The Real Thing

Anna's Pancakes with bacon (big british version) and eggs. Look at that dripping syrup! Tasty.

On Tuesday I went to see one of my favorite plays, The Real Thing.  Then I woke up and went out for my favorite meal, breakfast.  A wonderful 24 hours.

And now the defense of that not very cultured or foodiesque bold statement that breakfast is my favorite meal.  Going out for breakfast encapsulates all of the best reasons to go out: it is extravagant, leisurely, intimate, acceptable gluttony.  You wake up just to spend extended time eating.  You have coffee and get dressed just to go have more coffee and food at a time that you might have just as well eaten in Pajamas (Two asides here–first, at Grumps in Annapolis the staff actually does wear pajamas to work on the weekends, making the entire experience deliciously lazy in a way I think should be implemented elsewhere, and second, I fully support wearing perhaps not pajamas but certainly last nights party clothes to this morning’s recovery feast.  It’s just the classy thing to do, especially if dining with those who partook in the rumpus, and outfit, of the night before).  Back to the list of the wonders of breakfast…. Breakfast out involves the same things you know how to cook but made with more sugar and butter and beautiful precision then you could ever bring yourself to allow into your own kitchen at 9AM or earlier.

I am not so blind in love that I can’t admit that breakfast can also be all the worst things about eating out.  Brunch, especially, can be overpriced, overhyped, scene-y surroundings serving boring ‘classics’ that are just average omelets and muffins.  That is why it is fun and challenging to find a really good breakfast place! Scrambled eggs are not just one color of yellow, they are a whole rainbow of potential textures, cream ratios, herb additions, and smoked fish toppings. And any Vermonter can tell you, pancakes are nothing without the syrup from a maple root terroir carefully chosen to balance their cakeyness, fruitneyness, or nuttyness.  I haven’t even gone into Texan butter syrups or hollandaise varieties but never fear, I have some sense of boundaries even in the fervent passions of my obsession! It is easy to pass off breakfast as uninventive but that would be like writing off pizza and pasta as simple, childish, crowd pleaser meals.

In Stoppard’s The Real Thing the leading man, Henry, famously “loves love” and pop music.  He is unable to be converted to classical music and defends his taste to his wife, saying, “Actually, I’ve got a better ear than you. You can’t tell the difference between the Everly Brothers and the Andrews Sisters.”  I don’t know why but I feel similarly defensive of breakfast.  Maybe because it is the first meal to get the cut when people are in a rush.  Or because, unlike most meals one would have for dinner, it’s perfectly acceptable to market breakfast in large boxes decorated with cartoons of captains and tigers.  Breakfast is for kids! Somehow people aren’t taking breakfast seriously.  And when it comes to scene chasing brunch, breakfast is a lucrative and massively popular marketplace, not a carefully prepared meal.  Like the worst kind of pop music.

Luckily J-A cafe is the ‘real thing.’  It’s worth being able to tell the difference between one hit wonders. At the cafe they respect breakfast.  They give it a good atmosphere, sun and flowers in a lovely courtyard for eating outside, a big homey chalkboard with baking specials, and well spaced tables so Anna and I could enjoy a personal conversation in the sunlight.  And they give breakfast a good balance between lovable standards and what you would never bother to make alone, at home.  My soda bread was squishy with egg cream and butter and, as everyone can see (exciting!) Anna’s bacon was dripping a pearl of syrup.

In the play version, rather than the breakfast version, of ‘The Real Thing’ Henry explains another thing that is commonplace and sometimes abandoned to casual or dismissive treatment: language.   Words, in his opinion, need respect because they are commonplace, because they can create an idea that “travels.” An idea that translates, appeals to, and affects the audience and leaves the theatre with with them; language that “nudges the world.”  Words are, “innocent, neutral, precise…if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos.” (167).  Eggs and bread and butter, and coffee (!),  all of these things build bridges across incomprehension. I’m not always a fan of Henry, he’s childish and in my opinion he’s often dead wrong and hypocritical about love but he’s right about the importance of precision and perfection in everyday, popular, common moments.  Pop music, words, breakfast… no matter what the cultured snazzy people say.

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