The restaurant was well situated facing east on the second floor of a two-story boatshed overlooking a park and beyond that a stretch of wind-ruffled water and moored boats all barricaded at the far side by the city’s spires.
We’d booked a front table for this, a family event twenty-five years in the making. Distance forever negotiating the frequency of such gatherings.
We ordered drinks as an artist arrived to set up her easel below us then return to her car as a waiter came and delivered each of us a three page menu. Seafood predominant. Snapper, bream, whiting, squid, mussels, oysters; a cornucopia.
But first, a drink.
Californian Chardonnay chosen for today’s first bottle and we toasted each other as the artist returned with her box of paints and brushes, a small collapsible table together with an unframed canvas tucked under her arm. We watched as she set herself up and we talked about family members here and gone, family members friend and foe. Some near some far. You know how it is.
Half an hour later and the first course was brought to the table, oysters in the shell all round, two dozen each plus sliced lemons and black pepper grinder. Slurp and suck. Another bottle. Coonawarra Riesling this time.
She was painting in oils and with us looking over her shoulder as it were, looked to be minutely involved in representing the gentle casting of wind on the water’s surface and the dark architectural menace of the skyscrapers looming in the distance. A large naval vessel on its way past to the nearby shipyard not considered worthy of her attention.
Main course. Bouillabaisse. Had to be. Crusty french loaves warm from the oven to accompany, serviettes the size of beach towels and a bottle of Pinot Noir to keep thirst at bay. Now everyone was laughing as we recounted those times when not everything went to plan. Marriages and children, relationships with brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces. Drama to comedy and only three bottles emptied.
The painting looked almost complete by the time the waiter came to clear the table and ask if we minded if he dropped a clear plastic blind from the verandah eave as the wind had freshened off the harbour.
Coffee and liqueurs. A small brass dish of dark chocolate.
We watched …
as the painter put down her brush to walk back to her car, not noticing an errant wind gust slowly topple her easel and not hearing as it deposited her painting face down upon the ground.
We left …
subdued, not wishing to witness her return.
Beautiful one day, perfect the next. Or wait 10 minutes and it will be!
Hey Alan, Sydney Harbour it ain’t.
Really enjoying your recent posts – classic Bowes 🙂 … But especially this one.
They percolate, like old coffee beans.
Like a formal version of Cloudstreet, with the intrinsic humour of families. I remember travelling to the East Coast for the first time and ended up pulling up little trees for work. I couldn’t get out of there quick enough. I made up a story I was going to Williamstown to spraypaint boats (which I had already spectacularly failed at in Western Australia). It seemed just by name, a nice place to go.
Cloudstreet .. the one thing I remember about that book was Winton’s description of one of the characters coming down the stairs in a drunken hurry, saying he sounded like an empty cupboard crashing down each step.