Banqueting

Banqueting
"A Mad Tea Party" by Arthur Rackham, from a 1907 edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

" … like family turned recursive, …"


Every month or two, B. C., The Muse and I would host some sort of supper party. Often, when a group of visiting scholars or such would be in town for a conference, meeting, or workshop, The Muse would invite the whole gang, instructing me to prepare for fifteen to thirty, with no real way to verify how many might actually attend. I'd plead for information about food preferences and prejudices and eventually just end up making two or three or four suppers in one, so as to not too deeply offend the vegan, gluten-free, paleo, or pescatarian, for at least one of each was always certain to attend. I'd spend a day cleaning house and prepping food. We'd pull out the good china tablecloths and pretend that we always lived that way. The food never ended up being the centerpiece, though. The conversations filled out the proceedings as our guests made connections they could not have possibly made within the constraints of their regularly scheduled meetings.

These were inevitably enlivening evenings where, even though I'd end up staying up way past my usual bedtime, everyone seemed to leave feeling richer than when they arrived.
The Muse thrived on these suppers, a privilege she invented to counterbalance her otherwise rather isolating working environment. I usually didn't get around to actually eating any of these suppers, as I was too busy making sure that every guest found whatever they needed. I played the role of the Invisible Husband, though I'd sometimes cap the evening by performing an original song or two, at The Muse's insistence. I'd eat leftover mac and cheese for the next week and all would seem right with this world.

Since the Covid-19 sequestration started, it seemed likely that these suppers would go the way of Victorian Teas, once simply necessary but now grown moribund. I'd begun to feel a certain supper fatigue, where after spending a couple of hours prepping, I'd find myself too exhausted to actually commit to eating anything. The Muse spotted a piece in last week's Times describing a Zoom Lasagna Supper, and invited friends and family to join us, via Zoom, for a Sunday night supper. She slaved all day Sunday preparing the elaborate entree, delighting in her indenture. She set more of a stage than a table, though the good linen appeared and the good china, too. Our dining room table looked exquisite in the late afternoon light, as people started logging into the Zoom session.

The conversation continued for over four hours as a dozen different people shared their suppers. The food was exquisite on our end of the call, and everyone got just what they wanted without me ever once having to brush up on the finer points of Paleo cuisine. But the food served as mere premise. The conversation proved itself to be the true purpose of the Banqueting, just as it always does. The thing is, though, if you weren't there, nothing mentioned could possibly hold any meaning for you, for the conversation seemed to emerge from the context, with everyone more or less finally growing accustomed to the shortcomings and the capabilities of their Zoom app. The Muse set up her Theater Display atop a TV Tray and a pile of cookbooks, so that it was at just the right height. We could see and hear each other perhaps more clearly than at any face to face supper party with a dozen and more attending. Our table seemed to expand itself to accommodate everyone, with nobody relegated to the little kid's table. We felt elbow to elbow to elbow with nobody crowded out.

I'd ruled out this essential element of our life. though it now seems that we might continue Banqueting even while sequestering. Nobody was up until two am cleaning up the kitchen. Nobody fought for freezer space after all the gusts had gone. Curiously, I could have believed that we each took our supper at each other's table, a dozen dinner parties simultaneously serving the same dozen guests. Everyone a host and everyone a guest, a logical impossibility turned practical reality, like family turned recursive, Banqueting all the way down.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved








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