Letters From America: Dining by Candlelight

an occasional series of emails sent from los angeles in the past
originally posted 10 May 2004

I generally eat at table.

Apparently that’s quite unusual these days.

I was raised to have dinner with the family. We would sit down and eat together at the end of the day, and talk about things. My day at school, mum’s day at work, the state of the world. Anything and everything.

We’d often have candles on the table.

I think that candlelight is something special. It lights a room differently to electricity, no matter how low or cunningly designed the electric light. Candlelight makes a dinner special. It helps you to talk and think about anything and everything.

In a way, this is because it *is* so different to electric light.

Eating by candlelight sets dinner aside as a special time. It puts you in a different place. Gives you a time to think, and put yourself aside from the day-to-day world.

Changing the illumination changes the feel of a room. Allows some types of thought and discourages others. The conversation you have under a neon tube is different to that under moonlight.

In our culture at large, it seems that candlelight stands for romance. A couple of times I’ve cooked for male friends of mine and lit candles for dinner. They said “Are you trying to seduce me?”

(Interestingly, none of the female friends that I’ve cooked for have said this. Perhaps they just assumed that I was.)

In the US, I’m dining on my own most days. And sometimes I’ll eat an easy meal in front of the television. Eating rubbish in front of the television is fun. I thoroughly enjoy it.

But most of the time I eat at table, and light a candle for myself.

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