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“It’s an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem.”

Douglas Adams from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Not long ago I finished re-reading the Douglas Adams novel, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. If you’ve not read it I highly recommend it.  The plot involves a Brit named Arthur Dent who wakes up one morning only to discover that his house is set to be demolished to make room for a highway bypass.  What is unknown to Arthur and all the other inhabitants of earth is that their beloved planet is also set to be destroyed to make way for an interplanetary bypass by the Vogons, a particular ugly and ruthlessly bureaucratic race of aliens whose poetry is widely considered to be one of the worst forms of torture in the universe.

Just before the planet is vaporized earthling Arthur Dent is saved in the nick of time by his best friend, Ford Prefect, who turns out to be an alien.  The rest of the book (and the movie) details Arthur’s jaunt across the galaxy in a quest to find the meaning of life (the number 42), to restore the earth and to win the heart of the woman of his dreams–who happens to the planet’s only other survivor.  Through it all Arthur carries his bath towel and his copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which looks like a cross between a PDA and a diary.  Within its covers is contained all the wisdom needed to be a seasoned galactic traveler.  The words “Don’t Panic” are boldly written across its cover.

Reading Adam’s clever prose got me to thinking, what if we were in Arthur Dent’s shoes?  What if we had just learned of the imminent destruction of our beloved earth due to plans for a galactic bypass that had lain neglected and ignored in some dusty basement on another planet for almost 50 years?  Not sure about you, but I wouldn’t be pleased.  But with nothing to be done and having quickly experienced the inevitable emotional boomerang of shock, outrage, despair, apathy and then reluctant acceptance we might even find ourselves looking forward to the last 24 hours before the big show.

It goes without saying that one would have many intense “I love you, man” conversations with friends and family, be they via phone, Skype or in person.  I also don’t need to mention having wanton sex on the lawn furniture like a crazed weasel and perhaps with perfect strangers.  That’s a given.  But the last dinner, now that would be important (not to be confused with the last supper or one’s last meal in prison).  It would really have to spectacular seeing how it’s literally the last meal before all of humanity and god’s other creatures go poof.  Yes, by the time dinner rolled around one would certainly be all freshened up with a ravenous appetite because let’s face it, one really never would be this hungry again.  But with a universe of cuisines from which to choose one could quickly and very easily become paralyzed, what with the world ending and all.  Focus would be the key.  I personally would steer clear of any brash ethnic extravaganzas which might create digestive disturbances that would, well let’s face it, never happen.  I’d also steer clear of any uber fancy Barbie food pageants of teeny tiny food on enormous plates, no matter the chef or the venue; too much maintenance and too little time.  Instead, I’d go for the jugular of gustatory experiences, the basic of basics, the Urtext of meals.  The menu would look just like this:

The Meal:

Oysters

I remember dining at an excellent seafood place in Singapore called “No Signboard” (because, there literally is no sign on the front of the restaurant) and my table mates tucking into the most gargantuan oysters I’ve ever seen (as big as a toaster).  The very sight of these monstrous bivalves was, needless to say, alarming.  Eating oysters from and in a tropical climate is wrong.  It’s also violating the universal law of not eating anything bigger than your head.  For me the oysters have to be small, delicate and with just a touch of brininess.  Kumamotos are my favorite.   Six, please.

Wine pairing:

Champagne, of course.  I’m a huge fan of blanc de blancs Champagne with oysters so I’m thinking that a beautiful old vintage of Salon or Krug Clos du Mesnil would be perfect.

Caesar Salad

The most abused member of the salad family as in soppy greens slathered in a gloppy white substance of which we may not want to know the actual contents and croutons fashioned from left over dry wall.  But a well-made Caesar is my go-to salad and a thing of beauty. The romaine has to be fresh, vibrant and crisp; the dressing has to be tart with a more than a bit of citrus cut; the croutons have to be crisp and small and the cheese a good parmesan.  And don’t hold back on the anchovies, please!

Wine pairing:

Needs to be an intense and bracingly acidic white with little or no oak: a young vintage of Raveneau Le Clos Chablis or Künstler Stielweg Erstes Gewächs.

Bacon

A bacon course?  Why?  Because we can.  After all, bacon makes us happy; it makes everything taste good (including the soft shell crab sandwich I had for dinner last night). But we’re not talking about any bacon here; only serious bacon from a heritage breed of hogs like Berkshire will do and simply roasted, please.  Jamón ibérico would also do.  In fact, let’s have both!

Wine pairing:

A serious-ass red Burgundy as in a great vintage of La Tâche or Leroy’s Le Musigny.  An older bottle of Henri Jayer’s Cros Parantoux would also be perfect.

Steak frittes

The ultimate entrée: a bone-in 24-26 ounce strip steak with an outrageous amount of marbling like Kobe beef done over a very hot grill medium-rare with a touch of charring on the exterior.  The fries have to be twice done in goose fat or duck fat and finished simply with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper.  Perfection.

Wine pairing:

There are too many great reds to choose from, but I’d narrow it to three: a monumental vintage of Bordeaux (’45 Latour or ’61 Cheval Blanc), California Cabernet (’74 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard or Ridge Montebello) and an extraordinary vintage of Penfold’s Grange and/or Henschke’s Hill of Grace Shiraz.

Cheese

Again, too many choices so I’d narrow it down to just three favorites.  They’re like a trio of scandalous dwarves: Epoisses (stinky and runny), Stilton (salty and pungent) and a fine aged Reggiano Parmesano (crumbly and bit corrupt).

Wine pairing:

A weapon’s-grade botrytis wine is the only solution here: a great vintage of Yquem, Royal Tokaji Aszú Essencia or Robert Weil’s Kiedricher Gräfenberg Beerenauslese Goldkapsul.

Pot de Crème au Chocolat

With the end of world literally just around the corner the last morsel of food would fittingly be chocolate, one of mankind’s greatest achievements.  My only requirements here are that the chocolate has to be outrageously good and the texture of the pot de crème like a weightless wisp of silk.

Wine pairing:

A great vintage of Fonseca or Taylor’s Port.

Coda:

After dinner we’d make our way to an arrangement of lawn chairs in the front yard.  I’d pour myself a very large Fernet Branca accompanied by a Montecristo No. 2.

Finally, the speakers would be moved from the living room to the front steps to play tunes for the end of time.  And what song would fill the air those last few precious minutes?  Here are some initial thoughts:

1. You Light Up My Life: Ah …. No.

2. Stairway to Heaven: NOT

3. Quartet for the End of Time, Olivier Messiaen: good thinking but it’s too long and complicated.

4. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy from the 9th Symphony: gets my vote

Final answer:  “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish” from the opening of the movie Hitchhiker’s Guide, where the dolphins, who turn out to be the second most intelligent species behind the mice (humans are number three on the totem pole), have long known of the impending destruction of the planet and leave earth but not before singing the following ditty (go to the following YouTube link to sing along):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojydNb3Lrrs

So long and thanks for all the fish

So long and thanks for all the fish
So sad that it should come to this
We tried to warn you all but oh dear

You may not share our intellect
Which might explain your disrespect
For all the natural wonders that
grow around you

So long, so long and thanks
for all the fish

The world’s about to be destroyed
There’s no point getting all annoyed
Lie back and let the planet dissolve
Around you

Despite those nets of tuna fleets
We thought that most of you were sweet
Especially tiny tots and your
pregnant women

So long, so long, so long, so long, so long
So long, so long, so long, so long, so long

So long, so long and thanks
for all the fish

If I had just one last wish
I would like a tasty fish
If we could just change one thing
We would all have learned to sing

Come one and all
Man and mammal
Side by side
In life’s great gene pool

So long, so long, so long, so long, so long
So long, so long, so long, so long, so long

So long, so long and thanks
For all the fish

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