In 2001, a friend of mine turned 28. We all missed her birthday because it landed on 11 September. And so the next year, we had two parties for her. The year after that, when she turned 30, we had three parties for her. By that time, I was living elsewhere and only made it to two of the parties. But the dance party that was her week's culmination was truly one of the greatest parties I've ever attended. She was radiant in bat wings and a dress she'd wrested from the wreckage of my move out of Ithaca. I was as skinny as I've ever been, all muscle and bone and fast, taut worry.
This year, I am neither muscle nor bone nor worry; I am steady and solid and serene, as well I should be after all this time. And this year, I am giving myself at least three days of debauchery to celebrate my birthday. (And how excellent: two people--one in person, one by e-mail--have said to me today, "Only three more days!" And my parents' card arrived in the post this morning, also excellent.) Of course, my variety of debauchery is, as you might imagine, going to be a little off-center. But here: here is how I celebrate.
On my way home from piano this afternoon, I thought long and hard about whether to stop in at a local seafood restaurant that does moules et frites all day for £11. Because I've been here for awhile, $22 for lunch seems like a right bargain. But then I challenged myself to think more carefully about the afternoon I wanted, and I decided instead to go to Fitzbillies bakery for some kind of small cake and then to stop at the Marks and Spencer food hall for a small bottle of white wine and a package of smoked salmon.
With all of my purchases in tow, I made my way home past the Caius sundials
I greeted Barbara Hepworth and told her that I hope she wasn't too unhappy, or that at least her art now seems worth the unhappiness. I came home and chucked the tiny bottle of wine in the freezer to re-cool it, and I got to work on my lunch.
About fifteen minutes later, I was sitting down with a three-egg omelette full of French chevre, avocado (unfortunately, a bit unripe), and smoked salmon, and my glass of Chilean sauvignon blanc. I ate and watched last night's Daily Show online. The weather, having its own debauchery today, cycled through sun, rain, hail, sun and hail, rain, and sun again.
And then I turned to the cake, which I am still eating, bit by bit. (That's right! I'm live-blogging my own pre-birthday debauchery.) It seems to have been salted lightly across its top--and I'll tell you, that's the way to make a chocolate cake.
It's seeming just incredibly possible that as soon as I've eaten my cake, I'll wander out into town, light-headed on wine and protein and sugar all at the same time, and see what more there is to see today. Perhaps I'll even take Barnaby Rudge with me--because though I've already read my day's quota of Dickens, birthday debauchery means nothing if it doesn't mean never having to say, "Enough!" There's a moment in every Dickens novel when you feel that you've met everyone there is to meet, that you know their quirks and tics, and that the business of plot and event is about to begin. I've reached that point. Now I want to know what's going to happen next--because somehow, in the next 400 pages, someone's going to start a riot and storm a prison, and right now none of that is particularly visible.
So, to sum up: Dickens, Bach, a bakery, sauvignon blanc and salmon, three eggs cooked in slightly salted butter and filled with decadence, Jon Stewart, miniature chocolate torte, sun, Dickens. Just for today, the good life doesn't have to include a lot of examination to be worth living.
I may be on the brink of buying myself a Pulitzer-winner, though what I really want is to feast on some early Kandinsky.