What would I do without you? Truly, I ask myself this question every day.
Once again in your comments from my last post about optimism and pessimism, I started ruminating on your thoughtful observations.
I was extremely touched by your taking the time to “think out loud,” on the subject. Among your remarks, Hope (love the name Hope) wrote that she and her husband entertain and have been let down by the experience, wishing that their kindness would have resulted in reciprocal invitations and, I’m assuming, begin a happy continuation of dinners and interesting exchanges among friends.
In my next book I’ve broadened my subjects, including an in-depth investigation of l’art de vivre à la française. It would be impossible to talk about the topic without delving into entertaining. After more than a dozen interviews I came to the conclusion that entertaining — simply or grandly — is one of the most important ways the French bring la joie de vivre into their lives. I think I’ve told you on other occasions that I don’t believe I have ever been to a luncheon or dinner party where I haven’t had a good time. I’ve even been part of extraordinary occasions.
I’ve been told by American friends that they entertain less and less frequently, I wonder why. It’s the perfect way to stay in touch with friends and maybe introduce a new acquaintance to the group.
Last weekend my daughter did a dinner party for 12. She and my son-in-law entertain regularly and I’ve always believed this is a result of Drea having been raised in France. Her menu included a boeuf bourguignon, which she cooked the day before, followed by cheese and salad and a homemade chocolate cake, lots of wine I’m told, and coffee and herbal teas in the living room, just like in France.
Yes it’s work, but Drea told me they had a wonderful time. Among the guests, the following countries were included: Turkey, Canada, Jamaica, Columbia, Ecuador, and France (Drea was France), the others were from the United States. It must have been a great evening since most of the guests left at 2a.m.
A dinner party in France is a combination of art and science I think. The science comes in with the cooking and perhaps a bit with the assemblage of personalities that will provide just the right chemistry for a successful soirée. Then comes the art: the setting of a lovely table and the “construction” of lively conversation.
As my friend, Françoise Dumas, who creates some of the most glamorous and unforgettable parties in France and Monaco says: “Being a good hostess is sort of like being the conductor of an orchestra. You have to watch everyone and make sure no one is left out and always have a few ideas to reignite the conversation when someone looks bored or ignored.”
One of the most popular conversation topics in France tends to be books and from there discussions often veer off into history and, in some cases, civilized debate about politics. Flirting, of course, is totally accepted, or as social observer Stéphane Bern told me, “expected.”
We haven’t been entertaining as much as we did in the past and I intend to start again. For me, setting a table is a zen-like experience. It’s one of my absolute favorite parts of entertaining. I’m a huge believer in the joy of anticipation in all its ramifications. I keep my menus very simple. My entrée is always on the table when we sit down and the main course is never time sensitive. I’ve known hostesses who have made soufflés for parties, but I can’t imagine having that level of culinary courage.
Years ago, and I know I’ve mentioned this before, my son-in-law remarked about a dinner party at our house in France, where he was quite amazed that no one talked about television programs, sports or their jobs. He was fascinated by the fact the conversation was mostly about new books, international relations, travel and a little Parisian gossip.
Who doesn’t love a little Parisian gossip? It beats keeping up with the Kardashians, non?