Well okay let’s be completely honest here. It was more like…’Single Guy Serves at a Party with French Royalty’. Hahah. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
A couple weeks ago while Emi and I were having our lunch together, she mentioned that she would be having some guests from France stay over at her apartment in Manhattan and that they were planning on hosting a little Christmas party for some friends and relatives living in the states. She was asking if I could be free that day to come over before the party started and help prepare and decorate and whatnot and stay during to help Emi host. Of course I happily agreed and made sure that last Saturday I would be free to head into the city and help at what I thought would be a rather simple and modest little get-together.
Ha. How could one be so wrong.
The story of Emi’s friends is pretty surprising. Emi met this young woman at the school where she was learning French. Emi had always wanted to learn another language, and the young woman was learning French to surprise her fiance, who was from France. They became fast friends, helping each other study and review, and going out for dinner regularly after their classes during the week. Emi was even invited to their wedding in France, which was held at this lavish estate.
Of course she wanted to find out more about the venue and how her very kind, very unassuming friend was able to get such a location for what was turning out to be a very posh wedding. Turns out, this beautiful estate is none other than Maison Chateaubriand, the home of Francois-Rene de Chateuabriand, the famous French writer, diplomat, politician, founder of the French Romantic movement in literature, and yes, the namesake of the famous Chateaubriand steak. And why were they there? Because the mansion belongs to her fiance, the descendant of Chateaubriand, himself an aristocrat and scion to an incredibly wealthy family. And it was this lovely couple who would be staying with Emi, who I would be meeting and helping host a party, for all of their family and friends.
It was actually a very fun evening, and I got to meet some fascinating people all with great stories to tell. First of all, Emi’s apartment is in an incredible spot. It’s right at the corner of Central Park, with a balcony overlooking the New York City skyline and the park below. She even showed me the balcony from when Dustin Hoffman used to live in the same building and across the street, where Madonna has an entire floor just for herself. We took advantage of the gorgeous view and took a picture together standing outside before it got too cold.
The inside of her apartment is like a time capsule. From the wallpaper to the plush carpet, I feel like I’ve been brought back to the many years past when Emi and Frank used to live here together. And I’m sure that’s what Emi is hoping to preserve. On the wall is an beautiful, framed painting of Emi in her wedding dress in Hawaii. It was the one-year anniversary Frank gave to her after they married. Her piano is full of old photos of her mother and father back in Japan, of Frank as a young man, and photos of the two of them as a couple from when they were dating.
I think we did a pretty good job as a team though! Emi and I took care of the food and decorations and her friends took care of the drinks. Sixteen bottles of some of the finest, most expensive champagne I’ve ever drank. You can bet at the start I was pretty worried and timid pouring what was essentially the price of liquid gold for around thirty guests, but after having a glass…or two…or nine…myself, it surprisingly became a lot easier. Hahah. French people can really down their champagne. Luckily we didn’t finish all the bottles, so I even got to take one home for myself. You know what my family and I will be drinking at Christmas. To help identify and differentiate people’s glasses Emi had these cute little charms of acorns and leaves, and we put different ones around the stem of each champagne flute. For food Emi ordered three large platters of sushi from her favorite sushi place in Manhattan and I helped her cook the family recipe for baked ziti that her husband’s mother gave to her when Emi and Frank married. Tomato sauce from scratch, ricotta and egg mixed into the pasta for extra creaminess, and plenty of fresh mozzarella torn up and spread all around for extra cheesy gooey goodness. We had all kinds of dips and chips and Asian snacks and homemade gyoza (dumplings) and guests brought sesame and green tea cream puffs and red velvet cupcakes and homemade chocolate cakes and all kinds of sweets and other desserts.
While the party was going on and Emi was floating from one guest to another, greeting and being greeted, exchanging stories, meeting all of the guests her friends had invited, I was going around refilling champagne, serving pasta, identifying sushi, helping to make sure everyone was fed, drunk, and happy. I got to meet and talk with some of the friends Emi invited as well. Most of the others, being family and friends of the couple, were French so it was hard for me to communicate. Emi was having a great time getting to use all those French lessons. But still I got to spend time with Emi’s good friend Marilyn Horne, the famous and unbelievably gifted opera singer. She told me stories of growing up in Orange, NJ but living most of her live in California. I also got to meet some other of Emi’s friends, like the NY-based artist with a small studio near her apartment. She walked by his studio one day and loved the art so much she went in and spoke with him and they became friends ever since. And the filmmaker who was currently shooting a documentary on women in the computer science industry who Emi met at a show at Lincoln Center. And one of my favorites, Arthur Lange, the former competitive bodybuilder. A massive titan of a man with a booming voice and an old-school Brooklyn accent and attitude. Not to brag, but I have a theory he liked me too, since I was the only one who recognized him before he said who he was. (He was competing around the time Schwarzenegger was, and I remember him from some old magazines my father had.) Not for nothing, but before he and his wife left for the night, he told Emi next time she comes over to their place in Brooklyn, she should bring me along. Hahah.
All in all, I think the party was a major success. Emi’s friends had a great time and were so happy to have had the chance to see so many of their friends and family, being separated by distance and whatever demands a French aristocrat may have of his time. They were actually incredibly nice and down to earth, with only a hint of you know, living the high life. It came about in often funny and strange ways. Like their super strict diet and how at the end of the night once everyone left and we were cleaning up, the husband tried his best to help out but couldn’t for the life of him figure out how the vacuum worked. Or how she didn’t understand the very particular rules of recycling and waste when it came to throwing everything out. Had to break down you know, paper, plastic, glass, etc. I spent a good time of the entire night in the kitchen, from helping cook to serving food to washing all the dishes afterwards.
Near the end I also helped Marilyn back to her apartment; she lives a few floors below Emi and it was getting late for her, not being able to keep up with the younger, drunker crowd. She let me know how happy she was to meet me, after Emi had told her so much about our lunches together. And that she was happy to see Emi opening up her home again. After Frank had passed, Emi never really had any guests, or any reason to decorate again. But with the party and my help, she was able to bring some holiday cheer back into her apartment. And you know ultimately, that was why I was there in the first place. It was cool to meet so many new and interesting people, but I didn’t expect that to happen. It could have been just some simple little get-together with crackers and cheese. I was glad to help out a friend, and I would never hesitate to help out again, which is what I told her at the end of the night before heading out to catch the subway back to Port Authority and my bus back home.