done. I mean, you can't expect them to reverse the economic situation overnight. They haven't been able to fulfill their pre-election promises, which didn't surprise me because I think they were very ambitious indeed.

But I mean, what has happened, of course, is his own personal appeal throughout the world. I mean, he must be the most sought-after president, head of state in the whole world today. And that has given South Africa considerable status. And wherever he goes, you know, there is this tremendously enthusiastic welcome for him.

And from that point of view, he's done very well for South Africa. He disappointed quite a lot of people in and out of South Africa with his final speech that he gave when he retired as the president of the African National Congress last December, I think it was -- yes, December.

And he -- he made a speech which was a-typical really of Nelson Mandela in which he castigated the opposition parties for criticizing the government and he was very hard on the media, generally speaking -- almost inferred they were in a sort of plot to unseat the government. And that, of course, upset quite -- and also he went for the NGOs -- the non-governmental organizations, many of whom have been doing a great job during the apartheid years in opposing apartheid measures.

And he was very tough on all of those three categories.

MOSS-COANE: Well, this was -- this was a speech he gave this past December as you said, criticizing whites it sounds like for their complacency ...


MOSS-COANE: ... believing that by giving up political power, they could keep their economic ...

SUZMAN: That is right.

MOSS-COANE: ... privilege.


MOSS-COANE: What -- was he saying that, you think, for -- for the world to hear? Was he saying that for members of his own political party? A message for whites as well?

SUZMAN: Well I think he was largely saying it with his eye to the general election, which is forthcoming next year. And he was talking, then, as the head of a political party which was determined not only to maintain its powerful position, but even to increase it. And he knows there's a lot of dissection -- dissatisfaction among millions of black people because their economic situation has not really changed for the better as far as they are concerned. They're still, as I say, living in rotten camps, squatter camps, and they haven't got jobs and generally speaking their standard of living hasn't improved very much.

So I think he was trying to give them a boost. At the same time, he was rapping the white population over the knuckles for perhaps not doing more to speed-up economic transformation.

MOSS-COANE: Do you think there's some truth to that statement?

SUZMAN: Yes, something. There is some of it, of course. I mean, you can't transform or revolutionize the whole economy in four years. It's just not possible. But we could probably have made greater strides towards improving the situation for black people. But you know, it's all a question of investment and that relies, as you know, on confidence. And there hasn't been a great deal of confidence mainly I think because the crime and violence has escalated and people are a bit nervous of expanding their economic interests, especially from overseas.

MOSS-COANE: We're speaking today with Helen Suzman, and she was a member of the South African parliament from the early 1950s until 1989, and a long-time critic of apartheid.

You were a critic of sanctions during the apartheid era, saying that they hurt black South Africans harder than those in power. In what way did you see sanctions hurting the majority of South Africans?

SUZMAN: Well I -- and the point is that we lost our export markets in those particular occupations which were largely operated by black workers. I'm talking about agricultural products and I'm talking about mineral products. I mean, they're -- that is the -- those were the two biggest employers of black people. And of course, our industrial products -- the workers lost their jobs when the markets closed down. I mean, people don't go on producing if they can't sell their goods.

So when we lost our export markets in agriculture, we -- people in the sugar -- in the sugar industry; people in other agricultural products like wine and fruit -- they were laid off. And in South Africa, we don't have a very robust welfare system to help unemployed people. They're really only -- there's no dole. There are no food stamps and you only get unemployment insurance if you happen to belong to an unemployment insurance company, and that really only applied to the semi-skilled and skilled workers.

So people in mining and agriculture and industry who lost their jobs were pretty well left high and dry. And that is why I felt that sanctions were very bad. I also felt that once black trade unions had been given the power to strike and were recognized in law, which came about at the end of the 1970s that they would be able to expedite the end of apartheid with their power structure.

And wondering about strikes, you can call them on and you can call them off. It's not so easy to regain your export markets once they've gone. So that was really all. It was an economic argument, really, more than anything else. It -- and I have to admit, which I do and have done, that economic sanctions certainly expedited the end of apartheid, but at very considerable cost. I put it once in an article that it seemed to me that it was curing the disease, but killing the patient. And you know, that's really what I felt about it.

And now I'm very amused to see people using the same argument against sanctions on Cuba and Iraq.

MOSS-COANE: Well I wonder, since the end of apartheid, whether you think foreign countries have done enough to help South Africa get back on its feet economically?

SUZMAN: Well, we have had reinvestment of companies which sold their franchises, for instance, I might say at fire-sale prices. They've been bought back and their now operating again. And we have had more companies. I think there's something like an additional 500 companies -- American companies that have reinvested. But we need far more than that to take up the slack in unemployment.

And what we desperately need now is investment capital from abroad 'cause we don't have enough ourselves, especially since the gold price has been so bad. And one of our major exports is now suffering as a result of that. We need this investment income to come into the country and start projects which create jobs. I'm not just talking about money coming into the stock exchange. I'm talking about projects which will produce jobs on an ongoing basis. That's what we desperately need.

MOSS-COANE: Are there affirmative action programs in South Africa, either in education or in the workplace?

SUZMAN: Oh, yes very much so; in law, as well. There is affirmative action going on. In fact, there's a good deal of headhunting going on among the major companies to find black people that they can put into managerial positions. There is still, of course, a huge disparity between the number of people who are white in managerial and executive positions, and those who are black.

But there are affirmative action programs, some of which I might say go too far, I think, anyway, in trying to force the issue to go so much faster when you don't have the available skills. If you had them, of course, that would be different 'cause you've got to address the grievances of the past and give people opportunities now, when they didn't have them in the past years.

But you can't force industry into taking unqualified people and still expect to maintain a level of production and competitiveness with other industries at home and abroad. You know, I just don't think, as someone whose had a little training in economics, that that is possible.

MOSS-COANE: Well, I want to talk some more, but first we're going to take a short break. And our guest today on FRESH AIR is Helen Suzman. She was a member of the South African Parliament from 1953 to 1989, and we are talking about conditions in South Africa today. We'll be back after a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Our guest is Helen Suzman, and we're talking about South Africa. She was a member of the South African Parliament from 1953 until 1989.

Let's talk a little bit about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This is being chaired by Bishop Desmond Tutu to investigate human rights violations. How effective do you think those hearings have been in terms of healing the past?

SUZMAN: I can't really say that. I'm not very much one who turns the other cheek, you know. I would like to see people who've been perpetrators of really evil crimes in the old apartheid days -- I'd like to see them locked up. I really would.

I'm not one of the forgiving types, I'm afraid. So it's difficult for me to assess that situation. I've no doubt it works for people who've got nicer, kinder natures than I have. But I tell you, it has been very revealing to millions of white people to know exactly what went on during those days. I might say nothing has surprised me. I knew a good deal during those years because the relatives of missing people or detained people used to come to me and tell me what they knew.

And people who had been in detention and were released used to come and tell me how they had been treated. And I used to tell parliament this. So I do not understand this business of "we did not know," which is now the sort of local cry among many people who certainly did know. And if they didn't know, they should have known.

But I don't know, really. I mean, it certainly has revealed a great deal to people who genuinely didn't know; that genuine -- the ordinary public.

MOSS-COANE: Well, when the former wife of Nelson Mandela, Winnie Madikizela Mandela testified before the commission, there was a lot of attention in this country. I can only imagine in South Africa how much interest ...

SUZMAN: Yes there was. The hearings were very well-attended. I attend -- in fact attended a couple of them myself. And well, Winnie behaved with her usual self-confidence, denying everything. And one just doesn't know what evidence will be able to be produced as a result of these hearings. There is talk that there is going to be further prosecution proceedings. So far, nothing has happened.

I myself have got quite a lot of sympathy for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, let me tell you, because I know what she went through during those years. And I visited her several times during her period of eight years banishment to a little town in the Orange Free State, as it then was, where the whites wouldn't speak to her and the blacks didn't speak the same language, and she was totally isolated. And she lived in a little house without electricity or water and so on. And she had a tough, tough time.

And she was harassed by that special branch day and night. She was detained over and over again. She spent 17 months in solitary confinement on one occasion. I don't know how sane one emerges from a situation like that. I know I wouldn't be too good -- not too sane anyway. But I imagine that would have driven me over the top.

And Winnie -- I mean, whatever act she perpetrated, if she did perpetrate them, and probably it's -- the evidence may be forthcoming -- I think did so being convinced that the people that she was acting against had turned into government informers. And she was fighting a war -- she really was fighting a war.

MOSS-COANE: Well, I know --- yeah, I know you supported her in the first trial. And I wonder, though, the testimony at this Truth and Reconciliation Commission from the parents of the boy Stompie who was murdered by -- by members of this soccer club that had some association with Winnie.

SUZMAN: Strong association with her.


SUZMAN: I'm not denying the possibility of these things at all. All I'm saying is that Winnie Mandela was fighting her own war and as far as she was concerned, people who turned informers had to be eliminated. And that's just the attitude she had. I'm not condoning what she has or may not have done, but I just know what, in fact, motivated her.

MOSS-COANE: If it is found that she was responsible for these murders, what should be her punishment? Should she have amnesty? Should she face imprisonment?

SUZMAN: Well, Winnie has refused to ask for amnesty. She has flatly refused to ask for amnesty. So I mean, then she's prepared to face prosecution and if she is found guilty, she will go to prison. That will be her punishment.

MOSS-COANE: And is that very much in character?

SUZMAN: It is, rather. It is in character. She's a defiant person. She always was. She's -- yes, that is in character.

MOSS-COANE: What kind of ...

SUZMAN: Just as I believe it was in character for P.W. Botha to refuse to appear before the commission. You know, he was subpoenaed in the end, and he's now, I think, is as subdued as he (unintelligible) to talk about this 'cause he hasn't appeared before a court yet, but he has been subpoenaed and prosecuted for refusing to appear before the commission. And that's in character as well. He, I think, would go to prison rather than pay any fine if he's found guilty by the court. And I mean, my prediction is that he'd be in prison just a few days and he would be released on compassionate grounds because he's old and not very well. And he will emerge as the hero of the Afrikaner folk, which when you come to think of it, is not what was intended.

Unintended consequences always interest me.

MOSS-COANE: Yes. What -- what kind of support does Winnie Madikizela-Mandela still have in South Africa?

SUZMAN: I think she's got a lot of support among the people, for instance, living in the squatter camps because Winnie is a superb politician. She knows if there's a funeral or if somebody's, you know, been injured or there's been a calamity in the family. Winnie's there in a flash offering solace and comfort to the families that have suffered. And they think she's great.

And she's also got a lot of, I think, support among the young people -- the young black people who haven't really been able to realize the ambitions they had of a far better life when the new government came in.

MOSS-COANE: How do you think South Africa will fare after Nelson Mandela leaves the presidency? Are you concerned about that at all?

SUZMAN: Well everybody will miss him. Look, he's irreplaceable. Let me say that right away. His own characteristics; his posture; his looks; his smile; his ability to handle people, which is quite remarkable. Young, old, black, white -- he's there and he does it very, very well on a personal level.

He will be missed. There's no question about it. But we have younger people who've been having a few years experience now in governance, like the Tom Ombecki (ph) whose taken over the presidency of the ANC, who's an educated man. He was in exile in England. He took a degree at Sussex University in economics I believe. And you know, he's quite an able man.

So we -- the country goes on, there's no question about it. And if the economy improves, well then things, I think, generally speaking for the -- for the people in the camps, squatter camps and so on will -- will certainly feel a better, higher standard of living.

MOSS-COANE: Since your retirement, how do you -- how do you spend your days, your time?


SUZMAN: Well, you know, talk about retirement. It's a joke. I'm a part-time commissioner on the Human Rights Commission, which has been established by parliament, appointed by the president to keep a watchful eye on human rights in South Africa. And I am part-time commissioner, and the job becomes more demanding as the years go on, and I'm not sure how much longer I shall be around to do that.

So that occupies some of my time. And the rest, I'm on education trusts which have meetings and I have two beautiful cats that I'm very fond of, and I have a large dog and I have many friends. And I -- I keep very busy actually. I really am busy.

MOSS-COANE: And are you hopeful about the future of South Africa?

SUZMAN: That's a good word you've used, because people ask me if I'm optimistic and I always say: "I'm hopeful." And that is exactly the thing. I am hopeful because we have a lot of plus factors. We are not a basket case like so many of the unfortunate African countries are. We have got the resources. We've got a very innovative population. We have still got a free press, I'm glad to say, which is very important. And we do have opposition voices in parliament, which are able to express disappointment and disagreement. And we have a few beady eyes from outside in the NGOs -- lots of them, in fact -- keeping an eye on what's going on in the country.

So I am quite hopeful.

MOSS-COANE: Well Helen Suzman, I thank you very much for joining us today on FRESH AIR.

SUZMAN: It's been my pleasure.

MOSS-COANE: Helen Suzman was a member of the South African Parliament and a pioneering political leader in the fight against apartheid. She's in the country to receive an award.

I'm Marty Moss-Coane and this is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Marty Moss-Coane, Philadelphia
Guest: Helen Suzman
High: Helen Suzman served as an opposition member of the South African parliament from 1953 until 1989. Suzman was a pioneering political leader in the fight against apartheid and anti-Semitism. For 13 years she was the sole representative in the Parliament to reject race discrimination. She's been twice nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. She'll discuss post-apartheid South Africa. In 1993 she published her memoir: "In No Certain Terms: A South African Memoir."
Spec: Africa; South Africa; Nobel Prize Books; Authors; In No Certain Terms
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: In No Certain Terms
Date: MARCH 04, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 030402NP.217
Head: From a Monastery Kitchen
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:35

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Marty Moss-Coane in for Terry Gross.

Was that bowl of soup you had today just right for the late winter? Preparing meals according to the seasons is part of the monastic life of my guest, Brother Victor-Antoine D'Avila-Latourrette. He's a monk at Our Lady of the Resurrection Monastery in Millbrook, New York where he gardens and cooks for the small group of monks who live there.

Brother Victor has also made a name for himself in the secular world by publishing his recipes in a series of popular cookbooks. His latest has just come out in paperback, "Twelve Months of Monastery Soups." Brother Victor's first book, "From A Monastery Kitchen," was written 20 years ago. That was followed by "This Good Food," "Table Blessings," and a book about monastery life called "A Monastic Year."

Brother Victor is responsible for preparing the meals at the monastery, so we called him on the phone before he had to go make lunch. I asked him why he organizes his cookbooks around the seasons.

You know, that's part of the monastic philosophy or the monastic way of life. We do everything in connected -- you know, in connection with the seasons. Just to give you an example, you know, we are in the middle of Lent, or we just started Lent, and the music, the Gregorian chant which we sing here already changes to a different kind of music that is only used for Lent.

The same thing with, you know, with -- with our cooking. The cooking -- it just tends to be a reflection of that general philosophy that we live in tune with the seasons. It has always been like that and we find that it -- it creates for us a very healthy rhythm. It creates the natural balance, the natural framework for our life.

I think men and women are meant to be, you know, sort of integrated into the seasons and live in harmony with it, not against it. And so I think we do violence to our nature when we go against the natural rhythm of the seasons.

MOSS-COANE: You write about the importance of soup and the role that soup has played in the history of monasteries. Take us back, if you can, to when monasteries really were soup kitchens.

D'AVILA-LATOURRETTE: Well, soups is a very ancient staple. It is also because, you see, something so basic, so very simple. I mean, you can throw anything into a pot of soup and make a soup. So for monks who certain lead a life of simplicity and frugality, soup is just -- it's a very natural sort of daily staple.

Now during the Middle Ages or even earlier than the Middle Ages, very often when monasteries were situated in the middle or the center of the village, and when you know, people were cold or they didn't have enough to eat, or in times of famine or times of disaster, the people would just simply come and knock at the doors of the monastery at lunch time and ask for a bowl of soup, and for food in general. And the monks will provide them with a bowl of soup and some bread.

So -- and see, soup is just something that you can extend and make more of it to sort of feed others. With other kinds of food, it gets more complicated. And besides, they could -- for instance, in the middle of the winter if you're hungry, there's nothing much -- nothing more comforting than soup because besides feeding you, it also gives you warmth. So it's a natural, I think, in monasteries.

And so soup kitchens originated in that ancient practice that monasteries had of feeding the poor who knock at the doors when there were hungry or when in need of something.

MOSS-COANE: Do you have something -- a recipe that's a real piece de resistance that you know that when you serve this, you're literally pulling out the stops?

D'AVILA-LATOURRETTE: You talk about soups?

MOSS-COANE: Sure, soup. My favorite food.


D'AVILA-LATOURRETTE: Well, it still is -- you know, we still set a part of winter, and going into spring -- maybe I'll think of a soup that -- that we make around Christmas-time. Actually, we make for the Feast of St. Nicholas, and it's called St. Nicholas soup, which is the sixth of December.

And it's one of those recipes which is simply -- mentioning before, that it's just plain simple winter vegetables; most of them root vegetables. And all you do is just boil them, bring them together. At the end, you pass them through -- you know, through the blender and you add simple cream to it. And then you reheat it and you know perhaps add a little bit of butter, if you don't mind a bit of fat in it.

And it's a -- it's a creamy, very creamy, but it's a very tasty, very delicious soup. Now, I've made it a couple of times for some groups like a Williams-Sonoma, for some of these places in book signings. And also in Canada, because the book came out in, you know, in French in Montreal. In both places, there was a tremendous -- not just admiration, but tremendous response.

By the way, I think that the -- you know, the weather was cold and a hot soup like that -- but I think it's also that they just were surprised that the simple, basic winter vegetables like turnips and carrots and potatoes and onions all blend together could create that kind of a taste.

MOSS-COANE: Well, your cookbooks focus on simplicity, but I'm curious what you've got in your kitchen because I think in a secular kitchen, we have many gadgets and machines that line all the counters. What do you have in your kitchen?

D'AVILA-LATOURRETTE: Well, you'd be surprised. We do have some of those gadgets (unintelligible).

MOSS-COANE: Oh, you do?


Like what?

D'AVILA-LATOURRETTE: Well, we have a Cuisinart and we have -- you know, we have the standard thing to cut, you know, vegetables julienne style of any a different style -- you know, that little machinery they call the "mandolin" (ph) they call it. And so -- and we have the different kinds of pots. We have also sort of pottery pots that we use, for example, making cassoulet (ph), you know, in the oven that takes about four, five, six hours, you know, of cooking.

So we have the basic necessities. We may not have luxuries, but then we don't -- we don't expect that in a monastery. But we have the basic necessities to do some kind of decent kind of cooking.

MOSS-COANE: In your book A Monastic Year, you talk about gardening as having a long monastic tradition. Describe the garden for us up there at your monastery in New York.

D'AVILA-LATOURRETTE: Well we have several gardens, and they are not very big. We have a vegetable garden which provides food for the table, that's close to the area where we have the barn with the sheep. And now we have a herb garden which we use both for cooking, for drying, for making vinegars and for medicinal purposes; for tea et cetera. And that's very traditional in a monastery to have a herb garden.

Then we have several flower gardens, both perennials and annuals. And our way of gardening is sort of -- we look at the property and we see what -- we'd like to create an enclosure of peace; a place that is just sort appealing, and sort of lift up our hearts and our minds in prayer and praise to God.

So our garden -- gardening methods are very simple. We see what the land calls for and we sort of just (unintelligible) or trying to blend with it. We don't really try to change it so much, the contour of the land. So it's a very natural kind of garden. There are lots of perennials just that have been planted throughout the years, and come out in certain areas, and in there, you know, we have some annuals for colors, you know, every year which we use for the flowers for decoration -- for flower, you know, arrangements for the chapel.

And then throughout the years, the bulbs have naturalized, so we have thousands and thousands of bulbs, you know, of daffodils in the spring, daffodils and other things, scattered throughout the whole property. So in a lovely spring morning, it's just wonderful to walk and to see this display of color that seems just to grow naturally in the places. You see, not -- it's not a very cultivated garden because it's a very simple property. But it is a -- as you say, appeal of look -- looking very natural, very just right -- in the right place.

MOSS-COANE: Now I know that you sell your -- your vegetables and probably your herbs; maybe even your flowers at a local farmers market.


MOSS-COANE: Do they have to get used to you having a stall there and selling along with local farmers?

D'AVILA-LATOURRETTE: It was quite a surprise, I think, at the beginning because first of all, I was already known in the area, so when they first saw me appearing there with some of the things, it was a surprise. But it became very popular. Unfortunately, the (unintelligible), we have to have that activity simply because I couldn't manage that and manage to -- to write the books. I was asked by Doubleday to make -- to write two books for them. So I signed a contract for two books, and it was just impossible.

So one of the things that have to be relinquished, unfortunately, was the farmers market. But we still sell a certain amount here in the monastery. We have a very small shop that is just open mostly to the people that come here on retreat. And so the things that we make here, including some of the jellies and some of the jams and vinegar and some of the pickles et cetera, and the dry herbs -- and we put them there, and the people still buy them.

MOSS-COANE: One thing you write about is -- is when it comes to selling your produce is to avoid greed and to make sure that you're not charging too much. Is that something that -- that transaction -- is that difficult for a Benedictine monk?

D'AVILA-LATOURRETTE: Well you know, that -- that's part of the rule. You know, that's part of the wisdom of St. Benedict. St. Benedict planned to keep everything in balance, and that -- and to -- I mean, a monk could fall for greed just like anybody else, and will want to receive more for his work like any other worker. But St. Benedict makes us mindful that we are spiritual -- that our purpose in the monastery is a spiritual life and we need to earn our living. He does say that we need to earn our living by the work of our hands, so we have to work.

But we -- we just must -- our aim is to make ends meet and not to go beyond further than that. So to me, it's a very contemporary advice that's full of value, full of wisdom.

MOSS-COANE: Our guest today on FRESH AIR is Brother Victor-Antoine D'Avila-Latourrette, and he's written a number of books about gardening and about cooking, making soups -- including A Monastic Life: Twelve Months of Monastery Soups, Table Blessings, This Good Food.

We'll be back after a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.

We're talking about cooking, gardening, and the monastic life with Brother Victor-Antoine D'Avila-Latourrette.

I'm curious, as you make that transition from monastic life into the secular world -- if you're going on a book tour, for instance, or you're making a -- a television appearance. How do you prepare yourself to go out into this noisy hurried world?

D'AVILA-LATOURRETTE: You know, I don't know if I can really prepare myself. I find that every time I do it, it's a penance for me. I find it tedious. I -- when, you know, this past November, I had to go to Canada to do quite a bit of promotion for the book -- concentrated on three days. And they had me do four television stations and 15 radio interview, and I don't know how many newspaper interviews, and then book signings.

And I was going on from seven o'clock in the morning until midnight. I was absolutely exhausted. I just wanted to escape and get back here.


MOSS-COANE: That's the author's lament, I think.

D'AVILA-LATOURRETTE: Whenever I do -- you know, I've done QVC a few times and I've done, well, CBS and a couple of other television things, and I always get every -- I think we doing the Discovery Channel at the end of the month. I'm always -- when I go to do those things -- I look at it as, you know, I enjoy it certain amount of it, but to me it's a penance. I'm always looking forward to coming back to our quiet and to our silence.

MOSS-COANE: Well speaking of silence, you have an interesting chapter in your book, A Monastic Year, about silence. And it's more than not speaking. You write: "The habit of silence among monks does not apply only to speech or conversation. Monks are encouraged to practice quiet in many ways, such as avoiding making noises while they walk, sit, work, close or open a door or a window." And we must be a very noisy world for you.

D'AVILA-LATOURRETTE: Yes, and silence becomes a habit. You grow into it - you -- you know, as a monk in a monastery. So you need the whole milieu, the whole atmosphere, the whole -- that mystique of quiet because silence helps us to live in harmony with everything that is around us, that is within us and is around us. And so there's not this dichotomy.

When you go outside, you notice that silence is not a value, but then outside we are not always, you know, sort of encouraged to live in harmony with -- out in a world and with the things outside of us. And so it's not necessarily a value. I wish it were. I think all of us can benefit from silence because silence to me is a school where you learn things. You know, it teaches -- you are by yourself in a way that you'll never learn otherwise unless you take time to be quiet with yourself.

It teaches you about others. It teaches you about nature. It teaches you about God. It teaches you about, you know, surrounding -- the gardens, the animals we have. It teaches you about everything. I mean, for instance, just to read a good book and to appreciate in depth, you have to do it in silence. You can't do it in a noisy thing because you cannot really penetrate the depth of, you know, of learning that is in the book unless you can sort of be quiet.

So silence becomes a habit in a monastery, in a monk throughout the years, and you are comfortable with it. And the moment it's -- that you are out of it is like a fish, you know, out of water. You just simply don't know how to swim.


MOSS-COANE: Well, when you're on a hurried three-day book tour and they have you booked from morning 'til midnight, have you learned how to -- how to tune out some of that silence? Or do you just wait until you'll get back to the monastery and then ...

D'AVILA-LATOURRETTE: No, no. You know what I try to do is -- you respond to what -- if you're there, what you've been asked, but every moment that you can be quiet and you're allowed, you know, that you're free to sort of not to say anything, you enter back into your own heart and make quiet there and just be yourself, you know, comfortable as much as you can be in the middle of a crowd -- just being quiet yourself. You know, just being tuned into your own inner self; to your own inner life. In sort of a -- I think it's possible. I don't think it's the kind of thing that you want all the time, but it's the only way that you can sort of survive a situation like that.

And so I may be in the middle of a crowd in the middle of a television thing, and I can still be quiet because I just simply feel comfortable being -- being comfortable with myself innerly -- you know, within. And so I just sort of -- I retreat myself to my own inner -- to my own inner being.

MOSS-COANE: Do you eat differently when you're away from the monastery?

D'AVILA-LATOURRETTE: We usually have a very simple principle in monastic life that you eat what is presented to you at a table. I mean, we -- you know, if we really practice simplicity, we should not be complicated. So what is presented to us, this is what we usually eat. I prefer, and I try to if possible to sort of stick to vegetarian principles whenever principles whenever possible, and to healthy habits. But I also want to please who invite me or those who are kind enough to serve us something, so I, you know, partake of whatever they present to us, in that we try to be -- not to fuss too much about ourselves, you know.

When we are in the monastery or when we are outside the monastery. So (unintelligible) presented to us, it's -- oh, unless it's something that is very unhealthy, which is seldom the case ...


D'AVILA-LATOURRETTE: ... we just accept it with gratitude and take it, in a -- you know, and eat it.

MOSS-COANE: Are you ever tempted by, you know, a gooey chocolate cake or something really sinful like that?

D'AVILA-LATOURRETTE: Oh, of course. Of course. I think that's absolutely human, absolutely normal. Who doesn't?


MOSS-COANE: And do you give in or do you resist?

D'AVILA-LATOURRETTE: Well I mean, if it's presented kindly to me, I take it as a, you know, as a gift from the Lord and delight in it.


And eat it. You know, I won't go and seek it myself, but if this is what someone in -- you know, who invites me, presents me at the table, and if we are eating in a restaurant, (unintelligible) as I said, I don't think I necessarily have to choose the worst, you know, thing. I mean, there's no reason why we cannot choose the, you know, the more tasty or the better things. But if, you know, you do it with simplicity. You take it or leave it. You do it then, and then, you know, free enough that the next time, you know, you're back home, you don't think about it.

I mean, you can think and enjoy that you had it, but you don't -- you don't depend on that, you know? You just sort of keep your own -- you know, to be innerly free is to sort of take and accept things as they are, and not to become attached to them.

MOSS-COANE: You've written a number of books, and I'm curious how that first book got written -- whether someone approached you to write a book or whether this was something that came from you?

D'AVILA-LATOURRETTE: No, I never intended to write any book. I never thought about it. It never entered my mind. It just happened to be that when we first arrived here, we were looking for land to buy, to build our monastery. We didn't have any means because we were not funded by any large monastery or we were not helped by foundations or by the diocese or by anybody. So we have to sort of raise our own funds ourselves.

And there was a wonderful Quaker professor that used to come often to our monastery -- Lisa Bolding (ph) -- who said to us -- he said: "Well, why don't you write down your recipes? You know, and we'll do a cookbook with that." And she had this idea and contacted Harper Collins, at that time it was Harper & Row at that time. And then they sort of -- they said, well, we'll take a chance and we'll see.

So they printed 5,000 copies for the first book, and that's 20 years ago. And it sold out in a month. And so they kept reprinting until, you know, that was From A Monastery Kitchen," it sold about, oh, you know, 100,000 copies, then was out of print and now has been reprinted again, which is the book you have, probably.

And so that's really the genesis of how the book started. And then, you know, one led -- one thing led to another. They asked me to write another book and a third book. And now they're asking me to do two books at a time.


MOSS-COANE: And now you're a famous book author.

D'AVILA-LATOURRETTE: I never, never intended to write a single book. I mean, you know, as I said I intended to be just a plain, simple monk without having to do any of this, you know -- I didn't even know that I had writing skills. You know, I have to sort of develop by working at them.

MOSS-COANE: But you're happy you did it.


MOSS-COANE: I assume.

D'AVILA-LATOURRETTE: ... there's a joy in them. You know, to me the joy is that we share something of the monastic life of the monastery with the outside world. That why it's not so much making money. It's not so much -- I mean, I do also enjoy writing recipes, creating new things. I think it's a creative kind of work. But I also like to see that the monastery somehow goes out into the world through the simple means of books; that we share part of our life with others and we bring perhaps a little of message of life of simplicity and peace and joy, and sort of -- I get lots of letters from people, you know, from around the country, and they -- they sort of feed me and they give me a great joy knowing that the book touches them.

MOSS-COANE: Are you afraid of all that monastic life will die out? That you'll be the last of a breed of monks?


D'AVILA-LATOURRETTE: Well, it's -- you know, speaking from the natural point of view, it's always possible. I -- I do think, however, that monastic life is -- it's something that transcends cultures. You know, you find Buddhist monks. You find -- I mean, you find in all cultures -- you find, you know, Zen Buddhists. You find Hindu monks. You find Sufi (ph) monks. You find Christian monks; Catholic monks; you know, Orthodox monks.

So I think in the providence of God, there were always people called to monastic life. But what I -- monks are those who are in the quest -- you search for the absolute; for God. And so I think that's part of the -- of the -- I think, you know, all human beings have within themselves a call to -- to that -- to the -- call to the absolute; perhaps not always to live the monastic life in full, you know, in a full sense, but I think there will always be people who have the call for the absolute -- the thirst for the absolute.

You know, we -- but perhaps we may be fewer and sort of less and less, but I don't think it will die out completely, and I trust God that he will always have, you know, people that he will be calling and that -- to live in union with him and to sort of -- to make a -- to make witness that there's more to life than just, you know, the ephemeral, terrestrial things that we have, you know.

We are called to something high and to something deeper, which is, you know, the thirst for God. So I think -- I don't think it will die out. I'm not -- I'm not too worried about it. I don't -- I think God can take care of himself and can take care of the rest of us.


MOSS-COANE: Brother Victor, thank you very much for joining us today on FRESH AIR.

D'AVILA-LATOURRETTE: Thank you very much for having me.

MOSS-COANE: That's author, cook, and gardener Brother Victor-Antoine D'Avila-Latourrette. His book, Twelve Months of Monastery Soups, has just been published in paperback.

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Marty Moss-Coane, Philadelphia
Guest: Victor-Antoine D'Avila-Latourrette
High: Brother Victor-Antoine D'Avila-Latourrette cooks and tends garden at Our Lady of the Resurrection Monastery near Millbrook, New York. He's the author of several bestselling cookbooks including: "From a Monastery Kitchen," "Twelve Months of Monastery Soups," as well as his introductory book to the Monastic Life: "A Monastic Year: Reflections from a Monastery."
Spec: Religion; Our Lady of the Resurrection; Food; Cooking; From a Monastery Kitchen; Twelve Months of Monastic Soups; A Monastic Year
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: From a Monastery Kitchen
Date: MARCH 04, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 030403NP.217
Head: The Con
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:56

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: Tonight on television, according to our TV critic David Bianculli, there's a terrific made-for-TV movie -- one that is written by an unusual author. It's full of unexpected characters and plot twists, and is presented by an unlikely source.

DAVID BIANCULLI, TV CRITIC: This telemovie I'm so excited about is called "The Con." And one of the reasons I'm so enthusiastic about it is that it comes as such a pleasant surprise. It's written by William H. Macy, the actor who starred as the shady car dealer in "Fargo." It's kind of a modern southern version of "The Sting" with Rebecca De Mornay as a sexy grifter who heads to Mississippi to seduce and swindle a homely auto mechanic, played by Macy.

And it's presented on cable by the USA Network, which to put it kindly, didn't lead to any great expectations before I actually watched this preview tape. The USA Network, after all, used to be synonymous with awful made-for-TV movies -- and for the most part, still is.

It saves its very worst movies for nights when the major networks are televising State of the Union addresses or presidential debates, just so it's really bad telemovies will get really good ratings. But about two years ago, USA Network decided to show two or three dramas a year that had grander ambitions; that actually had good scripts, good actors, and usually were based on good novels.

A week from Sunday, for example, USA presents a mini-series version of "Moby Dick," with Patrick Stewart as Captain Ahab. Believe me, that's a huge step up from killer house cats and satanic red dresses and the standard/substandard USA Network movie fare.

"The Con" doesn't sound all that ambitious or impressive either, and didn't come accompanied by much advance publicity. Yet Macy and his writing partner, Stephen Schechter (ph), have done a great job here. It's a comedy/drama that you'll love for the little touches -- the funny dialogue, the quirky characters, and especially the strange plot twists.

De Mornay plays a con-woman who needs money fast, and target's Macy's character, a poor guy who's about to inherit a lot of money from the dying father he never knew. Then she heads south to charm, marry, and divorce the guy before he knows what hit him -- a con called the "hitch and ditch."

Here she is on the bus ride to Mississippi, listening on her headphones and practicing her southern accent, with which she plans to seduce him when she gets there. The music, the words, and especially De Mornay's playful performance -- everything about this scene is just right.



REBECCA DE MORNAY, ACTRESS: Y'all live here? I'm trying to find the Winn Dixie, hush puppies, hush puppies...

BIANCULLI: The first twist is that when she gets there, Macy's character is such an introverted and homely guy, one step up from carrying a sling blade, that De Mornay's blonde bombshell approach has no effect. So she reinvents herself again, turning mousy and shy and brunette and religious. It's the first of many delightful surprises in "The Con" and I'll let you discover the rest of them for yourself.

The Con is one wonderful USA Network movie. And though it sounds like there has to be a catch, I'm not conning you.

MOSS-COANE: David Bianculli is TV critic for the "New York Daily News."

Dateline: David Bianculli; Marty Moss-Coane, Philadelphia
High: David Bianculli reviews "The Con."
Spec: Entertainment; The Con; Lifestyle; Culture
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: The Con
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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