Tag Archives: Halloween

French American Idol

Will Jean Louis ever find me indispensable?
Quoth the raven, “Maybe next time.”

On Saturday, October 20, 2012, my friends and I attended the inaugural Halloween Spectacular at Salt Lake City’s Caterina, the current culinary venture of my not-so-secret French crush, Jean Louis. I had vowed to make myself indispensable to him in my New Year’s resolutions. Ten months later, I found the courage to make the first move.  We set off to Caterina so I could proposition Jean Louis about collaborating on a cookbook or memoir.

My friends and I hired a driver to deliver us from our hotel room to the restaurant.  Our driver seemed annoyed about his line of work. “You’re going where?” he asked, swerving in and out of lanes and fiddling with his GPS unit as we slid from one side of the backseat to the other. “That is much farther than I thought,” he said, glaring back at us without slowing down. (The restaurant was about 40 blocks away.) Our driver drove like multiple warrants had just been issued for his arrest, and he almost murdered two pedestrians who happened to be crossing an intersection at a red light.  He shook his fist at them and screamed, “Go on, then!  You are already dead!”  We chose to ignore this dark omen, tipping the driver to silence him and leaping from the still-moving vehicle once we arrived.

A skeleton wielding a cocktail glass greeted us in the lobby, as did a dapper courtesan in a vest and beribboned patent shoes.  The courtesan introduced himself as Martin Skupinski, and waved us into the spacious dining room, where more skeletons sat in various poses, their legs crossed and jaws dropped in toothy, lascivious grins.  Spider webs enshrouded the large chandelier and the room’s high windows.  Several of the other diners wore costumes or masquerade masks.  Pirates, gypsies, and zombies milled about as the wait staff cleared a space in the center of the wooden floor.

The spectacular began with a social dancing lesson, which, we quickly discerned, is a euphemism for “compulsory dancing with random strangers.”  Martin, a dashing emissary from the Land of Happy Dancers, led the exercise, pairing strangers with timely nods of his head.  I immediately started sweating.  I’m not a fan of formal dancing and I value my personal space; the thought of strange hands around my waist without a lubricating quaff of alcohol repelled me.  The shrieking in my mind only worsened when a woman named Cindy volunteered to be my “man.”

Cindy, a seasoned (and likely professional) dancer clad in a red tango gown, placed my left hand on her shoulder and her right hand on my waist, grasped my other hand in hers, and proceeded to box step her way right over my heart. Her heavily kohled eyes caught every misstep.  Skeleton feet prodded my rear end as she dragged me through the motions.  After three dances and at least one hundred iterations of “You walk the circle, you pause at three” and “Lower your arm to here,” Cindy dumped me on the dance floor, leaving me with nothing but a scornful assessment of my fox trotting abilities.

Freed from our bad romance, I seated myself at the table and tossed back an entire glass of wine in three deep gulps.  Then I drank another, whereupon I decided that it was high time to find mon cher, Jean Louis.  Busy with preparations and management of his wait staff, he greeted me in the lobby, though not as warmly as I had hoped.

I last saw Jean Louis about a year ago at his Park City restaurant, Jean Louis. The reception he gave me then would have tempted even the saintliest of women to abandon their husbands and abscond with him to his native Normandy.  My heart fell this time around.  His blue eyes didn’t twinkle in my direction.  He did not compliment my perfume, dimples, or sparkly eyes. My words evaporated.  No propositions were made.  I returned to the table and tried not to cry into my butternut squash soup.

*

I once knew someone who asserted that food quality corresponds directly to the cook’s mood.  I agree.  I also think a chef’s mood affects the dining experience, particularly when the chef prides himself on how he welcomes his customers.

Jean Louis worried me. Denim jeans hung loosely against his legs.  His eyes darted across the dance floor to assistants and the wait staff, transmitting instructions, prompting them to action.  He stalked between the serving station and the kitchen like a caged lion, carrying out tray after tray of food for each course of the night’s meals with the help of his staff.  He served the entire buffet alongside them.

I’d planned poorly, impetuously.  I was foolish.  It’s bad form to spring a proposition on an unsuspecting chef.  I’m sure there were many factors and circumstances beyond the glamour and glitz of the dining room. I would have liked to ask Jean Louis about them.  Productions of spectacular proportion require exhaustive planning and preparation.  A chef of Jean Louis’ reputation – he’s worked in a kitchen since he was twelve and has a distinguished professional pedigree – finds a way to pull it off without breaking the illusion of fluidity and ease.  I worried anyway.  The smile I’d hoped to see made far too few appearances that night.

*

Dazzling Martin tried valiantly to resuscitate my self-esteem during the dessert course.  With a mischievous smile, Martin twirled me around the dance floor, amiably bantering, for two pleasant minutes, and he, at least, dumped me with a flourish and a bow.  I was very grateful for his kindness.  Sadly, the internal wounds I had sustained earlier in the evening were too deep to overcome. Our driver’s prophecy proved true. Brutalized, beaten, and emotionally shanked, my self-esteem died shortly prior to midnight.

My crush on Jean Louis lingers, but it has been tempered by a splash of icy cream in the hot soup of my heart.  It will probably be another year until my friends and I save enough money to return to Caterina, but when we do, I hope that we’ll see a Jean Louis who smiles again.

***

The skinny:

Caterina is located at 2155 South Highland Drive in Salt Lake City, Utah. Private dining menus range from $35 – $65. The restaurant can be reached by phone at 1.801. 819. 7555 or found online at http://www.caterinaslc.com.

Though I was too distraught to register the quality of the prepared meals, my friends said they were very delicious.  They went back for seconds in many of the courses. Our waiters were courteous, and they provided meticulous service.  The $55 prix fixe menu, however, did not include water, for which they charged $8 per bottle. This seemed a bit excessive given that we were essentially serving our own food.

The restaurant’s décor was spirited and a little saucy – perfectly apropos to Halloween. My friends and I had a lot of fun taking pictures of skeletons, bottles of wine, and raven figurines.

I plan to return to Caterina on an ordinary night, perhaps one more auspicious for the making of propositions.

“Go on, then! You are already dead!”

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Halloween Haiku

Something creepy this way crawls...

During the week, I work as a writing tutor for a rotating group of high school students.  This group also includes a slightly younger pair of siblings: Stella and Lucas, age 12 and 10 respectively.  Stella’s former teachers in the San Diego school system had encouraged her to explore creativity through writing; the writing program at her new Utah school simply wasn’t compelling enough to sustain her interest.  I think that Lucas, a redhead with a sprinkling of freckles and a shy smile, joined our tutoring sessions to see if his interest could be similarly sparked.  We sit together for hour-long sessions at my large dining table and work through free writing prompts and language-building activities.  I write with them, and we share our writing round-robin style.  Stella and Lucas laugh with each other, making faces.  They reference each other in their writing.  They are the highlight of my workweek.

Last week, we wrote Halloween haikus, illustrating them in the margins with spooky characters. Frankenstein appeared in all three of our lists of Top Ten Things Related to Halloween.  Stella and Lucas’ faces furrowed with intent as they sorted through the box of markers I gave them; they wanted to make sure that their Frankensteins were just the right shade of green, his scars in the exact right placement.

Here is one of our resulting haikus:

If Frankenstein ate
candy he might not have been
in such a bad mood.

Here is one of mine:

Shaving cream egg bombs
they tossed from the bus windows
and freaked my mom out.

“What’s a shaving cream egg bomb?” asked Stella, blond brows knit together, aqua blue fingernails tapping on the table.  These were actually two different ‘bombs’ fused together for dramatic effect, I explained.

A shaving cream bomb and an egg bomb comprised only a small portion of the Coney Island Halloween experience between the years of 1984 and 1992.  An egg bomb is a raw egg pitched at high velocity from moving buses, apartment windows, and random passersby on the street.  A shaving cream bomb is a rock loosely encased by a blob of shaving cream, thrown with similar speed and intent.  I never received a shaving cream egg bomb firsthand because my mother barricaded us inside the apartment for the entire day, but the evidence was plain to see on November 1st.  Egg artilleries imploded on the sidewalks, shaving cream napalm smeared against buildings, pebbles scattered like shrapnel.

Corn mazes, hayrides, bobbing for apples, and bonfires were not commonly practiced.  Trick or treating was not encouraged.

The act of donning a costume for public appearance is referred to as ‘guising’ after the verb ‘to disguise.’  My mother disapproved of dressing in costumes at Halloween; she thought it wrong to celebrate ghouls, ghosts, and creatures she associated with the occult.  I know that she let me dress up at least once because she documented it in her journal: I was a black cat.  In college, I guised as a piece of jail bait, a nun, a witch, and a demonic vixen, selections that accurately mirror my social experiences during those years.  This year I will guise as myself, which is perhaps the most illusory guise of all.

Tricks are essentially implied shenanigan threats, translating to “Give me candy or I’ll toilet paper your rhododendron.”  In some parts of the world, however, children are expected to earn their treats by performing “tricks” like singing or telling stories, a quaint practice that I wouldn’t mind seeing more of.  Wouldn’t it make the day more fun to see a pintsized skeleton dancing a jig on my doorstep?  Or to hear my daughter belting out spirited renditions of musical numbers for my neighbors as we made our rounds?  What does it say about a culture that submits to the threats of children with the reward of candy, and has even sanctioned a national holiday in celebration of this implied trickery?

Then again, few children seem to know the more mischievous nuances of the term ‘trick.’  Lucas didn’t, but he laughed when I told him about the singing and dancing alternative.  Many of the children who knock at my door omit the phrase altogether; they thrust out their buckets and bags, mute but with expectant eyes.  I wonder what they’d think if I asked them to sing me the SpongeBob theme song.

I’m not actually a Halloween crank.  The holiday endures because it’s fun to dress up and it’s even more fun to go on a raging sugar bender, as is evidenced by the extraordinary candy revenues reported in the days leading up to Halloween.  The Washington Post estimates that 90 percent of parents steal treats from their children’s sugary schwag.  (Lucas frowned when I shared this statistic.  Stella giggled.)  I admit to furtively savoring my ill begotten Skittles and Nerd Ropes. I try to remind myself that my history is not my children’s.  My kids will recall the chill of the night air, the anticipation, and the sweet rewards.

This year, Kai opted to be his hero, Spiderman, and my daughter, Rory, will be Ladybug Girl, resplendent with black fuzz ball antennae, shimmering red wings, and a gauzy tulle skirt that I handmade in one of my rare fits of crafting.

Our lights will shine through the windows on Halloween night.  I will gladly open the door.

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