The Fatslayer Chronicles

Mar 23, 2006 at 17:17 o\clock

The Acetic Life...Not!

Today's Weight 170.0lbs 

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I'm back from six days of visiting friends and relations on the South Coast - six days of eating out twice a day, six days of hardly getting any exercise, six days of having no routine, six days of feeling I have to make excuses for not getting as drunk as a skunk, six days of not being able to arrange my day, and of having to dance to someone else's tune instead.

It was a good break, but it's lovely to be home!

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I wish I was one of those totally disciplined people who can go away on vacation and still follow a strict calorie controlled diet. For me, the break in my routine always acts as a green light to relax the reins and to let things go to hell for a few days. I make poor choices in restaurants, start snacking between meals, break my promise of taking long walks before breakfast...and end up coming home feeling jaded and under-par, with a craving for the simple things in life - fresh fruit and veggies and long tall glasses of cold water.

I guess there's no harm in falling off the wagon occasionally if the digression only reinforces my desire to live healthily the rest of the time...it's just that I'm always afraid that I'm gonna fall off and realise I like just rolling around in the dirt, and never want to quit rolling. It's a scary thought.

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I realised something about myself when I was on vacation - that intellectually I'm drawn to an acetic life, but I can never quite measure up to that in reality.

I was reading a couple of novels, one set in Constantinople at the time of the Ottoman invasion in 1453 and another having a backdrop of monastic life through the ages. They sound dull but they were interesting, honestly!

In the first book there were lots of passages about the life of splendour and luxury that the Byzantines enjoyed in Constantinople at the height of their power, and the equally ostentatious life enjoyed by the Ottoman sultans when they seized control of the city - the splendour of the buildings, the luxury of the harems, the sumptuous food and wine etc.

In the second book there were quite a few passages descibing the simple life of the monks, about how they rose very early for prayers, ate a simple breakfast, prayed, worked hard all day, prayed some more, had a simple supper, prayed a bit more and then went to bed (after a bit more praying, I suspect).

I'll paraphrase two contrasting passages about food and eating from the two books...

In book one, there was a description of a feast, where a minor Ottoman official is entertaining some guests from Venice. The participants are shown reclining on couches and divans festooned with gold and crimson velvet coverings, eating from a vast array of dishes.

There are gold plates piled high with spit roasted lamb, rices cooked with creams and spices, flat breads dripping with oils and herbs, vine leaves stuffed with salty cheese and olives, flaky pastries filled with a paste of almonds and sultanas, rich stews of lamb and game cooked in red wine and cream, candied nuts and crystallised fruits, sugar dusted cubes of rose and violet flavoured turkish delight, rich sweets made of honey, nuts and marzipan, attar of roses stirred into sweet water, dishes of chicken and nuts dipped into honey, wine and bowls of local brandy, hot coffee and sweet pastry.

The diners are described greedily cramming the food into their mouths, tearing off great bites of bread and meat, picking through the delicacies with pudgy, jewel-bedecked fingers, swallowing mouthfuls of wine, wiping lips and fingers greasy with oils onto embroidered cloths, taking three or four sweets and pastries at a time and letting the sugar crumbs and flakes of pastry fall onto the precious fabrics of the sofas and couches.

By contrast, the other book describes the monks sitting at a rough hewn oak refectory table, saying grace, then eating simple fare, and in modest amounts, from pottery and earthernware plates. They were served rough oatmeal and cold water drawn straight from the well for breakfast, a hunk of coarse bread and cheese for lunch, a simple stew of mutton, herbs and vegetables for dinner washed down with more water or a small glass of home brewed beer.

The monks believed that gluttony was an affront to God, and that simplicity and restraint in the pursuit of their appetites was the key to happiness.

I read both books, and intellectually I was drawn to the ascetic life, rather than the rich indulgent one. I thought how spiritually uplifting it would be to live on coarse bread and simple homely stews, and how nice it would be to break the chains of gluttony and the inordinate hold that food has in my life.

THEN whilst I was still contemplating the appeal of this modest, acetic life we went to London for the day, and our friends took us to the most fabulous patisserie I'd ever seen.

The shelves were groaning under the weight of the most heavenly pastries and cakes, and the shop was a veritable paradise of earthly delight. There were tortes and cheesecakes, brioches and croissants, pain au chocolat and pain au raisin, strudels and Mille Feuille and eclairs and tarts and petits fours and baklava and macaroons and babka and every other fine and delicious thing you could possibly think of...

Suddenly I saw that I had more in common with the greedy Ottoman official than the self-restrained and spiritual monk, as all thoughts of denial and restraint vanished like snow before the sun. I'd like to say I turned down the pastries and had a hunk of bread and a glass of water instead...but hell, you just know I'd be lying!


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