"I think you should get a little round table," I offered.
"You know, a bistro."
"Hmm," she said, looking a bit doubtful. As she stared at the empty space in front of the windows, her eyes were filled with that vast table for ten, the one she once shared with her ex-husband. But this was a new apartment, a tiny but charming 1-bedroom in a pre-war on the Upper West Side, and she was starting over. We'd been having an off-and-on relationship as I was transitioning out of my own failed 25-year partnership, and now I'd been invited over (during our short-lived platonic phase) to offer bon-mots on small-space décor, all because she was somehow impressed with what I had managed in my little single-room garret downtown.
The space in question lay smack in between the doorways to kitchen and bedroom. "You're gonna be walking through here quite a bit. Don't want to bruise your thighs all the time on a square table." I peered into the bedroom as I spoke. She'd already gotten the four-poster bed I'd recommended on a pure whim when we last wandered through ABC Carpet. Our eyes met as she said, "Makes total sense. I love it. A little round table!" and it was impossible not to grin like a fool.
Nearly three years later and I'm still here, typing this post at the little round table she bought, sitting on one of the wicker café chairs she also got at my recommendation. Tiny as our table is, we do a lot of living and working on it. She wrote part of a book on it and often blogs from it, and I sometimes design on it. Certainly we eat on it, ever since that dinner of pasta "al Marco Furioso" I cooked up in her kitchen while still officially a visitor. (That dinner—by candlelight and crisp early spring night air drifting in through slightly open windows—pretty much ended our platonic period. Short-lived, as I said before.)
We entertain by holding buffet dinner parties, and when it's just the two of us it always feels like a date, although our cat Amelia (aka Mouse) invaraibly drops by to approve our cuisine selection for the evening. I cut, folded and stuffed our wedding invites on this table. On Friday nights we try to remember to lay out a spread of challah bread and Shabbat candles.While we are both essentially agnostic, she has carried this ritual with her since childhood, and now I, the backslid Puerto Rican ex-Catholic, get to finally enjoy a sensible way to approach the weekend, one that provides a "sacred" space between the chaotic secular work weeks, a space for appreciating what is one's own and for reflecting on one's lot in the world, namely to try making some small positive difference. Tikkun.
My archetypal memory of "dinner table" has always been a work space, first and foremost. When I was growing up in the housing projects of NYC my dad usually worked the night, or dinner, shift at the hotel restaurant. He arrived at 2 am on weeknights, so we didn't eat meals as a family unless it was late Sunday morning, when we were all home and all out of bed. When I was in college, I spent many an all-nighter working at our family dinner table. One night I was up writing my Indian Art term paper, wondering why I was listening to an hour straight of John Lennon on the radio. My father arrives home from work, a look of shock and sadness on his face. "Oíste? Mataron a John Lennon." Did you hear? They've killed John Lennon.
Our family table was actually never much bigger than my current little round bistro table, and on Sunday mornings that table was always half-covered by my dad's newspaper and his omelette. I hated eggs. Still do. But my dad always offered.
"Hey Pito. Have some of this."
"Pa. I hate eggs."
He stared bug-eyed at me, every single time, without fail.
"But it's good!"
One fateful Sunday morning I set aside my glass of juice and declared, "Mom, I'd like a cup of coffee."
She stopped in mid-pour as she was serving my dad from the carafe and looked at me as if I'd suddenly appeared at the table in a flash of brimstone. "Well. Okay," she said as she got out an extra mug.
"But you're going to be addicted. Forever."
And as as the Starbucks annual revenues report can attest, she was absolutely right.
In the first picture above, you can get a sense of our tightly appointed living space: on the floor on the left can be glimpsed a tangle of laptop power cords for when we covert the table into office space, and on the right is my beloved conga drum which has been with me since 1985 and my first lessons in Afro-Caribbean percussion; unfortunately it has lately been reduced to a kind of household ornament (you can see the lights still strung around the conga from a particularly festive Chanukah season). Actually playing it would never do in our cordial and low-key apartment building.
The second picture is a candid dinner shot; I believe in this case it is honey-mustard glazed telapia with sweet potatoes, broccolli and brussell sprouts in olive oil and diced fresh garlic cloves.
The third picture shows off our Mouse in a petulant mood. She also insists on editing my OS blog posts before I publish them. This particular post was heavily vetted.
This post is a response to Stella's call for America's Table