Sunday, June 26, 2011

Living well is so practical, that's what makes it seem unfair

good health to Barry Leach

In Ten Vineyard Lunches, Richard Olney's classic guide to agrarian custom, we find scant mention of couture, for while no garment is forever, scrambled eggs and asparagus more or less are. But he did not sup-pose we'd neglect any need, so it is convenable that Hermès have seen to ours with characteristic lightness of heart.

So let us say no more of clothes, which can be picked up just about anywhere, and abandon urban tastings to their spit-bucket sur les toits; we'll rusticate in Bordeaux next Spring, attired without care: in climate Californian, clement wine innately in the air.

We notice, therefore, how the usual objections to living well are dispatched, one by one, where to do so is most practical. It's only in this light that we'd entertain that mode in the first place, and it's because it's certain to gain wider support for that reason, that we turn our sights from stacks of sumptuous hides and urbane silk in the Rue du Faubourg St-Honoré to that light merriment in the garden of a vineyard in Graves, which it is only natural to expect of a springtime lunch with the innocent contadini of such restorative Mozartean context. As a happy prelude to the braise of beef in glazed onions and artichoke bottoms, let us meet with a pretty Chevalier Blanc as our eggs are coaxed accordingly.

Nor is this a repast to press impetuously, as Olney remarks. I find scrambled eggs with asparagus, something which requires little concentration when one is subjected to a milling crowd and multiple conversations, to be one of the most practical and appreciated of starters. One must not be impatient, it may take half to three-quarters of an hour for eggs [for 12] to arrive at a proper consistency, and the water in the bain-marie must not be permitted to reach the boil. Indeed, it is with his discussion of scrambled eggs that Olney reaches that apogee of imperviousness to pressure for which we turn to him often, to this day, in consultations on our nourishment, not to mention the hosting of others.

As we'd have supposed, the minerally virility of the vivid whites of Graves truly sparkles in discovery of the acidic asparagus, wasting none of the buttery foil of the eggs in responsive adumbration of their texture and latent earthiness. But what could be more practically expressive, of the compan-ionability all about one at table? Legs and backbone, touchstones of terroir in Graves, adopt a livelier, more open stride than in the more sustained pace of the noble chardonnays of Burgundy, of course; and for mid-day, out of doors, the edge of spontaneity is not misplaced. Immediacy and freshness of fruit is how Olney perceives these wines, based on sauvignon blanc, blended with semillon of power and eloquence. Just so.

We cannot expect to know what Horace might have worn, padding around Tivoli, or what amenity he'd have brought to the service of his eggs. But in embracing the comeliness of our world as we find it, and extracting our requisites with that modesty which alone can bring us peace, there's little doubt that a decent pair of sandals are a starting place we share with him. In fairness, too, we recall his warning -

Did that young brute bruise your ivory shoulder
After too much drink, or lustfully bite your lip
Moistened by Venus with her precious nectar?

Flash forward, then, to our Beaume de Venise or if you please, a nobly wrought Sauternes, a glowing thought of apricot awaiting us in turn, a far cry from the rooftop where we burned to no avail, 
for countryside and scrambled eggs, a good life without fail.

Richard Olney
Ten Vineyard Lunches
Ebury Press, 1988©

The Odes, I, 13 [fragment]
  New Translations by
  Contemporary Poets
op. cit.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Le Nozze di Figaro
  Giovani liete ..
Antonio Gui
Glyndebourne Festival
EMI, 1953©

Mailhos cuisine de jardin

Hermès, S.A.
Spring, 2012


  1. as our eggs are coaxed accordingly


  2. A little mirth whose birth I couldn't stifle. Is your Hermès still in your Hancock tower? I thought that was awfully clever of the landlord; if not a Picasso tapestry in your lobby, at least a mile of scarves, laid end to end.

  3. Yes to the sandals, no to the turtlenecks-that I can be pretty sure Horace did not nor would not do. Now as to asparagus and eggs- one can only suggest as substitute green eggs and ham.

  4. Olney had originally laid this lunch in a vineyard in Burgundy, with a Chablis with the eggs. By shifting it to Graves, one gained access to those spritelier whites, responding primarily to the asparagus. If, then, we adopt your ingredients we can still follow his bain-marie technique, and serve the ham folded in or on the side; but then shifts us, always hoping you'd concur, toward a rosé, which I think would be out-of-this-world marvelous. Accordingly, having nothing but your usual 100 better things to do, when the next edition of this classic is being prepared, I hope you'll be available to take it on.

    The sandals are elegant, from my point of view, and quintessentially companionable under the circumstances. I agree about the turtlenecks, but they do work with the shorts, and this House seems incurably attached to them. If they help to bring these shorts to one's garden, I will not stand in the way. I do think the shorts are terrific. :)