Monday, December 15, 2008

Sink or swim

I can hardly think of a more fitting way to ring in the New Year in the current economic crisis than to spend an evening tasting the menu once offered to passengers of the Titanic, a pleasure advertised by Chateau on the Lake in Branson, Missouri, of all places, in connection with Branson's Titanic Museum (and I'm not sure which is more strange: London Bridge rebuilt in the Arizona Desert or a Titanic Museum in Branson). A setting more suited to my taste and about 295 miles closer to my apartment than Branson is the casually elegant Equestria Restaurant, 3165 Forest Hill-Irene, in Germantown, Tennessee, which offers polite and attentive service (attentiveness in no way diminished by the fact that I eat there on the strength of gift certificates won in trivia contests) and superbly prepared food; their four-course New Year's Eve menu is an outstanding value.

Wine writer Lettie Teague, quoted in The Week, refers to champagne as a "consolation" in trying times and tries to console the reader with the fact that Pol Roger is available for as little as $35 a bottle, and I'm sure that must be encouraging to someone; frankly, I'm only sorry that the price of Courvoisier doesn't decline at a comparable rate with the price of oil.

Too much attention to the consolations of bottled spirits and a shocking disregard of morals is the focus of Bertrand Tavernier's sharply observed 1974 drama, Que la Fête Commence (English title, Let Joy Reign Supreme), with Philippe Noiret and Jean Rochefort. While peasants starve or are kidnapped for deportation to Louisiana in the France of 1719, Philippe d'Orleans, nephew of the recently deceased Louis XIV, makes fitful attempts to rule more humanely while devoting his chief interest to palace orgies, where restraint is quickly cast aside along with court dress, while his own musical compositions are performed by blind musicians. Following the autopsy of his daughter, the Duchesse de Berri, who ate and drank herself to death at 23, Philippe expresses irreligious opinions that shock even his mistress, while he weakly accedes to the demands of his former tutor and fellow atheist, the Abbé Dubois, for elevation to the Archbishopric of Cambrai. The only surprise in all this is that the French Revolution did not occur for another 70 years.

Had Philippe or the Abbé wished to examine the traditions of faith more closely, they could have done worse than to travel to Rome to see the ancient and august San Giovanni in Fonte, the 4th-century baptistery built next to St. John Lateran by Constantine the Great and now an awe-inspiring microcosm of the architectural, decorative, and devotional styles of its various ages. I missed this site on my one visit to Rome some years ago, though perhaps I'd better go back before it is sold, dismantled, and rebuilt in Orlando, Florida. In any case, two friends who had the rare privilege of seeing their goddaughter baptized there a few years ago, shared this link to the church's website.

© Michael Huggins, 2008. All rights reserved.

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