Small change

Pub date October 3, 2006

Recently a colleague reminded me — in the course of a brief correspondence heavy on mutual commiseration (for what are writers if not commiserators?) — that while change is often deplorable, it also must be accepted. “Hate change, embrace change” was her pithy, I might even say her writerly, formulation. In silent riposte, I thought of Uncle Theodore, the lovable rapscallion from Evelyn Waugh’s novel Scoop, who relieves “his infrequent bouts of depression” by singing “change and decay in all around I see” (a line from the hymn “Abide with Me”) out the morning-room window of the family’s country manse, Boot Magna, when not whoring about in London.
I like to think that while there may be change in much if not all around I see, there is not necessarily decay. But I do not like the bunches of basil I have been finding at Tower Market, now more than a year and a half under the ownership of the Mollie Stone’s chain. The basil is labeled as “local,” and indeed Mollie Stone’s touts its commitment to local, organic, and sustainable agriculture, but bunch after bunch of this stuff seems to consist of bruised, pitted, and withered leaves that would never have been set out under the old regime. I bought a nice-looking butternut squash for soup, but when I cut it open a few days later it reeked of sulfur and had to be rushed to the compost bin like a code blue patient.
Prices, meantime, have risen sharply, and although I doubt this is entirely the result of chain ownership, I don’t think chain ownership — with centralized procurement and, I suspect, heightened attention to that basic business ethic of buying low and selling high — helps matters. The store no longer sells the nifty little boxes of Spanish saffron at the checkout stands either. Instead there is, for twice as much money, some other kind, elaborately packaged to make it look like there’s more there than there is. I passed.
Wonderful restaurants reinvent themselves for Generation Text-message: first Bizou and soon Hawthorne Lane. Change, decay? I dislike change for its own sake, but fatigue is a fact, and people’s wants and expectations do shift. Yet while casualness is fine, and I have a closetful of blue jeans and T-shirts, there is something to be said for special and elevated moments. Take it away, Uncle Theodore.