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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dinner and a rant

I went out for dinner last weekend with some acquaintances to a fancy restaurant in Prince Edward County, not too far from where I live. For those of you not familiar with the area, it is in Eastern Ontario about a two-hour drive from Toronto, and is THE hot weekend getaway destination for wealthy urban professionals with self-professed refined tastes. Niagara-on-the-lake is SO twentieth century - Picton is where it's at in the new millenium. Artisan wineries and organic goat cheese producers are sprouting in "the County" like chanterelle mushrooms after a spring rain, and high-end restaurants are crowding out the donut shops in previously sleepy burgs like Bloomfield and Wellington. Celebrity Toronto chef Jamie Kennedy has a weekend place in the County, as do various CBC celebrities like Cynthia Dale and Sonia Smits. The local intelligentsia has a love-hate relationship with the weekend visitors - the cachet that all the attention brings is welcome and it's a lot easier to get kalamata olives and arugula in the IGA now, but people lament the fact that the County is now so hip that's it's harder to brag to outsiders about "this cute little cheese shop that only we locals know about".

There are undoubtedly some fine dining establishments in the County, but visiting them is sometimes a bit of a culture clash as rural Ontario meets Rosedale - locals can have a tough time criticizing this alien cuisine for fear of looking like hicks. So, I'm going to come right out and say it - sometimes the Emperor has no clothes, and if enervated Toronto yuppies eat like this when they venture out into the wilds of the Annex, I fear for the future of this country.

I had "beef rib two ways", which was described on the menu as "braised beef ribs, roast ribeye, roast shallots & horseradish potato." The plate arrived with a piece of ribeye the size of a two-dollar coin resting on a tiny bed of mashed potatoes. The ribs had been cleverly disguised; the helpful waiter explained that they had been "deconstructed", which meant that the meat was already removed from the bone and put in a little pile, also the size of a two-dollar coin, but covered with a thin slice of goat cheese. I thought maybe he had brought the appetizer by mistake, but no - that was the whole meal. It was washed down with a $12 glass of local red wine.

Dessert was "rhubarb honey cake with ginger ice cream". It arrived - a piece of non-descript cake about the size of an Oreo cookie, drizzled with pureed rhubarb and accompanied by a scoop of ice cream about as big as a ping pong ball. The total cost of the meal was $60, which could probably have kept a small African village alive for a month (unlike the miniscule portions of food). Is this what hipsters in Toronto eat all the time? No wonder the Liberals have a strangle-hold on the place - the diet is affecting people's judgement. I was so hungry after dinner that I stopped at Tim Horton's on the way home.

The meal, though, was second only to the company. I sat at a table for four with three highly-educated professionals, all of whom are naive left-wing flakes. The two women at the table styled themselves "feminists" but were in fact too shallow and idiotic to argue anything from a coherent feminist perspective outside of parroting their Judy Rebick talking-points. While complaining that the teaching of English in high schools and universities in Canada is exclusively done from a "white male European perspective", one woman stated that, while studying biology at York University in the late 80s, she had wanted to take a few English courses on the side and was shocked, SHOCKED, to find that the only courses available were on Shakespeare. At that point I roused myself and said "I don't believe you. Are you trying to tell me that you attended the second-largest university in Canada in the late 1980s and the entire English program was Shakespeare?" She insisted that that was the case, at which I replied "nonsense". I'm fairly sure she could have MAJORED in third-world lesbian Marxist post-colonial literature-of-colour at York in the 80s if she had really wanted to.

At this point the second woman chimed in with her observation that the study of western music was also done exclusively from a dead white male European perspective, and that when she had studied classical music there hadn't been a single female composer in the classical curriculum. I challenged her to name one who was worthy of being included in the pantheon with Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. Her response? Hildegard von Bingen. Groan - I should have expected that. In case you're not familiar with her, Hildegard von Bingen was a 12th Century Benedictine abbess who was a noted theologian who also wrote liturgical music. She was "rediscovered" a few years ago and is something of a fetish among politically-correct classical music lovers. I argued that, while pleasant, her music was not in the same league as the dead white males, and she was only significant because of the extreme rarity of female composers from the time. (To be fair, I also argued that that didn't mean that women in general weren't capable of composing music, but that one had to consider the culture in which most women weren't allowed to do so - but that wasn't an excuse to retroactively elevate mediocre talents to the canon along with the dead white male geniuses.)

She also went on at length about some 20th century female composer, whose name I have forgotten (probably because I'm a white male who doesn't WANT to remember), who was apparently brilliant but undeservedly obscure. "You know" she said, "she was Aaron Copeland's music teacher!" I replied that surely that didn't mean that she was automatically more talented than Aaron Copeland himself? Even Einstein had a math teacher at some point, after all. That then morphed into a discussion about visual arts and architecture, in which I made the same basic points and challenged the women present to name a female painter or architect before the twentieth century who was the equal of Michelangelo or Christopher Wren but was stifled by The Man. I also made the case that since the late 20th century there are essentially no obstacles to women in literature or the arts, and consequently many legitimately talented women have risen to the peaks of their crafts - take a look at contemporary Canadian literature, which is basically dominated by women. This caused prodigious hemming and hawing, because it didn't fit the thesis that women are still downtrodden victims of white male patriarchy. Tell it to Margaret Atwood, sister. Fortunately, someone from another table interrupted at this point and the conversation veered off in a safe direction for the rest of the evening.

I usually keep my mouth shut at things like this because I know I'm not surrounded by like-minded individuals, but that $12 glass of wine must have really loosened me up, and when one is surrounded by such culinary and intellectual stimulation, one does have a tendency to pontificate.


Anonymous said...

Not to mention you were probably suffering from low blood sugar due to sparse nutrition. What a rip-off!

However, I am glad you challenged them. They need to be made aware that all the people around them are not as dim as they are. What a load of codswallop.

Patsplace said...

I know what you mean. Dated a Librarian that was raised by her parents who were "Card Carrying Communists". Hard to believe that there are actually people like that out there. Tres weird.

VW said...

Of course, you should have challenged your female colleagues on two fronts:

1. You could have pointed out that Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley and Elizabeth Browning were in fact being taught in University English departments. (You could also challenge them on George Sand, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein and Murasaki Shibuku.)

2. You could also point out that Hildegard doesn't qualify as a classical music composer, on the grounds that the classical music period didn't start until the 18th century. Hildegard was a medieval composer, not a classical one.

Monkey Boy said...

Love your blog. Common sense and a mind of your own! You go, Eric.