A friend just gave Julie a copy of Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book Of Food And Drink, which I have not let her read because I’ve hogged it all to myself. I find that A.J. Liebling, who has two essays about France and French food in this collection, is, like P.G. Wodehouse, a writer who cannot fail to delight. Excerpt on the death of his elderly Parisian friend, a gourmand to the marrow:
When Mirande first faltered, in the Rue Chabanais, I had failed to correlate cause and effect. I had even felt a certain selfish alarm. If eating well was beginning to affect Mirande at eighty, I thought, I had better begin taking in sail. After all, I was only thirty years his junior. But after the dinner [a badly done, home-cooked one — RD] at Mme. B.’s, and in light of subsequent reflection, I saw that what had undermined his
constitution was Mme. G.’s defection from the restaurant business. For years, he had been able to escape Mme. B.’s solicitude for his health by lunching and dining in the restaurant of Mme. G., the sight of whom Mme. B. could not support. Entranced by Mme. G.’s magnificent food, he had continued to live “like a cock in a pie” — eating as well, and very nearly as much, as when he was thirty. The organs of the interior — never very intelligent, in spite of what the psychosomatic quacks say — received each day the amount of pleasure to which they were accustomed, and never marked the passage of time; it was the indispensable roadwork of the prizefighter. When Mme. G., good soul, retired, moderation began its fatal inroads on his resistance. My old friend’s appetite, insufficiently stimulated, started to loaf — the insidious result, no doubt, of the advice of the doctor whose existence he had revealed to me by that slip of the tongue about why he no longer drank Burgundy. Mirande commenced, perhaps, by omitting the fish course after the oysters, or the oysters before the fish, then began neglecting his cheeses and skipping the second bottle of wine on odd Wednesdays. What he called his pipes (“ma tuyauterie”), being insufficiently exercised, lost their tone, like the leg muscles of a retired champion. When, in his kindly effort to please me, he challenged the escargots en pots de chambre, he was like an old fighter who tries a comeback without training for it. That, however, was only the revelation of the rot that had already taken place. What always happens happened. The damage was done, but it could so easily have been averted had he been warned against the fatal trap of abstinence.
Liebling’s essay collection Between Meals: An Appetite For Paris is the most wonderful thing.