Compassion and Burnt Soubise

Compassion and Burnt Soubise April 25, 2018

Here is a glowing piece of reportage about Melania Trump’s organizing her (and of course Mr. Trump’s) first state dinner. This was her time to shine, they say. All the things she is good at came into focus. I was pretty surprised by how much they liked her. They think she is the perfect balance for her husband,

It has truly been a spotlight week for the first lady, kicking off with her attendance at Barbara Bush’s funeral, the sole White House representation joining other first ladies and former presidents and culminating with her first state dinner. In many ways, the events showcased Melania Trump’s contrasts with her husband — where he is impulsive, she is meticulous; where he is combative, she is compassionate.

Truly, I love the kind of compassion that involves a Rack of Spring Lamb, Jumbalaya, Goat Cheese Gateau, Tomato Jam, and something called Burnt Cipollini Soubise. Erik Erickson thought it was too “frou-frou” sounding, tweeting, “This menu is why I could never be president.” He is being mercilessly and rightfully twitted about it. What, Jumbalaya is too fancy? That’s absurdly delicious. Incidentally, this menu is exactly why I could be president, or a tolerator of the president, or the luncheon date of Melania Trump.

Anyway, I am excited about the way the domestic arts are coming into sharp glossy focus and are apparently now a good thing. I am pretty sure they were bad before, and not worth the time or the money, and would certainly continue to be bad had Mr. Trump himself organized this culinary diplomatic event*, but now, with the fantastically tall and fetching Melania Trump at the helm, they are making a come back.

And I am delighted that CNN thinks that hospitality is “compassionate” because it totally is. Thinking about the details of a dinner–what will bring pleasure to another person–is exactly the right way to think of compassion, indeed, mercy. In fact, I would go so far as to say that beauty itself is a kind of mercy.

Bringing about something beautiful, laboring hard to make something look nice (at the very least not ugly), creating something for the senses to take in, building up, as it were, instead of tearing down, is a heroic conquest of mercy. Is it Esolen who said that we are too rich, as a culture, to bother with beauty? That, having all the money and time in the world, the thing we don’t have money and time for is stuff that won’t fall apart in a couple of weeks? That, enriched and bloated with all the time that’s been saved, we don’t have a moment to do anything to a room but plunk a dismal looking couch along one wall and heat up something in a microwave?

The problem with the domestic arts, though, is that I’m not as tall as Melania Trump, and I don’t have a cook and a staff. I have to keep beating back the ugliness at every turn, moment by moment, as destruction and violence, indolence and the internet, children and mud threaten to engulf and desecrate my efforts. Hospitality is compassionate, and beauty is fleeting, and I’ve got to somehow make lunch today without Burnt Soubise at my elbow. May God, as it were, have mercy on my soul.

*When Trump first took office I listened to the Bon Appetite podcasters wonder for half an hour what kind of cultural culinary moment Mr. Trump would enact. Mr. Obama had gone in for some of the hipper, up and coming restaurants around DC, but they expected that Mr. Trump would bring us back to the bygone era of the enormous steak, potato, and steamed broccoli served up on their separate plates, the table eventually groaning with enormous white trenchers cradling unrelated pabulum. Mmm, I thought. I’m starving.

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