a day of watching in horror the events of September 11, 2001, I had
a difficult time deciding whether I should proceed to dine out at a
restaurant I had to cover for an article. Psychologically I had no desire
to go out; professionally I felt bound to do so. Then I remembered the
story of what Winston Churchill said when told that the Germans had
completely destroyed the city of Coventry. Seeming flippant but deadly
serious, the old lion thought for a moment, then said, Well, lets
have lunch. Everything looks better after lunch.
sentiment has always carried weight with me, not only because sitting
down to a meal requires the harried mind to re-focus attention on a
human ritual but, because it truly helps to return to a normal need.
After hearing of a tragedy, the appetite may flag, eating may be the
last thing on ones mind, and dining seems downright frivolous.
But to restore ones appetite is to restore ones strength,
as anyone who has long been sick knows.
year and a half ago when I heard the news that my mother had passed
away overnight, I was tying my tie in a room at the Crillon Hotel in
Paris, ready to go down to dinner. The news had the obvious effect
of bringing me to my knees, but after commiserating with my wife, I
determined that going down to dinner would be the very best thing rather
than stay in the room and weep.
We went to dinner, sure that my mother, who gave me life, nurtured
me as an infant, and imbued me with a love of good food, a woman who
was a great hostess and loved nothing more than going out to a fine
restaurant, would have insisted I do so. And so, we ate very well and
drank a very fine wine, toasting my mother as she so richly deserved.
a food and travel writer what I do for a living may seem odd (T.S.
Eliot wrote, We measure out our lives in coffee spoons,
but I measure out mine in morsels of foie gras); but, whenever I think
of it as ephemeral to the great issues of the day, I am reminded of
a scene in the play based on The Diary of Anne Frank, in
which the family, isolated for months in an attic but still believing
they will soon be out, fantasize about the first thing theyll
do when they return to the world outside.
says she yearns to go to a dance. The teenage boy wants to go to a
movie, a western movie! And the adults all start remembering and dreaming
of a wonderful pastry shop, a good stew, a romantic restaurant with
thick linen and fine wines. None, not one, declares that the first
thing he wanted to do was to change the political structure of Europe.
scene made me realize not only that deprivation takes away freedoms
of movement but also access to the most wonderful sights, sounds, and
tastes of lifethe very things we live for until they are taken
away from us. Every human being on earth who has ever gone hungry thinks
first of survival, then of doing something seemingly superficiala
dance, a western movie, a visit to a restaurant. For when all goes
well, when the doctor cuts out the cancer, when debt is retired, when
the debris is cleared away, returning to normal means returning to
those things that make life worth living.
World War II director Frank Capra made a series of powerful propaganda
films entitled Why We Fight, and if seeing yet again the
cheesecake photos (an interesting turn of phrase) of Rita Hayworth
and Betty Grable in servicemens lockers seems pointedly nostalgic,
that does not destroy its touching allure. Why We Dine
is as reasonable a proposition as any other, once we survive the inevitable
rigors and horrors of life that must be endured. Animals feed,
man eats, said Brillat-Savarin, but only a man of culture
knows how to dine.
So I carry on extolling and criticizing our worlds food culture,
sometimes whimsically, sometimes with vitriol. For the importance of
dining out, and drinking good wine, and falling in love under the spell
of candlelight at the dinner table is to enjoy all that terroristsespecially
those whose religious fanaticism seeks to deprive people of all pleasurewould
seek to destroy.
indulging in lifes passions we do much more than live out ourlives.
We gain strength in the belief that they are part of the goodness of
well, be well.
by John.Patrick W Fegan, Director, Chicago Wine School