by JACK BAKER
We require celebration in our lives—a lunch or an evening out with friends, a movie at a theater, a live theatrical production, or live music of any sort. But as of late, there has been little to celebrate. The news is almost always bad, and we are largely constrained to our homes. Life has been depressing and soul defeating for nearly two years now. It’s time to begin, with care, to celebrate the good things in our lives.
Take for example a birthday party we held this past June for our dear friend Keith Romaine. On a beautiful summer evening the guests dribbled in to his backyard in typical fashion, some early, some late. With COVID still lurking, we hadn’t seen one another in quite a while. On this occasion, all had been vaccinated and could safely meet up to renew relationships.
There was no requirement or rule for wine but everyone brought something to share: cabernet sauvignon from California; malbec from Argentina; sauvignon blanc from New Zealand; vermentino from Sardinia; and rosé from Southern France. My old friend Kent, and his wife, Lee—down from Wisconsin—brought a jeroboam of aged Rhone he had been saving for such an occasion.
Of course, I had to eye and taste everything for my own edification (or nosiness, take your pick), but it mattered little what anyone brought. Eventually, the group wandered in from the outdoors and settled in for a meal in famiglia, Italian for “family style,” around the large table in Keith’s kitchen. His homemade sourdough bread was passed with the salads, one garnished with pansies, lilies, roses, and nasturtiums; the other with caramelized walnuts, strawberries, and spinach. As we waited for the primis, Italian for the “first courses,” more wine was poured and toasts were made to Keith’s birthday.
A platter of roasted beet and goat cheese ravioli with hazelnut cream sauce began the rounds, then caramelized grapes and Italian sausage on polenta. At one point during the feeding frenzy, my wife, Jan, called everyone to attention and announced a special treat for our birthday boy. She had helped arrange for opera singer Amanda Biggs to perform. As we sat in quiet awe, Amanda’s voice floated over the hushed room with “Pace, Pace Mio Dio” from Giuseppe Verdi’s La Forza del Destino (The Power of Fate). Her second aria, “Un bel de Vedremo” from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, brought some to tears.
Wine, food, music, and conversation were the ingredients that made the evening. They let us throw off, at least temporarily, our worries and constraints, and gave us an opportunity to reconnect, share, and celebrate with good friends. And I will drink to that.