Friday, May 25, 2012

Eating in bed

What has eating to do with sleeping? The latter often follows the former, and certain foods are said to put you to sleep or disturb your dreams.

But there are further oblique associations.

Notice that diners tuck in a heavy meal. They do so after covering themselves with a napkin, a word derived from the Old French nappe, for tablecloth. It’s doubtful, though intriguing, to think that the word “napkin” is linked to nap, the short sleep one enjoys after tucking in.

A sheet or bedspread is in many ways like a table cloth. Both are regarded as linen, whether actually linen or not. Both bedspread and table cloth may have a soft nap, or fuzz, to them. A table, like a bed, is covered with a cloth, and then food is spread atop it: I can still hear my uncle complimenting my grandmother for a “fine spread” at the family picnic.

One crumbs a table, thus eliminating crumbs from it, and tries to keep crumbs out of a bed. We are laid to rest and food is laid on the table. Perhaps the idea in both cases is that food and body alike go down on a flat surface. This may link eating with death as well as sleep, death being a particularly deep sleep in our imaginations.

It wasn’t so long ago that before burial a body was laid out on the kitchen or dining-room table.

Many pray before eating just as they pray before sleeping. Many hope to pray before dying.

We plant a bed of lettuce, eat a pig in a blanket, stuff ourselves like a firm mattress, rest our dough before we bake it, lay a table, retire to the dining room.

The two most intimate places in a house are the bed and kitchen table. Where we eat and where we sleep are deeply associated with home, comfort, and domesticity. We are refreshed by food and sleep. When we don’t get enough of either we experience a disorder.

We do, however, think it is rude to sleep at the table and eat in the bed. Here eating and sleeping part ways.

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