As part of our celebration of Nora's birthday, we drove (on the first really snowy day of the year) down to Manchester and our favorite bookstore, Northshire. Not looking for anything in particular, really, but any day spent in a bookstore is just a good day. (Nighttimes, too, apparently...) In the end, Nora got a candle and a big Moleskine notebook, and I got a book and a CD.
This is a nicely literary bookstore. It's not just Plumbing for Dummies and this week's People magazine; there are aisles and aisles of ideas. And chairs, so that you can comfortably think about some of those ideas even before you leave. Nora was sitting in one of these chairs in the Fiction section, and we happened to look straight across the aisle at... the romance books. Not the skinny little Harlequins that all had the same red cover, but significant, multiple-day books (lots of Nora Roberts and Danielle Steele, for instance). I pulled a couple down to have a look, and they all still have Fabio or his peers on the cover, shirt open to the waist. Kind of like this guy, for instance.
So Nora, literary purist that she is, immediately stopped the very next defenseless Northshire employee who crossed our path, and semi-seriously expressed horror and outrage that a) such things existed, b) they would exist at a bookstore like Northshire, and c) they were placed directly across the aisle from serious fiction by Kenzaburo Oe and Joe Coomer and Barbara Kingsolver. The ambushed employee did a nice job of defending people's right to read as they choose, and explained that the store was trying to consolidate their different genres of fiction into a related place. (The romances had been over with the science fiction/fantasy books and graphic novels, which frankly is the REAL reason why they were moved; the women who read romance novels and the guys who read sci-fi and comic books would both make one another a little uncomfortable...)
After the Northshire, we went for Nora's birthday dinner to a nice little restaurant outside Manchester, down a side road and overlooking the river. It's the kind of restaurant that caters to the comfortably well-heeled, country-clubby retirees who want to be fawned and fussed over. We were seated at a very nice little table in the corner, directly overlooking the snowy landscape behind the river...
And then our waiter arrived.
Friends, this guy could have been on the cover of any of the romance novels at Northshire. Six feet and a little bit, chiseled jaw, broad shoulders, tapered waist, mid-30s, impeccably groomed. And a voice that would make NPR newsmen weep with envy—deep, resonant, calm, reassuring. His arrival at tableside probably provides the only moments of sexual excitement that most of his female customers have; and they DO ask him a lot of questions, to keep him near a little longer and to get a few more words from that voice.
Nora asked about the salmon canneloni stuffed with lobster. "There isn't any pasta at all in this dish. The salmon filet is wrapped around the lobster, and it resembles a canelloni." Had I been the waiter, I might have added, "It's about as big around as a toilet-paper tube," but that would have been gauche. Besides, I think our waiter was comfortable with the size of his... servings, and didn't need to lower himself to those terms.
After a bit, he got to see that we didn't need him to be formal, and he even laughed a few times and described some of the strategy around how they seat different parties in different parts of the restaurant. But he never got too comfortable; he remained Suave Manley, always on duty and ready to serve. He DID keep his shirt buttoned, but even with that, he could intimidate George Clooney into early retirement.
I'm not revealing the name of this restaurant, because it's a bit of an
embarrassing description of our waiter. But if you contact us in person
and let us know when you're coming to southern Vermont, we'll send you
over there so you can have the Manley experience.
The dinner was wonderful (Nora had the salmon canelloni, and I had a terrific risotto), the ambience was lovely, and the birthday was a success all around, concluded at home with a really great phone conversation with Grazyna and Howard until the wee hours of this morning.
Today is cold, with real snow on the ground; it actually feels something like Vermont.