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1940s Archive

An Alphabet For Gourmets

continued (page 3 of 8)

There are, of course, two sides to this problem as to all, and I can and do understand Xanthippe’s. The main thing to do, in my way of thinking, is to strike an amicable if not truly easy relationship, with full admission that the husband may be basically weary of his wife and the wife fed to the teeth with him. I know several such arrangements, questionably right from a moral point of view (or sentimental!) and made for a hundred reasons from the most venal to the vaguest, but if they be done intelligently, they can and do succeed.

The reason I advocate this tacit admission of extramural satisfactions and intramural tolerance is that people must eat. It is true that they must also make love and in order to do so must in one way or another make money. But the most important of these functions, to my mind, is the eating. Neither of the others can be done well without it: an impoverished man is hungry, and a hungry man, as too many dictators have proved, is not a reproductive and perforce sexually keen fellow. That is why I think that food is the most important of our three basic needs, and why I so deplore its poisoning, its deadly contamination, by anything as vicious as bad temper.

Socrates escaped from Xanthippe in ways impossible to modern man, no matter how philosophical. Today a lesser thinker must hide in his Third Avenue pub and snatch a tough steak and worse potatoes to nourish him if he cannot bear to go home and face the sour woman he is commanded by law to live with. Indigestion is the inevitable aftermath, not so much from the rank victuals he has stowed away as from his basic sorrow that he and she have come to such a pass.

But if he does go home, his stomach will curse even louder, thanks to the acids of anger and hatred that he can counteract in the pub with aloneness and a couple of short ryes. He sighs, gulps, and looks over the bar at his own mirrored face, bitterly thankful that he does not see there the pinched, ruined beauty of his woman who forced him here.

And she? Women have more ways than men for lone survival, so Xanthippe may drink too much, or exhaust herself in a whirl of club meetings with her like, or sit weeping and moaning in a darkened movie house. She may long for her husband…

…and then when he does come home, heavy with fatigue and forced joviality, she forgets her longing and slaps ill-cooked food upon the table, a kind of visual proof of her boredom at his dullness and her hatred of his dwindled lust, which she, poor soul, was genteelly raised to mistake for love. She may even try hard to be patient and not to mind when, in subconscious pain at the sight of her sharp face, he hides from her with a spread-out sheet of news about pugilists and midget-auto racers. She may hope that he will notice the sherry she has poured over his canned peach.

But he reads on, with the instinct of a cornered road pretending courage, and in desperation the woman, who has sworn not to do it again, begins to talk. The rest is too familiar, a pattern used tastelessly by comic-strip writers, modern literary giants, and psychiatrists: she whangs, he scowls back, suddenly the food in their bellies feels intolerably sour and dreadful, he returns in a furious rush to his pub and she to her bitter, teary pillow, and finally they end, according to accidents of time and place and money, in the relative asylums of death, insanity, hypochondria, or the law courts.

A good answer to this Xanthippean formula, in my mind, must start practically with the cradle. A child, male or female, who has been raised to eat in peace and has never gulped to the tune of scolding or anger, stands a better chance of knowing the pleasures of the table when he is full grown than one who has listened with fright and final callousness to endless bitter arguments and rows, who has bolted his food to escape them, who has at last come to think them a part of family existence and to expect, with a horrible resignation, that his wife will turn out to be the same noisy, bickering shrew his mother was at mealtime.

I think that it is a good thing, for many reasons, to have children eat at least half their meals at their own table, at the hours best suited to them, and removed from sight or sound of older people whose natural conversation would be as boring to the young ones as theirs would be to their elders.

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