The Talking Table
The Talking Table
What is it it about tables and talking?
You linger, you wish to lengthen the hour, you’d make time stand still if you knew how. If only the evening could be drawn out more. It has been so generously giving that you want to draw yet more as if from some bank of life to sustain you in the lean times that will also come.
When good company and good food combine it feeds that which is not just body, not just soul but, as is proper, that unity which is both body and soul. I don’t have a body, I am my body, my body is me. And when I am thus whole, sitting at a table, I can bring all of me to the conversation and engage all of you.
Together our thoughts and our words can traverse the globe. We can launch missives of the mind on a journey to gather knowledge, insight and wisdom from every corner, because in conversation each brings to the table that which he or she has gathered in their life, to join what the other has gained and amplify it or counter it and bring each other to new places we haven’t been, thoughts we have not visited on our own.
All this as we sit around the table.
Tables are made for peace, and tables are peace-making. You know how they say, when there’s conflict, that people should sit down around a table and talk. You don’t hear, “Stand up and talk” to make peace, do you? Standing up and talking is for when one person rises above the rest and casts his words over them in amplified volume, from a stage or a podium. His audience, her audience, sit in the dark below and are expected to keep quiet.
Around a table everyone is on the same footing. Which is no footing at all, because everyone is off their feet. We go there in vulnerability. If you jump up and shout, it will cost you. Trust is lost, goodwill broken, progress halted. A table is one place where you have to sit down in order to move further.
Sitting around a table puts everyone at the same level, but does not make all of us naturally equal. Life is not like that, and if we are to bring life to the table and not make it a sterilised social laboratory, that is how it will be. We all bring different gifts. And some will sit at the ends, some in the middle, some to the side. There is an element of chance in that, which mirrors life, but also there is choice. However that may be, this is where everyone has equal opportunity to speak, to express herself or himself.
A round table represents an ideal but unreal world. Taken at any point around such a table the calcultion of the mathematical costant Pi remains the same. There is a drone of sameness; regulation and homogenisation enters the conversation.
The Greeks also gave us a more irregular kind of table. The Greek word for table is “trapézi”. You recognize the English word “trapezium” in that: a quadrilateral with two sides parallel. (In American English a trapezium has no parallell sides.) If the ancients’s ancients had built their tables a little skew, they certainly corrected this by the time the Athenians created geometrically astonishing buildings (and more rectangular tables).
And there is another connection: the Greek word for “bank” (i.e. the financial institution) is “trápeza”. “Trapézi” (table) and “trápeza” (bank) are related words whose roots mean “four” and “foot”. Thus the English word “bank”, like its Greek counterpart, is closely related to the word “bench”. In Afrikaans it is the same word for both: “bank”. And in “bank” you can also hear “banquet”.
In language, banks and feasting, the seemingly irreconcilable, are brought together. So even language teaches us to sit down and feast. It has us gathering around a table to enjoy wealth, not of the material kind but of the soul.
A Greek table is a messy affair. When friends congregate impromptu, tables are moved together without ceremony. The signature paper covers are spread over so no one has to feel inhibited from spilling wine, or sauce, or laughter, or life. And you can make notes, or drawings, or doodles on the cover. A little rhyme maybe, or a line from a song. Knives and forks, napkins and mezethes follow. Soon, the bottoms of glasses are tapped on the table top, and the glasses raised to the words “Ya mas!” To you.
They call it “making a table”.
And nothing gets removed from the table before everyone has gone home, or else the waiter gets an earful. Let the dirty plates, the half empty dishes, the fatty glasses all stack up. These are witness to life lived, friendship freely given, and gratitude for abundance. Abundance not in quantity. At such a table you don’t need opulence, for even dearth is profusion.
And bearing all of this in silent solidarity is the table, a wooden one, crafted with patience and pride. The maker remains anonymous, if not long departed. But the table bears testimony to the fact that somebody believed they were making something important. An instrument of peace, a platform for joy, a theatre for the meeting of minds. Literally, a sounding board: a Talking Table.
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