1940s Archive

An Alphabet for Gourmets

continued (page 7 of 8)

Group happiness is another thing; it is not easy to look back upon the veritable event, divorced from its wishfulness. Few of us can think with honesty of a time when we were indeed happy at table with more than our own selves or One other. And if we succeed in it, our thinking is dictated no matter how mysteriously by the wind, the wine, and the wish of that particular moment.

Now, for no reason that I consciously know of, I remember a luncheon at the Casino at Berne, in Switzerland. I was with my father and mother, my husband, and a friend deep in his own murky moods but still attainable socially. We had driven there from Vevey, and we sat in the glassbound bourgeois sparkle of the main dining room with a fine combination of tired bones and bottoms, thirst, hunger, and the effect of altitude.

I do not recall that we drank anything stronger than sherry before luncheon, but we may have: my father is a forthright man, raised in the hard-liquor days of editing a paper when his Midwest village had fifteen saloons and three churches or thereabouts, and he may have downed a drink or two of Scotch, or the Bernese play on words, eine Gift, aptly called “poison” and made of half sweet vermouth and half any alcohol from vodka to gin.

Then, and this is the part I best remember, we had carafes of a rosé wine that was believed to be at its peak, its consummateness, in Berne, and indeed in that very room. Zizerser it was called. It came in the open café pitchers with the federal mark at the top, naming the liquid content. It was a frivolous, gay color. It was poured into fine glasses (they were one of the many good things about that casino) from a height of two feet or so, and miracle! It foamed! It bubbled! It was full of a magic gas, that wine … which melted out of it with every inch of altitude it lost, so that when I took down a case of it and proudly poured it lakeside, in Vevey, it was merely a pink, pretty drink, flat as flat. In Berne it was champagne. We drank deep.

So did our driver, François, and later when a frenzied-looking mountaineer waved back our car, we drove on with a nonchalance along a cliff road above fabulous gorges, singing “Covered All Over with Violets” and “Der Heimat” (ensemble) and “Rover Was Blind But Brave” (my mother), until finally a rock about half as big as our enormous old Daimler sailed lazily down in front of us and settled a few feet from the engine.

We stopped in time.

Another mountaineer, with tiny stars of gold in his ear lobes to make him hear better, dropped into sight from the pine forest. Go back, go back, he cried. We are blasting a new road. You might have been killed. All right, all right, we said.

Subscribe to Gourmet