Pleasure And Culture

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What is pleasure?

I noticed, when I lived in France that the word plaisir, which we call pleasure, had a more positive connotation. In American English, there are notes of possible sins, illicit pleasures, forbidden indulgences connected with the word.

I never picked that up in French. Pleasure seemed to be something to be sought and accepted without worrying about going straight to Hell.

The Puritans still live, in America. Some of our countrymen still think dancing is consorting with the Devil, that the body harbors evil desires so that food and sex must be reduced to mechanical functions.

I want to point out that exaggerated flaunting of the Puritan ethos is also Puritanism by another name.

Taking pleasure often without excess is not something I see in American culture as often as I did in Europe. People are too busy here, they don’t have time, and besides, it’s just not done.

“You have to be rich to live like that.”

Breaking bread over good food and good wine in the company of family and friends — on a daily basis — was something we took to readily in France and Italy. The pleasures of the table cemented a sense of community, of connection.

These traditional ways of eating contrast to our eating on the go, in the car or at your desk. In France we heard the word “barbaric” used to describe these customs.

Portion size is typically gargantuan in the States, maybe to compensate for an instinctive sense of lack. One of the missing ingredients is relationship, in my opinion.

I had to agree with our French friends that “Americans will eat anything anywhere, even walking down the street.” Apart from substandard, factory produced, sugar laden food, Americans don’t seem to notice the absence of community these habits entrail.

Work demands, a traditional suspicion of the pleasures of the senses, a populace always on the move, may have created a disembodied approach to life in our country.

But it’s the norm. We don’t even notice it unless we travel to older countries that have a long culinary tradition.

I’m glad to see islands of a different consciousness start to take hold in this country, though.

This country is capable of producing a feast for the body and the soul. The consciousness and traditions just have to be built and cherished. We are from a food oasis, Austin, and we can see where this could go if we’re lucky.

We are a creative people. We can think beyond survival and money.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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