We Were Called Up

Posted: December 17th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Friends and Strangers, Husbandry | No Comments »

Last week or so, one night as Mark was falling off to sleep, he groggily mentioned to me that he got an invitation to the French Laundry holiday open house.

It was bizarre. Sharing this information so off-handedly, and so many hours after having actually gotten the invitation. Within seconds I was straddling him in bed pumping him for information as if I were giving him CPR.

Since Mark had interviewed Chef Keller for a Wired story, and then attended another event where he was at Boulevard, Mark has managed to get in with His people.

Once I managed to drag every detail he remembered about the invitation–which was sitting on his desk at work, right out in the open!–my heart was racing wildly. To us, this is like an invitation to The White House. Or better.

We had a couple plans already for the party day. Maia’s ballet class was performing The Nutcracker. Whatever. She’s eight. There will be other performances in her childhood that we can attend. And our friends Megan and Jason, who have moved here after an episode in San Diego, have invited us over a shameful number of times and somehow fate has intervened every one. This time, I just had to shamelessly admit to why we wouldn’t be there. Thankfully, Jason understood the magnitude of the social occasion that we were privy to, and even went so far as to say they’d take our place if we suddenly fell in. (Leaving the guests they’d invited to their holiday party to fend for themselves?)

Well, like all days one looks forward to, this one came and went. Today we packed Kate up and took her to Shell and Don’s where we had a sitter watch her, since they were off at their own thing. I’d fretted over what to wear. Of course, the perfect outfits were all trapped at the dry cleaner and I decided it wasn’t worth it breaking in to emancipate them. (The dry cleaner already hates me for bringing them so many Kate-vomit-strewn clothes recently.) So I took a skirt that was too formal for a daytime party and paired it with a sweater that was too informal for the skirt, and put on some cute shoes and looked and felt all mismatched.

Of course we ran late. Of course I’d envisioned arriving at the stroke if 12:30 and staying the full four hours. But when we did pull up, we were almost surprised to see people pouring out of the place. The garden packed with folks, the balconies seemingly spilling over with people packing food into their mouths and clutching champagne flutes. We got to see this group several times as we circled around looking for parking, and Mark commented that we weren’t the only guests. Of course I’d known that, but someone seeing all those people was dismaying. There were so many of them! Eating my food! Drinking my French champagne! And where was Chef Keller, waiting to personally greet us with a holiday wish and maybe even a little gift of chutney, with a green ribbon on it?

My disdain for the other guests didn’t relent once we were amidst them. They were everywhere. And instead of the subdued and exclusive party I was envisioning, I felt instead like I was elbowing my way through a Filene’s Basement sale. There were food tables stationed with servers, but lines to get to them. At times, at the dessert tables, platters would remain empty. When we were inside my coat was too hot and I needed to fumble with it and my glass and plate with no assistance from the first-rate staff. At one point I noticed a tablecloth had a large dark streak of some sauce across it. Sure the food, when we got some, was good. But the whole event did something to tarnish my impression of Keller’s perfection.

At one point in the tent, I was chatting with a co-worker of Mark’s who had randomly been invited to the party from a local Napa friend. I turned to see Mark, who was standing next to me, chatting with Him. He’s so thin and looks kinda old. He was wearing a dark suit and bright red clogs.

Mark touched my elbow and graciously introduced me. “My wife Kristen.” And I looked at him and stammered something about everything being so lovely and happy holidays and then embarrassingly I said what “an honor” it was to be there. I was a bumbling star-struck foodie, standing humbly before a world-class gourmet great.

I didn’t mention to him about the spilled sauce upstairs on the fois gras table. I mean, everyone has their moments of holiday recklessness, right? They slosh a little run over the edge of the punch bowl and who’s to worry? It’s a party! They overcook the Swedish meatballs and still set them out on the buffet table.

Today wasn’t perfection. It wasn’t what I’d envisioned. And damn those people who showed up in jeans. Jeans! But despite it all I think I’m willing to give ole Thomas a second chance.

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