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Sun Jul 23, 2017, 09:32 AM

Writing about food: Alain de Botton's "The Art of Travel"

"Large photographs of coffee cups, pastries and hamburgers hung on the walls. A waitress was refilling a drinks dispenser. I slid a damp tray along a metal runway, bought a bar of chocolate and an orange juice and sat beside the window ... . There were few other customers in the service station. A woman was idly rotating a teabag in a cup. A man and two small children were eating hamburgers. ... The lighting was unforgiving, bringing out pallor and blemishes. ... No one was talking, no one admitting to curiosity or fellow feeling. ... I remained in one corner, eating fingers of chocolate and taking occasional sips of orange juice. I felt lonely, but, for once, this was a gentle, even pleasant kind of loneliness because, rather than unfolding against a backdrop of laughter and fellowship, in which I would suffer from a contrast between my mood and the environment, it had its locus in a place where everyone was a stranger, where the difficulties of communication and the frustrated longing for love seemed to be acknowledged and brutally celebrated by the architecture and lighting. The collective loneliness brought to mind certain canvases by Edward Hopper ... .

"In 'Automat' (1927), a woman sits alone drinking a cup of coffee. ... The room seems large, brightly lit and empty. ... Something appears to have gone wrong. ... 'Automat' is a picture of sadness -- and yet it is not a sad picture. It has the power of a great melancholy piece of music. ... In roadside diners and late-night cafeterias, hotel lobbies and station cafes, we may dilute a feeling of isolation in a lonely public place and hence rediscover a distinctive sense of community. The lack of domesticity, the bright lights and anonymous furniture may come as a relief from what are often the false comforts of home. ... The figures in Hopper's art are not opponents of home per se, it is simply that ... home appears to have betrayed them, forcing them out into the night or on to the road.

"Few seconds in life are more releasing than those in which a plane ascends into the sky. ... No one seems to think it is remarkable that somewhere above an ocean we are flying past a vast white candy-floss island ... no one stands up to announce with requisite emphasis that, out of the window, we are flying over a cloud ... . .... Food that, if sampled in a kitchen, would have been banal or even offensive, acquires a new taste and interest in the presence of the clouds (like a picnic of bread and cheese that delights us when eaten on a cliff-top above a pounding sea.) With the inflight tray, we make ourselves at home in this unhomely place: we appropriate the extraterrestrial landscape with the help of a chilled bread roll and a plastic tray of potato salad."

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