Dinner Party Marks End of an Era, Helps Put Pandemic in the Past
The occasion for the dinner party was simple enough. Our friend Hakan Zor, a rug merchant from Turkey, was visiting. However, the implications were more momentous.
“We aren’t in the market for more rugs, but we’d love to see you,” I wrote in response to the text Hakan sent letting me know he was in town. I was so relieved to hear from him.
Like so many businesses, his had suffered during the pandemic. The cruise ships on which his rug shop in Turkey relies were grounded, and so was he. He could not travel to the states to see clients, the basis of the rest of his business.
“I’ll invite some friends,” I said, as if that were normal.
A few nights later, seven of us — two couples from the neighborhood, my husband and I, and Hakan — were sitting around my dining room table, eating and talking and laughing. I noticed a foreign feeling in my chest, one I hadn’t felt for some time: Joy.
After 15 months of hibernation, going out only when necessary armed with a face mask and hand sanitizer, steering clear of humanity, perpetually accompanied by dark feelings of foreboding, hosting a dinner party felt insanely brazen.
And I did it with impunity.
We were all fully vaccinated, relieved, and ready to put this era behind us. We were also grateful for what up until 15 months ago we had taken for granted — the simple act of gathering.
"This period reminds us that creating art, being together, engaging in ritual, is something that humans will always need to do," said historian Keith Johnston, of Canada, in a recent radio interview that rang true to me. “We do well when we figure out ways to do that well.”
Johnston was comparing the recent pandemic to one that swept through Naples, Italy, in 1656. “Neapolitans lost their connection to social life and civic traditions.” But, after the shared experience of the pandemic, the town celebrated with a 10-day festival. “Art played an important role in the lives of Neapolitans during this period, not just for its aesthetics but also for its believed capacity to heal people.”
Heal indeed. Perhaps that’s why an impromptu dinner party with an ancient art form as inspiration felt so on point, as exactly the way to put a period at the end of the pandemic.
As I took in the table and those around me, the candles glowed more magically. The crystal had more sparkle. My friends felt dearer. Of course, the fact that we were also talking about art, in this case area rugs, as home décor brought the evening to the peak of perfection in my mind. (My husband, DC, might disagree on that point.)
DC poured wine. We raised our goblets and took turns toasting:
After dinner, Hakan, who always brings a van full of rugs he’s shipped over, unrolled some of his wares and talked about the ancient art of Turkish rug making, a tradition that dates back many centuries, and many generations in his own family. He taught us about the fineness of the weave, the intricacies of and legends behind the patterns, the origin of the dyes, and the trained hands that tie every miniscule knot. Hungry for connection, we all listened closely.
Privately, I smiled at how far I had come. When Hakan and I met six years ago, I didn’t like him at all. I was an arms-crossed skeptic. I had stereotypically put him (Turkish rug trader) in the same camp as snake-oil salesman and bridge seller. Through painstaking patience, Hakan won me over and chiseled through my ignorance until I came to appreciate both him and this art form.
As the evening wound up, a small rug somehow found a permanent home appropriately by our front door, where it marks for me a symbol for the post-pandemic moment in time when we opened our front door again to the world.
The moment the pandemic moves from present to past differs for everyone. For some it may be the first day back to school or to a workplace. For some the pandemic may seem present still, but that was my moment. Once you feel comfortable and safe doing so, and are — not that I would ever tell you what to do — vaccinated, here are several ways to joyfully put the pandemic in your past and celebrate like its 1656:
1. Have the dinner party. Have lots of dinner parties. You don’t have to have a reason beyond “because we can.”
2. Hug your neighbors. Open your arms and your doors.
3. Get a piece of art to commemorate this time, and to remind you of the fact that making and sharing art has held societies together since the beginning of civilization.
4. Practice gratitude. Appreciate the many small moments we have long taken for granted, being about to walk into a store without a mask, hold a baby, take a trip, have lunch with a friend.
5. Get off zoom. Go out and see people in person.
6. Get back to life. If you can, go hear and feel live music. Visit a museum. See live theater. Experience life apart from a two-dimensional screen. Embrace art and life in all its dimensions.
Photo caption 1: “I didn’t like him at first.” The author with her husband, DC, left, and rug merchant Hakan Zor.
Photo caption 2: Art crossing — For one household, a hand-woven entryway rug marks the threshold and commemorates the end of an era. The art piece symbolizes the moment where they opened their front door again to the world.