Oddly enough, the most memorable meal I ever ate consisted of very little food. The hostess was a famous potter, as well as a painter. Her name was Katrina Buell. The year was 1911 and I was fifteen years old. The place was Paris where I had been taking ballet lessons from the great M. Raymond, master of the Paris Opera Ballet.
Katrina was an associate member of that noted movement of Canadian artists, the Group of Seven. She knew everybody in Paris, and her studio was a mecca for the most
interesting people, names now fall mous, but at that time in the making.
I remember particularly being taken one afternoon to meet Gertrude Stein. She and the other famous people to whom Katrina introduced me impressed me, but not as Names or Figures. I accepted them as normal and ordinary. I thought that life was like that, and that my own would he studded with such encounters. We sometimes go through the richest periods of our lives unknowing.
Katrina gave wonderful parties to which everybody came. It was at one of those affairs that I met Isadora Duncan. She was very remote and it chilled me. 1 remember that very well; and then there was her brother Raymond, who went about always in a toga and fell asleep at every opportunity.
At one party Katrina asked me to come early to help with the food, and she also invited me to dance a tango during the party. I went into
the tiny kitchen and started to do the bread and butter, cutting thin slices from long fragrant loaves of fresh bread, and using a clean palette knife to spread the unsalted butter.
I could hear gay laughter and talk in the studio as I worked, and 1 felt very happy.
Suddenly, the curtain that separated the kitchen from the studio was pushed aside and a young man came into the room. He had a dark skin and black hair, coming down in a widow’s peak. He was thin and wore a rather shabby suit with sleeves a little too short, showing his hands. His eyes went up at the corners, and they were looking at me with amusement. He said, in blurred French, "May I help you?”
He pulled a stool to the table and started buttering as I cut. He seemed vaguely familiar but I couldn’t place him. He was quite adept with the butter, and his hands were beautiful, long, slender and sure.
We talked a little but nothing was said that 1 remember. Just something like this:
“People will get fat. non?” Laughter, in the middle of which he got up and went out, returning with a crock of caviar. He put it down on the table, spread one of the rounds of bread with it, and handed it to me. It was delicious. He spread another round of bread for himself, grinning impishly at me.
"You are English, non?”
"No. I am a Canadian.”
“Oh. Canada—full of space, plenty of snow.”
"And people!” (indignantly, from me).
Katrina pushed the curtain aside, and laughed at us. She said, "Time for your dance, Doris.”
The young man got up from the stool and stood looking at me.
‘‘Ah, you dance?”
“Oh well, a little.”
I went into the studio and looked around. Everyone was eyeing me kindly, and the scent of fruit and wine and paint was intoxicating. Someone put a gramophone record on and a tango came out. I took a rose from a vase, stuck it in my hair and started to do the tango. It was fun and 1 was enjoying it. Their eyes were still kind and they watched with interest. I forgot myself and danced to the pulsing rhythm. I was a Spanish lady in a
mantilla, dancing without a partner.
And then they were no longer looking at me, and I felt a hush.
The young man had come silently into the room and I could feel his presence behind me. I turned toward him, still dancing. He was smiling. He made a quick movement. caught up one of Katrina’s batik scarves from a chair and draped it swiftly around his very slim waist.
Then he was standing in front
of me and I was no longer a lady dancing alone. I have never forgotten that moment. We danced. I was fifteen and full of the pure thrill of dancing for itself alone. We moved across the room in the spell of the tango, our feet moving in unison and our bodies swaying. The record stopped.
There was a loud sound that 1 did not recognize at once, hut it was applause. They were dapping hard, crying. “More, more.” But something told me to stop. The young man stood there, looking at me impersonally, kindly, with appreciation. He said. “Mademoiselle, you can dance!”
Katrina came along and put her arm around me. She said, "Mr. Nijinsky, it was very kind of you to do that.”
Nijinsky! The Faun! The most famous dancer in the world! Of course! But the bread and butter!
The caviar! The inane conversation!
The waste! If only I had known!
1 was suddenly almost in tears.
He was smiling down at me with an incredible benevolence, which was part of his own youth and understanding. He said. “Come, we finish our supper. We deserve to eat, non?”
He took my arm and piloted me to a corner. I was trembling. It seemed to me that I had gone through a miracle without being aware of it. I sat in a daze until
1 saw him coming back to the corner, carrying a huge plate piled high with snails, bread and butter and a bttneh of purple grapes. He looked exactly like the faun. In his other hand he was balancing a jug of wine and two glasses, his head outlined against a great vase of llowers that Katrina had arranged in her inimitable way.
“Drink with me to the dance,” he said.
It was my first drink of wine and it gurgled into me like true nectar, if
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