July 17, 2011

Sous les Feuilles

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).
No larger feast than under plane or pine,
With neighbours laid along the grass, to take
Only such cups as left us friendly-warm,
Affirming each his own philosophy –
Nothing to  mar the sober majesties
Of settled, sweet, Epicurean life.
(Tennyson, Lucretius, 1868).
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.

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?


  1. Whenever the sun appears here we head to the garden laden with news papers, books and then later indulge in a little dejeuner sur l'herbe - that isn't code for anything other than home made bread, roasted vegetables and mounds of chicken and chorizo.

  2. Work is just that, and Rest should be just that.
    Work has become de rigueur in life on this side of the pond for many of us, so that when we do have real down time we feel guilty for taking it, or unable to sit still and breathe for fear someone might see us... We have brought work so far into our lives with “smart” phones that we can have work, with us, all day, every day.
    We had a chance to do so recently in a neat little mom-and-pop wine shop Saturday evening, with friends, and a wonderful vintner sharing his wares from Walla Walla (http://www.trustcellars.com/). I had more fun in an hour than I have had in ages… It felt good to sit still.
    I must do more serious sitting about....

  3. My wife and I went on a picnic, just the two of us (sans toddler), two weekends ago. I had cold sesame noodles, and my wife a cold salad, and we shared a wedge of brie and some nice sparkling water. The brie was a bit too rich for the 95 degree (Fahrenheit, mind you) heat, but still enjoyed nonetheless. The lovely lake view that we had certainly didn't hurt; the beggar-ducks certainly didn't help though.

    We also took our son on a picnic last Saturday, only to get rained out after half an hour. Oh well, he certainly enjoyed exploring while it lasted.

  4. My small people love picnics. My upbringing taught me this meant a bucket of KFC. This apple is attempting to roll just a bit further from the tree.

  5. What a fabulous blog you have here! I look forward to digging in.


  6. Thank you Daren. Pleasure to have your company.


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