The Dinner Table
Henri Matisse - 1896/7
This has been an extraordinarily well-fed few days; there has been expensive restaurant food, free food, and home-cooked food, always in good company.
Although we both enjoy good food, we are by no means greedy eaters, but during the second half of the week the focus on food has been marked. Only the restaurant meal was planned; eight of us went to The Checkers at Montgomery over the border in Powys, once a humble coaching inn and pub, now a restaurant serving classic French food.
A mini-bus taxi had been booked for us; when you get a group of civilised and dignified adults together, all of them looking forward to a pleasant evening, and take them on a charabanc outing, no matter how serious they normally are, several layers of restraint melt in the warm feelings of friendship and anticipation. Being driven by a professional, everybody enjoyed their drink; my table neighbour who speaks only English and a few words of Spanish, suddenly became fluent in French, which caused the young man training to become a silver service waiter to giggle helplessly. In spite of a generous supply of wine nobody drank too much, but everybody talked too much. Whenever we get together we talk about music, books, history, and travel; although we know each other's tastes and preferences, we still find plenty to add.
There must still be money around, even in these straitened times. The restaurant was full and therefore very noisy. I'd have hated to be at a table for two.
The free meal, i.e. dinner at friends's house was different, and a lot quieter, but equally enjoyable. I was introduced to a South American dish,
ignorant in such matters as I am, it's a fish stew
with vegetables, and very tasty indeed.
Our friends had very carefully excluded all dairy
produce from the menu, which allowed me to eat heartily
and without worrying about after effects.
We were six at table, professionally a similar mix as before, but with totally different topics of conversation. We talked about Africa and the need for education as well as assistance. We talked about the destruction of the environment which is making such catastrophes as the one happening in the Horn of Africa at the moment ever more likely. One of our number is a journalist with a particular interest in Latin America; she had stories to tell about the continuing destruction of the rain forest which made the outlook for our planet appear most unhealthy.
There is something almost perverse about the white, professional middle class sitting at table, eating and drinking splendidly, discussing the ills of the world and high-handedly solving the problems of poorer nations, so many of which we have caused in the past, and are still causing today. Think about it!
Today we were at home, joined by friends for a somewhat simpler, but still good, Sunday luncheon. We had melon and parma ham, guinea fowl and chocolate and pear upside-down tart, dishes out of my standard repertoire and therefore presenting no difficulties. We could sit back and gossip with our guests.
The conversation was as relaxed as the meal.
It has been a rather hectic week altogether and I'm looking forward to having beans on toast in front of the TV, with my feet up on a cushion.