Friday, November 11, 2011

On Delicacy

I know someone who professes to be "delicate."

For instance, Viet (oops! Apparently very little is sacred in this blog, dare we rename it gossip column!) characterizes his palate as delicate. Cilantro used to overpower his senses, and he could not consume it. Perhaps those early sensitivities trained him to develop what has come to be an exceptionally sophisticated sense of taste.

"That's perfection: that hint of amaretto allows the caramelization of the fig not to dominate, but to add just the right amount of flavor."

"Uh, yeah, exactly," I murmur, as I look down at my now empty plate (the effect of vacuuming up, as opposed to savoring, my food) and peer over at his: one dainty bite gone while his entire dessert remains.

Moreover, his palate--much to my chagrin, chagrin because mine is exceptionally unsophisticated in comparison--seems possessive of its own memory, able to recall combinations of spices or flavors consumed years ago ("Do you remember that dish we had X number of years ago in which the saffron imparted an ethereality that arrested us?"  Um... no.... because unless saffron was the only ingredient in the dish, I can't taste it.)

We are beauty and the beast when it comes to food, though I try to learn. Our friend Alice, another "foodie" with whom we occasionally enjoy culinary delights, must, too, look upon me with disgust in the specific, Latin sense of the word.

All in the name of delicacy.

Delicacy, it seems, is not one-dimensional. Delicacy does not, it seems, mean what we think it means.

Delicacy does not only reference the dainty, the alluring, or after the 1603s, so my etymological dictionary tells me, the effeminate.

Delicacy appears also to be code for resilience (often) in the face of adversity.

Look at this Camellia.

Here we are in mid November, temperatures oscillating wildly between 70 and 32, and the Camellia just began to bloom. I think the first, almost inconsequential frost compelled one of its buds to open, the others just now pregnant and readying to deliver their indulgences.

Its perceived delicacy belies its actual fortitude.

Unless, of course, we rethink the meaning of delicacy, which we must.

Delicate is derivative from the Latin delicatus, meaning alluring or dainty, which is in turn derivative from the verb delicare, meaning to allure or to entice. That verb, in turn, may be deconstructed: its prefix, de, meaning away, is attached to the root which is a variation of lacere, meaning to lure or to deceive.
Yes: delicacy. It very root signifies deception. Supposed fragility fails empirical testing: for the Camellia prevails in inclement conditions, and Viet's palate disaggregates culinary complexities. To be delicate, it seems, is to possess an unparalleled potency, alluring most likely because it deceives.

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