I've been reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann recently and enjoying it enormously. (I put off reading it in translation for a long time in the vague hope I would some day miraculously and without effort become fluent in German.) And what, you may ask, does this have to do with food? Well, the first few chapters set me thinking about my favourite books and the eating habits of characters. I have long been a huge fan of the so-called Larkin stories by H.E. Bates (starting with the Darling Buds of May - read them, read them!!) and drooled over the descriptions of the morning to late night feasts: roast goose, pork with crackling, roast potatoes, melons swimming in Port, breakfast plates overflowing with bacon, eggs, beans, sausages and potatoes...but these characters are living an outdoor life, working and playing from dawn until dusk.
In the Magic Mountain, however, we are in a tuberculosis sanatorium before the first World War. Let me list for you what our hero, Hans Castorp, was offered in the way of meals on his first full day at the sanatorium:
First Breakfast: toast, rice pudding, oatmeal, cold meats, scrambled eggs, cheese, fresh and dried fruits, honey, marmalade, cocoa, tea, coffee and yogurt.
Second Breakfast: 1/2 a liter of milk (Hans takes beer instead), cold meats, toast, oatmeal, fruit.
Dinner (lunch): 6 courses including a hearty soup, a meat dish with garnish, a vegetable course, roast fowl, a pudding course, cheese and fruits.
Tea: an assortiment of hot beverages including, milk, tea, coffee, chocolate, tisanes and bouillon, yogurt, raisin cakes with butter, zwieback and marmalade.
Supper: 6 courses as at dinner, of which our friend consumes julienne soup, baked and roast meats, two pieces of macaroon and jam tart, cheese and pumpernickel bread. And another beer.
How did these people survive? FIVE meals a day, none of them exactly "light".
It's like they have nothing to do all day but eat and sleep. There is no mention of them all billowing up like marshmallows, which is in itself a small miracle. In fact Hans himself is amazed at the voracious appetites of the patients in the clinic:
"At all seven tables they filled their plates and ate: they ate like wolves, they displayed a voracity which would have been a pleasure to see, had there not been something else about it, an effect almost uncanny, not to say repulsive. It was not only the light-hearted who thus laced into the food - those who chattered as they ate and threw pellets of bread at each other. No, the same appetite was evinced by the silent, gloomy ones as well, those who in the pauses between courses leaned their heads on their hands and stared before them..."
Disturbing stuff, eh? Anyway, I just thought I would share that little tidbit with you. When I read the Larkin stories, I drool and wish I too lived in the midst of such a jolly, hungry, pleasure-loving crowd. But reading the Mann, I found my waistband a bit tight and no inclination to start working up tonight's dinner menu...
So what is your favourite fictional meal??