Friday, September 27, 2019

Dressing for Dinner

The ceremony of dressing for dinner has long held sway with me. It is as crucial to an evening's preparation as brushing one's teeth upon awakening. Making ready to dine with others is similarly surrounded by multiple conventions. Many of the spin-offs related to either morning ablutions or an evening foregathering are predictably alike, such as washing, combing, putting on fresh clothing, inspecting for freckles and deciding upon what jewellery if any to adorn the carcass. Refreshment is the driving theme. Fervency is the aquifer stream.

What however distinguishes the current undertaking is the noticeable descent from formality. The parallel in sartorial matters is unmistakeable - for the simple reason that there is no difference.  What I bestow upon the anatomy when preparing for a day of grocery shopping is much the same as what I sport when dining out.  Notably I avoid long pants.  This is a delinquency afforded by the privilege to straddle two countries, each during a temperate season - winter in the south, summer in the north. Truth be told, I have only the remotest occasions upon which to wear long pants and accordingly I seldom have any that fit. This doesn't however lessen the imperative of freshness. Nor does the fact that almost every article of clothing I own resembles another diminish the dedication to daily integrity (though certainly it accelerates the monotony). I ennoble the regularity and repetition as axiomatic.

The plainness of my costume reflects not only serendipity but also design. The fortuity is that most of my acquaintances and those with whom I now and again rub shoulders prefer as I do to adopt the ease of so-called casual wear. Even dignifying the regime to that of "smart casual" borders on intolerance. It is a welcome immunity of aging that behaviour is reduced to binary alternatives. The one I happen to have chosen is that of unqualified leisure. While this doesn't entail inexpensive clothing, I have to say that for the most part my wardrobe is well-made but not especially dear.  Gone are the days of tailor-made suits, shirts and sweaters. Cuff links are mere residuals in a small unfrequented drawer of my highboy. Extraordinary stuff like cashmere, mohair and Italian leather are no longer de rigueur - though I still yearn for woollen white socks if I can find them.

The economy of one's gear does not predict the scope of accoutrements.  Here I am guided instead by the level of social convenience which awaits. Retention of certain items - often portrayed by even the most masculine ambition - may include features such as complicated watches, trendy woven leather bands, even a handmade broach (though the latter cries for a near sublime community).  There are artefacts such as an Apple watch which convey a message without vulgarity. When in doubt the standard commodities such as signet rings and silver belt buckles suffice.

Though I would never counsel promotion of anything calculated to impress, there are instances in which an obvious dedication to adventure is actually a credit to one's host or hostess. This requires a skilful blend of novelty and comfort.  If the originality translates only into opulence then it is best avoided - a deprivation for everyone's benefit. The object is never to attract attention but at most to draw reserved inquiry.


This long-winded preamble is but an introduction to an outstanding autumnal evening at the country seat of my erstwhile physician in the Village of Ashton. The company was a gathering of immediate family and ancient friends. The roars of laughter at table proclaimed the eruption of heartfelt amusement and fathomless reminiscences which continue to percolate. The congregation included serious cooks who together explored an adventure of ingredients and presentation, some of which recalled historic and maternal recipes. As we initially rallied about the central board and later languished at the large wooden table within the yellow glow of candles the biographies and delightful accounts positively gushed. The frivolity at times penetrated the fast-food specialties of Tim Horton (sophisticatedly pronounced "Tim Whore Taw") inescapable during prolonged road travel in Eastern Canada. Nor is it mischance that our congregation consisted of world adventurers all of whom are on the cusp of departure across the globe - metaphorically exhibited by the burgeoning energy of our host's youthful and dashing son. For the moment however we confined ourselves to domestic matters among them Canadian artists Frederick S. Coburn (1871 - 1960), Henri Masson (1907 - 1996) and Alex Colville (1920 - 2013).

The entire evening unfolded and folded like a delicate flower in a high-speed photograph. Sooner than we imagined we were collectively asking “What is the time?” Amid embraces and promises we pushed off into the black surrounding sky and reclaimed the night.

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