Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte, Global Province Letter, 21 May 2014

Seurat. When dreaming of how life might have more texture and color, how it might be better savored, we hearken back to George Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Grand Jatte, which depicts Parisians relaxing on the Seine. This famous painting simultaneously captures elegance and an unhurried pace, a portrait of 19th century civility and contentment.  Seurat himself worked in a deliberate way, sometimes doing one painting over another, sometimes spending as much time decorating the frame as he did creating the painting. His creations are thoughtful idylls that hint at a complex inner life.

The Argentines Dine at Nine. Even in the present moment there are urbane people in some quarters who take their time. The musings of an Argentine wit reached us this week to remind us that there are some in Buenos Aires who nap in the early evening in order to be fully awake for a late night of doings.  He heaps derision on the visiting tourist:

You show up on time.

Ha! Silly you. Showing up on time means you’ll sit there by yourself, fiddling with your iPhone, sad and lonely, wondering if the plans had been changed and no one remembered to tell you…until the people you’re supposed to meet show up an hour or two later, acting like nothing happened. You’ll learn.

You try to get dinner at 6pm.

Try around 9pm. You’ll still be the first one there. Also, don’t act shocked when a family with small kids wanders in to eat at 11. On a school night.

Often Mother’s Day in America reminds us that warmth, and leisure, and unhurriedness is even the goal of the hardest working chap on earth--the American. Such was this last Sunday.

Breakfast of Four Hours on Sunday.  Two Hours to Make. Two Hours to Eat. At 630 AM we began assembling the ingredients. Food seemed to reach the table at 9. We melted from the table to the terrace at 1045 AM.  Hauled out of memory and set on the table was an old San Franicsco recipe, much revised, called Eggs Joe. Californians, as we know, often serve very decorative food that looks very pretty on the plate, but often is lacking in taste and aroma.  For this you must add capers, real garlic, sesame seed, turmeric, basil, mint, and a host of other niceties, all cooked at a much slower pace that tries the patience of those wanting to reach the tennis court or the golf links by noon.  Naturally the philosopher cook for this fiesta has to sip a little vintage port along the way to create a more festive mood in the breakfast room.  A new fruit laden South American painting whets the appetite. Mom redoes flowers in the various vases to lend highlights to the occasion.

Breakfast fading, it is time to drift into the garden to contemplate the clematis which has never been so big and abundant. The roses trailing through the porch are so lush that they make time stand still.

Why Spices? Spice consumption in the United States has grown at a hefty pace over the last few decades, racing ahead of the surge in our population. Much of this is due to the influx of peoples from the Middle East and Latin America who use spices widely.  Other trends are as important. Householders, burdened with the need to make fast, cheap dishes, uses spices as a quick fix for bland and cheap meals.  Interestingly, many have learned that certain spices such as turmeric offer health benefits that cannot be had elsewhere. But we suspect as well that  spices represent an effort to put zest and taste and wit back in Sunday mornings (and other occasions) when life otherwise can become sterile and humdrum.

Maureen. As we put some spice back in life on Mother’s Day and sit out on the front porch, not hurrying anywhere to do anything, we have time to think of times past with the family.  New York writer Colin Goedecke sent us this very day a 1997 remembrance of his mother Maureen:


         for my mother Maureen

You took off
with surprise in your eyes,
holding on to your halo,
heading for beyond;
no time for goodbyes,
farewells or swan songs,
or even one long sigh.

Don't worry,
without a doubt
you'll blow out
those hundred birthday candles
somewhere, and I'll sing you
a shower 
of Pennies from Heaven
while your white umbrella
is upside down.

P.S.  Goedecke does like to sing, often standing up for a number with an old fashioned NYC band.

P.P.S. The authoritative place to consult about the breadth and depth of the high end use of spices in food is Spicelines, the very comprehensive website of our colleague that deals with food, travel, and lifestyle, but especially spices. For another sampling of the more sophisticated rush to spice, read “A Gust of Sesame and Saffron.”   





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