Paris, 1977


by Andrzej Solecki

Did I see it like that because I was not hungry? For I had just finished my meal when Jean-Luc came and told me that both of us were expected to come to dinner in his Great Friend's house in less than an hour's time.

That was one of those troublesome invitations where acceptance means an evening fulfilled with well-mannered boredom and refusal requires elaborate excuses, to be repeated afterwards fifteen times in varied form and intonation. I chose to go there.

Dinner as dinner. Suitable scraps of conversation in appropriate places: recollections of their friend living now in encyclopedias went with hors d'oeuvre, brilliant linguistic remarks - with main plate, atrocities of Khmer Rouges guerrilla warfare - with dessert. Disinterested in either talk or food I was observing the endless procession of dishes skillfully served by the host's two daughters. Everything went on with a smoothness of classical ballet, accompanied in pertinent moments by side-remarks like ``merci, minette'' or ``c'est excellent''. However, all comments on things displayed on the table referred to their aesthetic aspects only - colour, fragrance, arrangement. The taste might be mentioned in a very detached and delicate way. Any hint of nourishment, feeding or hunger would be impossible, faux pas.

All of it resembled a weird religious ceremony sacrificed to a minor and dull deity. Even grimaces of the daughters meant as a parody of court manners seemed to be designed especially for the play and practiced on countless occasions. So, with a relief I saw a sign of the host that the ritual was over.

On leaving I could not escape a sensation of sadness; the show was so artificial and mechanical that puppet theatre might be a better place for it.

And then one thought let me believe that not all was completely covered with pretences and that after all I had been among people, not puppets. It was the thought of the dishes. The disordered, dirty, unpleasant heap of dishes, removed to the kitchen and left there for a short time to witness that the guests were living beings, the ones equipped with stomachs - and spacious ones, no doubt about that.