Thursday, 15 September 2016

Reviving the Salon

It used to be that well-connected people in places like Paris and New York would open their homes to literary and artistic guests, hosting social gatherings and dinners and discussions. They called it a "salon" and it was meant to both entertain and educate, giving artists a chance to rub elbows and share knowledge as well as amusement. The practice was big in France post-Renaissance, and it continued into the 20th century but seems to have died out in the 1940s. I guess World Wars dampened the enthusiasm for such things, or stole away many of the creative generation of that time. Women joined the work force in greater numbers, the commute to distant factories ate up our time, and dinner became a bowl of Kraft Mac and Cheese eaten in front of the TV.

I like the idea of having people to dinner, just to sit around the table eating and chatting and sharing insights with inspiring people. I like to think about who I'd invite. Who I'd like to learn from. Alexander McCall Smith for certain, and Robin Pilcher (both of whom I actually have invited to dinner next time they're in this area). Susanna Kearsley. Alan Bradley. Louise Penny. (All of them are locals, come to think of it. It could happen.) I'm not really a follower of actors and entertainment, but I wouldn't mind meeting someone like Michael Caine or Maggie Smith. Or Betty White, just for tips on longevity (I personally suspect it's having spent life laughing. Look at Bob Hope and George Burns, who lived to a good old age). Carol Burnett. Bill Nighy. And I'd enjoy an intense discussion with Rick Mercer. Then there are the non-artistic in the classic sense, but just people who have crafted an interesting life--- Joel Salatin, for example, or Simcha Jacobovici.

And why limit it to live people, as long as I'm dreaming? Imagine this: a dinner table with softly glowing candles, a chamber orchestra playing in the background (magically fitting in my 10 x 10' dining room). Homemade pasta and crunchy garlic bread. Napoleon flirts harmlessly with Charlotte Bronte, while Marie Antoinette goes for the piece of cake with the most frosting. Victor Hugo commiserates with Hemingway, Tolstoy ignores them both, and Genghis Khan tries to pick a fight with Gandhi over whether to pronounce the Hs in their names. Dorothy Parker pokes at her garden salad and scribbles on the tablecloth with a pencil, while Sigmund Freud quietly pockets the silverware. Mozart hums along to the music, and Noah slips food scraps to Brio under the table. Paul Bunyan has to eat outside on the patio because he's too large for the room. Heathcliff stalks the grounds in deep conversation with Melrose Plant. I'd get my husband to do the cooking, because he's better at it, and afterward we'd all tour the garden to pick blueberries to scatter on our ice cream (I said this was a dream, right? I picked -- count'em -- four blueberries from my garden this year).

Who would you invite? Whose brain do you want to examine? Whose life do you have questions about? Who would you find fascinating? And when you host your next salon, can I come?

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