Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!
Lewis Carroll (who of course was really Charles Lutwidge Dodson)
I was reading the New York Times the other day. It was a story about a new place to see and be seen in, in L.A. I was reading it because of the title, which said something about ‘Mrs. Guggenheim’. Oh well. I thought it would be about art, or philanthropy, or any number of things – but it turned out to be about none of those things. It was her name that it was about, and it was not a whole lot about that, even. Just the usual pulling out of a hat of a name drenched in celebrity for the attention-getting of it all.
This was a ‘hey this club is cool’ article. And in the article there was a phrase that caught my attention.
Chef Jared Simon delivered small plates of steak tartare and seared scallops, nibbles he calls “promiscuous dining,” while a bartender, James Bobby, mixed delicate yet potent drinks with names like Peacock’s Breath and the Jezebel Blanc.
I bet you thought it was ‘Peacock’s Breath’ that made me sit up and take notice.
No. The only thing I thought when reading ‘Peacock’s Breath’ was that I really did not want to get that up close and personal to any peacock that I could smell his breath.
What stunned me into attention were the words ‘promiscuous dining’. Well, really. Wouldn’t it you?
I wanted to know all about this thing. What was it? Who did it? How often did they do it? And all the other little details, at great length please.
In 1990 the phrase was used at a meeting of the Jane Austen Society of America (in Oronto, Maine of all places). Here is the phrase, in context of the report:
Obviously our speaker had thoroughly researched the subject of food and drink in the time of Jane Austen, and her address was replete with odd and charming details – “quirky lore,” my wife says – like the fact that the great houses of Austen’s time knew nothing of afternoons. Their mornings lasted until dinner time. I like that. Here’s another one: residents of the great houses discovered the pleasures of “promiscuous dining” at this time. Heretofore ladies had been seated on one side of the table; gentlemen on the other. Now they alternated around the table: a lady beside a gentleman. Thus the promiscuity.
Well well well. What have we here. Daring, that. But still I wanted more. In 2006, and again in the city of Los Angeles, there is a report on a restaurant that was a “Best Date Spot” for the year. Since then it has closed.
Lest you forget that this Pico Boulevard boite is built on the idea of “promiscuous dining”–where you’re never forced to marry just one entree–sexy (and uber-tatted) Chef Jared Simons will remind you when he’s walking around greeting guests like some unassuming rock star.
Now we’re getting somewhere! But yet there is something wrong. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Oh. I know. Did that just actually say ‘unassuming rock star’? Oh. I guess it can happen . . . maybe . . .
There was only one other reference online I could find on this promiscuous dining thing that offered any food for thought. It was in a story titled ‘The Man Who Wouldn’t Be King’ and this time the location was not Los Angeles, the story did not mention Peggy Guggenheim, nor did it mention any unassuming rock stars.
Jesus was also a religious reformer. His religiously promiscuous dining practice was both visionary and confrontational. The encouragement for anyone to come in off the streets to his table breached the purity codes that were deemed essential for personal holiness. What food you ate, who you touched or were in close proximity with, who you spoke to, was believed to affect not just your health and social standing but also your relationship with God. To dine with say a woman was to lower you to her inferior spiritual status. It was similar with a leper, or child, or tax collector. Jesus was challenging the rules about holiness.
The frumious Bandersnatch has always been shunned.
But times change, and apparently so does the shape the frumious Bandersnatch takes.
Will the frumious Bandersnatch ever completely disappear? Or will he/she/it always be with us?
Who are the Bandersnatches in your life? (That is, of course, if you know any. It’s possible though not probable that there exists someone who has never met a Bandersnatch.)
(It’s not what I thought it was.)