It’s no picnic

Every year, as the summer solstice looms, I begin my ritual dreaming. Yes! Warm summer evenings, soft breezes, the poetic leaves of the old oak tree offering comfort and solace over an elegant table set for a dozen with baskets of wine, linens and romantic candles. I love dining al fresco.

Until I actually have to do it.

Inspired by scenes from books and movies, I regularly delude myself. I want to be like Ratty and Mole in Wind in the Willows, rejoicing in resplendent riverside picnics. I want to set a table in the woods like the one in the obscure Katherine Hepburn film, Sylvia Scarlett (although I wouldn’t punch out the host’s paramour as Hepburn did). All so pastoral, poetic, romantic.

dining with bugsThen, the reality of dining outdoors hits my eye like a big pizza pie. No matter what, there are going to be armies of ants, clouds of pollen, trails of slugs, screeching magpies and perhaps a neighbourhood pooch digging under the fence to purloin a pork loin.

The last time I attempted a backyard garden party with shrimp, cheese, smoked salmon, rustic bread, veggies and pate laid out beautifully, a horde of wasps descended on us like a plague of locusts. My guests and I ran indoors screaming, weeping, swatting at imaginary bites, ultimately cowering in the kitchen behind barricaded doors.

So, that dream bit the dust. The reverie of cold chicken, olives, asparagus and decanters of wine in the great outdoors: bye-bye.

I have made my choice. Why would one want to dine with wasps, when one could be safe indoors, bite free, and not sneezing every two minutes? If a friend invites me to lunch and insists we sit on the patio – gulp – of course I smile and agree. No matter if I have left my sunglasses in the car. I don’t mind squinting and weeping through a meal, as I contemplate macular degeneration. No matter if a bee lands on my eggs benedict. Or if the wind blows my hair into spikes. I acknowledge that Everybody Else in the Entire Universe thinks it is a joy to dine outside.

Of course, in pandemic times, dining outdoors has been prudent, and I have done my share of it in the past two years. I won’t pretend I liked it.

It must be in the genes. Generations of women in my family are known for breaking up with gentleman friends if they dare utter the terrifying words, “Let’s go on a picnic,” or worse, “Let’s go camping.” (And it seems to me, it is always the women who do the suffering on a camping trip, but then, I am no authority as I have made it this far in life without ever having gone camping, and therefore, I think I am safe for the next few decades.) I need to be A Very Good Person for the rest of my life, because if I were to end up on the wrong side of purgatory (you know, the hot side) I am sure it would be on a camping trip, listening to talk radio and country music, eating salmonella-laced potato salad, and e. coli burgers.

So there you have it. Masochists: go into the wilderness and enjoy! Me? I want elegant (or at least uncontaminated) food, comfy chairs, screen windows and Mozart, Jobim or Tony Bennett on the turntable. Ultimately, we all have a duty to please ourselves (without trampling on the rights or feelings of others.) Let’s honour freedom of choice and be kind to each other, to nature and to ourselves.