When Steve and I were in Romania, we rode a lot of trains. Scenes would whiz by and I would desperately try to capture an image through the dust of the window. Despite the scrim effect, I love this combination of cart and car. It captures the admixture of the country, a little rural, and more and more industrial.
This post is about the Perle Mesta’s of the world, those men and women that know how to throw a fete without sweat. Lois DeSocio, my friend and co-collaborator on The Write Side of 50, is an extreme maven in the field of party-giving. Her menu is never less than inventive: French bread slathered in Nutella and topped with hot sausage, sardines with avocado, swiss cheese, olives and mayo, and meatballs made with grape jelly grace the table. Odd as the concoctions may be, they are always displayed invitingly and usually work as conversation starters. The bar is set up and user-friendly. What looks like thousands of glasses are at the ready for wine and beer, water and soft drinks, distilled liquors and fruit mixers. Olives. The guest list is varied. The combination of every “thing” never fails to make for a great party.
From observing her over the years, I have deduced Lo’s tricks for converting hostess “responsibilities” into a really fun time:
She starts working on her guest list.
About 45 days ahead of the party day, she sends out Save the Dates.
Menu contemplation commences. Different ideas percolate, like whether she’ll have it catered, self-prepared, or a combo of each.
Then there’s the issue of space and place. She’s always thinking of the comfort factor — where people will sit, stand, talk and eat and not feel crowded and overwhelmed.
For herself, she starts the party the day before when she puts on Dean Martin, pours a glass of celebratory wine, and sprinkles the finishing touches on the food. This allows her to act as if she’s going to a party, not giving the party.
And the last most crucial ingredient to being a hostess with the mostest:
She always has a fabulous time at her party. She’s not worrying. She knows she has given her love.
So here’s to those that know how to throw a party. May we learn from the best of them.
I have always been puzzled, and a little offended, by the common stereotype of the middle-aged married man who can’t remember his wedding anniversary. I don’t know how anyone can forget one of most important dates in his life. I have never had a problem remembering it.
It was November 24, 1978, and I was 25 years old. It was a typically overcast November day in Barrington, New Jersey. The wedding was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on a Friday night, the day after Thanksgiving. My fiancée had wanted an evening wedding, and the idea was to have it on a day when most people would have off not only the day of the wedding, but also the day after. Friday night also worked well with our plan to take a honeymoon cruise in the Caribbean because cruises typically leave on Saturdays.
I was marrying my college sweetheart, whom I had known for almost four years. We had been engaged for more than a year, and that time had been spent living 100 miles apart at opposite ends of New Jersey. We both were looking forward to moving into our newly-purchased condominium unit in Bardonia, New York, just north of Nanuet in Rockland County.
I was working as an editor on the daily newspaper in Rockland County, the Journal News. But I had just taken the LSATs, and had done well on them and in a year I would begin law school in New York City. My fiancée was working as a proofreader for Price Waterhouse in Philadelphia, and she would soon find a similar job at a big New York law firm.
Living a couple of hours apart meant that we saw each other only on weekends. And my job sometimes made even that impossible. There was no e-mail or instant messaging then, so our only communication was by telephone and letters. Long distance telephone calls were still expensive back then, so letters were the predominant means of communication. Looking back, I think that was actually a blessing because while modern communications are ephemeral, letters are forever. We can still unpack the boxes where the letter stash resides and remember a time before children.
Living apart also meant that my fiancée did almost all of the wedding planning. It was a different time, when men were expected to simply show up with the rings. Everything else was planned by the bride’s family. Even the wedding announcements in the newspapers in those days showed pictures only of the bride. Thank goodness men have made some gains in this area. My son was intimately involved in planning his wedding.
There were a couple of annoying things that emerged from a lack of my input in the wedding plans. For one, the family had arranged that we would go from the church, not to the reception hall, but to a photographer’s studio where a studio portrait could be taken by an octogenarian photographer. This probably took an hour, and so we missed the cocktail hour. And then when we finally got to the reception, there was a different, more annoying, photographer who didn’t know the meaning of the word “candid.” He wanted to pose everything. And our wedding pictures reflect that lack of spontaneity.
But I’m not complaining. Marrying my wife was the best decision I have ever made, and it’s been an almost perfect 36 years. We have two fantastic children, and now a beautiful grandson. I’m a very lucky man. And I celebrate the day it all began.
Things change. All the time. Sometimes we know it, sometimes we don’t, but after becoming repeatedly aware that nothing will be the way it used to be, we wise up and try to see and feel that moment before it flits into thin air. New York City is the epitome of a fleeting landscape. Since it was populated by the Dutch in the 1600s, it has morphed. These days it seems to be at lightning speed. Blink and that brick tenement from 1920 is gone and a shiny glass mega-structure with a cantilevered overhang stands in its place.
But it’s not only buildings that vanish, the little details that mark the space and place of the past are also swept away with each renovation and generation. Things like signs. Signs that speak to a different era.
The other day as I flew through Penn Station, I stopped to take in the red white and blue subway tiles that directed a traveler to the Pennsylvania Railroad. I saw men in gray flannel suits and women in gloves as they dashed to catch the 5:06 to Middletown. Inevitably the sign, like the gray flannel suits and gloves, will disappear, but knowing I know it existed gives me solace when all else around me succumbs to a wrecking ball.
When I think of all the places I would like to see before I can no longer travel (or remember traveling), high on the list is Spain. You see, as the song says, I’ve never been to Spain, but I’ve been to Oklahoma. Yet I’ve always wanted to go to Spain. I studied Spanish history in college and have always been fascinated by the Arab influence there. The architecture and the art, not to mention the food and the climate, all beckon to me.
In fact, the only reason I didn’t get there when I did my college summer trek through Europe is that Spain was not covered by the StudentRail pass that allowed me to get on any train in any other European country. Maybe it was because dictator Francisco Franco was still ruling Spain at the time. I don’t know. But whatever the reason, the StudentRail pass didn’t work there, and so I didn’t get to Spain in 1972. And in the years since, I have not had an opportunity (either business or pleasure) to travel to Spain, even though my job causes me to communicate with people in Spain every day.
This is why it is particularly hard for me to take that my 9-month-old grandson Bryce has now been to Spain. His parents got a passport for him and took him along on their recent vacation to Barcelona. My wife and I had volunteered to babysit while my son and his wife traveled, but they decided that they wanted to experience travel with a baby. By all reports, the travel went well. My grandson did not terrorize other passengers on the overnight trip over by screaming or otherwise behaving like the baby he is. Instead, he seemed to take the airplane ride in stride.
Of course, unlike adults, babies take most things in stride. That shouldn’t surprise us because if you think about it, babies experience new things every day — new sights, new smells, new tastes, new sounds. So something new like an airliner is all in a baby’s normal day. At least he didn’t have to wear a costume like he had to do for his first Halloween a week earlier. And a new country where people speak a language other than English is no sweat to someone who doesn’t speak any language yet.
Actually, my wife and I also took a baby on vacation in 1986. The 11-month-old was Bryce’s father and the trip was to Orlando and Disney World. David did just fine back then and so it did not really surprise us that Bryce also did well. But like his father, Bryce will have no memory of his first plane ride. He will have no memory of Spain. And that’s OK. He has a lifetime to go back.
Since like many young parents we took our children on lots of trips when they were very young, we know that Bryce will get tired of being told that he’s been to Spain. He will complain, as our children did, that it doesn’t count if you don’t remember it. And I guess that’s true. And that may be my opportunity. I can volunteer to take a 12-year-old Bryce back to Spain so that I finally get there. I just hope that I’m not too old to remember it.
Among the most picturesque treasures of Romania … decorated with elaborate 15th and 16th century frescoes featuring portraits of saints and prophets, scenes from the life of Jesus, images of angels and demons, and heaven and hell.
While such themes are not uncommon in Christian places of worship, what made this destination especially enticing was the fact that these monasteries are painted on the outside, (as well as the inside), and the stories they tell have survived winters, summers and wars (at least on the southern non-wind facing side of the buildings) since the pigments were applied in the mid-fifteenth century. So what if it meant a two hour flight from Bucharest to Iasi (pronounced Yash, not I-AS-I), a two hour train ride to the town of Suceava and a six hour train ride back to Bucharest departing at 11:00 P.M.? If we were heading to Romania, we (meaning me) had to travel to northwest Romania to see painted medieval monasteries.
The Romanian Tourist Office did not disappoint. The 2-day journey for the 6-hour whirl around the Moldavian countryside delivered in every way. Besides the raison d’etre of the monasteries, there was this bucolic, open landscape of mountains and sheep farms, apple trees and horse-drawn carts. We even saw one of the estates owned by Prince Charles, who has a particular affection for Moldavia, because his ancestral heritage includes Romanian royalty.
In Suceava, where I had booked us into the Villa Alice, a picture postcard of perfect quaintness, the concierge was most helpful in arranging for a driver and a guide to transport us from monastery to monastery because there are about five of them that are must sees: Humor, Voronet, Moldovita, Suceavita and Dragomirna, (which actually is not painted).
But before we started out we had the most grand homemade spread. Laid out were fried eggs and bacon and sausage and home baked toast and yogurt and cheese and ham and fruit and olives lovingly presented by the matriarch of the hotel. Her son lives in Queens and since we were from New York there was an immediate connection and she intended to feed us, very well. We sent him a photo by text to say hello.
Meanwhile, her grandson Chris, a graduate student in political science at the University in Suceava and a wedding videographer, was going to give us our tour. (He kept trying to pose us in classic wedding photo mode before each monastery).
It would take years for me to understand the nuances and individuality of each monastery, but this is unnecessary to appreciate their grandeur, beauty and uniqueness. Chris was wonderful in explaining the history and pointing out the highlights.
What they have in common is their dual function of being spiritual places for worship and a visual testament to the history of Moldavia and its struggle to defend itself against the invading armies of the Ottomans. Thus each has its version of communicating the path to heaven and the temptation of hell and the battles against the Turks.
We learned that Stefan cel Mare or Stephen the Great was the grand monarch that defended Moldavia from invading armies over and over again. According to Chris, each time he did, he built a church to thank his power to be. His son Petru Vares continued the tradition and thus, a common theme emerged of the King, with his family in attendance, thanking Jesus for his beneficence by a gift of a monastery.
We saw, and learned, that each of the monasteries is associated with a dominant color. Red for Humor, green for Sucevita, yellow for Moldovita and blue for Voronet, but most significantly the blue of Voronet, which mimics the sky at dusk on the most perfect day in autumn, has been compared to the red of Rubens and the green of Veronese.
The last monastery we visited that day was Dragomirna, built in 1609. The style is different. The exterior architecture more detailed and no longer painted.
So here is a mini tour of what we saw starting at Humor, where we climbed the fortress to look over the countryside and ending in Dragomirna, where we heard the bells being played to announce the evening prayers. It was a fine ending to a fine day and boarding the night train back to Bucharest turned out to be much less adverse than we anticipated. Plus, it signified the onset of the next adventure: Transylvania and the Land of Vlad Tepes, aka Count Dracula.
Once the temperature officially shuts the door on summer, when I trade bare legs for black stockings (which warrants slipping into my favorite, thigh-gripping black slip), I’ve more than once forgotten to put my skirt on (which is usually black). It seems the more black I have to put on, the more often I forget to put it all on before I walk out the door. And often, everything I’m wearing from the waist down is black.
This is the hanger-version, shaped into what I was wearing as I made my way out my door on my way to work the other day:
I looked in the mirror before I left — all good. I even wrapped up the whole outfit with a funky black belt. But looks in the mirror can be deceiving. I saw my slip as a skirt.
This has happened before. But I’ve always caught myself before I made it past the front door. Always. Until now. I had even adopted a back-up plan to make sure I’m dressed when I leave the house. I do a quick, full-body, mental scan from top to bottom, every day, as I’m walking to the train or to my car in the driveway: Earrings? Yes. Top? Yes. Shoes? (I’m a barefoot girl — I drive without them and have inadvertently started driving away without them, and have had to go back to get them. But usually–yes.) Bottom? Damn!
This time I got all the way to the car, thinking I was dressed. It wasn’t until I sat down behind the wheel did I notice that my “skirt” was hiking its way up to inappropriate. Because it wasn’t my skirt. My skirt was still in the closet.
“Write everything down!” I’m told by friends and family. I try. When I do write things down, it’s usually on the fly, so more often than not, I can’t find where I wrote anything down.
“Put everything in your phone!” I’ve been reprimanded. I already sleep with my phone, that’s as far as I’ll go.
I will hold out as long as I can, and will leave it up to my aging hippocampus to (at least try!) to never forget — like it used to. I fear if I don’t, I will lose more than my skirt.
Of course, because I refuse to write everything down, or because I forget where I wrote it down, I forget to do lots of things (pay bills, make an important phone call, put on my skirt). So I did write this down, to remind me to embrace my black-outs: “Forgetfulness is a lapse in memory. It’s not a loss. It’s normal.”
Followed by the maxim that I hurl at all my over-50 mishaps: “What’s the worst that can happen!”
My 81-year-old mom told me recently that as she was getting dressed for a doctor’s appointment, she checked three times before she left the house to make sure her “slacks were on the right way,” because that is not a given with her. Once in the exam room, as she was getting undressed, she saw immediately that her slacks were on the wrong way. The back was in the front. Surely, a snippet of what lies ahead for me.
But I figure as long as I still, eventually, remember what I forgot — like my skirt — I’m still solvent. Normal. In the black.