Une table pour une, s’il vous plaît

One of the things I love about my new place… wait… when am I going to stop calling it my new place? I’ve been here six months. Is it still new? Well perhaps until I really get all the bookshelves organized and everything put away – yes, there are still things not quite put away yet – perhaps until then, it’s still a bit on the new side.

But I digress…

One of the things I love about my new place is dinner time. I have a wonderful big kitchen to prepare my meals in. I have room for all my pots and pans and plenty of counter space to work on. It’s been quite a pleasant change from my old overcrowded space. In that space I used to eat sitting on the sofa using a coffee table as my dinner table. The food was questionable and the atmosphere was… well it was questionable as well.

But now, when I sit down for dinner it’s quite different. First, I actually set my table. Silverware, cloth napkins, candles and place settings. But Billy, you might be saying to yourself, it’s just you, why go through all the trouble? A fair question. One I used to ask myself until about six months ago.

The answer is simple. If I had a good friend over for dinner, how would I prepare dinner for them? Well, I guess I would go to the store and buy fresh vegetables and other healthy things. I would prepare a nice meal for them in my kitchen and set a beautiful table with everything I mentioned above. Especially the candles. Food never looks better than in candlelight. And we would enjoy a great meal and think and talk and feel good about what we were eating and enjoy the moment. And we would finish off the meal with espressos.

And if I would go to all that trouble for a friend, why wouldn’t I go through all that trouble for myself as well? I care about myself as much as any friend I would have over for dinner, so why not treat myself with the same kindness? Why not indeed. Of course the conversation is not as lively at “une table pour une,” but it does give me a moment to digest all the thoughts running through my head all day.

And just as I wouldn’t have the television on if I were having dinner with a friend, I don’t have it on during my meals either. Then the meal becomes background noise, and good food is too important to relegate to the background. Plus, as I just mentioned, meals are a time to communicate and share, even if it’s with myself.

I know this is sort of a strange blog entry, but I’ve been meaning to write about this for some time now. I try to start and end the day with some time for myself these days. It seems like a small thing to give yourself a half an hour at both ends of the day to just be quiet and listen to myself, but I think it is a healthy thing to do. There are always so many people and projects demanding of piece of Billy pie that I find that if I’m not careful, there is none left for myself.
So by beginning and ending the day with some time that I’m not working or cleaning or working on the never ending to-do list, is a way to give myself a little respect. If I happen to arrive at my first destination a few minutes late, I let myself get away with that. It would be easy to say, oh I’m running late, I’d better skip my morning relaxing or whatever I’m in the mood for, but I think when I skip my time like that, I’m pretty much invalidated myself for the whole day. Bad way to start I think.

So speaking of tables for dinner, one of my favorite things about traveling is experiencing long leisurely meals in cities where English is not the native language. Europeans really know how to celebrate life at the dinner table. I’ve tried to incorporate some of that back at my table. Perhaps that’s why I find myself taking lots of photographs of tables when I’m abroad. Sometimes they’re set for dinner, sometimes not. I think I think of tables the same way I think of doors and stairways when I’m photographing them. Like doors and stairs, a table setting is full of exciting possibilities and unknowns. What will the conversation be like? What new tastes will we experience? What new words will we learn by trying to order in the language of our host country? Will we meet new people at the table next to us? What will we discover about ourselves during the meal?

If you’ve never experienced a meal like that, I would suggest to you that you never really let yourself go properly at a meal. And I don’t mean let yourself go like you ordered everything on the menu. I mean did you really observe your surroundings, and tried to blend in with your fellow dinners? Did you try something you’ve never had before, or something you couldn’t pronounce? Did you ask your server what they liked on the menu? Did you spend two or three hours at the table, slowly enjoying everything around you? Did you close the restaurant? Were you open to just living in the moment for the evening?

Here are three photographs of some of those exciting possibilities tables. The first back up there a bit is in Bologna. I was traveling through Italy mostly on my own, basing myself out of Milano with my friend Tonia who was kind enough to let me stay with her. I would take trains all over northern Italy and return to Milano in a few days before setting off in another direction. A great way to explore.

Bologna was an amazing city. It’s home to what I believe is the first University. And it seems like in the center of the city, pretty much every walkway is covered with beautiful archways supported by silent and patient massive columns. I had a small midday meal here and imagined all of the people who had walked past this spot in the hundreds of years that the building and the columns had been standing here.

The second table was in Montreal Canada. I mentioned in a recent blog that I was up there on the set of a television commercial for Tresemme shampoo that I was the film editor on and Montreal was being used as a Parisian location. The tables were set up around a beautiful fountain and the brown wooden chairs just popped in the sunlight. I’m not sure if the tables were there because the square was set up by the production company or whether we borrowed an outdoor café to shoot that part of the commercial, but I was sure that it was a beautiful setting. I only make one photograph of the tables and this was it.

Montreal was a great city. Old and beautiful and… well… European. I had a few great meals there and I even got to take one of the models out for her 21st birthday. Sara Dawson was one of the models we worked with on the two day shoot and she was very pleasant. It turned out she turned 21 on the night of the wrap party and somehow… I’m still not sure how exactly… she and I ended up outlasting everyone else on the production and I had the pleasure of introducing her to her first legal martinis. The details are a bit sketchy, but there was a lot of laughing and quite a few martinis. I think we walked back to the hotel after dancing and closing the bar even though I really didn’t know my way around Montreal and I took her back to her room about 3am. I’m pretty sure my flight back to the States was a 5am flight, so there really wasn’t any point in sleeping. I got a lot of curious looks from everyone from the production at the airport the next day, but I’ll never tell. Here’s Sara on her Vespa looking Tresemme fabulous on her birthday and returning with her basket of flowers and a baguette. You can see her in motion as well as Basia and a glimpse of the tables by watching the commercial here.

And the last photograph of tables I took in Mykonos Greece. I was having a bit of a creative block in Greece, and so I just put away my camera for a few days and didn’t worry about it. Sure enough, after about three days I got my eye back and I’ll never forget the evening I started to get inspired again.
I went back to the villa, grabbed my camera bag and headed back along the shoreline as the sun was beginning to set in the late afternoon and the restaurants were beginning to set up for the evening. This particular one, I didn’t end up eating at, but I couldn’t resist the colors and repeating patterns against the rocks at what had to be one of the most spectacular views over the rocks into the Aegean Sea, just a few feet away. Beautiful.

Tables are full of possibilities. Be sure to take yours seriously when you sit down to eat. You deserve it.

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