Friday, April 18, 2008

Down by the riverside

This is a picture postcard our creative friend Steve Szpakowski came up with in 1985 to publicize Buffalo and its charms. That is the icy Niagara River you see in the background. That is not the author in the picture!

But it almost could have been. Every spring, the first warm day, you can't wait to get out and you can almost see putting on a bathing suit and diving into that water. It is hard to sit inside and work at this time of year. We have waited too long for spring.

Yesterday my friend Michelle and I went on a picnic at Isleview Park. I should probably have stayed shackled to my desk but the idea of eating dinner at a picnic table while watching chunks of ice rushing past on the Niagara River was just too good to pass up.

I am not good at packing picnics but this will be the year I get better at it. Here is what I made: ciabetta bread, hummus (I like hippie food), chicken quarters with orange and red and yellow peppers, because I found those ingredients cheap the day before at the Broadway Market, and roasted asparagus (really easy -- just toss it with olive oil and salt and stick it in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes or so). Then I threw in a few oranges for dessert.

I am proud of myself for doing all this because at the same time, I was working out this complicated chapter in my book about LP's doings in 1952. That was when he made his debuts in Paris and London and Italy. In Paris, Artur Rubinstein came to his concert and they had a funny conversation backstage afterward. In Italy the conductor yelled at him because LP was stealing the spotlight too much. This particular conductor is a major figure so that will be a funny story in the book.

It's odd how I get a bigger sense of accomplishment for pulling off the picnic than I do from untangling that chapter. Well, the chapter's not finished yet. The picnic is.

In Buffalo, in the spring, there is nothing like being the first people out there with a decent picnic, and Michelle and I did it up pretty well, with a cloth tablecloth and napkins, plastic goblets, real plates and both of us wearing skirts and sandals. We grabbed a great table. In high season, Michelle says, you could never aspire to this table, which gives you a panoramic view of the river rushing past and an endless parade of walkers and joggers with their adorable puppies. Everyone noticed us and everyone envied us. We loved that.

The best was a little boy about 3, walking past with his dad. He looked at us and said -- we could hear him -- "Why can't we eat with them?"

And the dad, smiling embarrassedly at us, said: "Come on, your mom is getting us hot dogs."

"But I want to eat with them!"

Michelle and I loved that. We imagine this kid 20 years from now, with his own show on the Food Channel, talking about how his admiration for fine food began when as a kid he saw these two women enjoying this incredible-looking picnic, whilst he was condemned to eat hot dogs. I like that word "whilst." An English woman I was interviewing about LP used it, and I am going to start using it too.

Now it's back to 1952, to iron out the rest of that chapter. Today I really do have to stay shackled to my desk.

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