Monday, January 14, 2008

dispatch from the dark

At about a quarter of six on Sunday night, fifteen minutes before we open, the lights went out at the restaurant. The lights, the refrigerators, the freezer, the music. After the initial shock of being plunged into the dark, we ran outside to see if anyone else was without power, and the whole village was black. We had been open without electricity once before and had managed with our gas stove and gas oven, so we took a deep breath, and set about coping with the change in the rules.

We lighted all the tea lights in the dining room and kitchen, dialed reservations on the cell phone to be sure the patrons were game if we were game, and set up the laptop computer on the bar with a music playlist of old jazz that would play until the battery ran out.

Customers arrived with reports of a power outage that stretched over two towns. Some came with flashlights, others with a sense of adventure, and all wondering how we would be able to cook in the kitchen. The tealights were pretty, but not quite enough to read menus by, so the stash of wine bottles to be recycled became employed fitted with long tapers to cast a grander light.

The rhythms of the restaurant adjusted. We have always operated under the mission of slow food, but the lack of electricity created another layer, or perhaps removed a layer of expectation, of routine. It was as if all the patrons released a bit of themselves and settled even more comfortably in their chairs. Time expanded, or perhaps no longer mattered for the night. People laughed, diners at separate tables spoke to each other, “Do you have power at home? Do you know what happened? No? Neither do we! Happy New Year!” Wine flowed, dishes emerged from the kitchen. A woman sang. The food was eaten with real pleasure, attention, and thankfulness for finding a warm meal in the good humor of others on a cold, dark night.

The lights came on at eight o’clock, a strange sensation after having become comfortable in the candlelit glow of the evening. No one clapped, and their was a brief moment of disappointment in the dining room, a collective silence as if mourning a loss of something truly bright. Then the voices started up again, and the music played over the sound system. Someone shouted, “Let’s turn the lights off again!” reminding us all that we are not always in perfect control of our fates, and sometimes it doesn’t hurt to surrender.


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