daily preciousness

Tuesday, August 08, 2000

soiree for Fran

I grasped the podium and swallowed. The network cameras were trained on me. The crowd continued its thunderous applause. Smiling, I motioned for them to stop, so that I could begin my acceptance speech.

"I am honored to accept the nomination for my party ticket. I choose as my running mate... Pinot Noir! The wine can handle foreign policy and I’ll just sit here and look drunk. I hope that’s okay with the rest of the party."

This excerpt is from a party that I had the night of the Republican Party National Convention recently.

It was a dinner party for Françoisê (Fran-SWAH-zuh), a friend from Brittany, and her traveling companion, Karin from Calais. (I also invited Molly, their host and Douglas, a new student in my program at the university.)

Speaking of universities, I saw one the evening that I first met Françoisê. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The story begins a few years ago, when my brother, Christian, and I visited Europe.

It was Françoisê that showed us around Paris. Vivacious, talkative and funny, Christian and I were utterly charmed by Françoisê. Her delightful personality and her thoughtful answers to our cultural questions really impressed me. During our visit in Paris, we spent a weekend with her and her brother. They gave us an intriguing, very personal tour of the Place D’Italie and the Cité Université area. (Forgive any spelling errors.) We joined her, her brother and some friends from the university where he was working toward his master’s degree in French medieval history. We went to a rustic and out-of-the-way Polish restaurant where I met a cousin of the Pope!

It was my first taste Polish food – very hearty stuff. The cozy attic restaurant had a great atmosphere; small lamps dotted the long, roughly hewn tables. Each rustic table sat about 15-20 people. The meal was hearty but simple. I had some chicken in an onion and cream sauce. It was succulent and reminded me of something that I’d seen in a movie set in the Middle Ages. Overall, it was a gem of a restaurant, probably way below the radar of the tourist’s guidebook. I had a great time there just getting to know Françoisê and her friends. (There was a bit of confusion when a light burned out on the wooden chandelier, though… It took most of the staff to assist in rotating a waiter who sat atop a ladder to install the new bulb! "It must be a Polish thing," I remember theorizing to Christian.)

Anyway, I have fond memories of that spirited weekend that stand out from our marathon two-and-a-half month trek through Europe when we met the amiable and gregarious Françoisê. The hours we spent enjoying conversation, good wine and her ready laughter were hours very well spent indeed.

But, as they used to say on the PBS TV’s "Reading Rainbow" show, "don’t take my word for it!" Just so you know Fran’s point of view, here’s a little note that she wrote for me to include in my "Very Brady Europe" scrapbook:

"I remember that wonderful weekend in Paris when I was

lucky enough to meet the two very nice brothers. They

made me feel comfortable right away and I felt I was

meeting old friends. Well, Jeffrey and Christian, Thank

you for that special weekend and I’m ready to meet you

again somewhere soon, somewhere in France, maybe?"

-Françoisê 8/4/00 Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Quite a glowing memory on both sides, right?

Well, I’m pleased to report that last night, I planned a get together with the express purpose of recreating that same sense of camaraderie and friendship, and I succeeded.

I began by dropping by my neighbor, Tom’s house, to visit for a while and pick up some fresh herbs. Out of his garden, I picked some fragrant rosemary sprouts and some basil leaf stems. Picking these scented plants left my hands with the unmistakable cologne of the gardener. I probably turned a few curious heads in the grocery store as I passed by, smelling like an herbal shampoo commercial. ("I’ve got the urge to herbal!" I kept thinking, as I walked down the aisles!) At the store, I picked up a few ingredients for the pizza and the tandori spice dip hors d’horves. I asked the girls to try some Napa Valley wines, since they’d never have a chance to try them in France. After calling the girls over, I quickly made the dough for the crust.

Doug, a fellow student at the university, came by just as I was finishing making the dessert marinade: apples and mangos in a butter, rum and nutmeg sauce. I planned to use it as compote over vanilla ice cream, which Doug was kind enough to contribute.

Since I had been neglecting my cam fans, I decided to point the J-blend video cam directly at the kitchen, so the cooking festivities could be shared by people near and far. Doug, who kept me company while I was finishing the preparations, was very shy about being on camera. I have no idea why. Some people are funny that way. But despite his bashfulness, I was glad that he came by early. It gave us a chance to get to know each other mono a mono. I’ve only shared his company at book club and at parties. Really, the only time that we’ve had alone is a lunch date a few months back. We went to the little vegetarian place, Fortune Kitchen, near campus.

Doug tried his best to duck out of the way of the cam, but I suspect he accidentally broadcast his strawberry blond head a few times… The cam was pointed directly in the kitchen, so I bet we had plenty of viewers curious to see why I was outside my normal cam range.

When the girls arrived, I was in the bathroom washing the cooking mess off of my hands. He graciously served as interim-host while I was gone. When I got back to the party, I was so happy to see Françoisê that I gave her a big French greeting. (You know the one, where I grab her shoulders and kiss her on both cheeks?) After I uncorked and poured the Pinot Noir, we gathered around the living room to chat.

We nibbled on cheese and crackers and talked up a storm. The girls were having a great time during their visit to the states. I asked them what was the most surprising thing about this country was the size of the streets and roads. "They’re so wide!" Karin exclaimed. She didn’t say anything about the lack of good cheese. But I guess she was just being polite. Fran said she really enjoyed seeing the day-to-day life of her hostess, Molly, so that she could get a clear understanding of a typical American daily routine. Karin agreed. I knew what they meant, since I had been fortunate enough to live with people for a few days in Germany, England, France, New Zealand and of course Japan. Each time I did so, I always learned a thousand little truths about the country and its people that I would have missed out on from a typical hostel or hotel stay. So I understood what she was saying.

I asked the two girls what they’ve been up to for the past few weeks. They said that Dallas was a treat to visit. While there, Fran got to meet a long-time pen pal for the first time. I knew how much fun that could be! I had the same experience a few years ago when I met my pen friend, Paula, in Seattle/Tacoma.

The girls also got to see New Orleans. The only problem about their time in New Orleans was that Molly locked the keys in the car and then, once they got in it, the car wouldn’t start. Ouch. That’s about as fun as sticking your wooden leg into a termite colony.

Molly recounted this tale of auto-woe so hilariously that I laughed out loud. Next, everyone went to have a dip in the pool while I put the finishing touches on the pesto pizza with garlic, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese.

I popped it in the oven and then took a quick dip myself, during the 15-minute baking time. I was busy splashing the girls when I it dawned on me that I’d not yet cooked with this oven yet and I wasn’t sure if it was in proper working order. So I cut short my little swim and rushed back to the apartment.

Walking in I immediately started shivering, since my roommate keeps the thermostat at 60. I made a mad dash to the bathroom where I dried off as quickly as I could, nearly slipping on the bathroom floor tiles.

The pizza came out perfectly. It was rich and delicious. Even the crust, the hardest part to get right, turned out excellent.

Before long, we moved on to dessert. The vanilla ice cream that Doug brought over went really well with the compote. It’s a shame Jim, my roommate, didn’t want any compote with his. I’m sure he would’ve liked it. But he doesn’t like to try new things sometimes.

When he came back to the apartment, he joined in the party long enough to sit and make snide remarks at everything everyone said. That wasn’t very amusing. In fact, it was rather embarrassing. But Jim’s kind of sociopathic that way, especially when it comes to people from other cultures. That’s just his way, I suppose. (It makes me sad for him, though.... It's very self-destructive. I suppose it helps his self-esteem to cut other people down because they're different so that he'll like himself more.)

After Jim’s mini-tirades, Doug had to go home to leave. He seemed very uncomfortable. Maybe it was something Jim said. Here’s the note I sent him to fill in the rest of the details of the evening’s happenings:

Dear Doug,

After you left, the girls and I went to

Churchill's, an English-style pub just around the

corner from here.

We bought some more Pinot Noir and just sat around

drinking. Karin bought a vanilla cigar and we

puffed at that a little bit, too. Yum. Red wine

goes with good conversation and leather furniture

so well. Sorry that you had to leave so early.

I'm so glad you came by. I hope I didn't hog the

conversation too much -- I'm a gregarious fellow,

as you know….

* * * * * * * * * *

So that’s about it. I’m not the world’s best entertainer, but I’d like to think that I’m okay at dinner parties. I hope that I can spend some more time with the girls before they return to Calais and Brittany. If my brother comes into town Friday, I might go and eat out with the girls again.

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