It was a valentine party at the Symposia Bookstore. Why it was held on Lincoln's birthday, I'm not sure, but the owners of the Symposia are from Roumania or Bulgaria or somewhere so they chose the day.
I met them at a little dinner party at Cristina's last spring. It was wonderful, like being at dinner in Geneva once again--everybody at the table except for Cristina's husband Ron (from Pennsylvania) and me spoke perfect English with a trace of an accent from somewhere, and we talked of grand topics and not just local things or shopping. I had liked the couple enormously, and had already frequented their bookstore, which is right in the middle of town on "the avenue"--Washington Street.
Valentine's party guests were asked to bring a dish and a favorite love poem. On my Shameless Self-Promotion Tour, I decided to read a poem that appears in my new book The Fair Hope of Heaven, "The Chain I Wear for You," by Gretchen Riggs, my old theatre mentor. I didn't know the party would entail a full meal, so I ate before leaving home, but brought crackers and a dip made of tunafish and beans. It may not sound good, but it is.
I was met at the door by a very aggressive and pleasant young man who, if I didn't know better, I would have thought was rushing me. It wasn't long before I learned that he works at the store. He was being professional, keeping the party moving, talking with everybody. A beautiful old lady, Antonella--in a red sweater with a black feather boa was already holding court, talking of Italy and how wonderful it is to be Italian. She was thrilled that I had lived for six years in Geneva, although she had never been there. She was enthralled in what looked to be a lifelong argument with her table neighbor, a lady who looked like Gilda Radner and who had traveled Europe with her. When Gilda said, "Is there meat in this? I don't eat meat", it set Antonella off--"You don't eat meat, you don't eat anything, all over Europe you complain about the food. I am Italian and I love to eat!"
I said to Nancy, bouncy-haired and smart, and sitting on my right, "That must have been a wonderful trip," and they two of them said it had been a wonderful trip all right. Gilda said she never complained about food.
The place filled up. The tabled groaned. Everybody was noisy and having a good time. Ron came in and said Cristina was coming in the car and would call him on his cell phone if she couldn't find a parking space.
The time came to read the poems. Nancy started off by reading something by Anthony de Mello on the meaning of love. De Mello I knew from the old 12-Step Sunday meetings led by the wonderful Paul Sheldon in Alabama. Nancy's choice stated that love must be based on first really knowing the object of one's love and accepting his or her reality. All other love is self-love.
Carmen asked who had the nerve to follow that one. Gilda had a beautiful ancient Egyptian poem by a man whose wife (his "sister," she told us, was the way the ancients put it) had left to join the gods seven days before.
Then it was time for me and Gretchen's poem. I held up the book, described Gretchen, read the poem and the paragraph that follows it. I don't know how it went over. People were quiet. They were listening. It wasn't too long. But as far as self-promotion goes, nobody asked where they could buy the book. But I'll bet they are thinking about it.
Just as I am thinking this morning about what a grand little party it was, what a pleasant tribe. Cristina and Ron drove me home, and as we got into the car, she said to me, "I knew you'd like those people."