Monday, 31 May 2010

The Gourmet Mr Ripley

Tom made a batch of martinis, and arranged the glasses and a plate of canapes on a tray in the living-room. When he heard the door-knocker, he went to the door and swung it open.

This weekend the book artist Sarah Bodman served up a macabre feast at her Bristol home: a seven-hour dinner party composed of every meal that 'The Talented Mr Ripley' consumes in between more nefarious activities in the novels written by Patricia Highsmith. The meal initiates a collaboration between Sarah and I on Dinner and a Rose, a book commissioned by Poetry Beyond Text.

Tom slid one leg over a stool and faced the door challengingly, yet with a flagrant casualness.
'Gin and tonic, please,' he said to the barman.

The night began with gin and tonics, the drink Ripley orders in the Manhattan bar Raoul's where he meets Herbert Greenleaf - a billionaire whose son he will later murder in the small Italian village of Mongibello, before embezzling his fortune. A whole cold chicken in aspic lay on the table alongside a bowl of celeri remoulade. Guests sipped tentatively at a lobster bisque, and those who had read the novels may well have wondered what devious plots were simmering on the stove in the next room.

Perhaps canelloni to begin with, creamy sauce over delicate pasta, and a good valpolicella to sip while he dreamed about his future and planned where he went from here ...

We enjoyed a bottle of Margaux with lamb chops and one guest nobly managed a sip of Dubonnet. Then beef consomme, followed by calves' liver and artichokes. Costoletta di vitello, much as it must have tasted from a small Mongibello cafe. Sole veronique. Cold roast beef. Crab sandwiches. Steak with ragout and whiskies.

Tom regretted very much that the main dish was ... a fabulously expensive item on the Italian market.

Sated, we approached the final course: chocolate mousse, strawberries soaked in liqueurs and shortbread galettes, accompanied by champagne and coffees, as fine as if prepared by Mme Annette, the housekeeper at Ripley's French estate, Belle Ombre. With a Bach harpsichord solo playing in the next room, I half-expected to hear the music abruptly stop and see Ripley wander in to mix a last martini.

By midnight we felt much as Ripley had done, sitting in a deckchair on a cruise ship bound for Europe at the start of his adventures, 'fortified morally by the luxurious surroundings and inwardly by the abundance of well-prepared food'. In advance of the publication, Sarah has put together this film of the event.

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