Gopnik on Cafes and Restaurants

I quoted yesterday from Adam Gopnik’s beautiful book The Table Comes First. As one who tries to write about tables and food, I bow down to writers like this. Gopnik not only writes well and ranges broadly, he sees in food so much more than food. The book is a delight to read.

I don’t have the time right now to do his work justice, but over the next day or so, as with yesterday, a few quotes from here and there.

Gopnik reflects on the common role of cafes and restaurants in modern urban life:

‘Most modern urban people mark their lives by their moments in cafes and restaurants, just as ancient people marked their time on earth by visits to the local oracle, or medieval people by pilgrimages: we are courted, spurned, recruited, hired, fired, lured to a new job, or released from an old one at a table while a waiter hovers nearby. There are few marriages that did not begin at dinner at a table leased for the evening, and few divorces that did not first show signs of approaching doom in a sigh of resentment or an eye roll of exasperation in a similar setting.’

‘Places of hope, restaurants and cafes are also places of reassuring mystery, and the mystery reassures because, in reminding us of lives and appetites beyond our own, they remind us of worlds we have yet to enter.’ 

‘Home, Robert Frost wrote, is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. A restaurant is a place where, they not only have to take you in but have to act as though they were glad to see you. In cities of strangers, this pretense can be very dear.’

And on the difference between the two:

‘though joined at the hip, the temperamental difference between the two is real. The restaurant belongs to its cook. You come to eat, and though, as Brillat-Savarin saw, anyone can eat there, still you come to eat. … The cafe, though, belongs to its habitués, and pleasure can be rented for the price of a coffee.’ 

the-table-comes-first-family-97961l2Adam Gopnik, The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food, London: Quercus, 2011, 14-15, 31, 52, 53.

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