Sunday, October 2, 2011

Much Abides

“We’re 300,” says Jim cheerfully, as he enters El Comedor, Airstream creation of the visionary Patrick Ryan.

Our host is as confused as the rest of us, until everyone realizes that we have arrived at this night, with six momentous birthdays in the rearview mirror.  Patrick is suitably impressed, though perhaps not as much as when we tell him we have known each other since we were 90.  I think of this throughout the night as we seize joy exponential from an evening that we all knew promised at least joy squared.

According to Mary Glen, El Comedor, loosely translated, is “dining room”.  It is an apt moniker.  Patrick Ryan is a culinary genius, and better food critics than I have written of his many skills, but the truth is more complicated than that.  I’ve eaten in a lot of great restaurants, but this is the first time I felt like I was at The Perfect Dinner Party.  Like Juliet Binoche’s mysterious Chocolat, there is more to Ryan’s food than meets the eye.  

I’d sent an email, tasking all diners to bring an offering of some kind to the party and the results did not disappoint. Poetry, music, beloved literary passages, and even eggs from hens who are a down payment on a future life--all were gifts brought with no pretense and received with a thankfulness which would have bewildered our younger selves.  Pondering the potency of the evening, I realize that our chef is an unaware but ardent contributor.  We listen as he tells us his story and understand that we are not just having dinner, but partaking in his dream as well.  In a day and age where anonymity rules, Patrick Ryan forces you to reveal yourself before you ever even set foot in his dining room.  And once you do, the closeness of the kitchen, the walk up window traffic, of Max and Katie serving you like its not a job, makes you realize that what you’ve been given is a priceless commodity indeed--community in its purest form.

Gratitude hangs heavy on me, even amidst the laughter.  Reading glasses are passed around and a few more pictures taken.  We stand in the parking lot not so many miles from the parking lot where we all met, and say our goodbyes knowing that, at least in the morning, we will feel 300.  But for now with our fingers on the pulse of holiness itself, words unbidden come to mind.  I copied them down on a piece of paper in 1995 and have carried them through states, both mind and United, knowing their truth more intimately with each passing year  

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Tennyson: Ulysses

My mother taught me to send a thank you note when you’ve been to someone’s home for dinner.  
Patrick, I’m hoping we’re square.


  1. There is nothing like a good meal with people who love you and who you love in return. I should know I spent lots of time at your house. I love Tennyson.

  2. Oh girl, you would have loved that night. We'll getchu next time.

  3. Okay. That doesn't count. It's not a 'real' Airstream... only an artistic/iconic/nostalgic nod to the real deal. Just a prop. Still sounds like a blast. The real deal is crickets chirping, smell of a campfire on your sweatshirt, grit in your Tang and s'mores (I like mine burned).