I sat at a big oak round table – the kind with the claw feet – the other evening with a group of writer and musician friends. We engaged in a candlelight discourse and passed around the bottles of wine. “Life is short,” I remarked. Jane Austen snickered up her sleeve, the three Brontë sisters giggled so uncontrollably they had to leave the table early. I think I even heard Mr. Rochester chortle from his back room. Wolfgang sniggered into his lace cuffs and slapped himself on the frontal lobe sending a cloud of apricot powder from his wig sailing above the table. Franz Schubert stopped picking at his fish, pulled out his handkerchief, slid off his spectacles and wiped the tears of mirth from his lenses. Ludwig said, “Sorry. Could you repeat that?” Anton Chekhov coughed into his handkerchief and said that before the Black Monk carried him off he was glad for his serendipitous encounter with Leo Tolstoy, where he got a chance to skinny dip with Tolstoy in Tolstoy’s Yasnaya Polyana pond. Alexander Scriabin reflected, “Before I nicked myself shaving, I was just about to create that exquisite polychromatic sound and light show that Mick and Keith would have loved: we were going to record the performance on moving pictures.” Jacqueline du Pré plucked a ditty on her 1712 Davidov Stradivarius cello before handing the instrument over to Yo-Yo Ma. “Davidov was the czar of cellists,” rhapsodized Pyotr Tchaikovsky. “But over my first piano concerto, that Anton Rubinstein behaved liked such a girl.”
Thomas Jefferson laid his violin and bow on the table, stared at us blankly and said, “Like – what? Oh-h-h, I’ve got cheese from the macaroni and cheese stuck on my lapel again,” taking the nib of his pen and scraping it off. He waved his free hand as if batting away flies: “Well, those Parisians. You know – they create those rich creamy sauces necessitating one’s quaffing extra bottles of red wine to cut the fat. In the course of events, down in Virginia you may find us gone with the wine.” Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix chorused, “Show me the way to your wine cellar.” My friend blamed her cats for depleting her wine stash. Adam Gopnik and Bernard-Henri Lévy engaged in an animated philosophical side conversation hypothesizing that if the French government elected to set the Paris arrondissements in motion spinning around the hub, would they better rotate clockwise or counterclockwise? And, how, then, would one locate the good restaurants? Would that mess up one’s GPS, for instance?
JFK accidentally hit the red button on his iPhone. Vaslav Nijinsky leaped from his chair while Anna Pavlova fished around in her bag for extra ball bearings to insert into the toes of her pointe shoes to facilitate her gliding bourrées. Edgar Allan Poe emptied the bowl of popcorn on the table, feeding it to the raven perched on his shoulder until the bird got stuffed and croaked flatly, “Nevermore.” There was a draft. The candle flame flickered, casting a protracted, quivering raven’s shadow across the floor. Michael Cunningham glanced across at Virginia Woolf and muttered, “The hours, the hours.” E. M. Forster postulated, “No matter when you die, the outcome will be the same.” Ernest Hemingway interjected, “I hope the sun never rises.” F. Scott Fitzgerald noted, “We can’t just let our worlds crash around us like a lot of dropped trays.”
Dante Alighieri joined the discussion via satellite from the banks of the River Arno in Florence, speaking divine Italian but through a female translator voiceover. The effect was disconcerting. John Keats dipped his pen into his glass of red wine and began composing an ode on a vintner’s urn. Lord Byron would have elaborated, but he was on assignment in Greece. Oscar Wilde smiled enigmatically. While Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “I’m having a bad dream.” Orhan Pamuk, in New York City from Istanbul to teach his autumn writing class at Columbia, and seated to my left, gently laid his hand on mine and observed, “Innocent child, come live in my museum.”
Charlie Rose beat the table three times with the palm of his hand in a vain attempt to moderate. “Get Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough in here to sift through these gobbets.” And George Clooney said, “I know. Let’s make a movie. It’ll star Helen Mirren.” Keith Olbermann crumpled his notes, tossed them into the empty popcorn bowl, pushed back his chair and stood up. “Good night. And good luck,” he said.
–Samantha, October 19, 2011