I hate to eat lunch alone so I’ll often invite a few friends in to join me – usually these are “dead friends”. If you know me at all you know all about my “dead friends”. You know I meet them in all sorts of ways – through the work they’ve done, the books and films which tell their stories and through their letters. My 1853 house is always alive with the spirit of interesting people, both living people and those who have moved out of sight, but never out of mind.
At lunchtime, I pull out leftovers from the night before and prowl around the house in search of a few “dead friends” to join me at my table. Because I have lots and lots of books about lots and lots of interesting people it’s never very difficult to gather spirits together, and once we’re together my “dead friends” never fail to delight and enlighten me with their stories, facts, and personal philosophy.
Today my luncheon guests are Julia, Harry, Ludwig and George. That’s Julia Child, Harry Truman, Ludwig Van Beethoven and George Bernard Shaw. They’re all sharing with me as I enjoy my pasta and wine.
It’s a good thing my guests weren’t hungry because I had just a little pasta leftover from last night’s dinner. But I bet they would’ve liked some if circumstances were different. You might like to try this recipe yourself for it really is delicious and I’m happy to share.
Bucatini with bacon and tomatoes
Ingredients/ serves 4 1/2c. chopped pancetta bacon, 2 T. solid vegetable shortening, 1 small onion, finely chopped, 2 c. peeled, seeded, chopped firm-ripe tomatoes, salt and white pepper, 1 lb. bucatini or other pasta shapes, 1/4 c. grated pecorino cheese.
Process Put on plenty of salted water to boil for pasta. Put pancetta in a saucepan with shortening and onion and fry until bacon is browned. Add tomatoes, season lightly with salt and white pepper and cook briskly for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile,, cook the pasta until al dente, drain, transfer to a bowl, add cheese and sauce, stir and serve hot.
This yummy recipe came from a favorite cookbook called “The flavors of Italy” by Simonetta Lupi Vada. I love to cook and I have zillions of cookbooks, and a few are even written by my luncheon guest, Julia Child. But Julia wasn’t in the mood to talk about food today. She had other things to say. She was telling me (by way of a letter to her friend Avis) about life with her husband Paul as they packed to move to Marseilles.
This little tidbit I’ll share with you, along with other Julia stories, are contained in the book, “As Always, Julia”. This book is composed of Julia’s letters to Avis DeVoto, her pen pal and literary mentor. Edited by Joan Reardon. it is easy to read the letters and feel Julia is writing them to me. Here’s one example. Julia writes:
“Yesterday we did photographs, of which there were hundreds and hundreds. Today it is books, of which we have a like amount. I never want to throw anything away and Paul wants to throw everything away; so between us it works out quite reasonably. Paul says women want to keep everything because it is their nesting instinct. Maybe he’s right.” (Yes, I agree with Julia. I do think Paul is right about the nesting instinct women have. What do you think?)
Well, all this domestic talk bored Ludwig to death, so he left and went into the next room to play some of his sonatas. The sonatas were a lovely musical accompaniment to food, wine and lunch time chatter with the others. (That reminds me. There’s a great movie called “The Others” with Nicole Kidman. It deals with the subject of “dead friends”. You might like it.) I don’t know if Julia, Harry, and George like Beethoven’s sonatas, but I played some in college and I find them very appealing. It’s better though that Ludwig stayed at the piano. He was never much for friendly chit chat.
Meanwhile, Harry, who was quiet through Julia’s words, now decided to tell a story. Like Julia, he was able to communicate with me by way letters, letters captured in books. I happen to have quite a few of such books being a lady of letters myself. I will share with you a bit of what Harry shared with Bess and me,
all from a book simply called “Dear Bess”. It is edited by Robert H. Ferrell. The book contains letters from Harry to Bess Truman 1910-1959. Here’s the story Harry told me at lunch. He says:
“I had an adventure yesterday. … a most awful good-looking girl came driving down the road like mad and said her dog had jumped in an open well up the road and would I come and get him out. … I got in the buggy and went with her, got a ladder, and I went down and got the dog – a fox terrier. There were about a half-dozen women tearing around the top of the well all the time trying to get the dog to climb ropes and jump in a bucket. They were a most awfully pleased bunch when Dudley arrived at the top in as good condition as ever except for a good swim. The ornery cuss shook himself while I helped him and I looked as if I’d been rained on. They were very profuse in their thanks and I believe the old lady and the girl would have kissed me if I hadn’t made a hurried getaway…”
I enjoyed Harry’s story. He is a very sweet man and he enjoys sharing simple daily life happenings. But when it is George’s turn to share he tells very different tales, and he loves to spout philosophy. If you know George as I know George you know he is not much for village chatter. He and Harry are very different types, but that makes lunch with them so much fun. Add Julia and Ludwig and lunchtime is even more fun.
George did like the ladies, especially the actresses he worked with, and thanks to one of them, Molly Tompkins, I have an entire book of letters, letters he wrote to her from 1921 through 1949.
George is able to share a lot of his philosophy with me (and you too) thanks to these letters. If he and other “dead friends” weren’t letter writers we could not possibly get to know these talented people of the past nearly as well .
In case you’ve not been true to yourself lately, in case you’ve been copying other people, in case other people have been trying to mold you their way, then you might like to hear what George had to say to me and Molly Tompkins on the subject of self. George said:
“I think you will have to begin making experiments with your own way of doing things. You must not take the bit between your teeth all at once all the time … There is only one way of getting your own way; and that is making your own way convincing in action. It is quite possible that your notion of doing the thing is the right notion, but that you have not yet got skill enough to put it across; and so for the moment you must do as others do, but in the end you must make yourself something more than a marionette worked mostly by somebody who is not a successful actor, or author or critic or connoisseur or anything else that commands an unquestioning deference.”
There! Got That?
Be an original
I like it!
All my “dead friends” are originals and that’s why they are such wonderful companions for lunch, dinner, afternoon tea, coffee, cocktails … whatever. I hope you use your imagination and spend quality time with friends who are originals too – living or “dead friends”, and of course I hope you are working at becoming an original yourself.
Don’t be afraid to do your own thing, even if it’s a little unusual – unusual like having lunch with “dead friends”. Use your imagination and have fun. You only live once!