A Homecoming & An Idea
For most of my life, I have been trying to leave the New York apartment in which I grew up–the apartment that was my dad’s bachelor pad in the early ’70s, my folks’ matrimonial nest after that, and then, post 1980, where I learned to walk, talk, and eventually about the pleasures of food and wine.
As soon as I was old enough to be trusted with a platter, I started cater-waitering my parents’ dinner parties. “May I take your coat?” I’d ask guests upon arrival, then I’d carry them into my parents’ bedroom and add them to the pile. It was the early Eighties and there were often several furs. Sometimes I quickly lay atop the decadent hides and wriggled around when no one was looking! I was a sybarite from the start, but I also knew well my job. “Would you care for an hors d’oeuvre? It’s an endive leaf with Boursin” or “it’s a prosciutto-wrapped date,” I’d offer and explain, while extending a stack of starched cocktail napkins with my other hand. Between courses my mother would knock on my bedroom door and sing, “Tarajia, I need you,” and I’d carry plates from the dining table to the kitchen where she’d rinse them and load them into the dishwasher (I was still too petite to reach the faucets).
In an apartment meant for a couple in which my bedroom was fashioned out of a closet, it was a singularly New York upbringing. We had little privacy from each other, and could all hear each others’ murmurs, guffaws, snores and kitchen ticks from one end of the home to the other….but my father refused to leave. Because of his devotion to the apartment, I would be an only child (“There’s no place to put anyone else,” my mother explained when I asked whether I might have a sibling).
As a kid, I ached to move to the countryside to commune with farm animals. As a teenager, I begged to go to boarding school where my single dorm rooms were actually bigger than my one at home. As a collegiate at Barnard, I decamped to Chelsea to see if I could dig up any remaining Warholian magic–any departure or rebellion to feel like I was moving away from the family roost with its dreadlocks of tangled speaker cables in corners and behind cupboard doors; its floor-to-ceiling covered walls of wine-themed poster art; and the ever present sound of TV or opera at full volume.
So the irony is not lost on me that I now call this place home, that in one of those unbelievable New York City real estate paradoxes, I find myself back where I started, in what was once my dad’s bachelor pad and is now ostensibly mine…at least until I fly the coop again.
I didn’t sleep for the first month. It’s predictably weird, there’s just no way around it. Many nights I lay awake wondering if there’s something wrong with me for returning to the den–whether I’ve made no progress at all over my many little lifetimes. But then it occurs to me that, no, it’s because of the progress that I can return, that I can revisit the origin on my own terms, that it was a choice to move back into the mothership and that it doesn’t have to be forever.
Having lived in a studio for most of my adult life, it turns out it’s fun to have walls and rooms and closets, not to mention outdoor space in this concrete jungle. The strange thing is that whereas we felt constantly on top of each other during my childhood here (my kiddie loft bed was built literally above where my parents heads were when they slept), now the place feels enormous! I’ve been rather rattling around.
What’s the sense of having all this space if we don’t share it? And what better way to share it than the way it’s always been shared–as a wine-centric haven with six-course meals coming out of the galley kitchen? What’s the point of the terrace grill without some sausage on it? The river view without folks to admire it? Once I start asking these questions, quickly I begin to wonder why we have drawers full of sterling silverware and cupboards full of Limoges plates and eccentric stemware if it’s not going to be employed. What was all of this material collecting done for if not to be enjoyed with great food and drink?
Gone is the television. Unknotted and organized are the speaker cables, but the wine posters remain on every mango and papaya-colored wall. Voluptuous women holding coupes of Michaud and Royal-Eclair stare down at me, and my guests, of whom I’ve decided there will be many.
I’ve started a little monthly endeavor here that I am calling Morrell Salon, where my cronies and peers can hopefully experience some of the entertaining-at-home magic in which I grew up, where they can learn about food and wine the way I did, within the same walls and with the same enthusiasm, sense of occasion and above all with merrymaking as a guide. I am back at the starting point, but how different the vista now is: it’s uniquely my own. If you’d like to join me in the learning from a place of pleasure, just get in touch, I’d love to have you.