The art of lying on the grass, of dispensing with knife and fork, of making yourself generally useful – with the air of one accustomed to be generally useless, – is not to be mastered in an afternoon. As it is held a special compliment to a man’s manners and intellectual gifts, to ask him to breakfast, so it should be high flattery to bid him be merry in good company under the greenwood tree. Let the candid reader admit, however, that there is vast room for improvement in the art of dining with nothing between you and the pendent caterpillar. (The Epicure’s Year Book for 1869).
Somewhere in between the ideal and the awkward lies the picnic reality. But let not the peripatetic formicidae put you off. Inspired by Lily Lemontree a little while ago, Mrs. VB and I sprawled ourselves out on the lawn in front of Schloss Schönhausen – a quiet little seventeenth-century palace that has recently been restored – and partook of brie, grapes, black German bread, Leberwurst, and Riesling.No larger feast than under plane or pine,With neighbours laid along the grass, to takeOnly such cups as left us friendly-warm,Affirming each his own philosophy –Nothing to mar the sober majestiesOf settled, sweet, Epicurean life.(Tennyson, Lucretius, 1868).
I had planned to read aloud for the afternoon, but the book remained unopened. Not long into the affair we spotted a jogging philosopher friend who I had not seen in several years. Seeing our horizontal civility as eminently preferential to his unseemly Sabbatical activity, he trotted over, caught his breath, and chewed the fat for an hour or more. This is the kind of thing that happens in Berlin. We soon set the world to rights, and made a dinner date for next month, to resume a conversation about my next book, in which he has a keen interest.
A gentle promenade around the grounds followed, before heading home. Ants, wasps and Heidegger were left on the grass to their own devices. For once, the weather forecast was completely accurate. In short, I recommend this oft-forgotten activity. Do it with grace and a little charm. Do it with passing intellectuals, if you can spot them. Do it with a decently chilled bottle of wine. But most of all, do it, won’t you?