Wednesday, November 13, 2013

An Australian Dinner Party in Manhattan

It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to
Cry if I want to, cry if I want to
You would cry too if it happened to you ;- Lesley Gore but the Bryan Ferry version is better!
Joseph's face was black as night
The pale yellow moon shone in his eyes
His path was marked
By the stars in the southern hemisphere
And he walked his days
Under African skies - Paul Simon, "Under African Skies"

Blah Blah Blah Realty Upper East Side
I hadn't been to a dinner party in Manhattan - well not a "real one" that is. Not what us Aussies would call a "dinner party".

I have been to one Sedar, to a birthday in a restaurant, and to a weird gathering on the Upper West side.

Probably the gathering on the Upper West Side was the closest I've come to an Australian dinner party - Aussie only in the sense that we were all gathered around one table and a central theme evolved. On pets.

One of the guests was passing around a photo in his wallet, of his pet parrot. No to be one-upped another guy at the party actually called his pet cat from his cell phone.

But no one laughed or made sarcastic remarks. Every one was very polite. "So cute your little birdie!" "What a clever cat!"  Fortunately the "party" only lasted one hour. Nah, not anything LIKE an Australian dinner party - too short, no arguments, and the guests were unfailingly  polite to each other.

In the past decade,  I've only been to two Australian dinner parties.

The first one was in Australia, in 2009 when after sixty minutes into the gathering, guests somehow got involved in discussing Catholicism and Protestantism - the central theme which one was better. All authentic Australian dinner parties have themes. Themes that are unplanned, but are themes never the less.

I'm not sure what "side" I was on. at the Catholic-Protestant dinner  party. I didn't want to be lumped in with the English - no way could I support those responsible for the potato famine in Ireland over a century ago. But I was brought up to be an anti-Catholic agnostic. I vaguely remember trying to be neutral, but that didn't work. You have to take a side in Australian dinner party debates.

I have a memory of going to the back yard - leaving them all to argue, while I looked up at that beautiful midnight-ink dark antipodean sky lavishly sprinkled with stars - that beautiful generous sky that can only be seen in the southern hemisphere.

Back in Manhattan, I'd given up expecting to go to an Australian dinner party outside of Australia.

And then, quite suddenly it happened - I landed in an Australian dinner party, in the heart of Manhattan.  At the Members-only dining room in the Metropolitan Museum of Art - which boasts "full waiter service of contemporary American cuisine in a sophisticated, elegant setting with expansive views of Central Park."

Season of Mists - Fall in Manhattan
It started off as a genteel gathering  the family members, two women and a man - all Australian - who were having a Manhattan evening, with their niece,  my friend who is also a fellow New Yorker. It was their last evening in New York before rejoining their cruise.

My friend had chosen the venue - we both like it for its over-the-top elegance - un-Manhattan-like with plenty of room between tables, flatware (how I love American for cutlery) that is not re-used between courses, waiters who keep a discreet distance while you read the menu whose contents are in reverse proportion to its physical size.

There we were -  five Aussies  making polite conversation. You know the sort of stuff - "How long have you lived in New York?" "Are you enjoying the cruise,?" "How did you and Michelle meet?

We'd almost forgotten  that we were there to eat, when one of the head waiters materialized. "Would you like to see the menu?" The sole male member of the gathering, in thick Aussie accent replied. "Well you've taken bloody long enough mate."

I instantly warmed to the stranger from the cruise  who was sitting on my left. I was transported to that happy place down under where  people call a spade a shovel. Even the sky over Central Park which I could view through the Members' dining room windows - even the sky seemed to have more stars.

We ordered wine for starters,  began to relax  and  become - Australian.

I remember I discussed men, with the elegant family-member-from-the cruise who was sitting opposite. She didn't think much the Australian culture of "mateship". Me neither, We were chatting away when her husband - the one who had made the crack to the head waiter - butted in. In true Australian fashion he sided with his mates, 12,000 miles away.

"A man has to support his mates!" he opined. "Not so!" the women cried. "Not so!"

The food arrived. "Too rare!" complained the elegant woman opposite, who had ordered duck. "It's meant to rare." "Not THAT rare!" On and on we went,  arguing about whether duck should or should not, be served rare.  We all had different opinions. There was no stopping us. Rare, medium rare, done, well-done, burned. There were as many varieties as there were people at the table. And then, from the pro-mateship man, "If you don't like it send it back."

Which she did. And them marched off to the restroom. "She always orders duck, and always complains! Every time" said the pro-mateship man. We sat stunned. "Are you sure?" I asked. "Bloody positive," he answered.

The conversation meandered back to how mates should stick together. Why  many women don t like the mateship . Mateship, the underlying concept that the Australian nation is built on.

I stared out the window at the stars which were multiplying minute by minute. I could be anywhere, Balwyn , Carlton, Perth, Adelaide. Even, yes, even Castlemaine.

A little bit of Australian in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What could be better than that?

You can read more on Australian dinner parties HERE.

1 comment:

Boggy said...

Mateship, never went in for it myself. It's a lot like, "My country may she always be right, but right or wrong, my country." I felt a bit that way when i was in the Air Force (U.S.A.F.) but it passed. Had 'mates' as a boy, but only two that I would call true mates - friendships cemented by shared life experiences like nasty treatment at school or lazy summer days. Guess I'm not a joiner.
As for an Aussie dinner party, count me out. I like congeniality when I'm at table; it goes better with my digestive juices. And I'm married to a lady who don't relish table conflict and, as she's the cook, well "Don't piss off the cook." Right?
But like you, I miss the Aussie give and take and tomorrow it's all forgotten anyhow.
As for mateship, better be friends with the ladies, they live longer!

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