Kevin Dwyer

Cairo, Egypt

Sehr Geehrte Herr Professor Doktor und Ehemalige Dissertations-Berater und Spargel mit Schinken beliebende Sid (please don't proofread, Sid, in any of these languages, s'il te plaît),

Here in Cairo, without any of the pictures we've taken of you and Jackie over the years, without Lilia here to join her thoughts to mine, I'm reduced to excavating my own memories. Excuse the accretions and excuse the few moments it may take me to get to you as the main subject, but there is a lot of useless debris that has to be cleared.

As responsible as you are for so many undergraduates having gone on to graduate work in anthropology, you may be relieved to recall that I am not of that number. I went into anthropology almost by default. While studying Romance Languages at the University of Chicago, a French professor reacted to my proposed doctoral subject on the francophone literature of North Africa with a dismissive, "mais, ce n'est pas du français." A friend suggested anthropology and a year or so later I found myself at Yale where, it turned out, no one in that small department specialized in the Arab world. There was, though, a certain Sidney Mintz who, it seemed, had wrestled with Iran or at least with some Iranians.

What pushed me in your direction was my interest in "economic anthropology"—on that subject you were already an established authority, particularly on marketplaces, a setting I thought I would like to study. In those days, economic anthropology seemed a fitting subdiscipline for those of us concerned with political economy, with phenomena like exploitation and oppression, concerns I knew you shared and that you later voiced, in your own inimitable way, by consoling me after one of my grant proposals failed, telling me that the pittance I hadn't been awarded was part of the millions of dollars taken out of the backs of Chilean and Mexican copper miners.

During those years at Yale, as open and gregarious as you were, you were not very easy to approach. No fault of yours, really, but you were always surrounded by other students—graduates as well as undergraduates. I managed somehow to join the queue of students working with you and, as my advisor, you immeasurably improved my dissertation on entrepreneurial activity in a Moroccan village. It was only some years later, as I was preparing the Moroccan Dialogues manuscript, that I actually sat down and read Worker in the Cane. How curious that a book so much more in line with what became my own style had been written years earlier by that marketplace maverick. We later had some published exchanges concerning our different approaches to this kind of work but, for a reason I have yet to fathom, this did not turn into the major Methodenstreit of the late 20th century.

Wonderful story-teller that you are, rarely repeating yourself, there is one story about our period at Yale that you tell me time and time again. To make matters worse, it's a story I first told you. It does, however, have the saving grace of being about you. As a graduate student with no undergraduate training in anthropology and fated, it seemed, to teach introductory courses, I wondered how I'd manage. You suggested I attend one of your undergraduate classes. I was astounded—there you were, in front of considerably more than a hundred undergraduates and, as physically impossible as this sounds, you held all of them right in the palm of your hand, releasing them now and then into peals of laughter, grasping them again with a gripping story. Uh-oh I thought, this is a performance that, whatever the course of human evolution, I won't be able to emulate in a million years. I took whatever comfort I could in the fact that, wherever I might teach, I wouldn't be responsible for leading hundreds upon hundreds of students into anthropology nor, let it be noted, was I likely to be burdened with the task of writing hundreds upon hundreds of reference letters.

Which helps me to leap abruptly to the present (or at least try to), passing quickly over the many wonderful times we've had together—you, Jackie, Lilia, and I—in many different places: Baltimore, of course, New York too; Paris as well; and, even more remotely from our birthplaces, Tunisia (where, ever the researcher, you tried to convince me to write about the fish market and where, Lilia remembers, she explained to you the historical and architectural importance of the famed Sadiki school while you helped her understand why a large listing tree didn't fall and shatter the building to smithereens; and where you gracefully requested our hotel in Tozeur to serve us all a local specialty, rather than the European fare that was its staple. By the way, from that Tunisian visit I gained a view of you I hadn't had before and that made a strong impression, leading me to write, in a published comment on one of your articles, "I'm sure that anyone who has seen Sidney in the field (or on any sort of unfamiliar terrain), and has observed his penetrating curiosity, seen his physical dexterity, his attention to detail and, perhaps above all, his great good humor, openness, and generosity—in sum, his wonderful capacity to establish a strong, winning presence wherever he is—cannot fail to think, 'here is the real item, the truly gifted fieldworker.')"

Then, most recently and so beautifully, we were together around the Lakes in Italy where, if I'm not mistaken, you uttered the immortal line, "As long as I get an occasional good piece of fish, a nice slice of melon and can accompany it with grappa, you can keep all of the 16th century church paintings to yourselves." And, thinking of your generosity, I haven't forgotten my surprise appearance a few years ago at one of your food lectures, this time in London, a surprise you returned ten-fold by inviting me to a wonderful meal at Claudia Roden's and more discussion of tamarind with you and Sami Zubaida than I would ever have thought possible!

Sometimes, even when you weren't where I was you were present. (Perhaps you were in Haiti, or Hong Kong, or Vietnam, or Holland, or Helsinki, Oslo, Bergen—you even made an appearance in Iowa City I'm told. As Lilia puts it, "avec son dynamisme intellectuel il est invité partout, traversant des continents pour donner des conférences et des cours, se promenant avec son sac à dos et son chapeau—celui qu'il nous a laissé à Tunis!") Who can keep track? For all I know you may have been somewhere in Asia translating a novel from Spanish! Or unleashing your baritone near Valencia. Or taking notes on Kyoto so you could tell us what temples and museums to visit, not sparing us a quick glance into local bean curd preferences and advising us where to pick up some of the best kitchen knives in the world. And while you were so gainfully occupied there I was, giving a talk in Germany, only to have a former student of yours approach me, wanting to talk about none other than Don Taso y Don Sidney! Another occasion found me in Morocco, experiencing the irony of presenting

Sweetness and Power

to a room filled with top executives from Morocco's main sugar company. Sugar plantation workers in Cuba would certainly have felt a deep kinship with the industrial workers in the Casablanca sugarloaf factory. Someday soon, insha'allah, we hope those factory workers will be able to find SUKKAR WA SULTA in their Arabic language bookstores.

But back to the present and trying hard to end this before it outdoes its welcome: it was only two or three years ago that I took a vow you noted with great pleasure—the vow not to ask you for any more letters of recommendation. I had often wondered, as I sent you yet another request, how many other similar requests you were receiving that very day, that week, that month. When I put the vow into effect, you were well into your eighth decade and I into my sixth (just to keep the record straight that means you were in your seventies and I in my fifties—but who's counting?) You never once,

not once

, ever so much as hinted that these requests might have been a burden. And, I should add, those letters must have been very well-crafted and not simply dashed off, for they often enough swayed the jury in my direction, which no doubt took some doing. You may remember I wrote you once:


Article summary: Mintz' argument, in essence: 'Give that man a grant already, dammit! I'm tired of this.'"

As is only fair, on this occasion at least I will let you have the last word (or almost), for you gave me your special—shall I say "recipe"?—for writing such letters, a recipe I have had recent occasion to employ: "The most important thing is whether you say the candidate is better than you the writer, much better than you, or infinitely better than you. Then teaching ability. Then scholarship. Then collegiality, including cooperativeness (will this new guy wash my car for me?). Then a dash of lemon juice and a tiny bit of fresh thyme—oh excuse me, I thought this was a cooking lesson."

Sid—from Lilia and me—Joyeux Anniversaire, Buon Compleanno, Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, usw—we're sorry we're not with you, but we'll both be thinking of you often.