A Dinner Party Fantasy
for By Invitation Only
When I was young the movie Out of Africa ticked all the boxes for me, and for many of my friends. Of course it boasted Robert Redford who, though miscast, still rivaled the beauty of the African landscape. The costumes made us all want to wear safari hats and kente shawls, certain we’d mirror Meryl Streep if we did so. And then there was the farm house. Oh, that glorious house. I still remember how my heart quickened with desire when I saw that exquisite floral linen on Karen Blixen’s overstuffed sofa and chairs. I toyed with the idea of draping my bed in mosquito netting and purchasing a cuckoo clock for my sitting room, so strong was my desire to duplicate the magic of that house. And my favorite scene in the film, even more so that the swoon-worthy hair wash by the river, was the candlelit dinner party when Finch-Hatton requests “a story”......
Karen: “Whenever I tell a story to my nieces at home, one of them always provides the first sentence.”
Finch-Hatton - “Anything?”
Karen: “Absolutely anything.”
Finch-Hatton: “There was a wandering Chinese named Cheng Huan, living in Limehouse, and a girl named… Shirley…”
Karen: “Whooo …spoke perfect Chinese. Which she learned from her missionary parents…..”
Her voice drops to a conspiratorial whisper as she stares into the candlelight and we are off to the races. I was completely entranced and this has since been my template for the quintessential dinner party ever since. Of course to have this sort of dinner party guests have to be chosen carefully and that’s where I’m lucky. I have a wild bouquet of options when it comes to choosing who might fill the chairs round my table, each one more than capable than the last of regaling the gathering with fascinating tales, rapier wit, and laughter, all vital ingredients for a perfect dinner party. Is there anything better that listening to your guests spin tales over the remnants of a glorious meal while the candles burn down low to paint flickering shadows across captivated faces? Bliss.
Here in the states this week, we are filling grocery carts with sweet potatoes and cinnamon, green beans and pumpkin puree. Flowers are being bought and arranged, pies are baking, bread is rising, all in preparation for the ultimate meal of our calendar year, Thanksgiving. I can think of no better time than now to create my fantasy dinner party guest list and so I thank Marsha for this opportunity to let my imagination run wild, which is precisely what I expect these guests of mine to do, as they are all brilliant, funny and inventive. For fun, I thought I’d request a story from each of them, much like Finch-Hatton requested of Karen, and to complete the fantasy, I’m providing each of them with a first sentence.
“The hands of the clock were frozen at twelve - midnight or noon, Geoffrey did not know - and the room was as cold as a Christmas icicle….”
“The Corgi had been the smallest of the litter, something his brothers and sisters never once let him forget….”
“Jeremy sat up suddenly, stunned and a little embarrassed to find himself surrounded by candy wrappers and confetti, the detritus of an evening he could neither explain nor remember….”
“The rain had begun suddenly, the way spring rains sometimes do, and Marguerite wondered as she sat on the train in her new linen dress what precise character flaw had influenced her decision to travel this far without any assurances that Leonora would even remember her name…”
“It was said that the mountain cave was haunted, a legend for which Freddie publicly expressed disdain…but privately….”
“Lois had never intended to steal another pair of shoes but her guilt was assuaged by the fact that these were on sale...."
“Fiona could only speak Gaelic and now that she was finally standing in the middle of Times Square she realized how ill-advised it had been to come to New York alone…”
After the stories, I’d have Alan Rickman read the poem Ithaka,
just because I adore his voice…
and then, just at the close of the evening,
I’d ask Sir Paul McCartney to sing Blackbird.
A dream dinner party, indeed!
Happy Thanksgiving to All!
For more essays on this topic, go HERE.
And to have your copy of
Edward Speaks at Midnight, A Christmas Story
under someone’s tree for Christmas,
Thanks and xoxo!