My last memorable dinner party
Most of us know the format of conventional dinner parties. A gracious hostess invites four or five couples to her mansion and after the introductions, over drinks, the guests are ready for the first course of a four-course dinner.
During dinner the hostess encourages her guests to change places so everyone gets the chance to chat to everyone else. In my experience, the women network during the party while the men posture like peacocks to impress. The food is delectable, the wines are well-chosen and the party ends when the last drop of wine is consumed.
My dinner parties have a different format. I hire the Wine Centre and invite one guest only. While we talk and enjoy the foods and wines the Centre provides, we usually think of other guests to invite. I then send a stretch limo to fetch whoever we want and the dinner party continues. On one occasion, I had ten guests and the dinner party lasted till the wee hours of the morning.
I usually pick interesting people for my dinner parties and no one ever refused my invitation. I remember the night Darwin sent one of his sidekicks instead. Her teacher, she said, was busy arguing with God but that didn’t impress me. I told her I needed Charles at the Wine Centre ASAP.
‘And who do think you are?’ She asked.
‘I’m the omniscient narrator,’ I said and that made all the difference because she too knew that omniscient narrators rule.
Last year I invited John Gardener for a dinner that proved to be most memorable. The reason I picked him was simple: my cousin Sophy sends me wonderful poems to read. I read them with the aid of my Thesaurus but can’t get into them. I wanted to know why her poems don’t hit the spot. You probably remember that John died in a motor accident in 1982 at the age of forty nine. He wrote many novels but he was also a renowned teacher of the Art of Fiction.
Tall and lanky he stepped out of my stretch limousine and I greeted him by shaking both his hands. After the first course he was impressed. You have a nice set up here, he said. The wines are easy to drink and the chef is a learned man.
With the small talk out of the way, I read one of the poems Sophy composed and popped the question.
‘You are like all my students,’ he said nodding. ‘You want answers to specific questions without having any background of what a novel is, or a poem for that matter.’
‘I’m in your hands,’ I said. ‘Fire away.’
‘For a start,’ he said, after he had another sip of the Merlot, ‘I don’t make any distinction between poems, short stories or novels. When you pick up a work of fiction to read, you accept an invitation to share a dream with the writer. While you are in this dream-like-state you don’t want any interruptions. If you have to stop dreaming to look up a word in the Thesaurus the brake doesn’t help.’
‘This is exactly how I feel,’ I said with a reassuring smile.
‘That is not all, because we now need to explore what the role of fiction is. Many hold the role of fiction is to entertain or distract us from our troubles or that it broadens our knowledge of people and places. But for my money the role of fiction is to reinforce the noblest qualities in us, and lead us feeling uneasy about our faults and limitations.’
That is great I thought and ordered another bottle of the Merlot.
‘We reach our goal,’ he continued ‘by recording the hero’s journey from the personal to universal experiences.’
‘You are a Professor,’ I reminded him, ‘and use impressing words but can I have some examples?’
‘I was in the Cunnamulla cemetery the other day and saw the beautiful inscription Mrs McAlister dedicated to her husband.
The last act of love is remembrance.
Cunnamulla is a small Queensland country town and Mrs McAlister was a loving wife but her inscription speaks volumes to us because it reminds us of a universal theme. I imagine that when she had no more tears to shed, she came up with the inscription that touches everyone’s heart. More importantly the inscription has nothing to do with Cunnamulla. A New Yorker can understand it. And it has nothing to do with the McAlistair family anymore.
Notice also that Mrs McAlister used everyday words to convey her fine feelings.’
‘Can we have more examples, please?’
‘The autumn haiku,
Imperceptibly it withers this flower like heart of man,
expresses another universal theme.’
‘What you call universal themes, I see as morbid fascination with our destiny.’
‘I know your attention span is short, so I have chosen a short inscription and a haiku. Let me expose you to different universal themes. The universal theme of the Sanskrit poem,
Surely the god of love became her willing slave,
Obedient to the orders that her glances gave,
celebrates the power of women. In the next poem, the universal theme is grace and beauty.
The moon tries every month in vain
To paint a picture of your face;
And having failed to catch its grace
Destroys the work, and starts again,
Please note the poets used every day words to convey fine feelings’
‘I’m now comfortable with universal themes but can we return to language? If Sophy should not use unusual words to impress me, what is the most effective language weapon a writer has at her disposal?’
‘Now that is important. And the answer is a judicious repetition of words.’
‘I thought repetition is a no-no.’
‘Far from it but it has to be judicious. Consider the title of the book Nietzsche wrote.
Human, all too human.
That is judicious repetition.’
‘Fine but I need your help on another important issue. In a story I’m writing, I reminisce about my younger days when I cycled for a couple of hours to meet my girlfriend. I was on a high during the journey and when I saw her wearing tight jeans I couldn’t hold back. I abandoned my bike, hugged her and kissed her. So far so good but where is the universal theme?’
‘Well,’ he said scratching his chin, ‘Eros is great. Many believe that life is a pleasant interlude between Eros and Thanatos.’
‘Death,’ he replied.
‘That is fine,’ I said, ‘but I want to express a deeper universal theme. Can you help?’
‘Of course I can, only you have to promise me that you won’t be offended.’
‘At one level we have an expression of Eros but at another level you are craving for the freedom you once had.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You are not free now. You have two mortgages around your neck, your Bankcard is overdrawn by 15,000 dollars and you drive a monstrosity you call a four-wheel car.’
‘That is true but where are we going with your observations?’
‘You are not free and long for the care free days.’
‘And how do you know so much about me?’
‘Because I’ve heard you sing.’
‘Can you be more specific?’
‘Isn’t it true that you sing Born Free while you cruise the streets of Adelaide in your monstrosity?’
‘It’s true but I can’t see the universal theme.’
‘The sad truth Niko is, that you lost all your freedoms and you are now living the miserable life of a consumer. You are surrounded by goodies but you are not happy and you are not free. That is an important universal theme. Many are in the same boat.’
As I said, it was a memorable dinner party.