Friday, 6 August 2010

The Stately Pleasure Dome that is my working life

There's nothing like writing a lecture on English literature in the wake of the French Revolution to put a person in mind of:

a) literature in English in the wake of 9/11
b) croissants

Can't say I am extremely 'xpert in literature in English in the wake of 9/11 (though while we're here, Simon Armitage's poem, Out of the Blue, is one of those change-your-life sorts of poems, and Rufus Sewell used to be my boyfriend, so you should probably bunker down somewhere with a hanky and a cat and click on that link), though here's a theory, for which I'm not going to advance any evidence, because I am lazy and otherwise engaged and possibly because there isn't any. The theory is this: (1) the post 9/11 West (or if "West" is too homogenised for your tastes, the Axis of We're Not Evil Like Them) has perceived itself to be a sort of frontier, last bastion, yadda yadda, threatened by barbarians* from abroad who are disconcertingly indistinguishable from some of the West's home-grown citizenry; (2) the post 9/11 West, if it thinks about these things at all, thinks that perhaps it is in something like the position of the Ancien Régime just before, during, and after the 1789 foofaraw; (3) this has produced an inordinate interest in 1780s and 90s France and a sympathy for aristocratic layabouts; (4) and textual incarnations of the inordinate interest and sympathy, as in Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette and Peter Carey's Parrot and Olivier in America, the latter springing to mind because I read it a month ago and it is still on my desk.

That was unconvincing, wasn't it? Let us discourse instead on the subject of croissants. In 1987, I was enlisted by my grade 3 teacher to join my colleagues, Jackie B and Katherine H, in preparing a class presentation on France. Other members of the class were likewise preparing presentations on Spain, Japan, Wales, etc. We were designated class time to repair in our small group of three and think up information about France (as far as I can recall, "research" for this project entailed pooling our collective 9-year-old foreign affairs knowledge). One day - how many days did we spend fecklessly discussing berets and the Eiffel Tower? - Jackie B brought in a croissant, with the intention of exhibiting it in our presentation. I ate it, naked and cold.

The croissant was naked and cold, that is, not me. I was wearing my school uniform. I am ashamed to confess that I have never been a very sophisticated croissantophile. Until about the age of 15 I preferred my croissants with tomato sauce. Indeed, I preferred most things with tomato sauce. One of the sad side effects of becoming a vegetarian at that age was being deprived of the approved opportunities for eating tomato sauce (i.e., with the hind quarters of cows). With tomato sauce, croissants are sweet, salty and tangy; without tomato sauce, you can't fail to notice that what you are eating is 97% butter.

A couple of months ago, my lady's companion and I went on a three-day, ninety-kilometre tromp from Wangaratta to Bright, mostly for the purpose of wearing tweed and carrying sticks and addressing impromptu doggerel to farm animals. The first leg of the third morning was from the pub, where we'd slept (when you're on a tromp, rather than a hike, you stay in pubs), to the bakery, where we had breakfast. My companion asked for a croissant, and then he asked for jam with his croissant, and then he asked for his croissant with jam to be toasted.

Which act of toasting caused the croissant to be shmooshed into a sandwich toaster, whence it emerged as a kind of pancake-oid agglomeration of butter, flour and jam. If the shmooshed croissant had been available to Europe's intelligentsia in the 1790s, I'm sure they could have spilt a lot less ink trying to represent the condition of France.

* N.B. Barbarianism is a projection from the mind of the person/society that feels itself beleaguered onto those whom it believes itself to be beleaguered by. Noone is actually a barbarian.


Mitzi G Burger said...

People who sport badly trimmed beards are barbarians.

TimT said...

I think I might start a zine called 'Badly Trimmed Beard'.

What a croissant. I almost want to eat it. Again.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

People who trim badly trimmed beards are barbers.