Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Dining In Public

If you happened to stop by ARTS Obispo on the evening of December 10th in downtown San Luis Obispo, California, you would have learned about turducken, the deboned chicken/duck/turkey almost-matryoshka, where each bird is tucked into the other, starting with the chicken and finishing with the turkey. You would have also learned from reader Pam Bleisch the term "farce", which means to improve as if by stuffing. To serve a dish of one thing stuffed with something else, Pam read aloud to the assembled company, is theater. To stuff a dish with anything which already has something else inside of it, is also, undeniably, theater.

The selection being read to a dedicated crowd of bibliophiles gathered in ARTS Space Obispo was The Dinner at Trimalchio's, from "The Satyricon" by Petronius. For our end-of-the year event Reading In Public had decided to pay homage to the world of food, attempting a multicourse exploration of the connection between belly, mind and funny bone. Dining In Public, or DIP as we affectionately called it, was a riotous few hours of listening to people read from their favorite written works: everything from the 1988 interview conducted with then 91-year-old South Carolina farmer Bubba Henry, on butchering a hog back when lye was in common use ("you don't use that much, just test it with your finger, just to get the hair off. If you put too much, it will chop up your hand and tear the hog up ... "), to the right way to kill a coconut, a hilarious account from a recipe for Coconut Curry Chicken Explosion ("Force a sharp skewer into one of the coconut's eyes ..."), and on to cosmetics companies and their promotion of skin as a living, hungry entity which must be externally fed and nourished, an essay aptly titled Beauty and the Feast. Isabelle Gillette and Hannah Fowler, ages 11 and 10, read Shel Silverstein's "Where The Sidewalk Ends". Artist Lena Rushing wore a Pingu-like prop, and seven-year-old Eliot Báez composed a piece which he sang in Spanish, lamenting the fact that to him canned beans tasted like metal.

RIP had brought together local artists as well as readers, assembling an exhibit of 22 plates in various media, which represented the artists' favorite food-related book titles. Painter Cynthia Meyer finished first with a handsome tribute to the book "Naked Lunch" by William S. Burroughs, despite the difficulty she encountered with bamboo veneer turning out to be a sponge for oil paints. There were also a number of wonderful (and funny!) illustrated recipes done by several children, ages 3 through 12. To round out the experience, potter Mark Sensenbach loaned us several handmade dishes on which we set out, not dinner, but a small banquet of appetizers.

We didn't overstay our welcome that night. Allan Cooper, reading to us about dinner etiquette from "Home Dissertations", compiled by Mrs. E. Stevens Tilton in 1885, informed the audience that "after coffee, guests may at any time take their leave, all going within two hours". Our own feast had lasted for three, and even on a Saturday night there were still some readers and people in the audience who lingered, stopping to help with dinner's least favorite chore: clean-up. Thanks to all of the lovely people who stayed we were done well within Mrs. Tilton's 2-hour window. No one had actually sat down to dinner, but, as poet Francesca Nemko proclaimed, her voice ringing in the small space, it was a lovely evening with friends and "fabulous, beautiful, glorious food."

Pictured above: Mary Kay Harrington. Photo by Jano Kray

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