Last night we hosted our first dinner party in St. Benedict over the Apple Tree. It was our first dinner party since, in early February, a faulty fire retardant system changed our lives forever. Dinner parties are our favourite social events, but unfortunately B.A.'s illness has curtailed them greatly for the past year and a half. (We made an effort for Polish Pretend Son's visits home.) The fact that we can have them again is a sign of hope.
This dinner party took an unusual amount of preparation because of all the boxes lying around. I stuffed them into cupboards and closets between cooking tasks. Originally I meant the party to celebrate the end of our move, as well as St. Michael, B.A's anniversary, and our anniversary, but we haven't finished moving. Moving out of a working museum when both halves of a couple work full-time and one is a cancer patient turns out to be a very long, drawn out affair. However, I managed to clear a good space in our new dining-room/guest room/office, and go to Michaelmas Mass, AND cook dinner, so all's well that ends well.
A guest who is increasingly visually impaired got lost on the way, and there were several expeditions to find her. The Schola Bass brought her in, and after I had handed her a restorative glass of hot buttered apple cider with rum, we had the flat blessed by our priest. It was really quite a short ritual beginning with Latin prayers and ending with Father sprinkling holy water in all the corners of the room, where demons might lurk. He sprinkled the hall cupboards, too, so if there are any demons in the flat, they are limited to the bedroom closet.
Then I brought out the soup, vastly grateful that B.A. had set the table. This had not been an easy task because he had to find the wineglasses in their boxes and to remember to bring the silverware and the electric candles from the Historical House. Now that we no longer live in a museum, we can have real candles, but there were no beeswax candles at either Real Foods or Tesco, so I decided it would be more eco-trad to stick to our rechargeables.
Dinner consisted of "Autumn Vegetable" soup (my family's traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas soup); two fat, roasted free-ranged chickens;sage, apple and onion stuffing; gravy; curried carrots; green beans with almonds and red pepper; and szarlotka, Polish deep-dish apple pie, with whipped cream. There were also cheese, apple slices, and oatcakes afterwards, but nobody was interested in the cheese this time. The truffles I got on sale at Waitrose a few weeks ago were more popular. And of course there were many bottles of wine, beginning with the fancy Cava my parents sent for B.A.'s birthday in August.
I think one day I will put everything on the table à la Russe so that I don't spend that party jumping up and rushing to the kitchen for the next course, etc. The routine was easier when the kitchen was directly across the hall from the dining-room. This time I missed out on most of the conversations although I do have an amusing anecdote for, having noticed a massive volume on my desk in the corner, an Oxford man, well-primed with wine, asked me why I had a book about polish.
"It's Polish," I explained---and he will never hear the end of it.
I think there was also a conversation touching on modernism, for we were entertained by an anecdote about a Catholic countryman telling a Catholic lady that "It's time somebody put a bung in Kung."
But I must say it was very odd, after nine-and-a-half years of dinner parties in the old dining room in the Historical House (built approximately 1683), to be in a high-ceilinged square room with a rectangular window instead of a long, low-ceiled room with a fireplace and an ox-eye window and the "Polish corridor" (a sleeping nook for visitors or suddenly homeless Polish students) behind B.A. at the head of the table. This time Father was at the head of the table and B.A. was at the foot beside me, and the lighting was different, and the room felt crowded and strange.
It will be more like home, I think, when we get in the last of the furniture, empty the last of the boxes, and get the pictures on the walls.
I wish I had an account of all Historical House dinner parties since late September (or early October) 2008, when B.A. threw a dinner party for me, the recently arrived Canadian guest. but we had so many of them, the basic formula is tattooed deep inside my brain. The most similar part this timewas the Great Dishwash. Looking down into the sink, it was easy to imagine myself in my old kitchen and forget that the dining-room wasn't just across the hall but through the new sitting-room and then across the hall. Of course, I may have been slightly delirious at that point.
Our guests said nice things about our new flat, and the Bass said the sitting-room reminded him of our sitting-room in the Historical House, which pleased me very much. When the others went away the Master of the Men's Schola, the Bass and B.A. settled into armchairs for a good chat. Shortly after B.A. went to bed, I announced that there would be a new tradition. Thus, the MMS and the B moved their chatting-and-drinking operations into the kitchen while I continued the Great Dishwash.
It's funny about second winds--or third winds. I was probably on my third wind by then. At 1 AM I was on my hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor with Dr. Bonner's soap and a sponge--as happy as a robin in spring. I don't think it was the rum-laced apple cider either. It was joy at dinner parties returning to our lives.