Two years ago my neighbor called to invite my husband and me to a small dinner he was giving in honor of his hunting buddy and houseguest, Justice Scalia. My neighbor, a crusty old bachelor, wasn’t used to giving dinner parties, so he asked me for advice. Over a succession of phone calls he asked: Could I arrange for someone to cook and serve? Could he borrow some dinner plates and silverware? What did I suggest he have for dinner? He was also having a young Julliard pianist to play after dinner, but his old upright piano was out of tune, did I know anyone who could tune it?
It was pretty clear that although my neighbor was excited about having a very distinguished guest, he didn’t know what to do with him. I suggested that we move the dinner party across the street to my house – a suggestion to which he readily agreed.
I supplied the setting – the food, dinner plates, silverware, and my in-tune baby grand piano. My neighbor supplied the wine, cigars and the guests: Justice Scalia, Nobel laureate James Watson, the man who discovered DNA, his horticulturalist wife, my husband and I and the brilliant young pianist, Charlie Albright, who was soon to be hailed as one of the most gifted musicians of his generation.
The evening was simply magical. We didn’t talk politics over dinner – it was too mundane. We talked about the Greek philosophers, and the Enlightenment and about the great gardens of Long Island. Dr. Watson talked about his research in search of a cure for cancer. We discussed American history and the ideas that inspired the Founding Fathers.
After dinner, with much good food and wine, we went into the living room, and settled into comfortable overstuffed chairs and sofas. My neighbor passed around a box of Cuban cigars, and my husband brought out the vintage port.
And we settled in to listen to the pure genius of a young man playing Chopin.
We sat for nearly an hour listening to some of the finest piano solos ever written. It was the perfect ending to a magical evening.
Afterward, none of us said much. It had been too special an experience for us all to ruin it with idle chitchat.
So we all gathered up our things, said our goodbyes, and watched as Justice Scalia and my neighbor walked up the hill.
My husband and I stood at the door for a few minutes, watching the fading embers of their cigars.