Dear Rennie,

As wedding season rapidly approaches, I find myself performing as a bridesmaid at no fewer than five events this summer. I have no desire to have my Aunt Lorna point out, again, that whole ‘always a bridesmaid’ business because frankly, I’d rather be sampling the delights of the field than allying myself with one single bull, as it were. So. If I’m doing the seating chart, how can I arrange things to suit my needs? Isn’t there some sort of hierarchy I could rely on to sort the swains? I’m sick of jordan almonds. I’m ready for filet.

Yours truly,

Bridesmaid In Northern Grand Oaks

My darling B.I.N.G.O.,

How charming! How forthright! Comme vous vif êtes ma petite pouliche! I will want to hear tales of your adventures in the weeks to come, but, first, let us address your delicate matter–this issue of seating.

You asked for some manner of guiding organizational principle, so as to gently lead your prey to your awaiting dainty jaws, ma petite, and I believe that I have just the scheme for this undertaking. My dear friend Brillat-Savarin, whom I have mentioned here before (or, at least, Robert claims that I have, I do not keep track of such things so much as I should, when there are bonbons and bon mots to keep track of instead), in his most excellent book The Physiology of Taste begins his tale with the division of the senses–or, rather, a guide to their divisions and categorizations. I believe this selfsame model may be judiciously applied to your charming problem, cher Madame, with little difficulty.

Dear B-S describes the senses thusly, saying of them that “The senses are the organs by which man places himself in connexion with exterior objects”–and we must allow that, whilst he is applying this axiom ultimately to the delights of the palate, it holds no less true for the delightfully piquant purpose that you propose–are we not dealing with organs, and their relation still? B-S holds that the very point of our bodies’ great sense is to perpetuate the continuation of the Species. And so, pressing onwards, we find that he has outlined the senses in number and quality, and here, dear dove, shall I take the liberty of tailoring each of his descriptions to your needs, to provide you with the sweet hierarchy that you so nobly seek (his original fine words are those in regular type, mine, the slanted sweep of the italic):

1. Sight, which embraces space, and tells us by means of light, of the existence and of the colors of the bodies around us. Embrace your space, dear lady! I suggest arranging the gentlemen in order of preference according to the color of their ties. We eat with our eyes first, and who wants to look across a monochromatic dinner table, hoping for the crimson flash of ripe fruit?

2. Hearing, which, by the motion of the air, informs us of the motion of sounding or vibrating bodies. How is one to engage in conversation that leads to the more intimate interlocution of one’s organs if one cannot bear the sound of thy suitor’s voice? It will not do–have each man at table prepare a short set speech describing the wonders of a summer peach, and, proceed accordingly thereafter.

3. Scent, by means of which we are made aware of the odors bodies possess. One would hope to only be made aware of one’s companions in the most pleasant manner possible–should it prove otherwise, create a table exclusively for those gentlemen whose odor rivals that of the durian.

4. Taste, which enables us to distinguish all that has a flavor from that which is insipid. Ah, taste. Should a dining companion express anything like a preference for something that might call itself ‘chocolate lava cake’, be sure to charitably direct him, posthaste, to the ‘tastemaker’s table’, wherein he will find like companions, A-1 sauce, the colonel’s fried capon he so desires, and the selfsame dessert.

5. Touch informs us of the consistency and resistance of bodies. Clear table labeling is the boon of all maidens in your position, ma petite, when one cleverly organizes the seating arrangements in accordance with the theme ‘Dishes That Have Gone Before’. Utilize the following placecards, and those sirs who might best fit their description, and you will have a clear vision of those worthy of your hand’s attention: ‘Aspic’, ‘Vermicelli’, ‘Oxtail’, ‘Charcuterie’, ‘Entire Suckling Pig’.

6. The last is genesiac or physical love, which attracts the sexes to each other, and the object of which is the reproduction of the species. It is astonishing that, almost to the days of Buffon, so important a sense was misunderstood, and was confounded with the touch. So true! And, my dear lady, here B-S cuts right to the point of it, does he not? Should all else fail you at this stage, having completed the previous organizational tasks to the best of your abilities, we humbly suggest a short trial run of the remaining combatants, conducted in a close-by laundering room, to assess the individual fitness of each of your choices. One, surely, shall emerge the champion, and carry the day, and, with it, your heart (at least for the next 24 hours). Should they all fail you, I pray, send word, for I remain, now, as ever,


G. de la R.