When you’ve stuck at home for over a year, memories of social interactions can take on wistful dimension, the “If only I’d known!”
In that spirit, a friend recently asked, What was your most memorable meal?
I had to think about that. Being nearly seventy, I can attest to plenty of remembered meals, for good reasons and not so good. I decided I’d rule out memorable in the train wreck sense, as none of those were funny. (Disastrous meals that turn out to be hilarious in retrospect can turn into fond memories.)
My childhood memories about glorious meals come straight from the intensely felt, uncomplicated hunger of the young. There are also meals shared with sweeties wherein the joy of emotional connection adds its grace note to what might have been a simple home-cooked meal as much as a gourmand’s delight at a fancy restaurant—in both cases, the details of the meals have faded, leaving memories of the people themselves.
In that sense, meals I’ve shared with other writers, often delicious meals, became that much more enjoyable because of the fast wit, the headlong literary explorations, the group commiserations over the grunt labor part of the writing life, the joy of talking shop without fear of boring others. When I think back over many of those, I can’t always recollect what we were eating at any specific meal, though I can recollect portions of conversations.
In all those situations the experience trumps the food, so I had to search my mind for a memory in which the food at least matched the experience, and ah, I finally found it. This was in the mid seventies, when I was in Paris with a friend.
I had just finished up three years of grad school, waitressing six days a week. Because I hadn’t had a day off between school and the restaurant (in those days we worked double shifts on holidays and kept our mouths shut, or they’d replace us in a heartbeat), to save my sanity, I had lived off my tips and squirreled away three years of my (less than minimum wage) pay, to blow on this month-long trip to Europe as my reward.
So there we were in Paris during the glorious days of October. After a magnificent day of visiting Cluny and tramping for miles on the streets, we chose an Italian restaurant for an early dinner. The place was less than half full, but the waitpersons ignored us, going to everyone else. That was okay with us—our feet were tired, and we had so much to talk about, an hour flitted by before the waiter finally came around.
We soon sipped a delicious local red, and then came the meal. I’d ordered ravioli, and what did I get? I have to pause here to admit that though I love to eat I am not much of a cook, and I’ve never managed to get to Italy, so for all I know the ravioli is just as good there, if not better, but what I tasted was what I thought of as Italian food with a French sauce: light, with a hint of wine, a perfect blend of fresh herbs, and of course the tomato. It was so delicious the experience of eating it made me headier than my half-glass of wine.
Something had changed for the waiter—I don’t know what—but suddenly he became friendly, brought us more wine unasked, then recommended dessert after asking what we had seen and done so far in our Paris stay. I don’t remember what I chose of the recommended deserts, but that, too, was excellent.
The experience was so perfect—fine wine shared over multivalent conversation amid Paris’s ineffable charm, then the superlative meal, and capping that the moment of friendly connection. Yes, I can live with that as my most memorable meal!