Saturday, July 24, 2010

Friday 23 July

~ At the plan d'eau, what seems to be a fishing class for children is taking place.  None of the participants looks much above 12; good-humoured and smiling mothers and fathers supervise the proceedings.  We negotiate our way between plastic pots of earthworms.  At the end of the row, an intense and serious dark-haired and pink-clad very little girl manoeuvres her sleek rod and its bright orange float, while a boy has caught a red-finned fish, a roach perhaps, about the size of a goldfish.

~  It is so long since we've had anyone over, we find there are no paper napkins except Christmas ones, not enough middle-range wine glasses - only six very precious ones or lots of mustard glasses, and, most of all to our surprise, hardly any white wine, only a Savennieres I've been saving so long I can't easily bring myself to use it  just because it's all we have.  We were both quite convinced we had plenty of spare white wine.  Tom disappears, exasperated, with Molly.  I wonder where they can be, until he returns with a wodge of white serviettes, glasses of many shapes, and a fragrant Saumur to bring a smile.  And Mol's had another turn around the plan d'eau too.We pretend nostalgia about pavement cafes in Saumur, not far from where Molly was born, and admit that mostly we remember only the difficulties of gradient and one-way systems in the town.

~  A last glass to accompany the washing-up.

( Sorry, no photos available tonight).


HKatz said...

...we find there are no paper napkins except Christmas ones

Reminds me when I went to a friend's house for a nice dinner gathering. They discovered at the last minute that they had gotten no paper napkins since the ones they'd bought for a movie-themed party; but no worries, we were all happy with our King Kong napkins :)

Rouchswalwe said...

thank goodness for mustard glasses! And here they come with that delicious Düsseldorf Senf inside. Mmm.

Roderick Robinson said...

Ah, the perils of being middle-class, how I enjoy skirting them. Not just a shortage of wine glasses but of "middle range" glasses. There's nuance for you, boyo. And the lone Savennières tells another story. We too have a 1994 Domaine aux Moines occupying a lonely slot in our racking. The problem with great Savennières (and this is great - its siblings flowed down our gullets years ago) is that it is very much an acquired taste and one simply cannot risk serving it up to mere Muscadet merchants. Find a specious reason (eg, the hundredth day after your birthday), chill it with extreme precision, as if it were Meursault, and swallow it between you with a tiny tinge of guilt. It's easily the best accompaniment.

Lucy said...

Thanks chaps.

King Kong napkins would have added a slightly surreal touch of class, I reckon. Sadly I didn't have any.

I did find some rather naff poly-cotton gingham ones which came with a picnic basket, and thought I'd pretty them up in an artsy kind of way by rolling and tying them with something out of the garden and decorating them with a sprig of blue hydrangea, which would have looked quite archly charming but would also have been time-consuming.

As I think it was Max Weber predicted, the middle classes are ever enlarging, fragmenting and diversifying; were I one kind of middle-class I would own linen napkins and napkin rings - and I certainly wouldn't call them serviettes - if I were another I wouldn't care. I had a quick chat with my sister on the phone who said 'Can't you just use bits of kitchen paper?' which is kind of rich coming from she who is the acme of effortlessly elegant living and would never be caught out without table napkins, probably made by her own fair hands from beautiful and exotic textiles from some fabulous part of the world.

Then she added 'Oh no but if you've got the Quiet American coming you wouldn't get away with that would you.'

Wherein lies the rub.

The mustard glasses are a bit of a trope. Our friends the Quiet American and his wife B. the German Doctor once had a surprise visit from the chateau folk who live near them. B could only find mustard glasses to serve them a drink in, for which the QA, a man of fairly modest origins but elevated aspirations, roundly berated her afterwards. In fact I really rather like our mustard glasses, which have deep bowls and green beaded stems, but it is a standing thing that you mustn't give the QA anything in one. He's really more of a tease than a true snob and so requires pre-emptive teasing back.

Anyway, we would have made do with picnic napkins and mismatched glasses, but the near absence of white wine was the last straw, hence Tom's flight down the N12 to redress these lacks.

I just checked the Savennieres on our amazing little pocket reckoner - a clever little widget made from nothing but stiff paper, which, by the use of a sliding insert, windows, and number and colour codes and keys, can hand down judgement on any wine by year and region - and it turns out we should have drunk it already. So the Saumur was probably better anyway. I usually like pretty much any Loire Valley Chenin Blanc; I've never had a New World one that was worth the bother, though maybe I've only had South African. In fact a nice sur lie Muscadet is fine by me too.

BB you'd better get back and read this, I'm relying on you to ensure I have not wittered on in vain!

Zhoen said...

Frisbees make fine plates, and mugs hold liquid quite well.

jmartin said...

Surely it is cruel to deprive the QA of the necessary material for teasing. Did he at least leave with "wodge," a wonderfully schlumpy word.

This post reminded me of Drabble's The Realms of Gold, specifically the masterfully- detailed dinner party of a Midlands housewife. Drabble shows her dizzy with permutations of Middle Class, starting with how to set the table. Four sets of placemats, one already sneered at! And glassware:

"[s]he would leave the Waterford. They couldn't possible be the wrong thing, they were so stunningly expensive."

My own inability to either parse or ignore social signifiers greatly limits my willingness to entertain. And yes, one can be betrayed by Waterford.

Lucy said...

Oh yes, that staple of the British comedy of manners from the 1960s and 70s, the dinner party. I inherited from my mother, who acquired it from living in a small town with many aspirant bourgeoisie and whom she was too shy and too cussed to want to join, a pathological loathing of the term, and still can't bring myself to even think it.

I have to admit being prey to a kind of inverted snobbery perhaps, which might fear being laughed at for my Waterford. Mostly though I daren't use the posh glasses for fear of my own clumsiness; they were a present from a friend of Tom's before I ever entered his world, and it would be Sod's Law the one time we got them out I'd smash one. And really they are a bit etiolated and fussy for comfortable use.

In the end these are actually our friends, and they really wouldn't care what we served their food and drink to them in. However, it all made for a good opportunity to tease the QA still further by exaggerating all the trouble we went to not to offend his sensibilities, passing on my sister's remark for good measure to show how widely his reputation has spread, which pleased B the German Doctor mightily, who has to suffer his social anxieties all the time.

Anyway, social duties have been discharged for the moment.

Roderick Robinson said...

Oh Luce, I am rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Thank you so much for this handful of cherries - so shiny, so perfect, so waxen. Let us put them in the bowl we bought from the Craft Fair and place them precisely in the centre of the table we have just Pledged. One thing we are ensuring: neither of us will ever dine at the other's residence. Which of us could bear such a harassing couple of hours devoted to the suppression of coded artefacts and gestures and/or recognising such suppression in the other?

"Archly charming"! A hole in one! No need to disavow "serviette" - never in a thousand would I have imagined that word passing your tightly compressed lips. However are you aware of Table napkins (Advanced strategies): here the trick is to provide napkins so sumptuous, so stiff with starch, so enormous that guests are put off besmearing them. Keep an eye open for those reaching furtively for their hankies.

How democratic of you to offer robust support fo your mustard glasses. This deserves a quid pro quo. In our case, during a period of supreme impoverishment in the USA, the equivalent was a Nutch glass. Nutch was a hideous chocolate/nut paste which the children ate (I can't say they enjoyed it) and the price they paid in having to resort to prosthetic teeth came late enough for us as parents to shrug off our guilt. Nothing - not even water - tasted well from a Nutch glass.

As to the Savennières (Note the accent which I offer to you for free, having been totally bouleversé to discover I've been dropping the terminal s off the word for years and years) it is capable of maturity. The one I referred to was bought at the chateau and I had a lengthy discussion on the subject with the patronne. There's a metallic quality to the taste as there should be - but rarely is - with real Chablis. My original recommendation still stands but then I realise I face a rather different set of imperatives. I am against laying down wine on the grounds that I suspect my eternal rest would be interrupted by the sound of popping corks as my daughters starting taking advantage of my forethought.

Re you second long response, smashing a glass with that kind of provenance is surely a fully-formed theme for a short story by... who? I'm not good on short stories but the focused moment tempts me.

Lucy said...

Cheers BB, you're a trooper, and thanks for the accent; just too lazy to get the character map out.

I don't really set out to lay wine down, I just defer drinking certain bottles as being a bit too nice for everyday then forget I've got them!

zephyr said...

the comments are as interesting as the post! However, what on earth is "Nutch"?? Have lived my entire life on this side of the pond and never heard of it--neither west nor east coast or inbetween.

Lucy said...

hello Zephyr!

Well there's a thing. BB was in the US quite a while ago, I think, his toothless children are quite grown up now! Perhaps Nutch was the forerunner of Nutella, which also sometimes comes in little glasses...

Roderick Robinson said...

Zephyr/Lucy: Quite right. My toothless daughters now have children of their own whose teeth are no doubt being corrupted as I write. But it seems that memory has let me down on this and even Mrs BB is unable to offer exact confirmation. The period of poverty in the USA (my employer was gradually going down the toobs) linked seamlessly with a further period of poverty on our return to the UK when I was faced with buying a house at the height of the gazumping crisis. Some time during all this my younger daughter in particular took to Nutch and continued to smear it on bread until she was fifteen. Heart-slufted (a good West Riding locution) to discover I had possibly misinformed one of Lucy's commenters I Googled Nutch only to find the word has been adopted for a packet of open-source web-search software and thus there are thousands, perhaps millions, of web references to get through before I clear this up. What Mrs BB can confirm is that both daughters, and again the younger in particular, were quick to latch onto peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while in the USA and I can't imagine these did their teeth any good either.

Lucy said...

Well, I've just googled Nutch chocolate spread and had no joy, nix, nutch, nothing.

Memory is a tricky little bugger. Perhaps it was Nutella and that was your family name for it. Or perhaps it was simply something which disappeared into nutchingness. We had a book around when we were little about a small winged horse called Twinky who lived with his friends above the clouds in the Elysian Fields. I have half an idea it was translated from the French but that is also perhaps memory playing tricks; conflating it with later knowledge of the Champs Elysees... Anyway, I have searched in vain for any reference to this book; the little horses have evaporated into the stratosphere. Only my sister's remembering it also confirms that I didn't imagine it.

I very much like peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Tom always looks at them with disgust and says 'Elvis died of those.'

zephyr said...

Lucy/BB: Feel no fret, BB, you simply piqued my curiosity!

Ah, yes...the classic PB&J has seen thousands, maybe even millions of us Americans through lean times as well. i remain very fond of the stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth stuff and keep vast jars of it in the cupboard. so far--touch wood--my teeth are hanging in there!

My sister, who is 70, says she knows Nutella (i was always suspect of that brownish-grey substance and never went near it) but has never heard of Nutch, either. She, too, is very fond of peanut butter and banana sandwiches. i am afraid i'm in Tom's camp re that combo. i prefer pb on warm toast with jam or honey...the pb sort of melts into the bread and it gets all gooey wonderful.

so sorry to hear that you can't find Twinky. He/she sounds adorable. Before Google and the 'net, i thought i had imagined My Father's Dragon, but just recently had the great pleasure of procuring a copy. It was a delight to rediscover that i still love the maps on the end pages as much as the fantastical stories.

What fun! i have now officially adopted the phrases "heart-slufted" and "disappeared into nutchingness" into my lexicon.

Anonymous said...

Guess what? I found this post when I Googled "Nutch"! I just wanted to chip in and say, yes, I remember it too. We had a Nutch glass in our cupboard for many, many years.

Anonymous said...

I have googled Nutch and came across your post. Yes Nutch 'DID' very much exist. I remember it coming in a glass which could then be added to the glass cupboard as an extra drinking glass. It tasted very much like Nutella and was scrumptious. The years I recall it being in the marketplace were mid to late 70's. I hope this helps.