Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Food

The one thing that everyone is interested in these days is food. I have been traveling, and I had dinner in Rome with two friends who even took pictures of their food before they dug in—two admittedly quite beautiful bowls of pasta. Before I was in Rome, I had been quite a bit further  north, in the Czech Republic for the first time.

When I came back from my travels, I was recently, as I am invariably, asked, “So, you went to Prague—how was the food?” Indeed, in both Prague and Rome the food was quite nice. Like the Italians, the Czechs pride themselves on food and, to an even greater extent, on beer. The food was quite good there—Germanic in terms of flavor, but more delicate—and the beer was quite good, too, though the lovely Czechs who took me out to dinner were disappointed on my behalf. I think they were muttering something about it not being the right temperature, but I am not sure whether they meant too cold or too warm. I imagine the latter, as the beer wasn’t very cold.

I was, of course, in Prague to meet up with my friend, the philologist, who was there to study a rare manuscript housed in the National Library. Inasmuch as I had been in Europe over a week before he arrived and had thus adjusted to European time, when I met up with him there he, having just arrived, was quite jet-lagged, and thus had a hard time working in the library for many long hours, even though he had traveled quite far to study that particular manuscript. But what has that to do with food?

It has this in common: odd as it may sound, he has a genuine hunger for manuscripts, perhaps more avid even than the friends whom I met in Rome have for food. His hunger stems in part from his strange penchant for finding not-yet-considered things scribbled between the lines or on the edges of the pages. These are known as glosses or marginalia, respectively. What I envy is not so much his job—it sounds, after all, a bit tedious, doesn’t it?—but it is the passion, the hunger that he has for his work, work that to the rest of us might seem quite boring.

But some people don’t like cooking, either, and I would argue those folks are missing out on quite a lot of fun in the kitchen, which brings us back to food. For cooking can indeed be very rewarding and, of course, produce a palpably enjoyable result. But whether you’re cooking or studying or writing or driving cattle, I think the key thing is the hunger, the inspired desire for the task at hand, not just the eventual collection of the paycheck but the excitement, even the passion that goes into producing it, that really counts.

Now you might say, what if I have a job that doesn’t whet my appetite constantly? Well, I think the best thing to do is to discover something about it that you really do enjoy. You might have to spend some time thinking about how to find that passion, but probably it can be found. No job is perfect—even my friend will admit as much about his manuscripts—but finding the passion in your work might mean finding passion in your life or your marriage or your family as whole. And that is a spiritual exercise as much as it is anything else.

houskový knedlík

Well then, what about food? As I said, the food in Prague was quite nice. I had some tasty soup (kulajda) for lunch and a tastier dumpling dinner (houskový knedlík). All this talk of food is making me hungry now, so I shall sign off with a simple Chinese proverb that may remind us to seek contentment in even a less than passion-laden situation: “Coarse rice for food, water to drink, and the bended arm for a pillow: happiness may be enjoyed even in these.”[1]

[1] Dictum of Confucius, as quoted in James F. Clarke, Ten Great Religions: An Essay in Comparative Theology (New York, 1888): 48.

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