Updated: Mar 17
(How to host a Thanksgiving dinner party for 26 people when you live on a boat.)
Step 1: Find two lovely people, like Martine and Otila, who will let you use their café for your party. The people you find must let you come over and rummage around in their kitchen looking for baking dishes or matching salad plates. They mustn't mind when you stop in for a drink with friends and start moving all of the tables and chairs around, trying to figure out how to seat everyone at one long table.
Step 2: Have good friends who are professional chefs. If they owned the best French restaurant in Cape Town for many years, that's even better. Having chefs as friends is probably the most crucial step in having a great Thanksgiving dinner party.
After they agree to help you with your party, hand them a couple of aprons, and let them run wild in the kitchen, where they will create masterpieces.
Step 3: Walk around the port to invite your friends. You will need to do this in person because, if some of your friends don't speak English, you may have to use some sign language to help them understand your invitation. Inviting everyone is an easy job because walking around the port is a pleasure, and your dog will be happy to go along with you.
After you invite everyone, find all of your favorite traditional Thanksgiving recipes and start making your shopping list. It will take you a long time to shop for American products in France. After you look up the word for yams in your dictionary and ask for them at the produce market, they will show you something so unfamiliar that you will decide to use sweet potatoes in your recipe instead. Don't worry about this problem as most of your guests won't know what sweet potatoes are and after your party, they will tell you that the "carrots" were delicious.
Be sure to go to the bulk spice stand at the Sunday open-air market to buy fresh spices so that you can make your mom's famous applesauce spice cake.
If you want to dance after dinner, your next job will be to listen to all of your C.D.s to find appropriate songs, songs that will make everyone want to jump up and dance. You might choose to make a composite CD that starts with a couple of French songs, like "Ricans" with lyrics about how the Americans helped the French during W.W.II, and "J'habite en France," because you do, and then you can go straight into dance music that your friends will like. Mostly Motown and Beatles, some Blues Brothers, Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, and B.B. King to add to the evening's American ambiance. You can add Y.M.C.A. so that your friends can show off their French skills by singing "igrec, emme, cé, a" while forming the letters with their arms. You could finish with Louis Armstrong's "It's a Wonderful World," knowing that everyone will dance to that.
In the weeks before your party, it will be necessary to search the Internet to find a straightforward account of the story of Thanksgiving because most of your guests will not be familiar with the holiday and its history. You can then run it through an Internet translator and print versions in French, Dutch, Swiss-German, and English. The translations will be more amusing than accurate, but at least your friends will know that you tried. While you are searching around on websites, you can find pictures of turkeys, pilgrims, and Indians to print out for your table decorations because you will not find these items in France.
The week before Thanksgiving, at your chefs' request, you can walk over to the plumbing supply store near the port to buy a length of plastic drainpipe. When you see that another neighbor has set up his tablesaw out in front of his barge, you can run over with your pipe and ask him to cut it into equal pieces. Then you can take the cut pieces of pipe to your chefs' boat, where they will use them for molds for the Ceviche of Salmon in Watercress Sauce starter. Thanks to the drainpipe, they can be made and chilled ahead of time and then gently pushed onto the plate and topped with caviar just before dinner is served.
Early on Thanksgiving morning, look out your kitchen window to see if the Café Santa Monica is open before you run over to borrow something else, like a cup of sugar or another baking dish. They will be happy to see you, as they always are, and you will need to be sure to kiss everyone while saying "Ça va?" "Ça va!" You will make many trips between your boat and the café before your guests arrive, but you will only have to kiss the first time.
Be very careful when you are running back and forth decorating, setting the tables, and carrying over the apple and sausage stuffing, homemade cranberry sauce, baked sweet potatoes basted with a lime, brown sugar and dark rum sauce, and your mom's famous cake. Because you have a lot to do and it is getting late, it will be tempting to try to dash across the busy street when you see a tiny break in the traffic. Please don't do it. With your arms full, you will be a bigger target.
Later in the afternoon, just before your guests arrive, your chefs can drive the turkey from their boat to the café, delivering him to his place of honor on the buffet table. With your chefs, you will have just enough time to finish the canapés and then dash back to your boat to change into something nice before your guests arrive.
Voila, a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner in the middle of France.
C'est simple comme bonjour.