January 22, 2013

"On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors d’œuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold."

That's today's sentence from "The Great Gatsby" (in the practically inexplicable Gatsby project).

I must say this sentence almost makes me angry, and I'm going to calm myself by diagramming it...
hams | crowded
Okay. That's it! That's the action in this sentence. Hams crowded. Got that?

Another calming method I use when ingesting a Gatsby sentence is: Look for the light. Or: Look for the interplay of light and darkness. (I was just explaining that yesterday.)

In today's sentence, we've got "glistening" for the light (located in the hors d’œuvre), and "bewitched to a dark gold" for the darkness. It's interestingly mysterious that the darkness gets to be gold — a metal that normally is seen as glistening, especially when compared to hors d’œuvre, which... WTF?... are they greasy? Is there a spotlight aimed at them? It's also interesting that there's some bewitching going on, but that just seems to be a goofball way of referring to cooking, the cooking of turkeys and pastry pigs. Now, you know, about 9 days ago, I got all bent out of shape over F. Scott calling pork pig. But here it's quite possible that he's not talking about some cut of pork bewitched to a dark gold, but something pastry (with pork) molded into the shape of a pig.



So I'm not going to let that get my...



Are we through yet? Or is something in this insane undertaking requiring me to help you come to terms with the "salads of harlequin designs"? I found some crazy-ass salads Googling "harlequin salad." Like:
1 can of peas
1 can of sliced beets, diced
1/2 cup Miracle Whip
1 chopped onion (optional)

Dice beets and onions and mix all together and refrigerate until cold. I usually quadruple the recipe because it goes fast.
And here's a photograph of something called "Mom Dill's Harlequin Salad":



But we're looking for salads of harlequin designs, and I'm sorry, but there's just no design there. Mom and her ilk are simply using the word "harlequin" to mean multicolored. Harlequin design has got to refer to a much more distinctive diamond shape pattern typical of the Commedia dell'Arte character. Like this:



So I'm picturing some mound of edible material with criss-crossing strips of pimento. Ah! Here: "Fancy Salads of the Big Hotels." That book is from 1921, one year before the events in "The Great Gatsby" are supposed to take place. And here's Robert Salad:
Place two slices of tomato on half a heart of romaine, and on top place two rings of green pepper. Lay a slice of hard boiled eggs in each of the rings and decorate with diamond shaped dice of pimento.
I know. It's really no less disgusting than Mom's concoction. But were we supposed to be licking our chops over this? It's a sentence read in isolation, but I'm guessing we were supposed to think this spread was extravagant and yet... we're happy to stay home with Mom and her ilk after the 4 buckets of Miracle Whip with canned goods have disappeared, down the various household gullets.

Bewitching!

61 comments:

Elliott A said...

Reminds me of a sandwich shop I went to in Tuscany

Elliott A said...

Reminds me of a sandwich shop I went to in Tuscany

kentuckyliz said...

Pastry pigs make me think of mum's ham and egg pie...or pork pies like you get in England. So much better than a Hot Pocket.

Cue Jim Gaffigan.

Speaking of culinary delights...I feel like I'm replicating bacteria, virus, or food poisoning of some sort in my gut. Feels like I could blow wide open any minute.

It's waffer thin.

kentuckyliz said...

Or sausage rolls. My brother had some at his house when I visited at Christmas.

Ann Althouse said...

Pigs in blankets.

garage mahal said...

Everyday now I see F Scott Fitzgerald in print. Couldn't agree more!

(inside WI politics humor)

rcocean said...

Haha. I love that sentence.

Inga said...

Garage, he he.

chickelit said...

@KentuckyLiz: Just one more thin wafer?

rcocean said...

I love that sentence. "...Pastry Pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold" alone is worth admission.

rcocean said...

Its not lawyerly diagrammed sentence its prose-poetry.

Ann Althouse said...

You people who love that sentence... I suspect you of having a high school English teacher who was delighted by "bewitched to a dark gold." Bewitched!

Suddenly, you were seized with the magic of... literature... of the amazing potential of what could be done with words.

You don't have to say cook the turkey or roast the turkey. You can bewitch the turkey!

Ann Althouse said...

It's alchemy! Turning... turkey!... to gold.

edutcher said...

I agree - one does not usually think of that act of cooking as an exercise in witchcraft.

The whole sentence is an exercise in sumptuous and voluptuous sensuality.

And thanks for the harlequin design salad. I was trying to figure out that one.

Ann Althouse said...

I must say this sentence almost makes me angry, and I'm going to calm myself by diagramming it...

The British use the term "pig" in several senses.

PS You've been getting angry a good bit lately, Madame.

It's OK, we're all going a little stir crazy (i find myself screaming at the pups about 8:30 every night).

Will Cate said...

Well if I was the salad I don't think I'd care for that very much. I'd say "Hey! Hams! Personal space here, a'ight?"

Old Dad said...

Prof. said:

"It's alchemy! Turning... turkey!... to gold."

Gatsby is always gorgeous and vulgar. The irony is that he turns alchemy, heroically and tragically, on its head.

He turns gold into turkey.

rcocean said...

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

Diagram that Ms. Law Professor.

Henry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chickelit said...

"Hams crowded" sounds like pink naked aggression to me. The factored out sentence core reminds me of Hillary Clinton somehow. Is that bad of me?
Will she be sacrificed tomorrow or will it be a feast?

Old Dad said...

Mary,

"Seems" is one key. All that glisters is not gold. We're just playing with words.

And Gatsby is a target rich environment.

One of the rules of the game is to take the sentence out of context (which I can never really do), and just look at the words--in a New Critical way.

I can't read every day, but for me, the threads have usually been fun, and sometimes very illuminating in context of the novel.

Henry said...

I love these sentences. The one that hooked me was from January 12: "When the melody rose, her voice broke up sweetly, following it, in a way contralto voices have, and each change tipped out a little of her warm human magic upon the air."

Althouse spoke of sweetness and light (really), but if the air can be tipped upon, the air is a slab. And if the air is a slab, the melody is a cadaver.

Line after line is wonderfully surreal, yet strung together in a plot no surrealist could master.

rcocean said...

BTW, I've been enjoying the "Gatsby Project" immensely.

traditionalguy said...

At last we have food rather than sex as the subject.

Our rituals over food are every bit as magical as our rituals over sex.

Alchemy is often turning the male and female forces of nature into power through sexual acts. But the eating of communal food also releases a great power. (see, last supper.)

Jay Gatsby believes as do most men in the power of eating, drinking and making Daisy.

chickelit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rcocean said...

"All that glisters is not gold."

Reminds me of this:

From hence, ye beauties, undeceiv'd,
Know, one false step is ne'er retriev'd,
And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wandering eyes
And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;
Nor all, that glisters, gold.

chickelit said...

Science takes some of the magic and alchemy out of literature--that's its problem. FSF's turkey underwent a Maillard reaction which was named after a Frenchman rather than roast duck.

Old Dad said...

rcocean:

Your glisters reminded me of this one:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that does fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Ding-dong,
Hark! Now I hear them – Ding-dong, bell.

edutcher said...

traditionalguy said...

At last we have food rather than sex as the subject.

tg, a lot of people will tell you food and sex are inextricably entwined, and that is a particularly lascivious sentence.

BTW, may I congratulate you on your eloquent description of the good Professor? "A brilliant woman with a childlike charm" - very good.

I might have added something like "and a womanly bearing", but, as you can see, you have a better command than I.

Lem said...

Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.

traditionalguy said...

Edutcher...Thanks. I value you and your opinion on things.

Penny said...

Haven't we all "bewitched" a couple of turkeys?

Penny said...

AND known a few pigs in blankets.

Lem said...

Suddenly, you were seized with the magic of... literature... of the amazing potential of what could be done with words.

I supposed that how Krugman cooked up the coin con.

Lem said...

Althouse deplores the abuse and misuse of metaphors... even more than men in shorts.

In theory, if not fact, the two sins are closely related.

Penny said...

Tonight? I would much prefer to be a guest at the Gatsby banquet where I would heap praise on the host and his staff for their attention to detail in dazzling us with such an opulent spread in our honor.

And then I'd eat, probably until I popped.

Ha ha

What fun!

Lem said...

Michelle would have been right at home.

David said...

Excessive adjectives kill prose with rare exceptions. This is not one of the exceptions.

mccullough said...

This sentence sucks.

Ctmom4 said...

At first, I thought you were describing the Inaugural luncheon menu. You made me laugh - how long has it been since diagramming sentences was taught in schools? My kids stared blankly at me when I mentioned it to them. the good nuns tortured us with sentence diagrams.

Ctmom4 said...

At first, I thought you were describing the Inaugural luncheon menu. You made me laugh - how long has it been since diagramming sentences was taught in schools? My kids stared blankly at me when I mentioned it to them. the good nuns tortured us with sentence diagrams.

Chip Ahoy said...

Our diagrams didn't have |'s. But they had lots of -- and / lifting up and \ dropping down and < > for clauses which have their own lifting /'s and dropping \'s and brackets. So it can get really weird like this sentence. I mean that sentence, these sentences are sensible.

Have another sip, Francis, your eyes are still open.

AlanKH said...

The post headline wasn't from a Reuters report on the Inauguration banquet?

Mick Havoc said...

Nobody eats like that anymore, except at Lambeau tailgates and Nascar infields.

Scotty would be so scandalized.

Mick Havoc said...

Nobody eats like that anymore, except at Lambeau tailgates and Nascar infields.

Scotty would be so scandalized.

rhhardin said...

"Silence, sole luxury after rhymes, an orchestra only marking with its gold, its brushes with thought and dusk, the detail of its signification on a par with a stilled ode and which it is up to the poet, roused by a dare, to translate!"

- Mallarme

yashu said...

In defense of this sentence:

Althouse is irritated by the use of "bewitched"-- which "just seems to be a goofball way of referring to cooking"-- but IMO overlooks some vital associations at work here.

I presume she's angered because it just seems like a froufrou locution-- absurdly pretentious to describe cooked turkeys as bewitched to a dark gold. But don't you think FSF (a writer of that caliber) is well aware of the incongruity of the image/ metaphor? IMO Althouse misses the intentional undercurrent of humor and absurdity here: to yoke hams, pigs, turkeys (among the most humorous of foods and food words) to "bewitchment" and "dark gold" is to yoke the banal & grotesque to the wondrous & glamorous: there's something ludicrous to (or underneath) all this sumptuous beauty.

There's an illusion (enchantment, bewitchment) at work in this feast: beneath the appearance of glistening dark gold is just … turkey. IMO there's clearly an element of satire here.

So in this feast, there's a transformation of the banal (hams, pigs, turkeys) into the glamorous (dark gold) through bewitchment: it's not just the turkeys that are bewitched (cooked/ transformed), but the spectators/ partygoers (the ones who see the turkeys as dark gold). (Do I have to draw the connection to Gatsby's persona?)

This imagery of bewitchment, magic, transformation (e.g. the transformation/ disguising of foodstuffs into something that appears totally different), extravagance, the grotesque and the glamorous at a feast/ banquet, made me think first of all of Trimalchio's feast in the Satyricon (which must have been a model for Gatsby's party). I just looked it up in Wikipedia and what do you know!, I found this:

In the process of coming up with the title of The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald had considered several titles for his book including "Trimalchio" and "Trimalchio in West Egg;" Fitzgerald characterizes Gatsby as Trimalchio in the novel, notably in the first paragraph of Chapter VII: "It was when curiosity about Gatsby was at its highest that the lights in his house failed to go on one Saturday night—and, as obscurely as it had begun, his career as Trimalchio was over. (pp 119, 2003 Scribners Trade Paperback edition)."

An early version of the novel, still titled "Trimalchio" is still in print by the Cambridge University Press.


(Cool, didn't know that. The fact that FSF identified Gatsby with Trimalchio supports my contention that the imagery/ locution here is at least in part satirical.)

Second, the imagery of bewitchment/ transformation at a feast (and in particular the involvement of hams, pigs… swine) reminds me of the Circe episode in the Odyssey. Again, I think obvious connections can be made between Circe's island and the Great Gatsby (not only the bewitching parties, or the transformation/ identification of men/ swine, but Daisy as a Circe figure, Gatsby as an Odysseus figure, etc.)

I think Althouse was right on to invoke the Biblical episode of swine possession/ transformation, but I think the Circe episode might be even more relevant to the Great Gatsby.

Ann Althouse said...

@yashu I understand how one could go positive if one felt like it, so the question is why didn't I feel like it here.

Part of it is the cumulative effect of too many Gatsby sentences. And this is a too much sentence, but not in a wacky over-the-top way like the wind-blowing-through-the-room sentence. This is just a lot of food crowded on a table -- hams crowded!

The one weird thing is "bewitched" -- and I gave bewitched its due.

A lot of people here are saying the sentence is good because the array of food is "sumptuous."

I don't buy that.

1. Any hack writer can use a lot of words and create a picture of a "sumptuous" feast.

2. I'm a reader, a consumer of the words, not of the food itself, so it's not like I'm getting a lot to eat here.

3. "Sumptuousness" seems like a corny idea, like something from a Harlequin (!) romance, especially in the effort to make it seem to refer to sexuality.

4. I'm not getting enough of an elite vibe from the food choices. They seem rather awful. It really does make me feel like it's Thanksgiving at Mom's, not a glorious affair at Gatsby's. Crowded hams! Could ya scootch over, Mom?

edutcher said...

Perhaps, Madame, you are tiring of Mr Fitzgerald's style; what may have seemed like a grand idea is going stale.

Give it some time before you reconsider. Whether the rest of us like it or not, it's a unique idea.

traditionalguy said...

Edutcher...Thanks. I value you and your opinion on things.

Thank you, sir. Even though we have our differences, this is how civilized people can disagree.

PS Don't give up the national histories. There is always something to be learned there.

sydney said...

I didn't recognize this as a sentence at first, I thought it was a clause. But, I've got to say, it reminded me of that trailer for the new movie you posted a while back and which got this project started. All the interior shots in that trailer had backgrounds of gold and crowded excess. Just like this sentence.

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Suggested improvement: addition of the word "drizzled".

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"Crowded against" suggests a claustrophobic environment nonconducive to public food consumption, with aggressive overtones.

"Nestled" suggests comfort, which increases appetite. Increased appetite can lead to increased sales of dessert menu items.

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Options:

Replace "salads of harlequin designs" with "our Signature Harlequin Chicken Salad."

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Options:

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Suggestion: "Your table"

betamax3000 said...

Naked Advertisement Copywriter Robot recommends replacement of
"bewitched to a dark gold": the phrase connotes unhygienic kitchen practices. Also: overtly ethnic food.

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Naked Advertisement Copywriter Robot recommends removal of "hors d’œuvre": "hors d’œuvre" implies a formality that potential consumers of a family-style restaurant may find off-putting. The target consumer is not French.

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Appleby's

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Appleby's

chickelit said...

Yashu seems to write really good literary criticism. I wouldn't be surprised if she were a pro.