“Well let’s face it, who on earth besides antique dealers and gay couples actually still gives dinner parties?” –Nigel Slater, food writer
Oh, Nigel, Nigel, Nigel. Tsk tsk.
I recently attended a dinner party.
Or should I say a dinner pahtay.
Hosted by a perfectly straight couple with nary an antique in sight.
And this got me to thinking—when did we lose the art of the dinner party?
I think my parents’ WWII generation was the last one to really get it right.
And it was delicious, literally and figuratively.
There is something so soothing and yet so invigorating about cocktails in the living room with the requisite introductions and catching up. Your friends looking like themselves, only better, because they upped their game with a swingy new top or to-die-for shoes.
And a dinner table where couples do not retreat into their couply clusters, but are purposefully scattered so the conversation gets going. You know, at some point, someone will laugh until they cry. At another, someone’s blood will boil with passion for a topic, a cause, a challenged comment.
When done right, with intention, it’s all good.
On this evening, our conversation ranged from trips to wine country, to artificial intelligence, to quantum physics. With a couple of far less intelligent and classy bits thrown in to balance the load.
Dinner was served in courses. Our hosts were not frantic or rushed or any of the usual things cooks can be.
And it got me thinking—why don’t we do this more often?
The kitchen work. Well, yes, there’s that.
But take away the courses and china, the swingy top and to-die-for shoes—make it a potluck with the same lively conversation—and you still have a winning recipe.
Why don’t we gather more often? Mix up groups of people? Tell them, as my hostess did, to bring just themselves and “interesting conversation”?
I’m a bit worried, as I look at my kids’ generation, that the art of gathering over food and good old-fashioned conversation will be lost.
Gathering in a friend’s home, kitchen work be damned, is headier than a restaurant. If you want real connection. Elbow to elbow. And stockinged feet up on a coffee table at the end of the evening.
My hosts had a gorgeous home. One was trained as a classical chef. Another guest was a wine connoisseur and kept us flush for the evening. Most attendees were easy minglers.
This helped our evening.
But, great dinner parties are held in tiny homes with chipped plates. Log cabins with snowshoes by the door. Studio apartments in big cities where recent college grads gather, despite their lack of greenbacks.
It’s not the home, the dishes or even really the food that matter.
It’s the gathering. The conversation. In my case, admittedly, the wine also.
We are losing the habit of coming together, at least in many parts of the States. We work hard and long hours. We push our children to excel. We play hard, which increasingly seems to mean a round robin around the water cooler of who went to the most exotic/ecofriendly/unheard of place on holiday.
When my parents knew they were dying, they did not want to speak to me of their accomplishments. Or their possessions. The memories that come to mind as one is leaving this world?
Children being born. Love shared. And hopefully, if we pay attention to it, gatherings. Filled with light, love and laughter. Gatherings at which we solved the world’s problems (arguing over the method, of course), gave each other a shoulder to lean on, laughed until we cried.
Gatherings at which we connected. In a real way.
These are the things of which my parents spoke. Times of love and connection stood out amongst all the memories from which they could have chosen.
I bet there are people in your sphere of influence who would love to gather. The divorced mother, the widow who lives a few floors down, the old friend you haven’t heard from in ages. The couple that always keeps you laughing.
Is that the rustle of pages I hear? “The Joy of Cooking”? Excellent choice.
And the pop of a cork? Even better.
Set the table. I’ll be over shortly.