Tuesday, December 14


The Palm Court was dim and quiet in the lull before dinner. An occasional shadowy waiter pussyfooted in the edges of light and sound, checking on tables, flowers, unlighted candles. Our small table was an island in a hushed sea. We drank slowly from almost invisible glasses, so thin, a blanc de blanc champagne ... M. Hérault scudded toward us with a plate in a huge napkin and then rushed off ... and we unveiled the prettiest pile of the tiniest sandwiches in the whole world, I am sure. They were delicately brown, very crisp, hot, and precisely the thickness and width of a silver dollar. Unbelievably, they were made of an inner and outer slice of white bread, with a layer of Parma ham and one of Gruyère cheese between. They were apparently tossed in a flash of sweet butter and rushed to be eaten. They seemed to evaporate in the mouth, like fried mimosa blossoms. They were an astonishing thing, in fact ... minute and complete.

... plainly M. Hérault was the last of the great chefs to have time enough to see that the titbits were properly constructed and then pressed under weights to the right thickness and then fried correctly so as not to gain a millimeter in height. It was, in other words, a historical moment.

I am glad it happened, just as I am glad that not long ago I went to a student self-service in Aix-en-Provence and pulled out from the glass counter a lukewarm lump labeled Croque-Monsieur, an inch-thick slab of bread overlaid with a dangling slice of pale ham and topped with a gluey cap of leathery melted cheese. I took it and a glass of tepid white wine out into the pure sunlight of a little courtyard and sat down under the leaves of a sickly palm tree, and part of me was back at the old Palace in the hushed gloom, reaching for another minute gilded dollar, sipping a finer wine in a thinner goblet, and I was happy for such a coincidence to warm my soul. It was not eery or funny or embarrassing. It was good. It is a fine thing that history repeats itself occasionally.

-- M.F.K. Fisher With Bold Knife and Fork