Kiki's home was a time warp, a plush vision out of some more opulent Steinbeck: generously genteel, gracefully understated in that classic Northern California way. Rambling, heavy-timbered, the Craftsman-style ranch house nestled with an adjoining barn on 20 acres of meadows, oaks and eucalyptus.
It was a style that was difficult to maintain these days. In past decades such homesteads had been fairly commonplace, but as the continent tilted -- rolling its misfits, second-chancers and now digital dreamers to the West Coast -- they had become increasingly subdivided. Finding this scene on the edge of the Silicon Valley in the '90s was unexpected at the very least -- like coming across a druid temple in a shopping mall.
Liz, Laurel and Vero staged the evening's gustatory excursions on the expansive marble counters of Kiki's kitchen. Kiki was the ideal catering client, happy to lend a hand and to treat the Guerrilla Gourmet gals to a Viognier from her cellar.
"It's a pathologically diverse gang of artists, writers, musicians and other oddballs," Kiki had described the evening's guests, soon to arrive. "And we have only one rule: no 'cyber-talk.'"
Liz, arranging figs on a platter, found this amusing. "No computers? No World Wide Web? No e-commerce? That's asking a lot, especially around here, isn't it?"
"You'd be surprised," Kiki replied with a conspiratorial look. "Put out the right seed, and you get a whole different kind of bird."
Vero had outdone herself: herbed gravlax on brioche, vichyssoise, ginger lobster with crabbed potatoes, endive and nasturtium salad, an enormous
Paris-Brest for dessert, with two sauternes. It was Guerrilla Gourmet's most extravagant production to date.
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The evening had been like something from some other time, or another country. Kiki's guests arrived shortly after sunset -- unlikely bohemian apparitions in the Valley of the Byte. They greeted Kiki and each other with kisses and elaborate declarations of fondess. They drifted onto couches, divans, and any otherwise generously upholstered surfaces of the house's rustic, cavernous interior.
The guests' easy affections were complemented by ravenous appetite. Starving artists, indeed, Liz thought to herself as the canapis and champagne flew from the trays on her fingertips. It was a startling diverse bunch, for the valley; Liz was pleasantly surprised by an even balance of men and women, young and old, as the soiree continued to build strength.
After a time two or three parlor entertainers established themselves. One, a cunning draftswoman, beguiled the revelers by rendering hilarious -- though often unflattering -- caricatures of the people in her orbit. Another, a Rasputin-esque sculptor with occult leanings, performed ominous readings with a mysterious deck of cards and recited scores of obscene limericks from memory.
The salon gathered momentum in this way for two or three hours until Vero -- in her chef's toque -- announced dinner's imminence.
Three courses and two flights of wine later a red-bearded dandy -- and raconteur of considerable proportions -- held the table spellbound with a tipsy travelogue of a recent visit to Budapest. The story, which involved a Hungarian antiques dealer, a baba au rhum, a drunken ferret and a false-bottomed suitcase, was so entertainingly far-fetched that it must have certainly been true.
When dessert had finished, a willowy, elfin woman and a stocky gentleman in a paisley vest sang songs -- Schubert lieder, a Bach aria and a few antique advertising jingles just for fun -- accompanied by another guest on Kiki's handsome piano. Liz, Laurel and Vero listened spellbound from the kitchen door. They pronounced it sublime. The musicians insisted it was unrehearsed.
Throughout, Kiki glowed like a bulb.
A short time before midnight, a young, bedraggled and slightly singed-looking glass blower presented Kiki with one of his creations, a fantasia of slender, translucent violet pipes. On this cue the room raised their glasses to the hostess. The dandy raconteur improvised the toast: "To beloved Kiki -- She who stands between us and oblivion!"
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The party began to dissolve. After the last stragglers found their way to the door, Vero and Laurel set about ordering the disarray in the kitchen. Liz and Kiki gathered up the empty plates and glasses which had fled to the far-flung reaches of the house.
Liz reached across an end table for a fugitive champagne flute, her eyes focusing on a photograph just behind, framed ornately in silver and bronze. Her Summer of Love guess had been right: It was Kiki, in full hippie regalia -- headband, tie-dye, layered muslin skirt -- standing in a sunlit field, her arms entwined around an earnest-looking young man. He was attired in the same idiom: poet shirt, impossibly tattered blue jeans held together by psychedelic embroidery, love-beads hanging from his neck. His smiling face parted a curtain of hair.
Liz warmed at this vision of countercultural bliss. Though she hadn't been born until 1968, she felt a nostalgia for the hippie days. She could not imagine a time or place more charmingly, idealistically naive. The Northern California she knew now bore no resemblance.
There was something about the man in the picture, Liz thought to herself, something that persisted in snaring her attention. She was sure she knew his face. Perhaps he was a famous musician, or a well-known political activist; maybe her parents might know.
She dropped the glass. It bounced once, ringing like a bell, then shattered on the floor.
She had placed the man in her memory. It was Barry Dominic.