The problem may not be the Gentiles after all. The problem may well be modernity itself. Commodious living has infantilized us. We eat like babies, whose food is cut up for them.
This thought dawned upon me while serving whole fish to a couple of Turkish brothers. I’m talking native born Turks, mind you, from the seashore, no less, the one a naturalized immigrant, and the other a visitor to my table from the Black Sea. They assured me that fish is cooked and served whole in their town, as in South Italy and South Brooklyn, but when I broiled us each a perch and presented each whole on a dinner plate, they required instruction on how best to eat it. They were unintimidated by the fish and unembarrassed by their ignorance—which is perhaps more than I could hope for from Gentiles—but their ignorance was all the more appalling for coming from a people presumed to know food.
It was the same shock I felt when I learned that my new computer doesn’t come with instructions in words, either on paper or on screen, just little moving-frame pictorial instructions, like stain glass windows set in motion. Has illiteracy benighted the West overnight anew? Similarly, I feel that if Turks no longer know how to fillet their own fish at table, Judgment must have come and gone, and I missed it. I feel as if I can remember a verse form a minor prophet, “When the Turk of the sea must be fed his fish, that he not choke on a bone like a babe, then the end is come.” Apocryphal prophecies never make sense, you know, until they come true.
It’s one thing for a New World Gentile not to know how to eat a fish, but a Turk, worse yet, a Greek, the ur-Westener? Yes, I have a Greek friend too, a Greek national, mind you, abiding among us as a resident alien, and he too grew up among a people who cook and eat their fish whole, as is right and just, he avers, but he too did not know how to fillet his own at table for himself. As you know, my use of the word Gentile has a meaning as flexible as it is broad. I might well use it to refer to anyone outside my family; but most often I use the word as an ancient Roman would have, to refer to the peoples north of the Alps, the peoples of the milk‑pail. But the peoples of the olive and the fig, across the sea, can’t be called Gentiles! They are kindred, even if at one or two removes, like cousins, if not from as near as Queens or the Bronx, then Long Island.