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Graduation Day

June 4th, 2007 · No Comments

We attended a party for the graduation of the daughter of long-time dear friends the other day. It was held at the Harvard Faculty Club. If you don’t know it, it will nevertheless not surprise you that it’s a staid, if not stuffy institution on the edge of the Yard in a neo-Georgian assemblage of a main building, with various wings. There are now also several outcroppings. A (mainly) glass enclosed room—what some might call a solarium—and ideally suited for that scene in “The Big Sleep” where Marlowe has his first interview with General Sternwood, who is so enfeebled he must ask other men to take his vices “by proxy.”

The only vices approximating the brandy proferred Marlowe were a serviceable Merlot or a Chardonnay, plus platter after platter of an international melange of tidbits to preceded the meal we were destined to share. From crab cakes to vegetable spring rolls with a Thai dipping sauce, offered by preternaturally polite, soft-spoken nubile women in casually formal uniform attire—the only institutional violation being small rectangular metal name pins, showing only the prénom of the maiden. Thus does a great university subordinate even to the smallest detail.

We could have gorged ourselves happily on these hors d’oeuvres had we wished. And, indeed, they were not “from the work” at all, but preludes or appurtenances to an otherwise standard meal, albeit the deluxe version: consisting of a chunk of filet, done to a perfect medium-rare, with stalks of perfectly seasonal asparagus, and a sufficient right-rectangular parallelopiped of potato Dauphinois. In short meat and potatoes in the grand manner.

It was the sort of occasion wherein, after some interval (probably predetermined, either by some universal academic protocol for stuffy dinners, or defined precisely as to the length in minutes in an employee manual), the servers would hover and immediately appear at your side, hands poised to grab your dinner plate and implements, asking if they might clear. This would happen repeatedly, whenever any basic rule of social engagement would call for the diner to lower his knife and fork, in order to speak intelligibly (mouth being empty of food) and signifying the expectation of receiving the same attention given to one’s designated dinner companion as they spoke their part in polite conversation—by the simple expedient of leaving one’s hands in one’s lap, one’s direct gaze upon the companion, and one’s mouth opening and shutting only to speak.

Tags: 02138 and environs · Food · Not News

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