One of my greatest fears in life has always been that no one will come to my birthday party. I’ll invite everyone I know. I’ll send out pretty invitations on cardstock with glitter ink. I’ll promise party favors and food and fun beverages loaded with crushed ice. I’ll promise home-baked cake. But on the day of my party, people will just trickle in and out, if they come at all, and stare sadly at the limp, swaying streamers.
There’s generally very little anyone can say to allay these fears. My boyfriend said, “Don’t be ridiculous.” My brother said the same thing. I’m just always afraid that something else will come up – an apocalypse, a Backstreet Boys reunion tour – and I’ll be left tearing through the sugared crumbs of cake and piles of party food like a lonely Godzilla.
I celebrated my birthday last Saturday with a grill in Tempelhof, a shut-down airport featuring a runway-turned-park where Berlin’s citizens gather on sunny days to rollerblade and bike down the long runways, lie in the sun, and cook on small, portable grills that send up a haze of smoke.
That morning, I’d picked up one of my best and oldest friends from the airport, and like a tyrant, pushed her through her jet-lag by making her go to the market to buy fresh strawberries and herbs, cheeses, vegetables, dirt-crusted potatoes and stalks of bright red rhubarb. Then I made her help me cook. We made my family’s German potato salad, tabbouleh chock full of bright, sweet tomatoes and parsley, and a rhubarb frangipani tart baked on puff pastry.
We were gathering together the ingredients for mojitos, packing paper plates and picnic blankets, when David asked me, “When did you tell people to meet us?”
“Three PM,” I said.
“So around four?” he said.
“Around three,” I said, chiding his Colombian sense of time.
At four o’clock we were in Tempelhof, spreading out the blankets, setting up the little portable grill and laying out the food. In quick succession, people arrived saying, “Sorry I’m late!”
Apparently, Berlin and Colombia share a few things. And apparently, it’s good to come late to your own party when you’re worried about people showing up at all.
In no time, our picnic blanket island had tripled in size. Salads and sides, potluck-style, piled up in the center of the blanket as did the stack of steaks and sausages, halloumi and marinated vegetables waiting to be thrown on the grill.
We set up a mojito station in one corner of the blanket, and I muddled mint, sugar, and lime while a friend to the left poured the rum and a friend to the right poured seltzer and ice.
The sun shone down on Tempelhof, dispelling any doubts of rain that had been promised in the weather report earlier in the week.
We passed around plates of freshly grilled meats to newcomers as more food piled up in the center of the circle. When we finally got around to the cake, tamped down in aluminum foil and slightly mashed, no one minded that it wasn’t very pretty. We shared it, and it tasted good.