Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
Jan 29, 2012
08:03 AMSmall Dishes
Marking a Milestone
I’ve always been into observing anniversaries. Maybe it’s because it’s an excuse to celebrant. February begins my tenth year writing for Madison Magazine. As my editor correctly pointed out, my actual anniversary date won’t happen until 2013 when I’ve completed that tenth year. I’ll also observe a major birthday in 2013, my sixty-fifth. That’s significant because it ends in a five or zero and some years ago my friends curtailed me from otherwise observing my natal anniversary in a lavish manner—and then in a lavish manner I most likely will.
I’m not sure from where my narcissism with my birth date stems. I know a lot of my friends, in increasing numbers as the years turn into decades, dread them. It’s as if they just ignore them, they somehow won’t grow older. Even my own mother tried to persuade me that birthdays are best forgotten. When I was sixteen, I remember her lecturing me that I was “too old for birthdays,” and “don’t expect any gifts this year” I promptly told my best friend that I was getting a car as a surprise gift. The surprise was no car or any gift whatsoever. For once, my mother had meant what she said. If she was trying to send me a message, the one received loud and clear wasn’t the one she had intended. Henceforth, I would never sit around and wait for someone to surprise me: I can bake my own birthday cake and eat it, too.
The first of the big bashes didn’t occur in a year that ended in five or zero, but a noteworthy passage nonetheless when I turned twenty-one. It was my junior year abroad in college and I was on a train traveling from Brussels to Freiburg, Germany. There were twenty-six of us in my group, and on a whim, I had purchased everyone a bottle of champagne (obviously of dubious provenance). At the train station in Freiburg awaited a bus to take us to a ski lodge in the Black Forest where we’d spin the weekend. Unfortunately, there had been a record snowfall and the bus ditched us a couple of miles from our destination, leaving us to hike the remaining distance. Our guides were amused by one of the women who carried a bottle of champagne as we trudged through the drifts. Amusement turned to awe at the lodge when twenty-five bottles revealed themselves from luggage and backpacks—I had drunk mine on the train.
I can remember exactly what I did when I turned thirty and forty—and, isn’t that a good thing? Most of all I remember fifty. Trying to come up with a fitting if not downright ostentatious commemoration, I realized that the date would fall the week before Mardi Gras. I’d been to New Orleans and Mardi Gras many times before but never with sixty of my friends. Fortunately, at the time I was in the travel business that helped facilitate a big party in the Big Easy. Obviously, any celebrating I do involves food and it was Bayona on Friday night, Emeril’s on Saturday night, culminating in the actual birthday party on Sunday. The French Quarter setting just dripped with Tennessee-Williams decadence, a historic Creole cottage in a courtyard lush with banana trees even in the dead of winter. Bloody marys and king cake kicked off a jazz funeral parade behind the Olympia Brass Band to breakfast at Brennan’s. By this time, I’d given up fantasizing about any lavish gifts on my birthdays, but this year I got one: a George Rodrigue Blue Dog painting. (In all honestly, however, pointing it out to everyone in the window of the Royal Street gallery and gushing about how much I liked it obviously had paid off.)
For fifty-five I went to Maui; sixty to Palm Springs. I think I know what I’m going to do next year for sixty-five, but I still have time to change my mind and I often do. In the meantime sixty-four is just weeks away. As I have been so many times, I will be in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. There won’t be a large party, but rest assured I’ll celebrate the date, probably with dinner at one of my favorite restaurants. I like birthdays, because as much as they’re about past memories, they’re about looking forward to the future.