Saturday, August 23, 2008

Planes, Trains, and Edibles

A few weeks ago, William Woys Weaver wrote a short article in the New York Times on his fascination with transportation menus. The piece included some reproductions from his own collection of vintage airline menus that vividly show how far we've plunged in terms of mid-air victuals. While I'm not old enough to remember ever receiving a cheese plate on a flight, much less one referred to as Plateau de Fromages, I do remember some hot sustenance coming my way. Now I'm just happy if a flight attendant throws me some Terra Blues and a tomato juice.

Ocean liners, however, are still considered by many to be legitimate floating restaurants. They clearly have not sunk to the depths that airlines have. In fact, a colleague of mine recently returned from a Mediterranean cruise on the Queen Elizabeth II with some mouth-watering menus. The Library already has quite an extensive collection of historic ocean liner, airline and train menus -- including the train menus from President McKinley's funeral procession -- but it's always valuable to receive contemporary documents.

The most recent airline menu we have was donated by Yours Truly. I flew Song right before their swan song and I asked the flight attendant if I might be allowed to secure a menu. She seemed totally shocked (more so, I believe, than anyone I've asked before or since) but despite her hesitancy, she let me take one home.

While airlines are notoriously stingy with the goods, airline terminals seem to be getting back in the sixties swing of things. Jet Blue's new terminal five at JFK will offer its customers a selection of high-end restaurants in which to pass the time. The restaurants, and the entire style of the terminal design, reminds me of Restaurant Associates' old Newarker restaurant at the Newark Airport, which is one of my favorite menus in the collection.

But possibly my all-time favorite transportation menu is the one above. It's an Air India menu from Jacqueline Kennedy's trip to Delhi from Rome. It's a very simple breakfast menu, and while I have no documentation that she actually ate anything on that flight, it's nice to imagine her nibbling on a croissant and daintily sipping her tea.

Speaking of trips, I'm off to Nova Scotia after Labor Day. If anyone has any particular recommendations -- food-wise -- please leave a comment to steer me in the right direction. To make room for the right meal, I'll restrain myself from eating too much on the plane. I can't imagine that will be too difficult.


gjelizabeth said...

What a pretty menu cover. My family saves menus from special restaurant meals whenever posible. Everyone signs the back of the menu. I am particularly pleased to have a handful of menus from meals at Chez Panisse with beautiful colored woodcut covers. Waiters are often willing to make wine notes on the menus. I ask the guests to sign the menus because I find handwriting to be powerfully evocative of individual persons and of a moment in time.
Another kind of food ephemera I like is newspaper grocery advertising inserts, especially colored ones. I live in California and when I travel the weekly food ads in other states really are particular to their place. Does the library follow this kind of ephemera?

Deborah Dowd said...

In these days of fast everything, there don't seem to be many means of travel that serve enough food to warrant a menu. Very interesting post.

Michael said...

Somethin' fer nothin': I'd love to see the inside of that Air-India menu. Sorry, no recommendation for Nova Scotia.