When folks ask how I justify spending money on fine dining, I counter with the belief my experience, my time is more valuable than nice things. I’d rather live through a lovely 10-course dinner with all the trimmings and wine pairings than own a nice watch, or car, or big screen, or what have you. Objects break, grow old, but the memory of a 3-Michelin star meal only grows larger with each passing year. When you experience Joël Robuchon’s food, you can’t help but remember it well, even a decade later. It’s that good. Still it’s hard to explain to people, to convince them of the preciousness of experience, how time and living through something will always beat out ownership. People like value they can touch and hold.
There’s a newspaper clipping on my office bulletin board that’s been there forever it seems. It’s yellowed from the sunlight, and on the back there’s an advertisement for “The Adventures of Lava Girl and Shark Boy”. In 3-D. I tore it out when I lived in Pittsburgh because Peter Mandel’s words resonated strongly. I read it and it reminds me why I do what I do. I thought you might enjoy his words as well. I envy his talent and wish I could’ve written it.
A Debate About Days — Peter Mandel
(from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s “Life Support” column, sometime in 2005)
Save your minutes, your seconds; sell everything else.
Ask a man who is dying what is precious, and he will say, “Time”. Paris and Buenos Aires, for example, seem no closer to death than Detroit or Atlanta. In France and Argentina, the middle of the workday is elongated in lunches. Evenings are full, dinner is late, and there is always time for talk.
Our American day, the day of Detroit, Atlanta, Boston, contains almost no leisure spaces.
There’s the drive, as everyone knows; the desk; the packaged sandwich; the pickup of the kids; the dash to the store; and the plopping down to doze in front of a screen.
Our hours are arranged — not to be lived but to be gotten through. We slice them at the neck, a sacrifice for something we may want to buy.
They’re not for walking or for wine. They’re not for sunsets or for stars. They’re not for listening to birds.
Our hours are for objects, and we accept this right down to our bones. We sacrifice time for things that are new, like double-stuffed Oreos. We already own soap, we’ve got a kitchenful of cookies, but we get these, too. We sacrifice for luxury, a leather-upholstered car that costs us our vacation and sets us back a half-year’s pay.
People in Paris, in Buenos Aires, see this. They check their calendars. They nervously wind their clocks.
We are the best in the world, we tell them, at buying, and at working, and it makes us strong. We will enjoy days later. We have plenty to spare. Our bodies, our belongings, may be fat, but our economy jiggles as it jogs along.
The man from Argentina, the woman from Paris do not feel immortal. You are running out of days, they say. Give up your job. Travel the world. And do it now.
This is crazy talk. We can’t afford to listen. Look at the bed these lazy countries lie in: unemployment, poor productivity. Look at the stats.
A job is a job, says the man from Buenos Aires. Will you remember work when you are old?
Sell everything, says Argentina. Fly to our country for dinner. Enjoy the finest wine.
Give up your jewelry, argues Paris — except for your Rolex. Wind it. Check it. Look at it now.
Work, spend, keep, collect, we say.
Walk, eat, travel, read, say they.
Who will win this argument?
We may never know. The sunset is coming fast now. Birds are singing. It is almost time for stars.
We are running out of days.