Saturday, February 20, 2010

Well Read and Well Fed

Here I am in Seattle as a visiting "Cocktail Curator," having booked Neyah White of NOPA and Duggan McDonnell of Cantina to be guest bartenders and lecturers at one of avant-garde chef provocateur Michael Hebb's symposiums at the Sorrento Hotel.

Night School is a collaboration between Hebb and the Sorrento Hotel featuring the country's leading intellectuals, musicians, bartenders, and chefs. It's a modern equivalent of the Algonquin (with Hebb channeling Dorothy Parker). This weekend the lineup includes Sean Nelson and Erin Jorgenson tonight (a sold-out show of indie rock meets chamber music) in addition to Drinking Lessons both tomorrow and Monday nights.

Last night we dined on Lesley Hazelton's houseboat. The dedicated drinker, smoker, and author ("After the Prophet" is her most recently-published title) had made Yorkshire puddings (crisp, freshly-herbed popovers that perfectly soaked up the sauce from her cast-iron pot of Bouef Bourguignon) for the group of six that spanned nearly five decades.

At the table was Jonathan Raban, correspondent for the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, among many other powerhouse publications, who regaled us with stories of his undercover dealings with the Tea Party Movement and Sarah Palin.

Next to me was Nassim Assefi, who was so sweet and gracious. I told her I'd been impressed by "Persepolis" as we discussed the trials that intellectuals have (and are) facing in Iran, and she said, "Oh yes, the author is a dear friend of mine." I listened more than I spoke after that.

Deborah Jacobs had me cracking up (whoever propagates the stereotype of librarians as dry and boring has not spent any time in this woman's presence!) and left early a after a few glasses of grappa and accidentally prank-calling Rem Koolhas.

My life has been lacking in the company of older intellectuals since I amicably parted ways with the crowd at Angelo Garro's Renaissance Forge (the Alice Waters worship got old, and anyway I don't think she has very good table manners), so it was inspiring to dine with people who have first-hand knowledge of Hillary Clinton, Kofi Anaan, and Bill Gates.

Since everyone at the table had written many books, there was much gifting and inscribing (Nassim gave me a copy of "Aria" after she dropped Hebb and I off--though neither one of us had a pen handy for an inscription--bad writers!), and it made me want to step up my act so I can soon inscribe a work of merit more important than a cycling anthology at my next dinner party.

Not only is Lesley one of the foremost scholars of Middle Eastern religion, she covered the automobile industry for the Detroit Free Press for 10 years and is a licensed pilot who is extremely down-to-earth and modest about her numerous accomplishments and awards. Plus she makes a mean stew.

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