I love popcorn at the movies. It’s the whole reason for leaving the comfort of my own home (with the huge television and cable movies on demand) and sitting in a theater. For some people, it’s the darkness and the pseudo-communal groupiness that drives them to move theaters. For others, it is resisting the pull into the solipsistic, individualistic, whatever-istic characterizing the video generation(s). For my sister, I suspect, it is milk duds. None of that for me. For me, it’s the popcorn. The smell. The greasiness. The salt. I love popcorn at the movies despite its health hazards. It’s just not the same made in a hot air popper at home. But that is not why I am writing. I am writing because I have been thinking about film and food on and off. . . . . for days. In part, I have been thinking about food and film and memory – because a film-related tale came up a while back while mourning the death of a friend. It was one of those stories retold too often that comes to take on a semi-mythic tone, perhaps even substituting for memory instead of eliciting it. Anyway, the film was “Babette’s Feast”, a 1986 representation of Protestant austerity versus Catholic excess (based on an Isak Dineson short story from the late 1950s). In 2005, there was an opera of Babette's Feast performed.
The film has come to mean, for me, the risk of making a suggestion; making suggestions all too often leads to having to DO something with the idea. Ideas are easy. They always are – but doing something with them is something else indeed.
So, why do I associate this with Babette’s Feast? What was that memory that burbled up from the subterranean recently? The idea: “Let’s do Babette’s Feast.” I uttered this sentence some time in 1988 to a new acquaintance, Toni Flores. And then, some time later – late that same year or maybe early 1989 -- there it was – the longest meal ever eaten in Geneva. All women, some from Geneva and some traveling back for the fun. Each devoted to one course (though I vaguely remember picking up groceries for more than one; there was no Wegmans at that point in Geneva and I don’t quite remember where I ordered – and picked up – the quails). The meal eventually involved multiple trips to NYC, blini with caviar, oxtail soup instead of turtle soup (my contribution), quails in sarcophagi (yes, in tiny little pastry “coffins”), an extra course of beef (in case we did not have enough to eat), tortes of various sorts for dessert, wines for each course, and something I had never heard of at that point, marc as one of the post-dining liquid offerings. I remember, too, a black truffle brought along from one of those NYC trips. Excess not austerity. The billing system was remarkably incomprehensible when we tried to figure out how to even out the costs. Moments between courses – and serving course after course after course. There must have been more. I simply don’t remember.
What I do remember is arriving at Toni’s home circa 2:30 a.m. in a Toyota that I had inherited from my mother when she died. Standing on the stoop in front of the house was Toni’s daughter, high school age I think at the time, with her arms folded across her chest. “I can’t believe you two,” she said. “This is way too late to be getting home and how much exactly have you had to drink?”
And, now I remember telling that story now and again. Like a ritual, it re-members those we have lost and we who remain.