It’s already been two days since my husband’s 60th birthday party on Saturday, and our home is slowly returning to normal: we had to move some furniture around to accommodate 45 grown-ups in a relatively small space, and by tomorrow we will have moved out the table we brought in from the back stoep to stand in the entrance hall with flowers and champagne and candles, welcoming each person as they walked through the door. We kept our front gate open (and guarded as one does in Johannesburg!) and from 19h30 a steady stream of guests seemed to flow seamlessly from the street to the stoep to the entrance hall to the dining room to the kitchen and to the back stoep and garden, lit up by the pool light and three braziers blazing with flames.
I’m smiling now as I recall the night: how this little house, like a heart, throbbed with life: people talking and laughing and drinking and eating: the music was hardly audible, but there, a faint backdrop to so many voices. I had a lot of champagne and very little to eat, as one does as a hostess, so by the time I served the dessert, I had already come to terms with the demise of the profiterole tower: it ended up being served in an artful heap after first leaning, then collapsing as I removed the cone which was supposed to give it shape. But I still stuck sparklers into the glorious mess and carried the oval platter out to a happy chorus of “Happy Birthday”.
And then there was the food: everyone seemed to love the oxtail and venison stew on soft polenta, and for the vegetarians I made caponata: that deeply flavourful eggplant and caper and tomato stew. The crostini were gobbled up,and I almost thought that I had made too few: I wondered out loud to a friend and she said that I sounded like a Jewish mama! I grew up Afrikaans and that’s almost the same thing as far as enough food is concerned! The dishing up went smoothly: with a sister-in-law who cleverly devised two plain pine planks to use as trays to carry out the bowls, to a friend friend from the UK who passed the bowls for me to fill: she even suggested that we come over to live there so that her and I can start a restaurant! Another friend shared with me her idea of doing a home restaurant, and quite seriously asked if I would be interested in doing that with her.
And then my husband, who is a jazz saxophonist, hooked up the keyboard to the sound system, and him and his band members and a trombonist friend who were guests, played into the night: old standards. I watched as people started swaying to the music, then the first couple started dancing at the far end of my kitchen island, and soon almost everyone was dancing. The girlfriend of the pianist, who is also my singing teacher, sang too: her gorgeous jazzy voice had everyone smiling and humming along.
I did not plan to sing at all, but right at the end a handful of friends started asking whether I would sing.. so I did, unrehearsed, and I am so glad I did: a beautiful ballad, a love song, to my husband, with a live band! I felt in those moments carried by a surge of love and appreciation and, dare I say it? Admiration. Every single person here were people who had been part of my husband’s life for years, even an ex girlfriend or two, and an ex-husband of mine: all people who have remained in our lives over years; some friends of mine who have become ours, but mostly people who have been supportive and loving and appreciative for who he is as a person and who we have become as a couple.
Just now, lying on the couch in soft lamplight looking at the huge cluster of St Joseph lilies and deep maroon calla lilies and sunflowers and chrysanthemums and greens that remains on the table in the entrance hall, we decided to have one big party every year from now on. Simply to celebrate life. Eating and drinking and making music and dancing and singing and laughing and talking and connecting with people who will continue to witness our lives for as long as we are on this earth. My last post was titled, preemptively, La Dolce Vita, musing about the party. Now I can confirm that it was indeed a celebration of the sweet life, the sweetness of loving life and being lucky enough to have had such a night.