We missed the Fourth of July. Don’t know how. For several years when we first moved to our little village in the south of France, we hosted a July 4th cookout. It was a way to invite the various people we had met but we didn’t yet know well enough to have over for a more formal dinner.
But the party took on a scale we hadn’t anticipated. After a few years, we had over 200 people, many of whom we had never seen before–word of mouth spread and it got out of hand. From what I’ve read, we’re not alone.
We stopped doing the party. But by then we had a circle of really good friends, who lamented the loss of hamburgers with all the fixings. So we did it again, on a smaller, invitation-only scale.
We were planning a belated July 4 cookout on Sunday with 15 people or so, when a dear pal, A., asked Husband if he could bring some extras. I wasn’t present for this, and when I found out, I panicked. It was late Friday night, or was it already Saturday? I had just gone to bed after having made the desserts…for 15. How many extras? Maybe six. Maybe 15.
We always make more than enough burgers and figured we’d be OK there. I made extra salads and crudités the next day and picked up some watermelon to stretch the dessert table. Still, on Sunday morning, I was stressed, in a rotten mood not knowing who or how many would appear.
Some friends came into the house as I was about to take out the appetizers. Mostly distracted by the friends, I heard music and thought, vaguely, that Husband had set up a sound system as he loves to do, but this was really loud for the kind of mini-speakers he prefers. I also thought Husband’s taste in music had suddenly improved. It sounded like Norah Jones. Did she have a new album? Or was it Corinne Bailey Rae? Or Diana Krall? Not thinking too much about it, I took the food outside.
And ran into a live jazz quartet, SummerTeam. The lovely chanteuse was singing “Fly Me to the Moon” as I walked out of the house and got gob-smacked by their presence. ?!?!?!? I worship jazz. And these beautiful young things played all the old standards. I really almost fell over.
They squeezed into a bit of shade between the pergola, the pool and and a palm tree, and seemed to actually have fun. I suppose there are worse gigs than playing between a palm tree and a pool, and being fed great burgers between sets.
The guests arrived in a constant flow. La bise, la bise, la bise. Then came the Unknowns, bearing huge, foil-covered trays. Me, mouth gaping in astonishment: WHUH?!?!?!? Under the foil were chicken wings and legs, and deep-fried calamari, to round out the appetizers. Thank you, A! The Unknowns (who didn’t remain unknown very long) and A. had pitched in to hire the band to come and play!
The surprise guests were fun and charming, and very helpful. We have a stock of 40 simple Ikea dishes we use for events–they have gone through hundreds of parties over the years, along with accompanying silverware and glasses–we don’t do plastic. But 40 wasn’t quite enough for 35-ish guests to move on to dessert. Dishwashing was in order, but the automatic one would have taken too long. In Europe, appliances like dishwashers and washing machines heat the water themselves rather than taking it from a hot-water heater, so the process is much slower than in the U.S.
One of the surprise guests came in the house, spied me washing dishes and stepped back outside to bellow “EQUIPE!!!” In seconds my kitchen had six or eight (hard to tell! it was crowded) men and women wielding soapy sponges and tea towels. I don’t expect guests to do dishes, but I was grateful to them, again.
Back outside, I thought how magical it was, thanks in no small part to the band. All the guests, the entire place, were transported by the magic of the music. It helps that the band was really, really good. I loved every single song, and I am very picky about jazz.
The kids dove in the pool and stayed there…mostly (they somehow have radar to hear the lifting of plastic wrap on desserts that are still in the kitchen). One neighbor brought chocolate mousse, another nice surprise. The adults lounged around, increasingly horizontal. Some eventually had to leave. But a few just lolled about, until, around 7 p.m., somebody said, hmm, we really SHOULD eat dinner. Husband defrosted some Toulouse sausages and relit the grill, the remains of the salads came back out, and a dozen of us had Round 2. There was no shortage of food, despite my worries. It broke up at nearly 11 p.m., after discussing and resolving the major problems of the world. We had started at noon. I would call that a successful bash.
So, if you decide to crash a party with a bunch of pals, do it with food in hand and a live band!
BTW, I need to cut back to posting twice a week. I will post on Tuesdays and Fridays. Be there or be square.