Northern Exposure

A retired American judge learned that the summertime blues are unheard of in the land of the midnight sun
Emboldened by the tales of kings Harald and Olaf, of their rude castles perched atop cliffs and their great fleets of small vessels, excited by their feats of valor and violence amid forests and fjords, former Illinois Supreme Court Justice John Dean Caton decided to set off for Norway. At the time of his decision in London for the first leg of what would become a months-long adventure, he asked how a body traveled to this rugged land. Only with difficulty, people told him; not too many journey as far north as he intended. (more…) Read More...

Blind Ambition

The sightless bell-ringer of the Scottish burg of Dumfries pursued a vision of industry that left his fellow townspeople blinking with disbelief
Doonhamers (as the natives of Dumfries are called) marveled at the devotion and exactitude Tom Wilson displayed as he rang the mid-steeple bell of the town's belltower. The chief ringer, he braved winter freezes, summer storms and autumn deluges to discharge his duty three times daily, even on holidays, when other bell ringers hid under their bedclothes. (more…) Read More...

A Tragedy in Suet

Author and diet guru Vance Thompson believed that fat writers stood a slim chance of finding happiness
We don't often hear of writers wrangling with their weight. But diet and fast they often did. Virginia Woolf never took a second helping. Fearful of his "morbid propensity to fatten," Byron subsisted on dry biscuits and soda water. Anaïs Nin merely nibbled. Franz Kafka adopted the advice of nutritionist Horace Fletcher, who advised his followers to chew (one hundred times per minute, to be exact) their way to optimal health. Kafka lost so much weight from this routine that he remarked, "I am the thinnest person I have ever known." (more…) Read More...

A work of art by any standards …

"Everything on a Japanese menu, from the soups to the hors d'oeuvres to the raw fish, is beautifully conceived."
"Not a single Western food has a color that could be called beautiful -- the only exceptions I can think of are salad and radishes. I'm in no position to speak of its nutritional value, but to the artist's eye it is a thoroughly uncivilized cuisine. On the other hand, artistically speaking, everything on a Japanese menu, from the soups to the hors d'oeuvres to the raw fish, is beautifully conceived. If you did no more than gaze at the banquet tray set before you at an elegant restaurant, without lifting a chopstick, and then go home again, the feast for the eyes would have been more than sufficient to make the visit worth your while." -- Natsume Soseki, Kusamakura (1906) Read More...

Full Fathom Five Thy Father Dines

The maiden voyage of the submarine The Argonaut represented to its passengers a submersion of the ordinary.
A New York newspaper (the exact one is unknown) reported that one evening in the summer of 1907 a dinner was given thirty-five feet under the sea by the inventor of a submarine christened The Argonaut. Along with thirteen guests, he boarded the vessel, which was was anchored at Bridgeport, Connecticut, and sank below the waves to travel several miles along the ocean floor. Postprandial entertainment consisted of two divers exiting via a special compartment in order to display the virtues of "the patent diving suits" they had donned. (more…) Read More...

Fit Provender

“Why not throb with superior vitality!"
Mrs. Trustle presided with genius and elan over New York's Physical Culture restaurant. A grandmotherly woman of about sixty, she had the energy of one half her age. With admirable dexterity, she stewed prunes, stirred simmering pots of beans, chopped cabbage, steamed carrots. Her girlish cheer was said to be infectious. The lunch rush never fazed her, and the dinner crowd she handled in stride. (more…) Read More...

Slow Food

The delight of eating escargot was matched only by the pleasure of knowing you didn't have to shell out a lot for the meal.
Of the various impressions made on the English man of letters Joseph Addison during a 1702 visit to a Freiburg monastery, one that lingered longest was the delight its inmates took in eating snails. A thick ragout they would prepare into which they would toss these creatures by the dozen. A great wooden box called an escargotiere ensured a reliable supply, its interior lined with greens in which nestled snails often as large as a child's fist. "I do not remember to have met with any thing of the same in other countries," Addison wrote in reference to this ingenious contrivance. In these boxes the snails reposed and ate, ate and reposed, until such time as the cook came and shook out a hundred or two of them for supper. (more…) Read More...

Ill-Starred Lives

Elephants Castor and Pollux went from marquee attractions to menu items during the seige of Paris in 1870.
More than the pacing, antic tapir, more than the dancing bear did visitors to the Jardin des Plantes love Castor and Pollux, the two elephants held captive there. Brother and sister (twins, in fact), Castor and Pollux never ceased to delight onlookers. Ladies marveled at the delicacy with which the pachyderms' trunks probed for the morsels of white bread they'd bring them. Men stood thunderstruck by their great size. Children squealed with excitement when for a small fee the elephants’ keeper would set them on his charges’ backs for a march across an imaginary Serengeti. (more…) Read More...

Gathering Light

Life for Japan's firefly catchers was full of hard knocks.
Of the glimmering swarm gathering at twilight the catcher of fireflies entertained few romantic notions. To him his quarry -- which drew gasps from the crowd gathered at the riverbank, which drew sighs from many a moonstruck poet -- simply meant business. (more…) Read More...