Gabrielle Hamilton was in town this week to promote her new book, Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef. A local restaurant hosted her with a dinner, reading, and book signing. Having declared this the year of stepping out of my comfort zone (or living as if the plate were already broken, so to speak), I decided to venture out on that chilly Thursday night and partake.
The event took place in a gorgeous old church that was recently converted into a quite dramatic restaurant called Grace. I've only eaten there once, and I was with a couple of women who ordered far too few appetizers that I only gazed at longingly after eating my one portioned sliver. But this evening, the menu had things that I'd never in a million years try--bone marrow and a whole lamb cooked in a smoldering wooden box, for example. I was excited.
Let me note that I really do not mind eating alone. Minus the crappy tables that some restaurants reserve for solo eaters, I adore everything about eating alone. But the minute I actually arrived at the restaurant, I was surprised to feel butterflies and a sense of being totally and completely lost. There were lots of people. All avid foodies, and all of whom seemed to know one another. (They didn't, but you know how it is when you're an outsider gazing at a group?) I felt an even deeper respect empathy for all those people who come to the KR Retreat or any knitting event completely alone for the first time.
I spotted a friend (Samantha, the co-owner of Rabelais Books and co-host of the event) and, well, I'm not proud to admit that I clung to her in a way that can only be described as desperate. She's an avid knitter, so talk soon turned to wool. Then she graciously introduced me to the chef and owner of Grace, telling him I was a knitting writer, very respected in my field. Even as the words were coming out of her mouth, like soap bubbles, I could see them reach his ears, pop, and cause his eyes to gloss over. As I babbled nervously ("Hey, we both work with fiber, am I right? haha...") I could see him gaze over my head to try and spot someone--anyone--to rescue him.
A glass clanged and we were brought to attention. Gabrielle was introduced, and she nervously read a brief passage from her book. It had only been released that week, and this was her first formal reading. By the light of someone's cell phone, she told of two years traveling around the world with just $2,000 to her name--how she learned to recognize every contour and nuance of hunger, and how this familiarity with hunger was, in fact, her strongest qualification for opening a restaurant. What a gift to hear an author read her words in public for the first time, and in a dimly lit church, no less. I liked her immediately.
When it came time to sit in the long, long row of tables, suddenly I was 12 and at Skate Country in Tucson, Arizona, for a friend's birthday party, frantically making my way to the women's room to escape the humiliation of not being asked for a slow skate. I find it amazing what can lurk under the surface, so many years later.
I snagged the last chair at a table with a group of women who did not try to pretend the chair was for some invisible friend. And, as happens all too often in Maine, we quickly drew connections. Two seats over was someone who used to live in my very same teeny tiny faraway town. Across the table was the captain of a beautiful schooner that often spends the night in my harbor--a person who also just happens to be a knitter with whom I've chatted by email in the past. And next to me, another woman who's written many books on herbs, gardening, and design; who was once the knitting editor of Seventeen Magazine; and who is well-remembered by one of my closest friends back on Long Island. I know the word "lovely" can have a tooth-rottingly sweet undertone to it, but that's exactly what the evening with those women turned out to be. Lovely.
After people started to leave, Samantha joined my table and we lingered. The serious foodies also lingered next to us. "Eating bone marrow is like eating sex," said one person. "No, no, eating sweetbreads is like eating sex," retorted another. I watched, the metaphor totally lost on me, and realized how I must look to a non-yarnie as I argue about, say, whether Koigu is superwash, or whether Chinese cashmere is as fine as cashmere from Outer Mongolia. Yup, I must look pretty strange.
By this point Gabrielle was sitting just a few chairs away, still signing a few final books and chatting with friends. But shyness got the better of me. I left the event, book unsigned, having not spoken a word to her, but still quite pleased at having dropped myself into someone else's fishbowl for a change.