Friday, November 09, 2007


Eating By My Lonesome

Cervantes, Don Quixote, Part I, Chap. XI (tr. Walter Starkie):
"Many thanks for your favor," replied Sancho, "but I must tell your worship that provided I have plenty to eat, I can eat as well and better on my feet and by my lonesome than if I was perched up on a level with an emperor. To tell you the honest truth, what I eat in my own corner without fuss and frills tastes far better, though it's nought but bread and onion, than turkey at tables where I have to chew slowly, drink but a sip, wipe my mouth often, neither sneeze nor cough even when I'm dying to do so, nor do other things that a man is free to do when he's alone."
I leave to your imagination what other things a man is free to do when he is dining alone. Bread and onion are proverbially the diet of the impoverished. Spanish proverbs referring to the two foods eaten together include the rhyming "A falta de polla, pan y cebolla" ("In the absence of chicken, bread and onion") and "Contigo pan y cebolla" ("With thee, bread and onion," i.e. "Provided that you are by my side, bread and onion are enough").

But solitary gourmands who can afford it want something more elaborate than bread and onion, as this anecdote from Plutarch's Life of Lucullus 41.2 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin) shows:
And once, when he was dining alone, and a modest repast of one course had been prepared for him, he was angry, and summoned the servant who had the matter in charge. The servant said that he did not suppose, since there were no guests, that he wanted anything very costly. "What sayest thou?" said the master, "dost thou not know that to-day Lucullus dines with Lucullus?"
M.F.K. Fisher embellishes the story of Lucullus with flair in her essay "On Dining Alone," Serve It Forth (1937; rpt. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1989), pp. 114-118.

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