Sunday, December 13, 2009

Brillat-Savarin: Violet Flames Feeding

Brillat-Savarin, in "Meditation XIX" of Physiologie du Gout (The Physiology of Taste, published 1825, just before his death), writes:

"Dreams are singular impressions that work upon the soul without the aid of external objects."

As one example, he records awakening in the midst of a "charming tingle (une espece de fourmillement plein de charmes)running across my skin from my feet to my head, coursing in the marrow of my bones; a violet flame danced upon my brow."

Then comes the kicker: "Lambere flamma comes, et circum temporo pasci."

A quote from the Aeneid, book II, referring to the sacred fire that gently caresses the brow of Ascanius, son of Aeneas, as Aeneas resists his wife Creusa's and his father Anchises's pleas to depart Troy. Aeneas wants to fight on, but the Greeks have emerged from their horse and are sacking the city...his wife and father are calling on him to lead the survivors to safety.

The sudden appearance of cool flames "gently feeding on the temples of Ascanius" is understood to be a sign from the gods that the boy is destined for greatness, that Aeneas must leave, that doing so means no loss of honor.

What precisely do the flames tasting at his own forehead mean to Brillat-Savarin?

I like to think that the gastronomic gods are prompting Brillat-Savarin to re-found Troy yet again, this time in the bistros of Paris. That they bless his odyssey through the kitchens of France, and signal their love for his stories of culinary wonder. That they presaged for him his own apotheosis, with a shimmering but innocuous flame, a "delicious quivering" ("fremissement delicieux," as he puts it), engulfing his body like the liqueur ignited over cherries jubilee.

....and now it's time for breakfast.

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