January 12, 2008

Just another New Year’s Eve party

Posted in Exploring, Food, Les français tagged , , , , at 9:21 pm by Lauren

After Allen left, Elizabeth and I played more cards, talked with Mimi (and played with her one-year-old Katharine, who is full of personality), and took the role of rapt audience to five-year-old Lou’s piano entertainment. (She was darling as well, pretending to humbly respond to our requests for encores.)

As dinner time approached – or so we early-tending Americans thought – we began to wonder when we should go upstairs and change. Instead of rushing away out of sight, we thought we’d try to get in on the table-setting and other preparations. I was surprised when we went into the dining room, and after a few minutes of observation of the bustling about, I still didn’t know who to ask about what we could do to help. The person in charge, the person playing host was not clear to me. (Mimi was staying out of the kitchen. Her French friends very much had it under control.) We managed to lay out the plates, glasses, and silverware, and lend a hand a few other minor ways. Then we stood around a bit awkwardly. Georges, one of Mimi and Jack’s neighbors, talked to us for a while, which I appreciated because it meant we were no longer standing around speaking English together. And soon enough, people began to arrive in their party dress, so we went upstairs to change.

After about an hour of primping (it was clear the party wasn’t about to get underway very quickly), Elizabeth and I descended again. Now the wine was out, and people had glasses in hand, chatting and hovering over the vegetable and charcuterie plates. It was at least 9:30 pm, and we were told that dinner would start at 10 or 10:30. We chatted more with Georges and with some newcomers who arrived. (One of these insisted he knew me. He did not.)

When it was time to eat, someone turned up the music and Seb announced that we would choose seats by circling the table until the music stopped. Then we all sat and were rearranged boy-girl-boy-girl. I ended up with a rather lively group. Seb was at the head of the table to my right, next to him was Fanny (who spoke perfect English, but was French), who was next to Joachin (who’d talked so much with Allen the night before), who was next to Caroline. One topic I remember was being able to set the record straight about how dangerous DC is. “It’s the most dangerous city in the United States!” Joachin roared. (He was very animated, and it was clear he was trouble, which meant for good dinner conversation.) I yelled back with appropriate indignation, “Not the number one most dangerous. Maybe four or five! It’s just in the top ten!” Then they asked me about living there; how dangerous was it really? I explained that I’d be robbed at gunpoint – but only in a really nice section of town. (So there!) In the end, the consensus was, “No more dangerous than anywhere else.”

The rest of the conversation passed in a blur, but I was happy to be speaking in French and enjoying all the wine I could drink (to help with the French, of course). I felt like I drank an awful lot (and if I told you how many glasses, you would agree), but it was also clear that I was drinking just as much as my dinner fellows were having. It’s a wonder we didn’t all just slump over on the table.

We started with oysters (another novelty item collected directly from the source) that had been shucked in the kitchen. “Don’t you like oysters?” they laughed at me. “I do!” I said, “Look, I had one already.” Seb guffawed, “One!” He then shoveled seven oysters onto his plate before passing the tray. I sheepishly took a few more. Then the salmon made the rounds. The whole fish lay upon a tray, stuffed with I-don’t-know-what, but it was delicious, and I wished I’d taken more than one slice. A salad made the rounds, and crusty chunks of bread. And there was foie gras, in smooth slices a little too reminiscent of the organ, but I took a couple and slathered them onto the bread.

We were eating and talking and drinking and laughing when someone with a clock and some sense pointed out that there were less than ten minutes to midnight. Everyone scrambled to grab a glass, and the champagne corks came out. We all moved to the library in the next room to toast and dance as one year became another. There was no count-down, no singing, no shout to mark the event, but suddenly everyone was kissing cheeks and wishing Happy New Year.

(I quickly realized that it was necessary to kiss every single person in the room, no matter how well you knew them. In addition to saying Happy New Year, there were several other wishes you could pass on, “Plein d’argent, plein de bonheur…” I stuck with the basics, and kissed everyone in sight. There were a few toasts, as well; Joachin had to remind me to look directly in the eyes while toasting. Fortunately, the entire weekend people were almost over-accomodating for my cultural ignorance, so I didn’t feel like as much of a jerk. And fortunately, by the time the new year struck, I felt that I could at least name 90% of the people at the party, so I didn’t feel outside of the jovial comradery that buzzed in the room.)

After the love fest, we all sat back down to dinner to have the main course! It was surreal refilling wine glasses after midnight (with water, by this point) and settling in to the next part of a meal. But this was the shortest part of the meal. People rushed right on to dessert (or was that just me?) in the form of several buches and other cakes, turron, nougat, dried apricots, and other sweets. Then people moved with their champagnes glasses almost as a crowd back into the library for dancing until the wee hours of the morning. One guest was reportedly still awake at 8 am the next morning when the parents were waking up with their children. I only made it until about 3:45 am.

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