This story is for Cassie.
Unlike all those uptight holidays that insist you celebrate them on a given calendar day, Epiphany spans a few weeks and sometimes months at the beginning of the year. It’s fine, she says gracefully. Just - when you can. And so between Twelfth Night and the day before Lent, I always order a galette des rois to share with friends.
The layers of scored pastry hide a rich frangipane filling of butter, eggs, ground almonds, and sugar in this cake named for the Three Kings, the journeymen who took their sweet time on the way to worship a tiny one. Inside the cake is hidden la fève, a porcelain charm standing in for a bean that, when discovered, designates the finder the queen or king of the friend group for the year. The first forkfuls of cake suspend conversation as everyone bites down gingerly, watching each other with poker faces until, “mmmMM! Found it!” rings out, and a metallic paper crown is placed on the new royal.
Before that, though, the youngest must crawl beneath the table and be le petit roi, crouching at the feet of his friends and calling out the recipient of each piece as it is cut. This year, I was the one under the table (and dreaming) and while below, I thought about years past and who was determining the cake slices. Last year, a new friend who is now a very close one threw a dinner party in the Greenpoint apartment of friends who were away. After a beautiful meal, she went under the table bellowing “NOW!” at intervals, directing the knife cuts as we giggled, dressed head-to-toe in the single color we had each chosen for the themed party. (I wore floor-length velvet magenta and a matching wig.) A few years before that, in another New York apartment of mine, I made my usual cassoulet and salad of bitter greens. Starting a few days before, I soaked the white beans, then cooked them through with garlic sausage and duck confit, crisping breadcrumbs and sprinkling parsley as a garnish as I served that group of friends. Under the table went someone with a beautiful mind and body who I realized too late wanted more than my friendship.
The cellophane sleeve holds an extra crown I will wear as I wash the lipstick from stemmed glasses after everyone leaves. She always slips in another at the bakery after warning me in over-enunciated syllables to keep the cake flat, to crisp it for ten minutes only in the oven before bringing to the table. With great admiration for shopkeepers who care so much I walked - as I will every year I live in this city - quickly in the cold down the blocks by the park to the stairs, sideways through the turnstile that reminds me of a rigid coat rack, onto the train, off the train, sideways from a delivery guy on a motorized bike that I heard before I saw, over the patch of ice the neighbors never salt, and into the warm kitchen with bubbling cassoulet to await my Epiphany guests.
A few more days
A final Hi meeting
The local neighborhood bar has a quiet time between six and nine. It is a place that specializes in coffee, beer and seasonal menus. There is just enough of each for a satisfying snack and effective buzz. After the time when the laptop lids close and before the social gatherings start -- there is a sort of twilight*. Often this time is a fugitive ground rife with creative inspiration and meditative work -- of the kind that results in personal reward.*twilight may refer to civil, nautical or astronomical variety depending on your social or terrestrial condition
A man positions his mouse on the edge of his browser window. He clicks, holds and drags the viewport first left then right. The content of a video game promo micro site responds and adapts to the available space. To the man, this is more delightful than the game itself.
A man laboriously moves his piano down three levels onto the subway platform. Classic vocals and strided chords -- he played so well I swore he was blind. Oblivious to the heat on that August stage, he was most in touch with his audience -- whom he elevated with his music.
A woman should do exactly as she pleases no matter what a man may think.
As the Dalai Lama once said, "It is a time when there is much in the window, but nothing in the room."
"No one understands me," she said. Her grandmother was silent for a minute. It seemed she was searching for an answer in the star speckled sky. "But no one understands anyone in this world, darling. We are all unique. It is what gives us a sense of wonder."