You Think YOU’RE a Glutton

You think we’re bad: I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s book At Home, a Short History of Private Life about how the upper classes once lived and all I can say is it looks like they were even worse than we Americans are, inhaling whatever high-calorie special KFC is now touting.

When he wrote this book Bryson was living in the old house of an 18th century rural clergyman, and so spent however long it takes Bill to write a book  – what, six weeks? Six days? – going room by room through the place, offering meditations and curious facts about the uses of each room through history.

It’s a big old doorstop of a book; Bryson’s editors never seem to cut his words down and as a result I have learned quite a lot.

One thing I have learned is about the eating habits of another man of the cloth who left a very thorough journal called The Diary of a Country Parson.

Here’s what that guy ate at one meal in 1784:

  • Dover sole and lobster sauce
  • Spring chicken
  • Ox tongue
  • Roast beef
  • Filet of veal with morels and truffles
  • Pigeon pie
  • Sweetbreads
  • Green goose and peas
  • Apricot jam
  • Cheesecakes (plural if you please!)
  • Stewed mushrooms
  • Trifle

Then another day for supper he had

  • A platter of tench
  • A ham
  • Three fowls
  • Two roasted ducks
  • A neck of  pork
  • Plum pudding and plum tart
  • Apple Tart
  • Miscellaneous foods and nuts and as also with the previous meal
  • Wines both red and white, beer, and ciderIf he lived today he’d be a fan of Colonel Sanders for sure. That new menu item the Bacon Bowl? Check out the ad and see if you don’t think it’s right up the old parson’s alley. “Today tastes SO good,” the ad ends. And tomorrow? Well we’ll worry about how to get your 600 pound self off the sofa then.

KFC’s Bacon Bowl

“Lust” I Lisped

That Dick and Jane series I referenced yesterday wasn’t the reading book I had as a tyke. I had the John, Jean and Judy series made expressly for Catholic school kids and chock full of what the publisher called “religious elements”. I had so many religious elements in my life as it was it’s no wonder I thought I was having religious visions when I fainted in church. Even in our house we had holy water fonts, statues of Jesus, outfits for the statues of Jesus and on and on, all sold to us by those excellent businesswomen the nuns.

Then every night for homework and every fear-filled day at school we had…. The Baltimore Catechism.

Catholic school kids learned to memorize, I’ll say that. We could recite both the answers AND the questions from that little blue book, waking or sleeping, forward or back, ornate language and all. Even today I can give it to you: “Question: What are the sins against hope?” “Answer: The sins against hope are presumption and despair.”

I was in Second Grade when I learned that one. and didn’t my mother wince when in front of a roomful of company I dished up the Seven Deadly Sins: “ Pride, Covetousness,  Anger, Gluttony, Envy, and Sloth” I whispered sweetly. “And … and what is that other one Nan?”

“Lust” said my big sister, who was all of nine.

“Lust”  I lisped with my toothless little-kid smile.

Turns out this sin-drenched curriculum didn’t just belong to the  Catholics. The New England Primer was a textbook used by students in English settlements in North America from the time of its publication is 1690 until at least halfway through the 19th century. Over five million copies were sold. As the source I just read says it combined the traditional alphabet study with Biblical precepts. “Emphasis was placed on fear of sin, God’s punishment and the fact that all people would have to face death.” Cheerful!

Take these few examples from early in the alphabet: For the letter A, “In Adam’s Fall We sinned all”, for B, “Thy Life to Mend This Book Attend, for I “The Idle Fool Is Whipt at School.”

Shake my head as they say.  Just kinda makes ya wonder what we’ll be teaching the poor kids next.

Jealous of Julia

I couldn’t finish Eat Pray Love. I was too jealous of the author who got to self-indulge for one whole year and still end up looking like Julia Roberts. I also resented her literary success: she got an advance for going and having all that fun and all I got was this lousy T-shirt as they say.

I’m in the land of gelato myself right now as  a matter of fact. Last night I slept like the dead in this Piedmontese hotel which was super-comfy if a tad short on the towels. (You get one bath towel and no washcloths at all.) Still, when it comes to hygiene – and to a nice unsleazy take on sex – the Europeans are light-years ahead of us. When my boy was little he misheard the name of the Chevy Chase movie My European Vacation: “Can we watch My-a-peein’ Vacation again?” he used to say.) And speaking of both below-the-belt functions, what these hotel bathrooms do all have are bidets, just in case you’d like to rinse out your doll clothes like my little cousin used to do in the toilets that were all just her height.

Well then! Think I’ll walk to the shops, maybe trade a few of my own lousy T-shirts for a gorgeous bra and perhaps a pair of killer panties. This is my third time in Italy and it’s true about the food; the lamb dishes alone are so fancy they come wearing little paper panties of their own  Buon appetito to me and to  my seven college pals on this five-day flight from reality.