I’ve many times here admitted to being something of a pig, loving food and eating so much that I might as well be in the barn with the rest of my kind, snuffling around in glee at the trough. But lest you think me an utterly indiscriminate eater, let me say in my defense that (a) I do have a modicum of manners when I absolutely have to and know enough not to put my bare feet up on the table when having tea with the queen, and (b) there are a few actual items I would rather not eat or drink.
I’ve mentioned, indeed, such delicacies as blueberries that I find entirely resistible in any form, despite the practically universal admiration for them among others. And though I’m not opposed to eating things that have been living (vegetable and animal), I have no interest in eating things that are still alive, particularly those that have any capability of trying to escape from me as they enter my mouth. There are plenty of animals whose offal and organs I will also happily avoid, though they are considered magnificent delicacies by many people, and plenty of plants whose seeds, bark and roots have equally little appeal to me other than as decorative items or mulch.
I’ve even met the occasional cook, in my life’s wanderings, whose entire oeuvre of cookery I would be sincerely delighted never to taste, once I knew how skilled he was at removing all appealing and edible qualities and characteristics from any item brought to that singular hall of horrors known as his kitchen.
Still, there are relatively few things in the vast pantheon of foods that I would rather avoid than eat, and even many of those I will ingest if diplomacy requires it. This summer’s travels were, thankfully, 99% delicious. The cooks and their cookery were generally fine, and often outstanding, and I certainly didn’t come home any thinner than I was when I left. Better yet, there was little along the way that didn’t beckon to me as I gripped my fork in anticipation. Travel has such potential for culinary joy! Revisiting favored tastes from previous journeys is always complemented by the pleasures of trying new dishes.
Well, there was that aspic (pictured above), on this trip. It was so curious-looking that I couldn’t resist trying it, even though the oddments scattered through it were rather unrecognizable, for the most part. For something that looked playfully like jelly with tiny, mysterious pieces of toys in it, it turned out to be strangely dull in flavor, leading to a disappointment not entirely unlike that felt by a child on pulling open a party cracker and expecting a nice snapping noise, a fun trinket, and a shower of colorful confetti inside and instead finding a slightly used pair of socks. I ate most of that aspic, dutifully if not quite enthusiastically, but was mighty happy to move on to better things.
Another entertainment frequently offered in the Bad Food Department is, of course, the ever-popular menu-mishap. This is far from limited to foreign travel, given the American propensity (and, I suspect, that in other nations) for menu-writing to be handed off to people who haven’t the same level of linguistic skills as a restaurant’s chefs are supposed to have culinary ones. I found plenty of fodder for my amusement in this department along the summer’s ways, but saved one little sample for you as I’m still slightly uncertain how to decipher it fully. And very unwilling to try to eat it, if there’s any chance it was written out correctly.
Since this menu was meant to celebrate the World Cup semifinals then in progress, I suppose it’s possible that the so-called Lye bread was intended to simultaneously hold the sandwich together and wash out the mouth of anyone caught swearing at the referees. I’m still not clear, though, on whether the Pigling Ham was named to prove that the meat on the sandwich came from a very tender, youthful beast or it was, perhaps, *pickled*. If I ended up loosely interpreting this as a sort of Germanic (in one Viennese menu writer’s eyes, anyway) take on a Reuben sandwich, maybe it would all make some kind of sense. Maybe with a touch of Joppiesaus it’d be more palatable. But honestly, I’d prefer, in this instance, to merely enjoy the beer herein recommended, and skip the sandwich.
It’s no secret that I’m ‘bad with faces’. I struggle with what I know is only the mildest of cases of Prosopagnosia, but even my minor jot of that pestilential face-recognition inability causes me occasional discomfiture. More importantly, it has occasioned a moment or two of awkwardness for others when they approach me, knowing that I know or have at least met them, and I fail to recognize them or even register that I saw them quite recently.
I went to a family wedding once and, seeing a cousin I’d not seen often in our adulthood but knew very well in our youth, effused to her on reconnecting. And then I proceeded to do exactly the same with exactly the same cousin at the reception, not an hour later. I knew that I knew her and that she was my cousin, thanks to the occasion and other basic clues, but literally could not see that she was the same person with whom I’d just rejoiced in renewing contact. Even in this obvious setting I failed to see what was as plain as the nose on my face, never mind the should-be-familiar one on hers. My own cousin.
I am enormously thankful that there are people whom I have little or no difficulty identifying and recognizing no matter when or where, but they are not necessarily in the majority. Remove whatever clues to identity my peculiar mind relies upon for identifying a person—that distinctive mustache (especially reliable in the case of a woman!), a man’s unique carriage when walking, that heirloom necklace someone has worn since she inherited it at age twelve—and I am meeting the face attached to that person for the very first time once again. I suppose there might be a touch of the humorous in such a ridiculous predicament, if the person I fail to recognize knows about the situation and isn’t insecure about any failings on my part, but I would rather not have to muddle through the struggle of bridging that synaptical gap, especially in instances when I would rather be friendly and welcoming.
Even the fully operational brain doesn’t always work perfectly in this regard, as witness the lovely and very bright friend I encountered in the grocery store recently. We both took our time staring and sizing up whether the approaching person was indeed known as well as our brains were urging us to know. I, with my Prosopagnostic niggling sense that I needed to place her in a different context to recognize her as a friend from church, school and work paths crossing, was puzzled by my failure to connect the facial proportions and eye color and such with her identity; she, as it turned out, didn’t realize who I was because after knowing me only with my 20-years-established short haircut, she couldn’t place my features now that they’re set in this chin-length swath of hair. So many reasons we might struggle, and it’s rather common after all, but we still rail against the frustration.
But isn’t that just the way life works in general? Whatever our flaws and shortcomings, however valiant and well-meaning our attempts to ameliorate them and better ourselves and at least appear to be improving with age, there are bound to be gaps and mishaps. All I can say is that I’m mighty glad people are generally so patient and forgiving with me no matter what the situation or occasion, and I—well, I will just have to keep trying to put the best face on it.
Wye was an impoverished man
Because he didn’t know
The answer to all questions was
‘Because I told you so’—
Wye was a pauper and
He lies in Potter’s Field
Because he tried to find the truth
That others kept concealed—
Wye lived in such poverty
And died alone, unmourned,
Because he kept on asking things
Well after he’d been warned—
Poor Wye was a mortal fool
Despite being a hero:
In heaven, truth makes you a saint—
Even when we’re young we pick up clues pretty swiftly regarding what sort of behavior and attitude is expected of us in our interactions with others. As a child, I learned ever so quickly that I am not the boss of anyone else and practically everyone else is the boss of me, and not much has ever changed in that department. Whether happily or unfortunately, depending entirely on your point of view, I also figured out as speedily as most kids do that as long as I behaved in the expected manner when anyone was watching I could get away with a fair amount of far more self-indulgent–if not subversive–ways. Sure does simplify my life!Show of Proper Respect
The Mistress in her jewelry and finery and furs
Thinks everyone should bow and kiss the ground—that’s also hers—
And genuflect before her grand tiara and her mace,
So that is what we tend to do—at least do to her face.All frivolous jocularity on the topic aside, however, getting trained by our elders and betters, in particular our mothers, is both more complicated and more happily meaningful for those of us who are blessed with great moms. Me, I’ve got two. The mother who gave birth to me and raised me from my days as an only mildly subversive little sprout into the silly but exceedingly happy big kid you see before you today is worthy of recognition as one of the great teachers not only for giving me a framework on which to hang my sense of right and wrong and general grasp of manners but also the education and freedom and knowledge of being unconditionally loved that enabled me to choose how to build on those foundations as I grew. My second Mom, brought to me courtesy of (her son) my beloved husband, gets credit for instilling the same curiosity and drive in her children and, in turn, for reinforcing in me through her example what it means to be a lively and lovely person who is good company, an active part of the household and community at every turn, and a tireless learner and adventurer who earns her place in those settings with remarkable grace. Whether I can live up to the standards set by either of my Moms remains to be seen, but they certainly give me the tools that should make it possible if anything can.
If it can’t, I guess I’ll have to fall back on my naturally ridiculous ways and just pretend to be better than I am for as long as I can keep up the front. Those of you who are looking for reliably good, sound company, go see Mom W and Mom S. And also my sisters and my sister-in-law, great mothers to their children, and all of those other mothers, who by birth, adoption, random acquisition and teaching, raise better people, who in turn make the world a better place altogether. All of whom I thank profusely not only on Mother’s Day but every day for being such great examples even for those of us who are a little too childish to be motherly examples ourselves. Go ahead, you can say it right in front of me. I’ve learned that much, at least!
A Little Antsy Now
If I could do just as I wished and not a nickel more,
I’d not sit still just listening to any tiresome bore,
But I’m in well-bred company (I’m told), so I must stay,
Attempting to pretend it’s deep engrossment I convey—
Meanwhile, my nostril starts to itch and twitch, and I suppose
I am not wholly ignorant
Of what a fool I am
But if you’d keep me happy
Just give me a slice of ham
A piece of cheese a bit of bread
Some butter, if you will
And I’ll continue happy fool
Slumped up here by the still
Cinderella Opts Out
From your assessment of my deportment,
I must ask what the statement “of a sort” meant–
Oh, was I, I wonder, a shade improper,
Not brass perhaps, but a hint of copper?
Did I stand out from the regal crowd
By being a decibel too loud?
When I met the Queen, did I rudely greet her
With a curtsey too small by a millimeter?
Did I jostle the King, or step on his toes,
Or remark on the magnitude of his nose?
Have I shocked the royal entourage
With an unplanned glimpse of décolletage?
Say, what have I done in these latter days
To occasion such backward, lukewarm praise?
Do tell me where this prejudice starts
That substitutes etiquette for hearts!
I’ll not be one of the prince’s bijoux
Knowing I can’t have the wit to please you–
I’m off for home, where they make no sport
Adjusting the Balance of Powers
I make no pretense of refinement,
Charm-school graces, savoir-faire—
I’m no more mannered than a monkey
Picking cooties from its hair—
In fact, I’d never boast of
Attributes I’d likely waste,
Having little use or need for
Proving further I’ve great taste
Than I did when I selected
You as partner, lover, mate;
All alone, that one maneuver
Proved my social skills are great,
Even if the sorry outcome
On your side is to undo
Any special social standing