I’d said 7pm but no one rang the buzzer until 7:25. During that 25 minutes, I changed sweaters 5 times. And threw my hair up into a twist and pretended it was a style and not related to the fact that I had forgotten to wash it that day. What were you supposed to wear on a Saturday night for a dinner out on rue St. Germain, anyway? I ended up in a black turtleneck. The tapas was laid out on the table and glasses and napkins, so things were ready. Books, papers, magazines that had been strewn around were now on shelves or in drawers. The bathroom did not have laundry hanging from the line above the tub like it usually did. How could anyone keep up with laundry when there was no dryer. And I’d remembered to pick up something from Picard to feed the girls while we dined out.
The buzzer sounds. I tell the girls to grab the dog who will inevitably bark. She barks anyway. The elevator clinks its way up with the first arrivals. I introduce Andrew to both and receive the nice box of champagne they hand over. I ask my friends husband to pop the bottle we have cooling in the fridge and we get glasses and the bubbles rise to the top of the flutes and flow over and Bob Dylan is playing too loudly thru the speakers as questions go round and Andrew goes to turn the music down. The next two couples arrive one behind the other, the apartment is warm, more introductions and bottles, one friend has made the dress she is wearing, another is running a race tomorrow, I tell them about my writing. Waves of conversation rise as we tell about ourselves and how we have ended up here, in this most beautiful of cities. I eventually remind everyone to help themselves to the Spanish cheese and ham.
We arrive at the restaurant, the table by the door is set for eight; probably for us, I think. Yes, the efficient maitre d’ in his tux welcomes us, takes our coats, beckons us to sit. He doesn’t seem mad that we are late and have added another couple. Someone had looked at their watch at our place and realized we needed to go. We’d then debated the way there, some saying walk, others suggesting the metro. We metro’ed in the end, the reflection of our faces relaxed in the garish green light as the train screeched thru the tunnels of the #10 line, a few of us insisting we exit at Maubert Mutualite, but at the last minute, jumping back on, then all of us exiting the right station, but taking the wrong route along rue du Cardinal Lemoine, not realizing our mistake, until we had to double back.
But here we all are piling inside; the place is full of people along the red leather banquettes, white tableclothes, the waiters deftly circling around in the small spaces, black trays in hand.
Andrew had suggested the restaurant, Chez Rene, his appreciation for the tried and true, for routines that work, this picture of a classic French bistro. He orders the boeuf bourguignon. I do too. The smell of wine and mushrooms rises up as the waiter places the steaming dish in front of me, and leaves a cast iron pot in the middle of the table with the extra sauce. I ladle more over potatoes. It’s wonderful. Andrew and another guy have pushed their chairs back from the table and are talking. At the far end of the table, someone is pantomiming with their glasses and someone else starts to copy him. They engage in a few series of theatrical poses, one outdoing the other. Laughter. The wind is blowing the awning outside, gusts of air rush in as the door opens and a group of people step inside and the maitre d’ is there to greet them.