Friday, May 6, 2011

While you were sleeping

I am often wakeful in the night, a long-standing sleep pattern since early adulthood.  I used to get up, clean house, write letters, read, watch a movie.  But now, I tend to stay in bed and allow my mind to wander into the creativity department.  It's kind of fun and sometimes it's so enervating that I can't possibly relax enough to return to sleep.  My closest friend and natural night owl, Texas Mama*, knows first-hand about my sleeplessness, especially when we are planning a large event.  I am so concentrated on the details that my brain often refuses to let go long enough to get any appreciable sleep (or to give her much relief from my relentless stream of consciousness).  She has patiently weathered through hours of late-night conversations with me.  Conversations that to others might appear to be a full-blown manic episode that not even a massive dose of lithium carbonate could stabalize.

I am convinced that I was born in the wrong era.  I am also convinced that I was a flamboyant flapper (although some of you may find this hard to imagine), and have always been fascinated with the Twenties and Pre-Prohibition history.  I decided one sleepless night that I wanted to have a 1920's Halloween Ball.  I wanted it to be period-authentic.  I wanted to have a really big party--Great Gatsby style.  I downloaded menus from the Algonquin and the Plaza Hotels from the 1920's, researched wines and spirits that would have been available, scoured thrift shops for vintage hollow stem champagne coupes (and made a killing), found old ironstone tea cups and saucers (for the "bathtub gin"), researched speakeasy history, 1920's slang, decor, music, clothing and even learned how to apply makeup like a flapper.  I set up a large movie screen in my back yard to play silent movies during the party.  I even staged a "raid" that was quite impressive: one of my friends who is actually a DEA agent and another who channels a Jimmy Hoffa-style gangster really well, busted through the front door in trench coats and fedoras with fake tommy guns.  The expressions on the faces of my guests were priceless.  That party was such a success, it's become a regular event.

But I didn't take anything more than a midnight catnap every night during the week leading up to the party.  Details were constantly swirling in my head and were always being refined and streamlined.  By the time the big night came, everything was perfect.  I was decked out to the nines, tens and elevens in fringe, feathers and an auburn bob.  Even my beloved dog wore a feather head ornament and a feather collar.  And I was running on pure adrenaline, bolstered by a small, ornate flask of "giggle juice" (secured discretely to my garter like any self-respecting flapper) and copious amounts of champagne and caviar.

The glittering tables of food and Art Deco props transported the dining room to the decadent era I so adore.  It was an experience out of time and so believable that my guests expressed awe in hushed tones as their eyes widened when they entered the room.  Music from The California Ramblers, Jan Garber, Ed Kirkeby and other popular hotel ballroom bands of the Twenties echoed evocatively through the room and out into the garden.  A friend who collects antique clothing from the Twenties drove up in a canary yellow vintage Studebaker with her tuxedoed husband, honking their ca-hoo-ga horn gaily.  That night, my friend taught everyone the Charleston and we had quite a stomp--beads, fringe and feathers flying everywhere.  We ate, we drank, we swooned over The Sheik on the silver screen. 

After everyone had said goodnight long after midnight, I surveyed the remains.  What a party!  Jay Gatsby had NOTHING on me!!  Champagne glasses and empty champagne bottles everywhere.  Half-eaten plates of food.  Silver platters of canapes and petits fours long past their prime.  Ostrich feathers of every color, everywhere (I'm still finding them in my back yard).  And one bewildered dog, head ornament askew and feather collar long gone.  I cleaned up the kitchen and organized until 4 o'clock in the morning.  Then it took me a long time to wind down enough to relax and fall asleep for a couple of hours, when I woke with the sun.  And post-party depression.

Smaller scale dinner parties also get planned in the wee hours.  Usually, I have some kind of theme in mind and am obsessive enough about details to want everything to be as authentic to the theme as possible.  This past New Year's Eve, I served an authentic French country meal, at a rustic and simple table.  We drank earthy French wines and of course had plenty of champagne, all the while serenaded by the atmospheric piano music of Claude Debussy and singers Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier on the retro phonograph.  I suggested that we play charades in French.  My guests declined.

A sultry August night was the setting for A Night in Morocco, with Sufi trance music, a belly dancer, lamb kabobs, couscous studded with pistachios and apricots, mint tea and a screening of Casablanca.  Guests came in long tunics, gauze pants and one wore a beautiful fez.  And I am recalling a Mardi Gras party one year that was especially fun, the house dripping with beads.  I set up a "make your own Mardi Gras mask" station, served authentic New Orleans cuisine,  played zydeco music, Pete Fountain, and Preservation Hall jazz.  We ended the evening with Cafe Brulot, the spicy, citrusy Creole coffee that is laced with brandy and then set aflame.

One of the most fun parties I've had as a result of insomnia was the Croquet in May Victorian lawn party.  Ladies were encouraged to wear white linen, white gloves and large hats.  Men were encouraged to wear linen or pale, light attire.  On a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon, we enjoyed lavender lemonade, tea cookies, watercress finger sandwiches, radish canapes, and of course, we played croquet on the front lawn.  And believe me, there is nothing quite like a long game of croquet to highlight aspects of marital aggression among couples.  We were quite the spectacle as my neighbors drove by, observing a small crowd of oddly-dressed people who gave the appearance that they were merely politely engaged in sport and genteel frivolity.

And last night, while you were sleeping?  I've been planning your next visit to Greece, India, Italy, Thailand, Vietnam.  I've been thinking about a 1950's Hollywood cocktail party with lots of starlets and movie moguls, glitz and glamour.  I think the Rat Pack might be in attendance as well.  And how about a trip to interior Mexico via an Oaxcan tamale party, with authentic pollo y mole negro cooked in toasted banana leaves?  Or a cheese, honey and wine pairing party to raise funds and awareness for research on Colony Collapse Disorder and to encourage the proliferation of honeybees.  Or a silk sari/shalwar kameez party with artisanal stone-baked flat breads and hand made soft goat cheese to be eaten with a Northern Indian and Pakistani lentil curries and hot pickles.  Every night, the ideas dance in my mind and I envision people, food and wine together, magical, memorable, and magnificent in every detail.

So I continue to embrace my insomnia.  Because while you were sleeping, I was dreaming.

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

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