31 October, 2006

more good times in Upper Slaughter

Saturday evening, we arrived back at the hotel at a glorious time of day, that late afternoon slanting blinky sunlight that then retreated behind clouds and cooled off the day. The girls ran around in the forecourt of the hotel playing "Pony Show." I was the judge and had to call for "Walk, all walk," and "You are being judged at the canter, all canter," finally awarding the first and second prizes to the riders. Avery discovered that cantering without a pony but with a bruised coccyx is not all that much fun, so they subsided. Then in the distance we saw a baby toddling about on the grass, pursued by its parents and a stroller loaded with parcels. Since Ava is a new sister, and Avery misses Jane, they ran over and made friends. A lovely Hungarian family spending, I would guess, a semester teaching at some English university. Just a darling baby, full of social vim and vigor, and she thoroughly charmed the big girls who played games to entertain her. I must remember to email the parents copies of the pictures, because as you can see they turned out extra well. It reminds me of the time, long ago in New York, when John and I bought a long antique bench and had to walk it home down the sidewalk, pausing now and then to rest. Months later, an envelope arrived in the post containing two 8x10 photographs of us, carrying the bench and sitting on it outside our apartment door. There was a German postmark, and all we could think was that some German tourist had found our journey amusing, and was kind enough to send us copies of their pictures.

At dinner time, we discovered the beauty of having two children who are 10 years old: they can be left in the room with room service while you adults go down to the fabulous dining room for a fancy dinner. Perfect. Each girl got in the bathtub and got clean (separately, somewhat sadly for me: they are too old to take baths together anymore!), and then we ordered roast chicken and French fries for them, which were elegantly delivered under silver domes, very impressive to the girls. They bundled up in the white toweling robes provided by the hotel and lay on their stomachs to watch telly and eat their dinner. Then John I slipped out, exhorting them not to stand on anything except their feet, and to be careful and good. We went down to the warm, candlelit dining room and had such a nice time, just the two of us. I realize it's nice that we have a child well-behaved enough, and good-enough company, that we like to have dinner with her, but there's something different about ourselves when we get to be just on our own. It was lovely.

And the food! I started with, guess what, pan-fried foie gras with aged balsamic vinegar. Seared to perfection and buttery melting-soft inside. With a very unusual side of tamarind ice cream, and perfect focaccia with tapenade. John had something I had always wanted to try but was a little wary of ordering myself: venison carpaccio. Paper-thin slices of raw venison served with a little frisee salad and a horseradish cream, and it was absolutely luscious. The venison had been rolled in an herbed pepper before being sliced, which added a great flavor but did not overwhelm the meat. To follow, I had a perfectly pink "Old Spot" pork tenderloin, sliced thickly, in what was to me a rather odd vanilla sauce, but I could see that it was wonderful for what it was. John's father, who will eat anything that tastes of vanilla, would have been in heaven. I enjoyed it, however. John had roast duck that was crispy on the outside but nice and rare-ish on the inside, which having done duck now at home, I can tell you is not easy to achieve. I must say, though, that when it came time to choose the photos for this post and I saw "ducks" next to "duck salad" in my menu of pictures, I could almost hear Avery's voice at the river earlier in the day saying, "Look at these cute little creatures! Now tell me you could order duck for dinner!"

In between courses John checked on the girls, who had put themselves to bed and were perusing, once again, the classified pony ads, poor things. At least Avery is poor. Ava has a pony in Yorkshire, but even so, she and Avery felt on the same page as far as deprivation goes: neither of them has a pony living in her garden in London, how sad! We came back to the room after dinner and they shortly settled down, while John and I relaxed with a warming glass of Calvados.

In the morning we had another glorious breakfast, fed the ducks AGAIN and then headed toward home, stopping in Woodstock for lunch at the White Hart, where I had really good bangers (pork and leek, a traditional favorite) and mustard seed mash, John had a perfectly acceptable ham and stilton sandwich, and the girls had awful kid-pub food. A happy ride home (albeit marred by yet more repetitions of Suzanne Vega), and reluctantly we took Ava home. Jill and Mylo were just making a cup of tea, so we accepted their invitation and sat down for a chat while the girls made the most of their unexpected reprieve from separation, racing up to Ava's bedroom. We all talked the usual topics: senior schools, how much we like the headmistress, and our perfect children. Finally we dragged them apart from one another and headed out. Just as we left, Mylo asked, "You know, I wonder how many people think you're the painter John Currin." We remembered, laughing, that Avery's horse trainer in New York had been extremely stroking of John when we first met, really fawning over him in a completely odd way, and then one day he said, "You are THE John Currin, the painter, aren't you?" Oh, too bad! John broke up when I showed him the paintings. Yes, ever so slightly a different person from himself.

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