Mighty Girl Maggie Mason served up an elegant sliver of etiquette on her blog today. She quoted fashion designer Valentino, who insists on dividing his attention at dinner parties equally, talking to the guest on his right for the duration of the first course and to the guest on his left for the second.
Comments on Mighty Girl’s post pointed out the obvious flaw in this approach; if all the guests at the table followed Valentino’s rule to a tee, they’d spend the whole night staring at the back of another person’s head. I knew there was a reason I didn’t wear designer clothes. Valentino pants are likely stitched so that one leg doubles back into the other.
But I digress. Maggie’s point was that we’ve lost the charm of the intimate dinner party, the kind where you lay out the good china and guests are hand picked to complement and keep each other fascinated all night long with witty anecdotes and scintillating repartee.
Saturday night we invited two other couples over for a barbecue on our patio. We brought out the decent china — in truth, our only matching set of plain white dinner plates. The beige linen cloth was clean and pressed, the glass and flatware passed comfortably for stylish, and our Carrol Boyes salt-and-pepper set never fails to draw compliments.
We had a grand time outside under the stars, candle and tiki flames flickering just enough under our big market umbrella to light the faces around the table. Apart from us? The Brits James and Vix with three-month-old Harry, and our German friends Marion and Nicki with two-week-old baby Hannah. The kids were all perfectly behaved. Hannah fell asleep soon after arriving with Harry not too far behind her, and Tau took himself off to bed like an angel right after his dinner.
And for once, I felt like a regular Nigella Lawson. Dave had kept Tau busy most of the day, which gave me time to have everything 100 percent in order by the time folks arrived. Saffron-lemon lamb shish kebabs perfectly marinated and Horiatiki (Greek) salad ready save for adding fresh feta and doing a final toss. Beers, wine and soft drinks were poured and the soon the evening was humming in a very comfortable way.
Though James (of the one couple) and Marion (of the other) had both worked for a time at the same company as Dave, the two couples had never really met. We just really like both sets of friends and figured new parenthood would provide enough fodder for dinner talk.
This is the part where Valentino might not know whether to turn left or right. The part where he might excuse himself and spend the rest of the evening in our small Hawaiian-themed powder room. The one with the slightly psychedelic wallpaper.
Because get three couples together that have just been through the rite of passage that is labor and delivery, and you’ll have some pretty savory dinner talk. Of dilation and epidural needle insertions and how girl babies pee with less focus than boys. Obviously. Chatter about unsolicited but well-meaning advice from friends and how best to navigate visits with family in the early months.
And of course what intimate soirée would be complete without stories of husbands sent out in the middle of the night those scary first weeks to buy sanitary products and formula and nipple cream.
Yes, nipple cream, right along with the passing around of home-made Délices de Divonne with strawberries and vanilla ice cream.
Truth be told, I substituted Amaretto for the cognac in the chocolate sauce but no one noticed. They were all laughing too hard as one mom told of the thrill of tripping herself up with her catheter bag.