When the French use the word “cocktail,” they often mean a party, not a drink. The term “cocktail” in French refers to a brief get-together around 6 or 7 in the evening for people to eat an olive or a peanut, have a little glass of something and then skip off to dinner or some other event. Such was my concept when I invited 15 people to my studio apartment on Friday night. My apartment is 19 square meters, which is about the size of an average hotel room, and half of that is bathroom. It was for practical reasons, therefore, that I never entertained the notion of a dinner-party. My table seats three people comfortably. Still, I love this apartment and wanted to share it with people I also love. It was a way of saying thank you for certain kindnesses, and to get people together who hadn’t previously met. Such was the spirit with which I embarked on Friday evening’s adventure…
Being an anxious person by nature, it took me more than 6 weeks to work myself up to this event. There seemed to be so many details to arrange and so many things that could go wrong. Where would everyone sit? Would there be enough to eat? What would I serve to drink? Could I really pull this off?
As it turned out, there were nine of us in all, and it was the perfect number. Everyone found a spot and perched, making a comfortable, little nest for themselves. I had a bottle of sweet, white wine, a bottle of dry, 2 bottles of red, a bottle of champagne, and half a bottle of freezer-chilled vodka. Several people brought bottles of wine.
For food, I had a small amount of caviar, which I placed in little globs on top of small blinis, covered with creme fraiche. This was rapidly inhaled by the first two guests and myself. I also had a duck breast, stuffed with foie gras, and a smoked, pork sausage that I had gotten at the salon d’agriculture.
There was a plate of little flavored cheeses, wrapped in crepes, from the supermarket and a plate of prosciutto and salami. I had a round of cheese, known as a “monk’s head.” This kind of cheese is from Switzerland, and comes with a special serving platter with a built-in utensil. You turn the handle and it shaves lacy slices off the top of the cheese…
When it was 9:00 and everyone was still there, I began pulling things out of the refrigerator. I made a platter of bresaola and sliced, vine tomatoes, sprinkled with herbed fleur-de-sel and white pepper. I cut more duck breast and sausage. I filled a dish with pickles.
As the evening wore on, one person left and another showed up. I continued pulling things out of the refrigerator and opening bottles of wine. The person who had left came back, and I opened more wine.
When I ran out of other things to serve, I put on the table a little vase, full of candied orange rinds, which I replaced with dark chocolate-covered orange rinds, when the first lot was cleaned out.
When I took inventory, my refrigerator was empty, my wine stash a memory, there were 2 bags of garbage and 12 empty bottles standing in line, waiting to be recycled. There was also a big mess to clean up and I was exhausted, but what greater compliment for a hostess?
A good friend invited me to the theater to see an avant-guarde play, called “Divine Party.” I post here an announcement for the event so that you will recognize it if it ever comes to your town. This way, you will be able to avoid it immediately and not have to learn the hard way, like I did.
If I were to tell you that this is a “bad play,” I would not be doing justice to the event. Unfortunately, there are no words in my vocabulary to describe just how bad this play actually is. In fact, it’s not really a play at all. It’s a sort of mixed-media piece, combining Dante’s “Inferno” with lines from Kafka, liberally peppered with other forms of human sacrifice and torture.
Most of the thing is in Italian, with French subtitles projected onto a white rectangle, suspended at the upper left of the stage. Some of it is in German, with French subtitles projected onto a white circle at the upper right of the stage. The one female member of the cast recites endless passages of the “Inferno” in Italian. Sometimes she changes clothes on stage so that she can recite her lines in a bathing-suit or a baggy coat.
While she’s changing clothes and reciting Dante, one of the male cast members in a ridiculous wig, chants or sings lines from Kafka in German, at the same time. Occasionally, someone sings or speaks in English, but with such a horrible accent and such poor pronunciation that it takes some time before you realize what language it is you’re trying to keep from hearing.
And, speaking of time, you’ve got tons of it here! Time to contemplate your past, your future, your place in this great universe of ours and all the events leading up to the moment of your captivity. A moment you will never forget, no matter how hard you try.
Oh! And there’s also a movie screen at the back of the stage, onto which occasional frames are projected. These images are of such poor quality that they go perfectly with the rest of the event!
Another instrument of torture is German, rock ‘n roll music. Some of the actors play keyboards, others play electric guitars. It is very loud. You can block up your ears, but it will still penetrate your brain and leave scars.
Sometimes the actors throw mud onto plexiglass or drink water out of plastic tubing. At one point, one of them starts swinging around this enormous, nasty looking metal thing. It looks like some kind of anchor or steel claw. As the actor swings this thing out toward the audience, it will occur to you that you are in danger of being hurt even worse than you already have been. You will survive this moment, however, because other forms of torture await you!
At one point I actually got mad (anger is one of the phases all prisoners experience). This is when they forced us to watch the entire cast break down the set and put it together again, but differently, for the second part of the show! Clearly, no one ever explained the concept of “entertainment” to this particular theater group. Also, they kept the theater lights off so escape was impossible.
Now I’m sure you’re wondering where my survival instincts had gotten to! I did spend at least half of the first act, working out an escape plan. But the bastards had thought of everything! The room was always pitch black and I was high up in the middle of the theater, in the middle of my row. Not only would I have had to crush and mutilate at least 10 people to maneuver to the end of the row (this part didn’t bother me in the slightest) but I most certainly would have killed myself trying to get down the stairs.
In the unlikely event that I survived the descent down all those stairs, I would have had to walk right past the stage on my way out. It would never have worked. I would have been a sitting duck at close range. Finally, I resigned myself to my fate, as one does when all avenues of escape have been blocked and despair sets in.
There would be no “coup de grace” for me, no sharp and welcome blade of the guillotine. No, this would be a gradual death, my vitality dwindling in stages, until I was too weak to fight, and my life-force was gradually but irrevocably extinguished…
The best part of “Divine Party” (if putting the words “best” and “Divine Party” into the same sentence isn’t actually illegal) is when they start throwing around rubber heads and body parts. Then a headless guy comes out, searching among the heads to find out which one is his and kicking away the ones that aren’t. I liked that.
At one point, the guy pounding the keyboards and singing weird stuff in German, says to the audience, “Do you want to go to sleep?” The girl next to me whispers in a soft voice, “Yes. PLEASE…” This did not surprise me.
At another point, I panicked (panic is another phase all prisoners experience) and I whispered to my friend, “My God! There’s not going to be an intermission! How can there be? How would they ever get all these people back in here without paying us first, and then using a cattle prod?” My friend did not agree and assured me that an intermission was coming.
And she was right! Two and a half hours after the start of the show, we were temporarily released. We clapped joyously as Freedom appeared on the horizon. The German guy, still pounding away at the keyboard said, “We’re taking a 30-minute intermission. If you come back…” That’s all I heard, but it was enough. At least he wasn’t in denial.
The most enjoyable part of the show was intermission! There was very nice wine to drink and lovely antipasto. It crossed my mind that maybe the wine was poisoned, but I took the risk. Then, when they came to lead the lambs back into the slaughterhouse, by a clever device I shimmied out the front door of the theater, just as it was closing. I was in time to see the full moon, rising over the Holiday Inn.
Incredibly, my friend elected of her own free will and choice to return to the theater for the second act. We met, hours later, when the thing was finally over. She said that the second act was “worse than the first.” I didn’t say anything, for fear of hurting her feelings, but believe me, that simply isn’t possible.