Frugally, in Saxon fashion

Another extract from Sergei M. Soloviev’s Notes for My Children and for Others, If Possible concerning the historian’s sojourn in Europe in 1842-44. (Earlier selections: on Belgium, on alternating bald and hairy rulers; on Count Uvarov, the author of the A-O-N triad.)

While abroad, I noticed a sharp difference between Russian and German preferences in food: the Russian, that is, the Slav, is mostly a bread-eater while the German is a meat-eater. The tiny bread buns served on the side in Germany drove me to despair, for it would have been an embarrassment to ask for bread every now and then. The French and the Belgians are much greater bread-eaters than the Germans and approach the Slavs on this count; this proximity is particularly noticeable in the equally common use of honey cakes in the East and West, but not the center, of Europe.

Old Russian cuisine was rich in pies, cakes and doughnuts, no doubt. But when it came to the German and Russian tastes in general, I thought of this memorable passage from Wagner’s autobiography, probably referring to the year 1848:

For supper my wife set before him finely cut slices of sausage and meat, which he at once devoured wholesale, instead of spreading them frugally on his bread in Saxon fashion.

Clearly, Wagner would have disagreed with Soloviev on the relative preference for bread vs. meat among the Slavs and Saxons. The man who ate up Minna’s sausages was Mikhail Bakunin, the great Russian anarchist who was to become Wagner’s co-insurgent in the doomed Dresden uprising. Bakunin was a tall, heavyset man, a bogatyr, while Wagner was somewhat smallish. In 1876, Tchaikovsky described him as a “small, vigorous old man with a little eagle nose and derisive thin lips.”

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