Unlike Prince Charles I am no friend of homeopathy. It strikes me as implausible that a substance so diluted that no molecules of the original material can be found in the final solution can be effective, and as far as I understand, no well-controlled experiments have ever demonstrated anything more powerful than the placebo effect. Homeopathy, I feel sure, belongs to the world of pseudoscientific make believe, like Uri Geller’s telepathic spoon bending. Perhaps it’s harmless fun, a brand of quackery that doesn’t hurt, but raising false hope is surely harm of a kind.
So, I was initially sceptical when friends started raving about Madame Anastasia Blavatnik’s homeopathic dinners. Madame Blavatnik has recently arrived from Georgia and has been preparing and serving homeopathic dinners in Prague for the last eight months, apparently with spectacular results. Arguing that like cures like (the Latin phrase similia similibus curentur is often used to lend a spuriously scholarly feel to this nonsense), she firmly believes that the effect of overeating and drinking can be treated with more food and drink, albeit diluted thirty or so times.
Just for fun, and to amuse my friends, I gave it a try last week. For once I was able to promise that my infamously heavy dishes would, on this occasion, be lighter, even if also more lightly flavoured.
Anastasia’s is an out-service. She finishes and serves her dinners in your own home, bringing all her dilutions with her to be heated or chilled. As host you must provide only a ‘succussion’ device to be used just before serving (succussion is the process of firmly striking each container of diluted material a number of times to render it active).
I called her to discuss menus, this being complicated by the fact that one of my friends doesn’t eat meat.
‘To be most effective,’ she said, ‘you must choose courses with the heaviest and richest ingredients. This will counter the effect that such heavy foods in their undiluted form would normally have on you. We must attack the miasms in the stomach, where they lurk. Heavy wines is good too, I find.’
She persuaded me to order a cream of mushroom soup, followed by boeuf bourgignon for the carnivores. I suggested fried lemon sole for the fish eaters but she thought lemon sole might be difficult to find in Prague, substituting cod in a white wine and cream sauce. Pomme dauphinoise and broccoli would be served alongside both main courses, and a strawberry cheesecake with a hot raspberry sauce for dessert. A heavy claret would be offered with the first two courses, and a sweet white wine with the cheesecake.
Madame Blavatnik arrived at six to make her preparations, my guests being due at seven-thirty. The first surprise was her monumental size, though she explained to all of us later that she’d actually lost half her body weight since embarking on her homeopathic dinner regime in Tbilisi just a year ago. Indeed, she had some pictures to prove it, though these seemed to me a little blurred from overuse.
Fortunately she had made all the dilutions in her own kitchen already, and when she unloaded her crates they appeared to contain only flasks of still water. This was no surprise, of course, since homeopathic remedies are considered even by homeopaths to consist entirely of solvent, solvent that has ‘remembered’ the original molecules of the diluted substance. All Madame Blavatnik needed from me was a set of saucepans to heat the soup, main courses and vegetables. These, each in a separate flask, were labelled very carefully to avoid confusion.
Meat and fish, together with succussion device
‘We do not want to mix up our carnivorous dishes and our fish,’ she said, with what I almost thought was a wink.
When my guests arrived, I introduced Madame Blavatnik, and as we drank a diluted aperitif of what had once been vodka, she explained the ideas behind our dinner. I assumed she would dine with us but she had already imbibed hers and preferred to concentrate on the exact preparation of ours.
‘Do not expect these dishes to taste of the original ingredients,’ she warmed us. ‘You will have to imagine the beef, the cod, the vegetables and the wines, though the water, I can assure you, will have remembered them.’ There was a slightly wistful look in her eye at this point, and for a moment I suspected that she, too, remembered them.
‘What did you do with the beef, the cod, the mushrooms and the wine,’ I asked, a little mischievously.
‘They are lost in the process of dilution,’ she said, rather firmly and decisively.
No need for a knife or fork
The dinner was a surprising success, and no one left in a stupor of over-satisfaction, or, in the customary way, muddled by drink. Sadly, the diluted Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1976 (we drank two bottles apparently) had not remembered its alcoholic origins in a way that was useful to us, but we were jolly enough.
‘Do not be afraid if you are hungry at the end of my little dinner,’ Madame Blavatnik announced as we consumed the last of the cheesecake. ‘Eating can do you no harm now. The miasms of greed are defeated, for the moment. I must tell you, though, that one Blavatnik dinner is not usually enough. When I return to feed you once more?’
Indeed, I have yet to feel and see the effect of our homeopathic feast and I will be a reluctant convert even if I do lose a little weight. There are dieticians who say that drinking water before a meal is sufficient to deplete the appetite and thus cause weight loss. And Anastasia Blavatnik does not come cheap. She charges for the full list of original ingredients, and a steep service charge for the dilution and succussion process, even if the latter is done with her host’s assistance.
I will not embarrass my guests by mentioning how much our homeopathic dinner cost, but I must now save carefully if I am to call on her skills for the Christmas party for fifty my partner and I will give in December.