Thursday, April 10, 2014

The boulebags

Last night we had dinner at The Lotos Club. Our grand friends Silas and Graeme invited us. I baked boules for the boys.

There was a last-minute panic about pants. Pants were found. Jeans are not allowed, no matter how nice your jacket is. Or your tie. Both are required. Or, all three. Well, you know. Mostly, we live under a rock. We might as well be hermits. I ditched the black and white number I'd thought of wearing in favour of an old, loved black dress. Black earrings, jet beads, black high heels. Ivory coat.

On the way there, with our boulebags and two copies of my book for our friends, fifteen minutes early for dinner, we were engaged by an elderly man bearing a strong resemblance to Einstein. He wore a good but old camel coat with black marks across the arms, as though he'd been squashed by subway doors, and his jacket cuffs were frayed. A bright shirt and a floral tie and a turquoise jewel. He hailed us like friends, saying, They should take a picture of you! to me. This was on the expensive bit of Madison Avenue, outside Oscar de la Renta. How was the show?? he then asked, as we approached. He meant the photography exhibition on Park Avenue that we had just passed, with heavy security for an opening night gala. We had wondered about it. He was sure we had come from there. No, we said, We are going somewhere else. Where? he exclaimed. A club, we said, to dinner.

He told us that he is a photographer, and peppered us with big name-drops. After Tom Wolf, his opener, we knew they were big names because of his expression and the pause after each one, but because of our rock, we didn't know many of them.  He told us that the best time to make a portrait is after a heavy snowfall at 0 degrees, with the subject looking away from the light. He said Scorsese told him he liked to shoot in the cold, too. At least, I think that is what he said. He (our friend) only shoots once, one photo, and that's it. Film, of course. No retouching. He said his work has been likened to Vermeer's. He took down my name and number and said he'd invite us to his studio in Chelsea.

He asked us what was in our bags; he was sure they were goodie bags from the gala. Boules, I said with a smile and showed him. He was lost for words, momentarily. But what about the books! he asked, sure he'd caught us out, and that we'd be forced to admit we'd been to the show. What are the books?! I wrote the books, I said, and showed him.

You didn't go to the gala? he said. No, I said, We are not important enough.

Almost fifteen minutes had passed, and we were in time for dinner, so we parted.

It was a lovely evening. The building is beautiful.

And thank goodness we took the boules, for our two friends. Because we had not known about the 86th birthday. That same friend's portrait hangs upstairs in the library. From the foyer we walked downstairs, under a Tiffany stained glass skylight. And then we ate crab cakes and tuna and learned some things while listening.

They turned out well. The loaves, I mean. And they were still a little warm. I used what is now the usual recipe but cut the dough in half physically after the first rising. I made a separate boule for this household's use, this time adding 40 grams of finely chopped, preserved lemon to the dough after its first rest or autolyse. Very good.

No matter what else we will say about this Harlem apartment (and despite its good points, we will say a lot), this is where I learned to bake sourdough.

We will always have that.


  1. I know this man. The Einsteinian man. How could there be another? His studio in Chelsea? That explains it. He is at every opening I ever go to in Manhattan, dressed somewhat as you've described. Any other facial characteristics you didn't mention? Anyhoo, how funny because I know just who you mean.

  2. Greetings from Wroclaw, Poland (cold…..but green!) I love this post. I'm on a "borrowed" Wi-Fi {(veefee here:-)} but will re-read as soon as I'm on home turf! GH

  3. This is how I imagine your every week. You're both so lovely and classy and terrific story tellers to boot. This was just the break I needed from my day. Delightful!

  4. maybe

  5. Is that bowl related to 'that' vase...? : )

  6. New York is so great for adventures like this!


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