Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bread and Quails

Giovanni-Francesco Romanelli 1610 - 1662
Les Israélites recueillant la manne/ The Israelies gathering up Manna 1657
Oil on canvas
1.990 x 2.130 m
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Giovanni-Francesco Romanelli 1610 - 1662
Les Israélites nourris par les cailles / The Israelies fed by quails 1655 - 1657
Oil on canvas
1,02 m. x 1,605 m
Château at Compiègne

The Bible is filled with accounts of eating and drinking.

One of the earliest descriptions is the feeding of the Israelites in the wilderness. God provided manna (bread) in the morning and quails in the evening.

We recall the manna but often forget about the quails.

Exodus 16: 6 = 15

And Moses and Aaron said to the children of Israel: In the evening you shall know that the Lord hath brought you forth out of the land of Egypt:

7And in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord: for he hath heard your murmuring against the Lord: but as for us, what are we, that you mutter against us?

8And Moses said: In the evening the Lord will give you flesh to eat, and in the morning bread to the full: for he hath heard your murmurings, with which you have murmured against him, for what are we? your murmuring is not against us, but against the Lord.

9Moses also said to Aaron: Say to the whole congregation of the children of Israel: Come before the Lord: for he hath heard your murmuring.

10And when Aaron spoke to all the assembly of the children of Israel, they looked towards the wilderness: and behold the glory of the Lord appeared in a cloud.

11And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:

12 I have heard the murmuring of the children of Israel: say to them: In the evening you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread: and you shall know that I am the Lord your God.

13So it came to pass in the evening, that quails coming up, covered the camp: and in the morning, a dew lay round about the camp.

14And when it had covered the face of the earth, it appeared in the wilderness small, and as it were beaten with a pestle, like unto the hoar frost on the ground.

15And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another: Manhu! which signifieth: What is this! for they knew not what it was. And Moses said to them: This is the bread, which the Lord hath given you to eat."

It was not forgotten about in the novel and film Babette`s Feast.

The main dish and highlight of the feast is Caille en Sarcophage avec Sauce Perigourdine (Quail in Puff Pastry Shell with Foie Gras and Truffle Sauce),an extraordinary delicacy in French cuisine which would probably set you back about 1000 euros in a 5 star Parisian restaurant

The French word "sarcophage" means of course "sarcophagus", a funeral receptacle for a corpse, the word deriving from the Greek words meaning "flesh" and "to eat" (flesh eating)

The symbolism becomes more apparent. In the film, Babette is serving the twelve followers of Christ Food from the Gods.

When Babette`s Feast first came out in 1987, the advertising for the film stressed the beauty of the images of the film especially the culinary images. It was a feast for the eyes and a celebration of the art of cuisine. The message which came through was how art could transform a banal human existence.

The reviewers followed suit. See The New York Times` reviews:

As also The Washington POst:

For a much more scholarly account of the film which concentrates on the themes of the film and even acknowledges the religious aspects of the film see Excerpt from pages 187-201 of Accounting for Taste: The Triumph of French Cuisine by Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©2004

But religious sub text there is.

In 1995 to celebrate 100 years of the film industry, the Vatican compiled a list of forty five "great films." Under the heading "Religious films", Number 2 was "Babette`s Feast"

"My favourite film, with a sort of religious subtext, is Babette's Feast, and there's not very much doctrine in that, not very much overt religiosity, except the rather grim religiosity - the sort of thing you write about - of the old people of the village and their circle. "

For some discussion of the religious theme of the film you might like to look at the following:

Journal of Religion and Film: Kierkegaard at Babette's Feast:The Return to the Finite by Jean Schuler Vol. 1, No. 2 October 1997

Babette’s Feast: The Generosity of God by Robert A. Flanagan Jacob's Well, Spring/Summer, 1998

For those who just like a good film You-Tube kindly provides in lengthy sections the film with English subtitles. Here are some memorable scenes from the beginning and from the feast. The other sections can be found from these segments.

At the feast one of the guests General Loewenhielm says:

"[At] the Cafe Anglais, the chef, surprisingly enough, was a woman. We were served Cailles en Sarcophage, a dish of her own creation. General Galliffet, who was our host for the evening, explained that this woman, the head chef, had the ability to transform adinner into a kind of love affair, a love affair that made no distinction between bodily appetite and spiritual appetite.

General Galliffet said that in the past he had fought a duel for the love of a beautiful woman. But now there was no woman in Paris for whom he would shed his blood—except this chef. She was considered the greatest culinary genius. What we are now eating is nothing less than Cailles en Sarcophage."

This is no ordinary meal. This is a love feast. And like the meeting in Emmaus, the guests only gradually come to realise who is the person who is serving them this feast.

As one of the sisters Philippa says to Babette at the very end of the film:

"But that is not the end, Babette, I’m certain of that. In Paradise, you will be the great artist that God meant you to be. Ah, how you will delight the angels!"