Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Food: How I Wish They Would Say: "Good Old Will, He Was a True Bon Vivant"

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Food: How I Wish They Would Say: "Good Old Will, He Was a True Bon Vivant"

Article excerpt

In moments of idleness or depression, I sometimes tell myself I would like to be a bon vivant. Not that I have a very clear idea of what being a bon vivant entails, or how one goes about becoming one; it's just that I like the term's aura of sophistication and luxury. In any case, I suspect that for the most part a bon vivant isn't something you decide to become, so much as a label that others apply to you--usually after you have died. When I am dead, perhaps people will say: "Good old Will, he was a true bon vivant." It doesn't seem a bad epitaph.

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Only I very much doubt that they will, because I live in Britain, where there is no tradition of respect for pleasure-seeking. In countries such as France, wishing to devote one's life to pleasure is considered reasonable, so long as one's idea of what constitutes enjoyment is sufficiently high-minded. In Britain, anyone who makes pleasure the principal aim of his life is likely to be dismissed as a "libertine", or some other mean-spirited label.

Not surprisingly, our suspicion of pleasure extends to the way we approach food. Since the English language has traditionally lacked words for those who are interested in eating, we have recently had to invent one--"foodie". What a horrible word it is--unlike the figure of the "gourmet", who commands only respect. So far as the French are concerned, one can never be too interested in food. Where one can go wrong, however, is in approaching it with insufficient discernment. …

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