Man, it takes a long time to plan a party. As I’m sure Gatsby would agree, if you’re going to have a party, you might as well do it right or else, well, what’s the point? If there’s one thing to say about Jay Gatsby, it is that he never went halfway on anything. If he wanted something to happen, he threw his whole self into its attainment. If some of his dreams didn’t come off as he planned, it was never for lack of trying.
Have you wondered if I’m ever coming back? Well, here I am (I’ve missed you, too) and this month is going to be chock-full of booknerdish indulgence to make up for my long absence. In my last post, I talked about the role of Nick Carraway, the narrator in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and how his role as observer, and the idea of “being observed” in general, helped make the story and the characters into the unforgettable classic they are. And what but the hope of being observed and appreciated is the point of dressing up for a themed party? So sit back, grab a glass of champagne (it doesn’t matter what time of day it is, we are going back to the Roaring 20’s after all), and relive the “Gatsby Glitterati Party” with me.
The reason it took so long for me to actually have this party was that I had a hard time finding somewhere to throw it. I love my apartment in the Outer Sunset district of San Francisco, but it is tiny, and I would imagine could probably fit in one of the closets of Gatsby’s mansion, with room to spare. I played with the idea of having the party at a bar that was kind of speakeasy-esque, like Comstock Saloon or Bourbon + Branch, but as it was a costume party, I wanted people to feel comfortable and, since most of us had to buy costumes, to not have to fork over 10 bucks a pop, not including tip, for the costly (but delicious) cocktails these places sling. Instead I appealed to several friends, but for one reason or another, I just kept finding myself at dead ends. Finally, my friend Adri, whose apartment is slightly bigger than mine and might fit into one of Gatsby’s bathrooms, agreed to host, and just like that, it was on. Having had the idea for this party in my head for quite a while, I had already been collecting parts of my costume, so I was able to save my money for the other accoutrements of a good party, namely booze.
The menu was simple, as food is not an important part of this novel, although alcohol is. The only food mentioned, in fact, was a quick list of food on display at one of Gatsby’s parties which included spiced ham, turkey, and tea cake, and later on the cold fried chicken lying untouched on the table in the emotionally charged silence between Daisy and Tom the night that Myrtle is killed, when Nick spies on them through the window at Gatsby’s insistence. But since it was a simple party, I thought that the spiced ham or turkey would be overkill, so I stuck with the tea cake, which was based on a recipe from the blog COUKiNE. I ended up making a few last minute changes to the recipe when I realized I hadn’t bought all of the ingredients, but it actually came out really yummy. Other than having to substitute whole-wheat flour for regular, I also changed the apple for unsweetened shredded coconut, which gave it a more subtle sweetness (which is not something that can be said about any of the leading ladies of this story; in fact, there’s very little subtlety to any of the characters, with the exception of Nick, of course). Oh, a warning: most of these pictures are terrible, because I forgot to take them until after I’d already had several mint juleps, and consequently did not feel like messing with trivial things like focus and exposure…
Speaking of mint juleps, a refreshing, bourbon-heavy cocktail I’d never tried before, I borrowed the recipe from the blog Pixelated Crumb. Unlike most cocktails I’ve made for these events in the past, this one required a little more foresight. The night before the party, I went out and bought mint to make the simple syrup. When it was finished, I realized that the recipe must have been for a maximum of three people, and since any one person who attended the party is capable of drinking for three, I figured I should probably make more. To the store for more mint and back again, and I had my simple syrup, which I then bottled in Mason jars and refrigerated. Once the syrup is made, the prep of the drink is very easy: an ounce of syrup, two ounces of bourbon (I went for Bulleit, my current go-to), a few leaves of mint, and ice. Voilá, eat your heart out. Careful though, like the Southern regions this drink comes from, it’s sweet when you first meet, but will knock you on your ass if you’re not careful.
As I’m sure you can imagine, after a few of these the party was in full swing (no pun intended). Actually, it was in full Charleston, which we all learned with the help of a YouTube video which I will attach at the bottom in case you’d like to learn as well. If you’ve ever hosted a costume party, you’ll remember that there are always people that go all out and then there are those who don’t even try. But because I have awesome friends, all the costumes were great. Here are some of my favorite pictures, accompanied by a few choice quotes from the novel:
Daisy was popular in Chicago, as you know. They moved with a fast crowd, all of them young and rich and wild, but she came out with an absolutely perfect reputation. Perhaps because she doesn’t drink. It’s a great advantage not to drink among hard drinking people. You can hold your tongue and, moreover, you can time any little irregularity of your own so that everybody else is so blind that they don’t see or care (75).
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther….(154).
Being in Adri’s apartment building, overlooking the quiet Outer Richmond district, reminded me of a scene from the book when Nick goes with Tom to meet Myrtle in the city: “…high over the city our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering. I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life” (44). While wrapped up in the sudden excitement and vitality of our own lives, its easy to ignore or forget the fact that uninvolved parties are observing you. What a strange thing it would be to see ourselves from an objective point of view! If only Gatsby or Myrtle or Daisy had been able to step outside of themselves, even for a moment, and see their actions and their lives from a casual observer’s standpoint, how different a story it might have been, and yet, it wouldn’t have been the same story that takes a firmer hold on my heart each time I read it. That is what it truly means to be a classic work of literature, to be able to bring to light different emotions and insights each time it is read. Great stories do not cease to grow once the final period has been placed, but continue to become larger and more complex versions of themselves each time they are read and enjoyed.
If you’ve read The Great Gatsby before, I hope these last couple entries have caused you to reexamine your feelings about it, maybe even tempted you to pick it up again. It is a story that will never cease to enthrall, especially in the context of the society we live in today.
Now that you’re done reading, throw back the rest of your champagne, get on your feet…and Charleston.
Next up: Middlemarch, a daunting read about which I have no idea what to write, and, for the food portion, a tea service! Stay tuned.