Illustrations by Randolph Caldecott for Old Christmas: From the Sketch Book of Washington Irving (1886)
A man might then behold At Christmas, in each hall Good fires to curb the cold, And meat for great and small. The neighbors were friendly bidden, And all had welcome true, The poor from the gates were not chidden, When this old cap was new. –From an old song
Of the many holiday tales out there, “Old Christmas” remains one of my favorites. Published in 1819 by the American writer Washington Irving, who, as the author of “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” knew how to spin a captivating yarn, “Old Christmas” recounts the observations and experiences of one Geoffrey Crayon, an American gentleman abroad (and fictional stand-in for the author). His exploration of the British Isles carries Crayon to a Yorkshire inn.
There in the inn coziness reigns — a roaring fire, great tankards of ale, and rounds of cold beef to ease the hunger of any guest. Crayon has arrived on Christmas Eve, and the cheerful scene entices him to stay the night. He in fact determines to do just that. Yet, as it happens, he will not, thanks to an unexpected reunion.
Illustrations by Henri Lanos for H.G. Wells’s When the Sleeper Wakes (1899), via Wikimedia Commons
A nut was a nutrition-unit, creation of the Ministry of Synthetic Food. –Anthony Burgess, The Wanting Seed (1962)
If you should ever plan a trip to utopia, you’ll want the pack your loosest clothes. The food there is fantastic — and there’s plenty of it. The land of Cockaigne, the subject of legend in Europe going back to the Middle Ages, greets visitors with streets paved with buttery pastries in place of cobblestones. In the New World, the fabled city of El Dorado, said to lie hidden in the jungles of Colombia, offers paradise for gourmands and treasure hunters alike. There fountains, if they don’t spray jets of rose water, issue great gouts of sugarcane liquor. Further north, the Big Rock Candy Mountain, which fueled the dreams of hobos throughout a depression-plagued United States, is home to lemonade springs and hens that lay hard-boiled eggs.
Travel to dystopia, on the other hand, and you’ll want to pack a lunch. There is local cuisine, of a kind. But it will make you question, whether, in a place in which life has reached its greatest potential for awfulness, the food of the place hasn’t, as well.
On a December evening in 1903, the streets of Ybor City, Florida rang with gunfire. Two men had dueled and, in so doing, sustained grave injuries. One of the duelists, Mexican national Enrique Velázquez, would find himself the worse for the exchange, his bullet wounds carrying him off five days later. His antagonist, Spaniard Jesús Fernández, managed to survive his injuries.