Petri Dishes: Let them eat cake!

Jul 21, 2020

Humor columnist Alexandra Petri will be online every Tuesday at 11 a.m. Eastern for Petri Dishes, where she'll offer a lighter take on the news of the day. Read the transcript of her latest live chat below.

Read Alexandra Petri's columns or catch up on past chats here.

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Good morning, all! I hope your Tuesday is off to a pleasant start! Let's converse!

It’s not actually a question but more like a thought - Alexandra, I love your columns so very much —you are helping to keep me sane — so just use this any way you want . So, after I saw Ivanka’s latest “Find Something New” ad all I could think of was Marie Antoinette and “Let them eat cake!” But now w/ Goya following so quickly it’s more like “Let them eat beans!” ��

Feel like an idiot — wrote my suggestion for “let them eat beans“ before I read your column!” Anyway, here’s another thought—not that you really need it as you seem to have plenty of great ones of your own — but for what it’s worth — you could do a little piece on Trump and the rest of the grifter family and all their “Something New “ Jobs which they will hopefully need next Jan 21 2020. Por ejemplo, Trump could become a Bible salesman since he did such a good job holding one up a few weeks ago. Or “Something New “ Jobs for his administration, etc, etc.

I did enjoy reading that they worked hard to secure a "pretty Bible." What is this, Judges? 

A few summers ago I had my kids practice their handwriting because I was worried it would hold them back if their teachers couldn't read their thoughts. This summer I've got them learning how to type properly because if there's one thing remote-learning has taught me it's that the kids need to learn to type. Also it taught me a lot of math I didn't want to know.

Congratulations on the new math! Now you will be able to count backwards from 100 with at least as much confidence as the President, if not more so! Or maybe you will be able to... derive! 

Is it bizarre when someone gets endorsed by a product rather than the other way around? I suppose it's polite to respond in kind?

I'm trying to think of an example. Is this a situation where you are being complimented by an anthropomorphic hamburger, say? 

I've never been able to attend San Diego Comic-Con, but they're doing it virtually and for free, so I'm in! Weird thing-- when I tell people I'm doing this, they ask: "Are you wearing a costume?" Is that the only thing people know about Comic-Con? (No, I am not wearing a costume.)

Based on my limited experience at Cons, I wonder what they will be like without the social experience of spending hours in line for panels! 

Just learned recently that the "let them eat cake" was more like a Hint from Heloise. At the time cake flour was cheaper than bread flour.

Link, please! Wow, "celebrity attempt to get in on the home breadmaking craze badly backfires" turns out to be an even older genre than I thought!

I think we should all choose our least favorite member of the White House and start sending each Find Something New postcards. Their paranoia will escalate with each card.

But what is the plan after you make them more paranoid? I just want to make sure you've thought this through! 

No. We also assume you're all nerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrds!

Hey, now. 

Today is National Junk Food Day. What's your favorite junk food, and what's the most unusual food on your list?

I love the Snyders Hot Buffalo Wing Pretzel Pieces. They are delicious! If you needed to get a bag of them across a river in a small boat, you could not put me in that boat at the same time. 

As long as you don't drink and derive.

A) was it? Source, please? B) would the "great princess" cited by Voltaire as having said this (no, it wasn't Marie Antoinette) have known that? I'm skeptical.

I join you in this request for more information! I am happy to learn more about whatever is going on here! 

Britannica says that it is Rousseau and not Voltaire who cites this Great Princess, and I literally just (well, about a month and a half ago) finished his Confessions and have them on hand (somehow this was not the most memorable part) so I am going to grab the book and check it out -- please hold! 

Rousseau report! He does indeed attribute the remark to a "great princess" in Book 6 of Confessions. (He is following the great princess's advice because he does not want to drink the wine he is pilfering on an empty stomach, and is too embarrassed to go out and buy bread or send anyone else to buy it, and so he goes to a confectioner's shop instead since I guess buying cake is less weird and noteworthy when you look somewhat Fancy.) I did mark the passage, but I did not underline it with enthusiasm as I did one several pages earlier where Rousseau notes that bees do not sting him, and I wrote BEES RECOGNIZE ROYALTY. 

If you do this with Calculus, you will not be able to function.

Especially if you're trying to function on curves. 

but Capclave is a local con for science fiction but is NOT media based. The motto is "where reading is not extinct." Plans are being put together to go entirely web based as the schedule is October. I think the new price is going to be just $10. So, not totally free, but we don't have have a bunch of fancy movie producers begging for your eyeballs and paying for it, so there is that.

Also the quote says brioche and not gateau.

Yes! 

That Rousseau was a weirdo. Or was it the wine talking? In any case, this does not show that cake flour was cheaper than bread flour. It shows that Rousseau was a weirdo.

That is the takeaway from literally 100% of the Confessions. He ABANDONED all five children that he and Therese Vavasseur had at the Foundling Hospital and then wrote a book about child-rearing! He thought David Hume and Denis Diderot were conspiring against him! He definitely did not plagiarize any of his music, except one passage in his opera which a friend begged him to copy from music that the friend had in his house and put into it, and he did, but only as a favor to that friend. He kept trying to write and perform music and once it was so bad he got laughed out of town. He is a very big contrast to Cellini's memoir, which I have just started; Cellini is like, "I fought this pathetic upstart courageously, as he deserved, though no one was really hurt, and everyone applauded me for my manly fortitude" and then there's a footnote saying "several people died and Cellini was directly responsible." 

Thank you for this correction. I'm in the midst of Rousseau's confessions right now, thanks to your mentioning you were reading it. Furthermore, back to the original question, I find it hard to believe that cake flour, if it existed then, was cheaper, because it takes more processing. BTW did you know there's a book about bread and the French Revolution? "The Flour War: Gender, Class, and Community in the Ancien Regime."

I did not, but now I do! Are you enjoying Rousseau? I love how Rousseau is always like, "I don't know why people are always asking me to talk, because nothing that comes out of my mouth is ever good, and I am always greatly embarrassed even though deep down I know I am a capable guy." He clearly thinks he's great, but it is presented in this strange and convoluted dance of self-abasement. Meanwhile Cellini is like, "Ugh, my curse is to be TOO GOOD at everything I set my hand to, and if I did not hate to play the flute I would be the best musician alive." 

Hurray! Was it wonderful? Also, you need to read Montesquieu's Persian Letters now because I need you to get on team Roxane.

I will add this to the list! 

We have great neighbors; one of them works at the zoo and the other is a toy creator. They also have a 4 year old who is friends with our 4 year old. Now they are trying to move away...how dare they! What are the best things we can do to prevent people from wanting to be our new neighbor? We already have lots of toys strewn about our front yard so single people will be deterred at the thought of loud, crying kids next door. We've thought about blasting music. What would you do to keep your beloved neighbors from selling their house? (all in jest, of course)

Hmm, this does seem like an inspiring topic for the chat! Your neighbors sound like gems!

Now I wonder whether Jane Austen read Cellini. My husband refused to believe that Lady Catherine de Bourgh actually said in the book P&P "...and if I had ever learnt [music], I should have been a great proficient" until I showed him the passage.

To be fair, I am paraphrasing slightly, and the paragraph is probably impacted by Lady Catherine! Also, Cellini does end up playing the flute because his father is so insistent on it (in fact his father threatens to curse him in a dream if he doesn't commit to music) but he hates practicing so much that he runs away from home. 

Wait til you get to the part about the Pope begging him on bended knee to come back and be his personal goldsmith.

People are always coming up to Cellini and saying "sir, sir, how are you so good at this? We don't believe it!" and crying and giving him gold. 

Whoever uttered those unforgettable words [Let them eat cake..or brioche, etc.], it was almost certainly not Marie-Antoinette, who at the time Rousseau was writing was only 10 years old—three years away from marrying the French prince and eight years from becoming queen.

Brioche might as well be gateau, though, because brioche, unlike baguette, contains milk, eggs, and butter. It's pretty rich.

How about torte? Or would that only have been a misdemeanor?

"Technically it's brioche law"

Oh my, Bees dont bite me either! and here i thought i came form long lines of poor peasants on all sides.

I should be clear: Rousseau did not think he was royalty because of the bees; I did, because that is the one lesson I took from "Jupiter Ascending." 

Used to be Snickers would have gotten my nod, but I have recently discovered something even better at Trader Joe's, over in the chips aisle (probably down low) GRAND SLAM. Think of it as high end Cracker Jacks. A six ounce bag filled with "Caramel Coated Popcorn & Peanuts, Almonds, Cashews, & Pecans." Even claims to be Gluten Free, if that matters. An entire bag can disappear in one sitting.

I went to the food hall at Harrods, and bought a brioche bun filled with raspberry jam. Best damn doughnut I have ever had in my life.

From wikipedia: "Benvenuto Cellini is the author of the most delightful autobiography ever written". Please submit book report.

Wow, high praise allowed to stand on Wikipedia without a "citation needed"! 

I'm actually finding something old. After a 30 year sidetrack consisting of a lucrative legal practice, I have retired. I'm going to start community college for a veterinary technician course next month. My question is, how do I write a resume when all of my animal-care jobs (there were many; I had originally planned to go to vet school, but my grades weren't good enough, and my parents were willing to fund law school at 100%, and a Caribbean vet school at 0%) were 30+ years ago. Most of my references are literally dead; the rest don't remember me.

Congrats on the new path! I am not sure I have useful advice about the resume! Does anyone work in a veterinary-adjacent field and have an idea of how or if such past experiences should be included?

about whether it was Rousseau or Voltaire? Well, as it turns out StraightDope.com took a humorous stab at an answer once: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/550/did-marie-antoinette-really-say-let-them-eat-cake/

This is useful -- and covers the Perhaps Brioche Was Actually A Cost-Saver question! Thanks!

My vote goes to Frito Lay Munchies

I have noticed that your posters are very well-informed with whatever national celebration each Tuesday is. I never look them up to verify and now I'm wondering if someone is playing a prank on all of us. 'It's National Prank Call the Washington Post Day! Who are you going to call?'

Well, that certainly explains my voicemails!

I recently saw some people on Twitter ranking the Star Wars movies from best to least, or favorite to least-favorite. I was surprised that there were people who did not have Star Wars and Empire, in some order, in the first two slots. (I'd go Empire one, Star Wars two.) Can you -- whose Star Wars knowledge and fandom I respect -- make a case for any other movie in the series being better than either of those two?

I cannot, and won't! 

That statement, "...my curse is to be TOO GOOD at everything..." sure sounds like him.

Thanks to this chat I have discovered that Snyders does some caramel pretzel pieces and now I'm going to have to give them a try.

Please do and report back!

Well we started with product placement.

I am a little confused, but speaking of how we started, look where the time has gone! I am going to skedaddle! Best of luck retaining your neighbors, OP1, and starting at vet school, OP2! Everyone stay cool out there and I will catch you on the blog and twitter until next week. 

In This Chat
Alexandra Petri
Alexandra Petri is a Washington Post columnist offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences." She joined The Post as an intern in 2010, after graduating from Harvard College.
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