Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sartre brings deviled eggs, carves turkey

Jean-Paul Sarte, the French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, literary critic, and atheist, who was also known to make a crazy good stuffing, wrote the famous words "l'enfer, c'est les autres." This phrase seems unintelligible until one realizes it was written in the language called "French." It has been variously translated as "Your gravy, she is lumpy," or "Grandfather, lie on the floor until the feeling passes," but most commonly is said to mean "Hell is other people."

And so, happy Thanksgiving!

A survey on ivillage the other day revealed, to the surprise of absolutely no one, that about two-thirds of people think someone will get on their nerves during Thanksgiving family gatherings. The other third of people are either (a) staying home alone, or (b) doubling up on their meds, or (c) both.

Even now, as millions of Americans are eviscerating small animals, peeling parsnips and other inedible vegetables and fricasseeing pumpkins, the rumble of grinding teeth can be heard over the hum of food processors. What fresh terrors will be visited upon us as part of the horrifying tradition known as "getting together with the family"?

Just as it is the key to a properly deep-fried ox (a traditional favorite for me) preparation is foremost. Prepare yourself for the onslaught to come! To wit:
  • Your mother/mother-in-law/grandmother/aunt WILL overtly or covertly criticize the way you cook everything
  • Your brother/brother-in-law/uncle/cousin WILL show up with a half-finished bottle of Wild Turkey
  • Your sensitive sibling/niece/nephew/cousin WILL throw a pout about sitting at the kid's table - again
  • Your husband/boyfriend/partner WILL fail to help you clean the house, prepare the meal, or wash the dishes, ignore everything and everyone who's not watching the game, and act surprised when you tear him a new one when everyone's gone home
Everyone can be counted on to repeat their martyrdom act, their bragging act, their feats of intoxication, their passive-aggressive put-downs - by God, it's family time! It's tradition!

I wonder if Sartre ever had a really good day and thought, "Sacre bleu, perhaps I should consider that Heaven, also, is other people?" Probably not, he was a real downer. But this inverse is true. And if you have a gathering planned that will give you that feeling, a gathering overflowing with love and joy and kindness and laughter and warmth, give me a call. I will bring the Wild Turkey.