Man of a Thousand Slovak Songs
“I love you,” Jozef crooned, inches from my face, kind, blue eyes looking deeply into mine. “I love you,” he repeated several more times, as he placed his arm around me and pulled me closer. I smiled a bit sheepishly, enjoying the moment yet wondering what my husband would think.
Quite by accident I learned of the famous Slovak performer, Jozef Ivaska, aka “Man of a Thousand Slovak Songs.” He was coming to DC to perform and was looking for a place to stay, I heard through the local Slovak grapevine. “He can stay here,” I thought, and on the spur of the moment emailed him, inviting this perfect stranger into our home.
He ended up not staying here, but did come to dinner last night with a small posse of people, including the wonderful Helene Baine Cincebeaux, a writer/tour guide/informal ambassador to Slovakia. I decided to invite others too and we ended up with an eclectic group of 30 people from all over, including Turkey, Greece, Lebanon, Iran, the Czech Republic and of course Slovakia.
We called the evening Pauline’s Feast (thank you, Stan). I decided to make several of Pauline’s favorite dishes – stuffed peppers, cabbage rolls, pierogi, knedlicky, chicken paprikash and her walnut cake. About midway through the preparations, I realized it was a bad idea to make so many dishes at once, for the first time, and I began to think of the evening having the very real possibility of turning into Pauline’s Tragedy. I then began to think that inviting so many people who didn’t know one another to meet people I didn’t even know was also possibly a very bad thing, and soon Pauline’s Tragedy began to look probable. Bad food, awkward social event.
Pre-party jitters were now fully in effect as the clock struck 6 (party to start at 7) and I pulled the potato pierogi that I had made so painstakingly the night before out of the fridge. The layers of well formed half moons had disintegrated into a grey soggy mass that stuck to the wax paper. Horrified, I attempted to boil the few I could scrape loose from the paper, and gave birth to congealed, floating blobs that looked more like Mickey Rourke‘s pockmarked face than a pierogi. Panicked, I turned to the oven to check on the stuffed peppers reheating in the oven for the past 2 hours. Dear god, they were hard as hockey pucks – still FROZEN. Husband, who had abandoned me to actually work all day, sauntered upstairs from his basement office at this critical point and announced that he now had to go vote. I cannot repeat what I said in reply.
Somehow, I managed to pull off Plan B, conceived at 6:15pm. I threw some food together on the stove (some frozen purchased perogi, and Jaro’s cassoulet), whipped up a salad, parsleyed a bag of carrots, and cranked up the oven. I ran to dress at 6:45 as ordered by my 10 year old daughter, the only calm person in the house at this point, as she grabbed the vaccum and then did the huge pile of dishes that had suddenly accumulated. I made her promises of shopping excursions that I could probably actually never fulfill. She beamed and scrubbed even harder.
At 6:50 the first guest arrived. The evening began to unfold, and by way of introduction to our vocalist, Helene told a 30 year old tragic story about Jozef’s life under communism; only later did I realize that it tied Jozef and I together even more uncomfortably.