Reputations have been made or destroyed; romances commenced or finished; careers enhanced or ended; and friendships created or demolished — all around a dinner table.
(Supposedly Nicolas Sarkozy formally met Carla Bruni at a dinner party.)
For all those reasons and many, many more choosing who sits at one’s dinner table and who sits next to whom is a deliciously delicate exercise in diplomacy.
Years ago I did an interview with a woman who makes her living creating extraordinary parties for which she carefully contrived brilliant seating plans. She cautioned that at major events with several tables one “must always be careful to seat the wife and the mistress on different sides of the room.”
That makes sense.
In imagining a perfect table she said it should include: “a princess, a politician, a writer, a philosopher, two good listeners, a businessman, a designer and ‘perhaps’ a journalist”.
Good conversation is a fine art, highly respected and diligently cultivated in this country. A perfect table is one where the women look beautiful (you understand my meaning I trust, they’ve made an effort and look their stylish best), the food is perfection — in taste and presentation — and the talk is lively, witty, informed and perhaps a little naughty.
If I could choose any woman in France I would like to sit next to at a dinner party — I guess it would probably be across from since we would both be bookended by men — it would be Catherine Nay. (I’ve met her, interviewed her and admired her for years. In fact, her country house is in the same village where we live.)
She is on the radio; television — the camera is in love with her; writes magazine articles and is arguably the best contemporary political biographer in France.
For me she is the epitome of beauty, elegance, intelligence, and exquisite politesse. Nay suffers no fools. She has a marvelous way of raising her eyebrows and slightly pursing those full lips into a little moue when one of her peers or a politician says something outrageously stupid during a television debate.
When American journalists want to know what is really happening backstage in French politics she is the go-to interviewee. American “Vogue” and “Vanity Fair” have both turned to her for her insider take on the personal side of Gallic politics.