(Love’s Labours Lost, act 1, sc. 1)
Amidst the mist of business, war and folly, compounded in the subjects of recent articles, the following “news, which is indeed true, may be so like an old tale that the importance of it is in strong suspicion”. Even so, in those who have tasted a tiramisu’, the closure of the Italian restaurant that invented it may induce some disappointment tinged with melancholy. Not different from what we experience on reaching the end of a very good book.
And while it is true that the tiramisu’ is bound to make rich the ribs, it does not follow that it bankrupts quite the wits. In its original composition – not to be confused with the innumerable, cheap and occasionally plastic imitations – a tiramisu’ appeals more to the gastronomic intellectual than to the narcissistic glutton.
The dessert would have won the approval of Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826), the French author of the classic, “The Physiology of Taste”. The title suggests the sanction of the marriage between taste and psychology. The reference to physiology is merely a tribute to the fashion of his times, following the Restoration after 1815, when few intellectuals were not in “physiology”.
“Animals feed – says Brillat-Savarin – man eats, but only the man of class (homme d’esprit) knows how to eat.” And the delicate balance between nutrition and enjoyment of food is condensed in another of his aphorisms, “The Creator, while compelling man to eat in order to live, invites him via a healthy appetite and rewards him with refined pleasure.”
Words that establish with graceful nonchalance a bridge between the lexicon of elegant cuisine and the vocabulary of romantic love. Anthony was detained in Egypt by his passion for Cleopatra. But reporting on Anthony’s lifestyle in Alexandria, Pompey also adds, “Epicurean cooks sharpen with cloyless sauce, his appetite.” And in comparing Cleopatra to other women, the notion of food slips unobtrusively into the lines, suggesting persistent freshness, conservation without spoilage, milk that does not turn, and satiety without satiation,
“Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety. Other women cloy
The appetite they feed, but she makes
Hungry, where most she satisfies.”
But to return to the tiramisu’, the establishment is (was) in Treviso, noble capital of the Treviso Mark, near Venice. The restaurant, named “Le Beccherie”, opened in 1939. On commenting on its end, Mr. Carlo Campedor, grandson of the founder, said “Nothing is eternal”, a shortened rendition of Hamlet’s line, “All that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity.”
The causes of the restaurant closure are two. One, the crisis that everybody says it has ended, or at least thinks it has. The other is a certain leveling of the gastronomic culture – in other words, the mcdonaldization of taste.
By the way, “tiramisu’ “ means “pull me up” – a term that lends itself to multiple interpretations. Another unofficial biography of the dish attributes its birth to the inventiveness of a madam who managed a high-class brothel, before they were closed by law in 1957 in Italy. Her idea was to offer clients the opportunity to enjoy what travel agents today call a “complete experience”.
This apocryphal version, however, only testifies to the popularity of the tiramisu’, whose industrial renditions are now found in the frozen dessert sections of many supermarkets.
And “to end a tale of length”, the founders of the restaurant and the inventors of the tiramisu’ deserve worldwide recognition and gratitude. And we will salute them with the lines found in Coriolanus, “…we have all great cause to give great thanks”.
In the play. Loganville subscribes to a program of learning, dieting and abstinence that will actually never be followed.
Shakespeare at Work. When you wish to elegantly refuse another helping of a good dish.