cakes, prose, woes -- the photos, food & thoughts of a french-speaking seattle-native in brazil

In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it. -AB
In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Eat exigeTalk: l'Assiette et la Tête

The Art of Table Conversation
What is the correct table etiquette; how much is too much talk? Should one focus on the plate or on the surroundings? Is a meal soley for the purpose of nourishment? This, as most concepts in life, depends on location, localizaçãol, localização, localização. Most cultures vary in the "proper way to pass a meal." In most of Asia a meal is passed in silence, according proper respect to the items being consumed. While in other areas of the world--alright the west--meals are often lively, loud, perhaps accompanied by music and or television. For many families table time is the sole moment of the day when all are assembled, procuring naturally an opportunity for needed conversation.

The verb to eat--every living organic creature, by the laws of nature, is forced to obey the need of nourishment. Plants eat, ants eat, cod fish eat, pigs eat---but do humans eat? No. Humans do not eat. Humans have, to their own desire, own decorum, adapted (ok elevated) all forms of natural necessety to something other than basic organic instinct. You are human, you are aware of the list. Relate the senses--nothing is basal. Nothing. The area of nourishment is no different.

Writer and (Philosophe) Michel Jeanneret explains in his "La conversation a table" {La gourmandise sous haute surveillance, La Gourmandise. Delices d'un peche, Paris, 1993} that it is the art of table conversation, the combination of rational thought and discourse paired with alimentation that separates human dinner table from the animal watering hole. Take a look, mes amis, it's worth a thought.

Note: this is my translation; not a professional.

Politeness does not merely imply a maintaining of allure, for it also involves, if not depends, on the elegance and timing of speech. It's proper usage in the world is passed through a combination of recognized manners and table etiquette as well as an etiquette of speech.

Take conversation as a minute, yet delicate refinery, it's exaltation is necessary, and for the company seated around the table, it's demand is crucial: dialog accompanies meals in a sensory dimension, where a diner risks participation in rational thought through conversation. This is a mark solely of man. Animals gorge in silence, but humans,--humans eat, or rather nourish the body and the mind simultaneously through the event that is "supper time." Lively discourse plays a role, to some degree, parallel to what is prepared in the kitchen: like a sophisticated sauce, conversation marks the contribution art and human culture have bestowed on a subject otherwise belonging solely to the realm of nature--instinct of nature compels nourishment, but accompanied conversation is it's elevation to that of an action purely only as an accession for man.

Dialog brings to the diners what gluttony tends to isolate. It therefore matters that each person seated around the table feels at ease and participates in the conversation. One should avoid the vices of "chattiness," monopolization of the floor, hoarding all eyes and attention, and as well the inverse of the extreme, that of curt brevity that often douses the flame of discourse, relinquishing the members of party to a void icy silence.

Good conversation rubs out differences, erases rank, and overcomes inhibition. The topic of conversation will be chosen by consequence in accordance with the competence and taste of all members involved. There will be laughter, but not derision, the mind will be forced to stimulation, but not overwhelmed. A topic of debate that is too serious will risk a division in the group. It is not meant that philosophy should be banned from the dining room, but rather that it be kept in its proper state----water in wine----which is to address current affairs and to put up with each individual opinion--overzealous know-it-alls discourage others, which takes from the richness of the feast.

An essential aspect of lively table conversation is to speak of everything and of nothing--to pass freely from one subject to another without remorse or haunt. The variety of themes and tones will prevent those who wish to confiscate the conversation; giving each diner a right, or moreover a desire to express oneself. It is safe to say then that the mouth should always be occupied by something more than merely tasting, chewing, and swallowing.

A meal is more than digestion; it is a combination between what is on the plate and what is in the head. C'est l'assiette et la tête.

A bientôt

1 comment:

Núria said...

Hola darling! Sorry I haven't visited for long now! I'm kind of busy... want to do so many things and time gets short!

Great post! However, I think that eating is... it's a tricky and hard one... eating is a pleasure when I do it with my family or my husband, when we explore new flavours and restaurants, when we share new palatal experiences. It's also a need for the body; a right we all have; and a social excuse to celebrate, to meet, to make business...

Well, I didn't pretend to get boring here, but it's your fault
;-) your post inspired me :D
Buen fin de semana sweetheart♥