I seldom have overnight company, so last week was a bit stressful. People I really like, but don't know very well yet, came into town for several days and I was happy to put them up at my house. It's a big house - which can be both good and not so good. I tidy up every weekend, of course, and keep the bathrooms and kitchen clean. I vacuum the carpets and clean the hard surfaced floors with a steam mop. Things usually look just fine. But, when company is coming to stay I look at my house with a whole new perspective...under a jeweler's loupe. It is only then that the hallway closet takes on importance, or I lay awake at night worrying over the stuff collecting under the sink. I see all imperfections. I sniff around the place; I debate whether I should buy new linens. "Will they notice that hole in the drywall the plumbers left when they searched for a leak?" (I got a quote from a fix-it fellow which was quite reasonable. After I said he had the job, he never came back. I think he under-priced himself and had second thoughts). Well, they could hardly help but notice it. A foot square and directly above the powder room commode, it stands out. I figured I'd just act as though it wasn't there, and address the issue if it came up in casual conversation. But what of the upstairs bonus room that I use to store things I don't want to see, but haven't gotten rid of? Or the the downstairs back bathroom with half the tile pulled up and half the wallpaper pulled down? I could spend an entire week explaining the history of each state of disrepair, and the plans that are in the works for a course correction. I finally decided to lock a couple of doors - just in case. Assessing the situation, I decided to re-grout the guest bathroom Monday night after work. (Surely...I mean...doesn't every hostess re-grout when company comes? Forgive me. I'm out of practice, so I could be over-estimating the planning and logistics involved with house guests.)
The instructions told me not to use the shower for 72 hours following grout application - but I failed to read the instructions prior to starting the project. So, that was my first error in judgment. Using my best grade-school math, I rapidly calculated that my company would be arriving in 48 hours, and although I might delay the disaster of a shower upon their immediate arrival, I had every expectation they would both shower on Thursday morning thereby giving me a mere 58 hours of grout-drying time. The thought of my guests' shower gel mixing with fresh grout while they tried to loofah sent chills. Having already committed myself, there was no turning back and nothing to do but pray to the grout gods for mercy and a quick dry. Aside from that, the actual act of applying grout was more difficult than I had anticipated - by biblical proportions. Being dead clever with caulk, I assumed grout was mere child's play. I caution you, do not assume the ease of applying caulk in any way compares with the agony of applying grout. I did. That was my second mistake.
I really need to get one of those stylish chains to hang my glasses on. My eyesight isn't what it used to be up close. When I'm reading I can blame it on age making my arms shorter. The thing about grouting bathroom tiles is there is just a thin, thin groove that the grout must sit in. It is not supposed to slop over onto the tile itself. But I tried to muddle through without my glasses and decided I'd take a more laissez-faire approach, and simply clean it all up after I got an entire wall done, wiping the grout off the tiles when the whole shebang was finished. Which was mistake number three.
By the time I had emptied the first container of grout I began to realize that grout dries fairly hard fairly quickly. This was about the time I searched for my glasses to re-read the instructions on the back of the tube. (I was at a meeting at work the next day and was surreptitiously scraping grout from the frames with a thumbnail the whole time.) CLEAN TILES WITH WET SPONGE WITHIN 5 MINUTES. DO NOT ALLOW TO DRY ONTO SURFACE AREA. Okay...so out to the garage to get the paint scraper to painstakingly skritch-skritch-skritch the tiles - carefully so as not to destroy them.
By the early hours of the morning, it looked lovely. (Me, not so much)
Over the course of the next few days, I was able to relax and not worry so much about the house. By the way, the sunroom looked splendid in its new Nantucket Gray coat; the trim a shiny crisp white. Very spiffy. My new friends were bowled over when I told them the story about The Girl Graduate - insisting I pull out the little book to show them - and the yearbook. They asked the same question I did, to wit: Who could part with this?
My guests made me feel at ease as soon as they walked in the door. "Let's have a drink," they called out. I was happy. Maybe...just maybe...I can take a deep breath and enjoy myself. Everything might work out after all. On top of that, they went to the liquor store to get what I did not have stocked in the bar (in a word - rum and whisky). And being very good guests, indeed, they got the big bottles. They even told me to keep the leftovers when the visit was at an end.
Who knows, I might entertain more often.
Oh, the fourth mistake? The meatloaf. Ah...but that's another story.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
I am at a great banquet. The table is set with double damask linens and fine bone china and the heaviest silver. The doors to the dining hall swing open and a parade of waiters carrying large domed trays march in solemnly. There is foie gras, filet de Boeuf en Croute, braised sweetbreads garnished with truffles and olives, duck confit. All well and good, you may say. But the dishes keep coming... the coq en pate, the coquilles Saint-Jacques are placed on my plate. The first forkful is sheer delight, such a rich blend of spice. Complex, intriguing flavors are perfectly pleasing to the palate. But as the evening wears on, and the dishes keep coming, my taste buds reach overload, my head becomes dizzy. One more bite of goose liver and I will be dangerously unwell. Furtively I reach for the button on my waistband and I yearn for some bicarbonate. (What wouldn't I give for one...good...burp - ahhh). Yes, the food is splendid but there does not seem to be any end to it, and the chewing is wearing me out.
That is how I would describe my experience in reading Armadale by Wilkie Collins. It's not that it is poorly written - I think its brilliant. It's not that it is long - my favorite novel is Les Miserables, after all. I really don't know why it is taking me so long to finish. I only know it is like an everlasting lollipop. First published in serial form beginning in November 1864 the final chapter was posted in June 1866. At the rate I'm going, it may take me a year and a half as well. Perhaps this novel is more manageable in small bites. But there is such a tangle of intrigue, and background, and plot in Armadale, I am not at all certain that approach would work well either. Even reading it straight through, I find I have to go back and re-read portions just to get the history straight in my mind once more.
I fully expect Armadale to become one of my favorite Wilkie Collins books when I finally reach the words "The End" on page 678. As I am only on page 293, I am resigned to belly up to the table for a while longer. (Oh, here comes another tasty tidbit - could it be chocolate mousse?) "Oh, Garcon, warm up the gravy, please. I'm going in for seconds."