Photo by IMAdina
If you happen to be around during one of my parents’ dinner party, don’t be shy and come in. The entrance door would be open, chatter from inside leading your way through the hallway floored with tired marbles, chipped in more places than you can count, but still strong and sturdy, keeping its past patrician flair intact.
Entering the salon, the piano would be the first thing you’d see, brown, rather small, scratches peeking out through the clumsy polish. My father is much better at helping his students decipher the mysteries of mathematics than at being the handyman of the house.
Pass the piano and to the right you’ll see the living room, with a wooden table neatly set for twenty people. My father would be the first one noticing your appearance, and he’d hastily make his way through to you, embarrassed that no one was there to take your coat and announce your arrival.
The people would stop their chatter for a moment, my father would greet you rather loudly, grabbing a glass of plum brandy from the buffet to the left of the table. My mother would excitedly clap her delicate hands, like this is the happiest moment of her life, your arrival. She is concealing her worn out hands in silky gloves, a reminiscence of past times. She’d take you by the arm and lead you to the plate filled with a variety of hors d’oeuvres.
The plate has been in my father’s family through two generations, so make sure you don’t touch the plate when you grab a piece of the homemade bread smeared with icre, the Romanian roe spread that you’d find on any festive table, or with salata de vinete, the eggplant spread that cannot miss on such an occasion.
“Everyone take their seats, please, Mica is about to bring in the soup!” my father would shout, as you try to grab a few more little sandwiches with the delicious spreads.
You need to check the name signs to find your seat at the table. You find it between “Madame General Ionesco” and “Madame Professor Lupei”. As you take your seat, Madame General starts talking to you about the wonderful dinner my mother could put together on the limited rations we are allowed monthly. “May be they have some relations in the government, could procure some of the food on the black market; I cannot believe Vince’s luck, how he could hold his professorship, Ionel, my youngest, wasn’t even allowed to start college… ”. “But darling” intervenes Madame Professor, “you know how Vince always helped people, maybe it’s just that those people help him now in return.”
Your attention, along with everyone else’s, would shift to the little door leading to the kitchen. Mica’s fragile frame is filling it, holding a porcelain soup pot. She’s holding the pot by its handles, completely absorbed by the small movement of the liquid inside, walking one tiny step at the time, keeping her upper body almost still. The pot is filled with soup to the very top, bloodish little drops soiling its pure white with every baby step my mother is taking. Madame General, Madame Professor, and another lady from across the table are jumping to help her, ending up more in her way, until Mica reaches the porcelain plate on the cupboard to her right and places the pot on it with a sigh of relief. Everyone now relaxes, the inviting aroma waking up their hunger, all longing for the hot smooth feeling of peace that the soup is promising.
Vince would be going around the table, asking people what they’d like to drink, awkwardly handling the bottle he’s holding, and you’d wonder how many times he spilled the beverage on his guests. Vince and Mica couldn’t afford a housemaid anymore, and it proved difficult for them to learn the new ways. They have been hit hard by the onset of the new ordinance.
My father had dreamed of building a house in the city Mica was born, in place of her childhood home, a house that would be big enough to shelter us all during summer, and also have room downstairs to host regular gatherings of important people solving the affairs of the world. He almost achieved his dream, when the new ordinance came to power. One night, several men and a handful of soldiers took the house by force. My parents were allowed to grab what they could carry in two suitcases. The maid, the housemaid, the butler, the cook and the chauffeur have been reassigned jobs and threatened to lose their lives if they helped my family. “They need to learn how to live like the rest of us”, one of the men said, taking a long sip from my father’s plum brandy, his feet on my father’s mahogany desk, my father’s books all in a pile on the deck, burning their shameful intellectualism.
By some extraordinary chance, they were allowed to return to their regular residence from the city. The State had confiscated it, and my parents had to pay rent to live in their own house. Same or other extraordinary chance allowed Vince to hold his professorship at the University, and Mica had to learn on her own how to manage a five people household on limited provisions. Cooking was her most successful endeavor.
The soup would be the most savory soup, a deep red color from the beets and tomato sauce, with clear little fat beads from the old hen Mica bought after she stood in line for countless hours. They haven’t had meat in a week, and she worried every day she stood in line that the meat wouldn’t arrive this week either. But the meat arrived, twenty old tired hens, and she was lucky enough to get one of them.
“Mica, the soup is extraordinary!” Madame General would exclaim, “You are so lucky to have access to meat these days!”
You’d see Mica’s tired smile, eating her soup in silence. Vince would pat her shoulders tenderly, and he’d offer Madame General another drink.