Measured Extravagance

2001-06-09 - 3:57 p.m.

Okay, y'all, it's time for a chorus from Kiss Me Kate:

It's too darn hot!
It's too darn hot!
I'd like to sup with my baby tonight,
Fulfill the cup with my baby tonight,
But I ain't up to my baby tonight,
'Cause it's Too. Darn. Hot!

Actually, I'm still intending to sup with the Beautiful Young Man tonight, but I think I'll change the entree to beef broccoli instead of steamed wontons. If it were just too darn hot I could cope, but it's also too darn humid. All I want to do is nap, even though I brought home a fat batch of folders from work and my second suitcase from my Michigan trip still needs to be unpacked. Last night I was in a swivet, thinking I'm an idiot, I shouldn't have scheduled these trips so close together, but today the thought foremost in my mind is it'll be so much cooler up Down East. Plus I'll get to see Phelps - who is absolutely right not to fret about the condition of her house, for as long as I'm not required to help fix it up I won't care how it looks - and to dine with a friend from college days who knows his physics, his symphonies and his wines, and is thus company much to be anticipated and cherished.

It scarely bears thinking about, the time and labour that man and womankind has devoted to the preparation of dishes that are to melt and vanish in a moment like smoke or a dream, like a shadow, and as a post that hastes by, and the air closes behind them, and afterwards no sign where they went is to be found.

Still, one must keep one's head, and remember that some people voluntarily undertake these immense and ephemeral labours, for pay or for a noble love of art even at its most perishable, or from not being able to think of a way of avoiding it.

    - Rose Macaulay, "Eating and Drinking"

Thanks to Natalie's repeated encomiums, John Wesley Harding's CDs have been on my shopping list for some time now. I purchased Trad Arr Jones in a secondhand store last weekend, and I'm liking both his performance and the artwork on the CD liner (a landscape of dramatically vigorous woodcut silhouettes). I also picked up Connie Dover's Somebody, a collection of English lute songs (Julianne Baird and Ronn McFarlane), a John Hiatt cassette sampler, and Felicity Lott's take on Strauss' Four Last Songs.

The last acquisition was prompted by a CBC show earlier that weekend on composers' final works, where I'd heard Renee Fleming's performance of one of the songs. I confess that, until now, I'd never really understood the fuss over Fleming - I'd nothing against her musically, and I'd heard that she was a very nice person, but I hadn't been bowled over by anything I'd heard - unlike, say, Kathleen Battle, who I'm told is an absolute virago but whose performances of Purcell's "Come All Ye Songsters Of the Wood" and Mozart's "Deh vieni tardar" stop me in my tracks every time. Not until now. Fleming and Strauss - oh, my. As the mercurial one might say, oh very yes.

Listening to the Hiatt sampler has been interesting. My initial reaction wasn't so good: I don't mind his speaking voice, but when I heard his singing, my first thoughts were, "Oh hell, it's Bob Dylan all over again" - great songs, annoying voice. But, damn, the more I listen to "Cry Love," the more I'm convinced it's the perfect song. It makes me wish I had the chops to be a session musician or a backup singer, just to plug myself into that kind of energy.

It's been pretty calm here this afternoon. The BYM's at work, the cat's asleep upstairs, and the furry menace masquerading as our dog is currently camped out on top of the A/C vent next the the kitchen doorway.

Part of me has been pondering whether to continue my account of Memorial Day weekend, seeing that it's now two weeks past. Part of me feels I should simply write it because I said I would. Part of me feels I should just erase the incriminating line of code and move on, seeing that I ought to be devoting my various energies to preparations for tomorrow and the week ahead. Part of me recognizes that no one will care whether my account exists besides mutual acquaintances and potential visitors to Maison Mechaieh. Part of me points out that that's true of my private journal - I don't write for any audience there besides myself, but I still feel better for having written - and for being able to look back and to say, "ah, I'd forgotten how lovely that was." I do tend to forget, you see - the present and future being so crowded with details that the past tends to shed its trimmings faster than I can save them. . .

So: Sunday before Memorial Day started out with the puppy's wake-up call at 6 a.m. On the way back to our bedroom, she burst through the imperfectly latched door of the study, much to my horror and Frodo's groggy amusement.

At 8:30 a.m, I headed to rehearsal. After the service, I put a cheese roll-up and a pair of chocolate-covered donuts on my plate and sought out Cee, a former violinist with the Nashville Symphony I met at the seder earlier this year. A friend of mine back in Michigan had asked me to find out if Cee knew her father, also a former NSO member. Cee replied that J. had been her stand partner for several years: "He used to reach over and massage my shoulder when it was giving me trouble."

I spent the rest of the morning collecting provisions, tidying and arranging the dining room, and peering out at the back yard, where the BYM and Frodo had chosen to chop and hack away at the corpse of the hackberry tree. When the BYM left to collect the Arizonians, Frodo settled on the deck with a glass of water and a book about cars.

Upon her arrival, Dichroic rashly offered to help, so I set her to work folding the wontons. T. was banished to the backyard for excessive kibbitzing, although I must say that their dynamic is one I'm very comfortable with - just the right balance of amiable used-to-each-otherness and sass. (I do comprehend that different combinations work for different relationships - I don't mean to imply that other couples have it all wrong, just that D. and T.'s interactions were much easier for me to "get" and feel at ease with than those of clingier or more contentious pairs in my acquaintance.) As dumplings were folded and broccoli peeled, we listened to parts of Prairie Home Companion and the Phil Ochs CDs she'd brought over. Dichroic also paged through my copy of Shalom on the Range, wincing at the exclusion of dill from their "traditional" recipe for chicken soup.

Ninety minutes later, we all gathered at the dinner table and consumed:

a bottle of 1997 Chateau St. Martin de Garrigue (light white table wine)
steamed and fried turkey-and-cabbage wontons
broccoli stir-fried in oyster sauce
roasted asparagus
white rice
fresh strawberries with caramelized wonton wrappers and dulce de leche Hagen-Dazs
Dinner was accompanied with much talk of rowing culture, hiking, flying, potato shooters, mannequins, cartoons (Ren and Stimpy, etc.), and other curiosities.

Afterwards, Dichroic moved that we move to the deck, the better to enjoy the cool Tennessee evening, a notion we all found agreeable until it started to rain, whereupon we transplanted ourselves to the front porch. Conversation continued to meander in various directions (including that of Scottdale restaurants - I have a cookbook featuring their "most wanted recipes," and handed it to D. and T. for their review) until T. mentioned his thoughts were turning to beer, inspiring a trip to our favorite local brewpub, Market Street, where assorted pints were consumed in tandem with plates of chips and squid, and conversation about biomedical research and beer (Dichroic observed that beer acts as an upper rather than a downer where T. is concerned, and it's true that he was quite reanimated after several swigs.) as well as housing and geography and politics. As the evening wound down, we visited the lobby of the hotel where Dichroic and T. were residing - part of a former train station, it includes stained glass arches and intriguing interior balcony windows.

On Monday, Dichroic, T., and I ate breakfast at Fido (a pet shop converted into a goofy cafe) and poked around The Hermitage. Speaking for myself, the French wallpaper in the mansion is Something Else (based on a scene from The Odyssey, and the dolls of historical figures in the gift shop were rather amusing (even though Thomas Jefferson looked like a monkey in a frock coat). We then sought out lunch but had to settle for Ruby Tuesday's, due to a combination of navigational impairment (a/k/a Mechaieh's squandering of precious time due to her chronic inability to tell east from west) and holiday closings (I felt a little better after the BYM reported that he and Frodo drove to three separate restaurants before finding a pizza joint open for business). Next year, I'll stay home and cook.

After returning from the airport, I found a clean kitchen and nearly fainted out of happy astonishment. (Thank you, my darling. . .) I picked up a book and settled on my favorite sofa, with the Fluffy Menace on the floor sprawled out on the floor next to me. When Frodo and the BYM returned, they cranked up the stereo (playing Heartbeat City and other vinyl favorites) and chatted about Michigan and music and mutual acquaintances until they got hungry (I'd snacked all afternoon over my reading). The BYM then went to the kitchen, fried the leftover wontons, and poured out three glasses of Bell's Sparkling Ale. And so more talk, and so to bed.

And so to shop, and then to cook, and then to clean (or more likely to read when I ought to be cleaning), and then to bed. . .

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