I know it seems like I keep picking on the Ripe group, but to tell the truth, the things they come up with are so silly I just can’t help it. If the food wasn’t darn good, I wouldn’t bother, but I think they can take a little poking.
As you may have read, Ripe now has a “Writer in Residence” named Matthew Stadler. He writes in a rather pompous, overbearing fashion. One of his latest projects is putting cards on each table with small essays. The theory seems to be that these will cause people to debate. I was at Gotham recently, and sat in the back, watching tables come and go. Every group glanced at the card and tossed it aside. Looking at it, I think you’ll see why.
With that in mind, I am posting the original card. I then asked my ever-suffering mother, who is a textbook editor, (she cringes when she reads my site), to translate it for the common man. Her version follows his. Neither one of us is sure she got it right, but it is eminently more readable. Feel free to comment on either version, keeping in mind – what’s the point?
“The Cult of Rousseau”
“The frail wanderer, Jean Jacques Rousseau, flourished as a kind of pop icon in 18th century France. He stepped from the pages of books (principally Rousseau’s utopian novel, Julie or the New Heloise, and his pedagogical tract, Emile) to blossom and endure as a wildly popular public image — the Romantic hero. Honest, delicate, and temperamental, the Rousseauian hero wanted an audience to witness his condition. When Rousseau himself quit Parisian society, to escape its mendacity, he moved just a few miles away to the country estate of a wealthy friend, where his exile could be played out in full view. Dining alone in public was the apotheosis of a Rousseauian sensibility. Rebecca Spang calls this practice a “public display of privacy” and identifies the restaurant as the primary stage on which it was enacted.
The restaurant was invented in mid-18th century Paris for sensitive people with “weak chests” whose delicacy kept them from eating the robust meals served by innkeepers. Innkeepers kept tables d’hote – hosted tables – at which guests sat together at fixed meal times and shared whatever was served. It was famously heavy fare. “Doctors cure us from what the Innkeeper inflicts on us.” Restaurants hoped to reunite the doctor and kitchen, long ago severed by the doctors’ ascendancy into science (restaurant is the name of a restorative broth, like consommé, conjured in alembics and served to the frail and sensitive).
Those sensible enough to seek the doctor’s restorative broth often subscribed to the cult of Rousseau. In the restaurant, the hero’s drama of frail sensitive could be enacted through the painstaking selection of special foods – delicate foods – that agreed with his refined tastes. The gross matter of the common table would be left to the peasants. Spang notes that menus in early restaurants mimicked Rousseau’s lists of healthy foods, mainly Swiss, found in Emile and The New Heloise: pale delicacies such as rice custard and bread pudding, fresh berries, long-simmered broths that reduced copious vegetables and meats into easily digestible liquids. The Rousseauian prescription could be filled by eating out. At whatever hour, alone at the table, tentatively sipping the restorative broth conjured from the restaurateur’s alembic, the diner put his elevated sensibility on display (as do we).”
Here is our English translation:
“So, you like to dress up and go out to eat in a pleasant restaurant. Have you ever wondered why they’re called restaurants? When and where did they first come into existence? In order to explain this, we need first to talk a bit about Jean Jacques Rousseau, that lonely outsider in society, crippled by his feelings of insecurity and guilt. Since his mother died at his birth and his father constantly informed him that he was responsible for her death, how could he be otherwise?
At any rate, in mid-18th century Paris, the restaurant, from the French verb “restaurer”, to restore, had been invented for sensitive people with “weak hearts” who were unable to eat the robust meals served by innkeepers. Rousseau’s frail health and desperate need for love and attention made the new-fangled restaurant the perfect place for him to play out the drama in full public view. Dining alone, sipping long-simmered broths (restoratives) or nibbling on pale delicacies such as rice custard or bread pudding, he was able to display to the world his elevated sensibility. After publishing a novel, The New Heloise, and Emile, about the proper teaching of children, he did become a wildly popular romantic hero.”