And so am I. There’d been a breather in the New York Times Dining section, several Witchel-free weeks when relatively normal food-loving people were getting all the attention. There was that great story on global cold drinks, for instance, which gave props to frappes in Astoria. And all those Anna Sortun recipes, for things like Persian-spiced fried chicken.
And then, rats, Ms. Dismal Diner was back, with a bee in her bonnet about impolite behavior at charity dinners.
I mean, really. I’m supposed to feel bad for her? To give her a consoling squeeze on the shoulder (mentally) and say, “I’ve heard the life of a socialite is hard, but gah, you poor girl! To have to endure a whole formal dinner with a guy sitting next to you sending emails all night? And you only got a mis-cooked lamb chop out of it? I don’t know how you do it!”
I’m sorry, but complaining about someone’s socially inappropriate use of a BlackBerry is about as played out as Brokeback Mountain jokes (ahem). It adds nothing more to our cultural conversation.
And what’s the point of an elaborate blind item (the chronic emailer is a “Hollywood Big Shot”) if there’s no chance of my guessing the name? Oh, wait, I know: the point is to impress me with the fact that not only does she go to dinners with HBSs, but she’s so worldly that she’s bored to tears by said studio moguls.
Then it all ends with this last-paragraph veer into a random James Beard pasta recipe that she plans to cook when she escapes this social hell. Which I guess would be OK, but in the couple of sentences she’s got left, she can’t resist a comment on the dish’s apparent unhealthiness: “…I wouldn’t serve it to my cardiologist,” she admits.
How self-defeating and miserable-making is that? This woman (1) drags her sorry ass to a totally optional charity dinner, (2) doesn’t have the balls to “accidentally” spill her wine all over HBSs BlackBerry, and then (3) can’t even enjoy her consolation pasta dinner later without noting how it will surely kill her one day.
This is the whole reason I object to Witchel so much: her columns present no real choices. If you endure a crappy formal dinner, then you go home and have something you’re afraid might be artery-clogging. Or maybe you kind of enjoy a dinner, for once, but then discover it was all a catered hoax. Or you go out to one of the better restaurants in the city, but realize you’re not in the mood, but you can’t bring yourself to leave and go eat somewhere you’ll feel more comfortable. (That last was in a March column about enduring haughty treatment at Cafe Gray because she secretly wanted to eat lasagne or something.) At the very ends of her columns, she always seems to be retreating to her house to sulk.
The beauty of food, and dining, and cooking, is that you have a million choices (at least in middle-class-and-up America). With food, you have a chance to make yourself happy three times a day. And yet Alex Witchel doesn’t seem to have enough personal agency to wring a moment of joy out of a single meal–or not that we ever hear about. A tragic waste, both of her gastronomic life, and of prime column inches. I suppose reading about happy things is boring, but it’s like the Times Dining section was afraid of getting called out for bias, and so felt obliged to give space to the opposing view, that eating actually sucks.
Well, I’m a genius–solved all that. Now I’m going to eat a normal dinner, once again, with people I like and without place cards. A few weeks ago, a new person came to our Sunday dinner, and at the end of the night, she said, “Hey, I just realized no one ever asked me what kind of work I did! That’s so nice!” I take a certain pride in that. But does it mean I may have been eating dinner with a Hollywood Big Shot and not even known it? Talk about a blind item.