Jan 13, 2011

The Gourmet

[Excerpt] from ‘The Gourmet’ by Muriel Barbery 2009

‘I have always attributed the success and magic of my grandmother’s good-natured, tasty cooking to her easy temperament and southern sensuality. I even thought at times that it was her stupidity and lack of education and culture that had made her an accomplished cook, and that all the energy which did not nourish her mind was free to nourish her fare.’

‘No,’ I say after a moment’s reflection, ‘what went into our grandmothers’ art was neither their personality nor their gift for life, any more than it was the simplicity of their spirit, their love of a job well done, or their austerity. I think they were aware, without even telling themselves as much, that they were accomplishing a noble task, one at which they could excel and that was subordinate, material or basely utilitarian in appearance only. they knew well enough that, beyond all the humiliations they had suffered not in their own name but by virtue of their condition as women, that when their men came home and sat down at the table, their own reign, as women, would begin. And it wasn’t some sort of stranglehold they had over their ‘home economy’, where they would, as sovereigns in their own right, take revenge on the power that the men had ‘abroad’. it was a great deal more than that; they knew that their immense skill spoke directly to the hearts and the bodies of their men, and that in the eyes of those men this conferred upon the women a power greater than that which the women themselves attributed to male intrigues of power and money or all the compelling arguments of society. they held their men not by the ties of domestic administration, or of children or respectability or even those of the bedroom, but by their taste buds, and this was as sure a thing as if they had put them into a cage into which the men had rushed of their own volition.’

The others remain silent, I continue. ‘What did they feel, those men - so full of themselves, those ‘heads’ of the family, trained from the dawn of time, in a patriarchal society, to become the masters – when they took their first bite of those simple yet extraordinary dishes that their wives had prepared in their private laboratories? Quite simply, those men experienced paradise, and even if they could not admit it to themselves, they knew very well that they were incapable of offering it to their wives in return, because for all their empires and arrogance, they could never make their women swoon the way those women made them swoon – with an orgasmic experience of the taste buds.’

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