Saturday, March 26, 2011

Passing the Scrapple Test

Breakfasting in the morning is overrated, at least on Saturdays.

No surprise, I slept through the B & B's breakfast, but it was with no regret because the man who'd walked me to Bar Pilar last night, Tom, had recommended St. Ex (as in Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the French aviator and author of "The Little Prince") for brunch.

And, boy, did I need brunch after last night.

St. Ex was positively bustling when I walked in around 12:30, but, as is often my luck, there was one stool waiting for me at the bar. It was right in front of the taps, so eating space was tight, but it was good enough for me.

My server at Bar Pilar, which is owned by the same people as St. Ex, had told me she preferred BP's brunch menu, but I couldn't very well eat at the same place the very next day, now could I?

It was enough that I was eating on the same block again.

The brunch menu yielded an immediate choice, although it was listed under "lunch stuff"rather than "eggs and such," and this was clearly my first meal of the day.

The Smith Meadow Farm scrapple sandwich (two eggs, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, Texas toast with fries) had my name written all over it.

When I told the bartender my stomach's delight, he raised an eyebrow and asked, "Do you know what scrapple is?"

I laughed out loud. "Yea, I do," I said. "But why are you asking me that?"

He said that they are required to ask because so many people order it without knowing what scrapple is and then are horrified when it arrives and they see it.

Not me.

"They think it's just a cute food term or, like one girl said, it's scrappled eggs or something. I don't know, but we have to ask now."

I assured him I knew what I was getting into, so I passed the test and he left to put my order in, giving me a thumbs up as he went.

The guy on the next stool turned to me and asked, "Scrappled eggs? What the hell does that even mean?"

Not sure myself, I said that along the same lines, there were probably even more people who didn't know what head cheese was and would be just as horrified at its arrival.

In his clipped British accent, he responded, "Of course, scrapple and head cheese are really just code for "nasty bits," aren't they?"

My nasty bits were delicious, although I opted out of the lettuce and tomato.

The thick Texas toast was the perfect vehicle for the squares of scrapple, cheese and eggs that topped it; I left a few fries, but that was about it.

Humanity restored.

My second stop of the day was the Museum of American Art/Portrait Gallery over on 7th Street and I had the good fortune to get a parking space right in front of it.

Literally, I parked by the front steps. Such luck on marathon/Cherry Blossom weekend bode well for me, I thought.

I was there to see "To Make a World: George Ault and 1940s America," a show about manning the home front during WWII, focusing primarily on the little-known painter Ault, with some Rockwell Kents and Hoppers thrown in for good measure.

Much like Gauguin escaping Paris for the wilds of Tahiti, Ault abandoned Manhattan for Woodstock, New York, seeking the isolation of the country with his wife and muse, Louise.

A dark personality, Ault was not the untamed artistic sort.

Every day, he began by tidying his studio before he allowed himself to begin painting. In some cases, he then painted the tidy studio, with or without himself included.

His paintings avoid storytelling, instead stating images and leaving it at that.

Many were of an intersection in Russell's Corners, painted day and night, summer and winter. No figures are ever present, nor any brushstrokes to be seen.

"Old House" showed a field with a haunted-looking house in it, but the structure seems to float on the grass rather than being firmly attached to it.

His masterpiece, "January Full Moon" shows an old barn in moonlight; it is nothing more and yet there is everything to be appreciated in its stoic beauty under a bright moon.

There was only painting in the show from after the war years and in it, Ault seems to demonstrate that a new world order has superseded the old.

His purely representational wartime paintings yield to one of abstractions, perhaps as a metaphor the the promise of the unfolding but unknown future.

The world he knew was coming to an end.

I'd been unaware of George Ault before reading about the opening of the show a few weeks ago, but after an hour with his works, I felt a sense of a man who created secure and enclosed worlds of lonely calm from inside a tidy studio, safe and secure and, like most Americans, not sure of the war's outcome.

It was a lesson in the 1940s.

My final treat to myself was in the same building, but on the Portrait Gallery side.

"One Life: Katherine Graham" was only one gallery, but so full of artifacts and photographs that defined an era, that it felt like more.

Photographs of the Washington Post publisher spanned her colorful life.

She was there as an eager, young reporter at the San Francisco News.

Another showed her radiant in a wedding portrait to her beloved Philip Graham ("He combined the parts of her life that she had always felt were separate. Here was a man who was intellectual, attractive, witty and charming." Excuse me, are there any more like him out there?)

Her stint at the Post began in the pre-women's rights-era, so many photographs showed her as the lone woman at all-male editorial and board meetings.

Her mask from Truman Capote's Black and White Ball was there, as was the wooden wringer Bob Woodward had given her as a reminder of the travails of the Watergate investigation.

The Pulitzer Prize for her autobiography (and favorite read of mine), Personal History, sat next to her mask.

Just as impressive as her prize was the first page from her biography, written in longhand on a yellow legal pad.

As old-school as I can be in a few ways, I can't imagine so daunting a task as to write out one's life on paper.

How much easier it would have been if she'd been able to keep track of her life online with daily posting.

Blogging as autobiography-in-progress, so to speak.


  1. You should have ordered a thin slice of raw onion with your scrapple, eggs and toast; a crown of sorts for a terrific brunch. Then, as you gad about people may ask, "Good heavens, whatever did you order for brunch?" You reply, "Hmmn..." The floor is all yours from this point forward. Of course 'good heavens' and 'gad' are seldom associated with 'whatever'. That is, unless you are an onion eater. Enjoyable post.

  2. Good heavens, yes, I am very much an onion eater and, now that I think about it, an onion would have been just perfect with that sandwich.

    Always pleased to hear I've given a reader some enjoyment.

    And now, if you'll excuse me, I have some gadding about to do. Hope to hear more from you again, anonymous.