Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Table for 11 in 2011

The Dillos gathered at Mark and Eileen’s home in Atlanta this past Saturday evening for what has become an annual tradition, First Feast. First Feast kicked off the Dillo collective calendar of events for 2011. (Swan Cabin, for example, is our summer gathering.)

The Feast’s theme this year was Spanish. Kinda vague really; the best Jennifer and I could manage was Portuguese music and some kind of tangy, leafy salad with oranges prominently featured and all the onions that were supposed to go in it forgotten in the refrigerator.

Three of the plentiful assortment of hors d'œuvres inspired special attention for me. Clint brought these deviled eggs that are probably banned in a dozen states. The special deviling of the egg is laced with Sockeye salmon. They were incredible, just made to put fully in your mouth (that is, hammered not nibbled), and I enjoyed many of these with a couple of Fat Tire beers poured into a frosty mug so generously provided by Mark.

Another was part of Diane’s commitment to authenticity within the Spanish theme. Real Spanish olives with anchovies and Italian (her compromise) peppers. The peppers infused the anchovy and took the dry edge out of it. They tamed the anchovy wonderfully. The olives were delightfully mild, superb pallet cleansers, and they were a much brighter green than any I had seen before. Later, Will arrived and offered us some incredible Ceviche. That went nicely with my last Fat Tire for the evening.

All the abundant food preparations (and presentations) were awesome as usual, the banter and laughs were even better. During hors d'œuvres I had numerous and widely varied conversations. For a long time Eileen and I chatted about classical music. Spanish music played in various forms throughout the night on the stereo.

Clint mentioned to me how the more urbane and sophisticated Dillo gatherings reminded him of some of the much larger parties so richly detailed in seemingly countless places throughout the course of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. I’m so thankful some brave Dillo besides myself finally read this peerless novel.

Of course, Clint with his expansive mind could see things in Proust that seemed fresh to me. I agreed that Dillo parties sometimes seem bigger than they really are in certain respects. Not less intimate at all, mind you. The intimacy comes from an openness that we more or less acknowledge as a group. No matter how many people come or might have come, the number doesn’t fill the space of our collective freedom as a community of friends.

Diane had hip surgery four weeks ago and seems to be recovering nicely but for occasional pains. She was warm and funny as usual. Jean and I reminisced about her wedding day, which I attended, almost 30 years ago. She wore flip-flops and had flowers in her hair that day as I recall.

Jeffery drove down with Jennifer and me. Business has picked up noticeably for him. He’s putting in long hours at work and doing well work wise. He brought along a quart of the best moonshine I’ve ever tasted. I limited myself to two hearty shots. Very nice stuff. Others drank more.

Will brought another interesting girl to the party. Denise seemed very comfortable among us strangers. She was bold, intelligent, and very genuine. Will has decorated our affairs through the years with a variety of female presences. That’s always a fun part of the evening for me.

Brian shared the incredibly fascinating fact with me that the placenta in human beings is a biological result of a virus we resisted millions of years ago. I had never heard this piece of evolutionary biology before and I asked him several questions. He was animated with his responses and I awoke to the fact such things as virus’ have shaped human biology as fundamentally as love and fear and desire. I googled a couple of sites since then and confirmed the findings. It has even been in the news recently.
Clint listened to all of this with me and opined that space and time are really just “the womb” of consciousness.

How fortunate I am to know and enjoy such fun and interesting people.

When it came time for the main course we gathered around the large dining table. I toasted to being a free spirit and being among free spirits. Clint complimented this with a toast to the freedom we all enjoy with each other. There were other toasts later, at different times, I don’t recall them all but Eileen had to clang her dessert fork gently on her lifted wine glass and rise slowly from her seat on a couple other occasions to announce a brief pause in the merriment for new toasts, quieting three or four loud conversations going on simultaneously around the table. There were 11 of us and group-talk came and went, interrupted by frequent periods of random eclectic musings in odd assorted groupings of us.

We feasted on salt-baked snapper with a tangy sauce. A wonderful paella, a yummy cactus salad (first for me), and the orange salad we brought. As mentioned above, our salad was served without the sliced red onions that we brought from home. I didn’t know about the onions (which Jennifer apparently sliced after we arrived) and Jennifer forgot them. Instead they resided in a moist towel in Eileen’s refrigerator until their aroma almost overwhelmed the interior of the appliance. Eileen found them much later in the evening and they were discarded for compost I think. The towel was a hopeless case and we left it behind. We didn’t want to breathe red onions the whole drive home.

God help us if Mark and Eileen ever decide on a color for their dining room. It might be a sign of the end times. One of the cool things about being a Dillo is that your hosts realize they can be totally honest with all of us. We were presented with maybe 20 painted “swatches” all over one dining room wall on a medium grey primer. Hey, no need to really get the room painted for guests. In fact, let’s make the whole damn thing into a color exhibition.

The range was a light green through many variations of blue before transforming into yellows and some brownish thing Mark labeled something I forget for the adjoining sitting room. Disagreements and passionate discussion abounded. I don’t think any of us agreed on much of anything about colors but we were satiated and happy with the dining experience all the same. I might venture to suggest that our hosts seemed a bit non-plussed by the lack of consensus. Oh well, they can always re-prime the wall and try new, unexplored sections of the color palette next year. What's the hurry?

All through the meal various wines were being passed around, accompanied by endless bottles of Cava, and Amontillado. Round and round it went with the conversation and eating and laughter, each round splintering us into changing tribes of chat, louder and more outrageous. Funny, as I sipped my sparkling water.

I was the designated driver. So, while Jennifer proceeded to be Jennifer at this sort of affair and got completely wasted, I was sobering up from an earlier buzz. In Jennifer’s “party-mind” she is still 25 but the rest of her eventually disagrees. I enjoyed about three beers early and then drifted along on fine sparkling water for the remains of the evening (well, except for two great shots of moonshine) until a few cups of black coffee made their way to me during a wonderful tart dessert about 10pm. The tart was of apricots and pears with almonds throughout. All that sweet, fruity, slight crunchiness went well with straight black coffee. The sugar-caffeine combo made me anything but drunk.

We hung out for a couple of hours afterwards. One of the discussions I recall was among several of us about how symmetrical bodies were naturally more attractive and whether that sort of thing played a more important role than pheromones in human interaction. The ideas flowed fast and the jokes played on them at any given time by any of us kept things lively. Being sober in such a stimulating situation is fun but, of course, it's way better with some kind of buzz. All Dillos agree on this.

So, we’re off to another year of punctuated, quasi-pagan gatherings together. The next big event will be another trip to the place that started it all – Cumberland Island in March. There was plenty of organizing and coordinating discussion going on about that during the evening as well. Who will drive with whom? Who will take what? Jennifer threatens to go down there with nothing but a couple of bottles of Crown Royal and barter for everything else she needs. Everybody usually over-packs anyway. It is a joke, of course, but, theoretically speaking, I bet she could get away with it and be just fine.

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