21 February, 2007


Guess what I spent two hours doing yesterday? Shh, don't tell John; it's his surprise birthday present, and he's not going to find out about it until tomorrow at lunchtime. But to you I will confess all.

Last thing at night before going to bed I always check my email. You never know. Well, on Wednesday night I got a message from Vincent, suggesting spontaneously (as is his wont, unlike plodding me) that I come by the next day and let him shoot some portraits of me, for John. My first reaction was, "Why would I subject myself, and ultimately poor John, to something so awful?" But Vincent is simply a brilliant photographer, with all the proper equipment, the studio, everything, so I paused. Then I figured, how bad could it be? This restrained enthusiasm is, I think, a sad commentary on how different a 42-year-old is from a 20-year-old (among many such sad comparisons!), because I have very vivid memories of modelling nude for a painting class in Florence, during one wonderful college summer spent there. Where has that person gone? Well, for one thing she's twice as old and probably a good twenty pounds heavier, but no matter. I decided to throw caution to the winds, and so yesterday I packed up one of John's white shirts, per Vincent's instructions, and told John I was leaving but couldn't tell him where, and that I'd pick Avery up at school. I must say he is completely mystified.

So I sped over to London Bridge and was a model! Vincent started out with a Polaroid shot of each pose, so I got to see them immediately and wasn't too horrified. He assures me that the real film shots will be much deeper and more vivid. I felt self-conscious, but his infectious good humor could not be resisted, plus his dancing to the salsa music emanating from the stereo, as well as his running commentary on all the things happening in his life: his happiness with his new loft, and with Pete, his fun photographing his two little girls, his plans for an enormous birthday party in Marrakesh! And through it all he took pictures. "Did you go to school to learn to do this, Vincent?" "No, indeed I am self-taught as they say." "But all this equipment! How did you know what to buy?" He roared at that. "Honey, I have never had any trouble knowing what to BUY."

Then I thought I had better get myself off to meet Avery, Anna and Ellie at school and take them riding, but Vincent, as is usual, was having none of my self-imposed duty. "We are going out to lunch," he announced, and with that phrase I saw collapsed all my Puritanical plans to be early, to bring a snack for the girls, all the other good-mother scenarios I tend to adhere to. Life with Vincent is an endless round of fun. So the three of us repaired to a local Bermondsey restaurant called Delfina, and had a fine time. I don't know if I would go again, but my hesitation is partly because I'm sure I ordered the wrong things. I started with an interesting-sounding soup ("I hate all soups," Vincent said categorically), and I have to say he was probably right in this case. Jerusalem artichoke, pear and chestnut puree, with little fried plantain curls on top. The problem? All the ingredients are the same color (greyish) and the same consistency (mushy) and it was too thick and too salty, I imagine to give it more flavor than could be had from the too-dull ingredients. So aside from just being soup, which makes me tend to like something, it didn't have much to recommend it. Then I had chicken liver pate to follow, which was, unaccountably, smeared across a slab of toasted ciabatta. Now, the pate itself was fine, but I really didn't want it slathered on the piece of toast which, left to its own devices, would have been a nice crunchy accompaniment but, as it was, filled the role of "mattress" in "The Princess and the Pea."

Pete, on the other hand, had an absolutely gorgeous little fillet of sea bass, on a bed of shredded cabbage and tiny noodles, and it looked divine. I don't know him quite well enough to ask to have a bite, so I cannot report on its goodness except to say that he ate every bite. Vincent had a pretentious-sounding but very yummy-looking "sumac smoked weiner schnitzel," and it was enormous. Fine for a big strapping fellow, but I could never have worked my way through it. Plus, by the time the main courses came I was in a kerfuffle over being possibly late to pickup (I have to remember that there's Greenwich Mean Time, and then there's Vincent Time, in which the clock stops for him to have fun and wrap his expansive good humour around everyone in his orbit). So I called Becky, always a mainstay of help without making me feel guilty, and arranged that she'd pick the girls up and I would meet them at the stable with Avery's stuff. Which was at home. Slight panic! Pete laughed. "I was regularly left at school. I was the youngest of five, and my mother, after school, would just sort of cock her ear for the level of noise in the house, find it appropriate for the number of children she thought were probably there, and leave it at that. It was sometimes 4:30 before anyone realised I was still at school." There does seem to be a special rule that decrees if I get to school on time, she's late, and if I'm late, she was early, and all the good things I do as her mother fly out of the window as she experiences that fate worse than death: Last Child Picked Up.

Meanwhile, as only a true foodie can do, even full as a tick, Vincent was talking recipes. He is absolutely 100% convinced that his version of anything he can cook is the version you should learn to, so I listened avidly. A souffle? To most people the word strikes fear in their culinary hearts, but to Vincent it's "what you cook on a Sunday night when no one can be bothered to cook." And he makes it sound so easy, using up all the ends of the cheeses you've had on your cheeseboard all week. (Do you have a cheeseboard all week? Oh, good, neither do I.) He is, quite simply, the most effortless cook, and host.

He was still in full creative flow as I pondered these questions. "Have I given you my scallops in scotch? All you do is throw a knob of butter in a skillet and sear the scallops quickly to brown on each side, then add a tub of creme fraiche ["this is Vincent's diet scallop recipe," Pete teased] and a good dollop of single-malt scotch, some salt and pepper, cook it down, pour it over the scallops. Divine." It sounds it, and when I see him tomorrow I'll get the real recipe and let you know how it turns out.

So yes, tomorrow will see us having lunch at Vincent's house while John looks at the contact sheets he doesn't know exist yet, and chooses which he'd like to have made into prints. I'm so excited. And I made it to the stable on time, in case you wondered.

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