Responses to the Curious Reader Who May Not Yet Have Watched Babette’s Feast
Philip C. Maurer
Posted on November 24th, 2012
Yes, I was raised Lutheran. Despite our church’s cushioned pews and climate control, we shared a certain earnestness with this film’s “little flock.” Worship, like life, was to be taken very seriously: grace may have saved, but actions mattered. It’s not surprising that our congregation, like the film’s, at times became “testy and querulous….Little schisms erupted.” In 2009, our denomination began allowing gay, partnered clergy to serve. Some indignant parishioners promptly started their own congregation, joining a ramshackle Lutheran body that was liberal enough to ordain women, but conservative enough to exclude gays.
No, my family never hired a French servant—probably because no French servant ever came to our door seeking asylum. If one had, and if after fourteen years she prepared a feast for us, I’d like to think I’d have enjoyed it with gratitude. But if I had seen a giant tortoise, a calf’s head, and a cage full of live fowl in my kitchen, I too might have been tempted to cry sorcery. The sheer otherness of the sight might have appalled me.
Yes, Jutland calls to me. My ancestors moved from the seacoast of Pomerania to the flat scape of vast Lake Erie. My grandmother’s grandfather worked as a teamster, driving horses along the Miami and Erie Canal. The social and physical landscapes of Babette’s Feast resemble the lands my ancestors inhabited. A simple life of sand and water spirals inside my DNA.
No, I will not have gone home this Thanksgiving, though my boyfriend and I would have been welcome there. Instead, I will have spent the day with his family on Cape Cod. I resolve right now to keep my senses open during the festivities. There will be so much before me to feel grateful for: this man who loves me; his family who welcomes me; the food on the table; the warmth of the wood stove.
Yes, we can pretend that our days are tasteless. We can choose to be “testy and querulous,” refusing to enjoy this constant, communal banquet. But what happened to Babette’s guests will happen to us. In time, we’ll find ourselves strangely contented by unimaginable delicacies. Despite our best efforts to remain self-absorbed, the stuff we’re offered will itself transform us.