Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Precious But Not Valuable, Valuable But Not Precious

Integrating 2017 coffee shop style preferences and legacy flatware is no small matter. In an hour, I can have any tabletop amenity I want. The ease of supply generates a new lamps for old syndrome that is hazardous to valuable inventory already on hand. Lesser inventory drives out good just as bad coinage drives out sound. A wise critic commented that too good to use is not good enough, though.

A recent chat with a young friend whose lifestyle obviates grandmother's graces posed a major challenge to the received wisdom of my domestic training. Fortunately, I can transfuse it with some newly received wisdom from the design and environmental communities.

The Shaker principle of using up what one already owns before acquiring new things is a steadying influence. So is the green hesitation to generate unnecessary carbon. Most effective of all is the stringent economy of saving for a down payment. The restraint is leavened by Ettore Sottsass's point about practicality being an essential quality. Not the least of tabletop considerations is the appeal and emotional support of dining at home under decently supportive conditions. The zen community considers the cook the most valuable member and regards adequate kitchen equipment as essential. The money is never wasted: I'm still using my great-grandmother's skillet and carving fork.

My friend works remotely. During a recent visit, I learned that his laptop is so valuable that he uses a water bottle at his desk rather than risk a spill from a glass. I also learned that he begrudges every second spent away from the desk and that an energy bar is a meal. He maintains that a titanium spork is the ideal eating tool.

All that is worth considering, though I have doubts about a spork for every meal. One of the benefits of traditional flatware is that it supports graceful gestures and fine motor skills. It also has tines that are carefully finished on their inner edges and is likely to be a good buy used. I have long considered providing water bottles for guests at casual parties: now I can just fill the ones that everyone carries. I can see the culture reverting to the medieval practice of toting one's own cutlery. 

I had been musing about ordering a couple of cases of real deal on-shore coffee shop mugs and rimmed soups but couldn't justify the numbers or the clutter. I paid a visit to the Top of the Table at the Market, and they had just what I was looking for to fill a void in my collection. I found shallow utilitarian white bowls that bridge the aesthetics of gray eighteenth century style plates, French bistro glasses, and rococo flatware. The bowls have the same profile as the deep saucers of the gray ware.

Mine feels like a first world problem with a whole world solution, but a PBS documentary about the Sea Dyak people of New Guinea opened my eyes to the universal appreciation of quality porcelain. A French anthropologist visited a village that still lived communally in their lofty houses surrounded by their equally lofty wood sculpture and textiles. He was invited to tea and found himself being served from sixteenth century Ming blue and white cups-not one bit different from grandmother's best efforts, although her dishes were newer -30-

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