The Great Beauty

The Great Beauty
Winter has been a two-faced hussy this year, alternating between days so warm I’ve gone stockingless in short skirts and the kind of gloomy weather that produces weary cloud-filled days without the payoff of snow. 

As far as I can tell, the prairie winter is merely a concept involving coolish temperatures, browned out landscapes, and little sun.  It’s a pale imitation of the mountain winters I know, which regularly bring buckets of snow or digits registering below freezing.  Down here, I’ve been sleeping with the window open at night in order to achieve the Arctic conditions to which I’m accustomed.

Bereft of anything but weather boredom this February, I planned my my annual Fuck T.S.Eliot dinner as a baroque immersion in the senses inspired by Paolo Sorrentino’s Le Grande Bellezza, a film tribute to Rome that is as sumptuous and beautiful as it is decadent and dark. What was needed for my February was a little strangeness and a whole lot of carnality.

Invitations were sent, asking guests to bring a small plate appetizer that evoked one of the senses with an over the top component.  Costuming was encouraged.  The evening would be an immersion in the sensual and sensate.  I would wear a bustier–a la Madonna–velvet gloves and a mask.  For the culinary part of the evening, I planned to serve B’stella, because it’s traditionally eaten with the fingers (and what’s sexier than that?), followed by the sushi orgasm, a shrimp nigiri that basically involves enough wasabi to cause immense pleasure and a little pain, in addition to  something I was calling Lamb of God, for which Greg constructed the upper half of a life-sized Jesus,  and pour dessert—rich buttery lemon curd  served two ways—accompanied by Ave Maria as we lighted wish papers in the living room.  We’d have sight, sound, taste, touch and smell in one rich evening.

But the weather gods had something else in mind.

In the days, pre-T.S, the radio and television were full of reports of a winter storm bearing down on Colorado, one for which we should all be prepared.  Grocery stores were full of people stocking up and the meat counter empty of the lamb chops I needed for Jesus. 

Nevertheless, I pressed on, splurging on a boneless leg instead. What’s a little storm on the prairie?

Something, apparently–as first one couple and then another cancelled.   In the over twenty years I’ve playfully skewered the famed modernist writer of the words “April is the cruelest month,” I’ve hosted the dinner in a horse barn in the mountains, the attic of an old Midwestern farmhouse, and for the last decade, in a tiny cabin at 8500 feet without incident or absence.  Stubbornly, I pressed on. 

“We’ll eat well for days,” I told Greg when he asked what if no one showed up?

Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, it was fine. Friend Tyler, who was already bringing his partner, invited another friend last minute and so I spent my evening in the company of handsome men eating with my fingers and talking about film. It was heaven.

Here are some highlights:

Pigeon Pie:  New friend Duncan wrote to me the next day, “I dreamed of pigeon pie last night.”  And everyone agreed, we could have simply eaten B’stella, a gorgeous combination of chicken, eggs cooked in broth with Moroccan spices, ground almonds and filo topped with sugared cinnamon and been completely satiated.   But I had much much more in mind.

Ode to Silver:  Tyler’s plate of Italian anitpasti was presented on china, accompanied by 19th century Towle silver and a book of witticisms.  We at Parmesan crackers, tapenade, and heirloom tomatoes and laughed.

Asparagus Tart:  With the last minute cancellations, I had to fill in the menu gaps quickly.  This tart, made with puff pastry, goat cheese, asparagus sprinkled with Parmesan,  kosher salt and good olive oil, is lovely, elegant and easy.    

Lamb of God:  Thumbing my nose at my Catholic roots, I decided to make lamb marinated in pomegranate, rosemary and garlic, and then skewered and grilled, and let Jesus serve it on my grandmother’s silver.  It’s a testament to Greg’s love that he made the prop for the presentation, all the while wondering if he was going to hell.  “Stoner Jesus,” as we called him, was the artistic achievement of the night.

In the end, the blizzard didn’t add up to much outside, while inside we drank champagne  from mid-century silver-lined coupes, teased our palates and each other, let music and poetry wash over us, watched a remarkably sweet and surprisingly un-cringe-worthy love scene from a french musical, gossiped, and made wishes in the dark of February. 

It was beautiful.

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