Nathan Brooker’s Fantastic Dinner – Fran Lebowitz, James Joyce. . . and George Costanza
Not sure if you are not allowed to drive there, or if it was just bad planning on our part, but when my boyfriend and I stayed in Portofino on the Italian Ligurian coast we had to we park in the next town and hike around the wooded headland. This made the arrival in this jewel of a village even more magical, with its pastel-colored houses that tumble down towards the port. If it was possible.
I hear it’s all Gucci and superyachts now – or at least it was before the pandemic – so we head to a villa that overlooks the waterfront, with a garden full of lemon trees. This is the place for my dream dinner: in this garden on a balmy early September evening, the trees adorned with small bulbs. At this height you can pretty much hear the chatter of diners in the waterfront trattorias, but you can’t make out the selfie sticks.
Until everyone shows up, I think I’ll make myself a drink – a cardinal, which is like a negroni, but you substitute the sweet vermouth for the Riesling.
“You are not going to invite James joyce, are you? “my wife asked when I told her about this assignment. She thinks it’s going to make me look pretentious and out of touch. And she’s right. But I don’t care. Joyce is the first name on the sheet. team. And not just because he was the best writer of the 20th century. He’s also my banker, someone I can faithfully trust to get me drunk more than me. “His drinking ability was weak, “wrote his biographer Richard Ellmann,” and he was prone to drunkenness collapses. Some nights he might start quoting Dante or engage in a loud Italian drinking song; other times he would go home. him and wrote embarrassing little poems about how drunk and weird he had been.
With that, the big man arrives: costume, eye patch, ash tree and guitar. I pour him a drink. A double, I think. The silence is broken by a commotion in the street below – the screeching of brakes and a barrage of horns. Joyce smiles, holds her glass in the air and, in the spirit of Ulysses, intones: Introibo ad altar Dei. Then get it all down.
Behind him comes Fran lebowitz, pissed off by everything that is happening in the street. She glances at Joyce. “Couldn’t you get Nabokov?” She tells me and walks over to the beverage table for a cup of coffee.
Orson Welles is the next to arrive. A good dinner needs a good storyteller, and Welles is one of the greatest. I wasted entire afternoons watching consecutive videos of him on YouTube being interviewed by Michael Parkinson.
Welles is followed by actor and screenwriter Phoebe Waller-Pont. She writes with so much enthusiasm and empathy, I feel like she would be an exciting person to be around. I read that she has a soft spot for a gimlet of vodka – vodka, lime juice and sugar syrup in an iced glass – so I take a walk. Lebowitz sticks to the cafe. Once again, horns sounded in the street below.
The door slams open. This is George costanza, tousled and frayed hair. He got my text about not driving here, but decided to do so anyway because he felt his incredible ability to parallel park meant the advice didn’t apply to him. God knows where he left his car. He brought at least one bottle with him – Pepsi. I sit him next to Lebowitz, I think the two New Yorkers can bond on the roads and everything they hate in the biggest city in the world.
So who’s in the kitchen? To be honest I would like a 70 year old Italian nonna. Less than 5 feet tall, if possible, with large glasses and strong forearms. She takes precisely zero shit from anyone and makes the most sensational boar ragù on the planet. Otherwise, I’ll take the great Ruth Rogers, co-founder of the River Cafe.
We start simple: artichokes, bitter chicory, maybe a little Gorgonzola and a dry white wine. Costanza and Lebowitz get along like a house on fire. She talks about people walking too slowly on sidewalks, he says toilet paper hasn’t changed since the 1970s. Then the primi piatti arrive: linguini with truffles, oozing butter under a mountain of Parmesan. The ambiance is good. Welles is his best entertainment.
By the time the main course arrives – T-bone steak, rosemary, sautéed potatoes, accompanied by a bottle of Barolo – the wheels have started to come off. Lebowitz realized that Costanza is, in fact, an idiot. And Welles agrees. Unbeknownst to me, Waller-Bridge passed around copies of Joyce’s extremely intimate letters to his wife, Nora, and laughed about them. Joyce – who doesn’t see the funny side – becomes flea in outrage, or drink, or both.
“Jim,” Welles said. “While waiting for dessert, why don’t you play us a song? Unable to refuse, he goes to get his guitar. And just when it looks like the evening couldn’t be more embarrassing, Joyce starts singing an Italian tune, the beauty of which takes everyone by surprise.
And here we are, captivated in the moonlight by one of the greatest and weirdest artists of the modern era. The night is young, the bar is well stocked. We barely notice the hot plates of almond and orange cake placed in front of us, each slice slowly cooling under a dollop of melting mascarpone.
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