By AA PATAWARAN
First of all, I should have worn a billowy blue shirt, but then it wouldn’t work without the six-foot-five-inch frame of American actor Armie Hammer, “this generation’s answer to Cary Grant,” said Stephanie Zubiri-Crespi.
Anyway, the dress code said “Summer in Tuscany,” something like that. It was an invitation to a special dinner hosted by Rajo Laurel for his book club at the modern European dive Q &A at Salcedo Village in Makati City. The occasion: a celebration, more like a dissection, of Call Me By Your Name, the extraordinary first novel of Egyptian-born American writer André Aciman, which became a sensation last year after the release of its film adaptation that, helmed by Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino, starred Hammer and French-American actor Timothée Chalamet.
Other than blue, which would have meant enough daring to set things in motion, I could have worn any of the four other colors that took the form of emotional cues in the book. Red, for instance, but that would have gruffly read “Stay away,” or yellow, which I wear on days I feel especially in need of luck, described in the novel as “sprightly, buoyant, funny, not without barbs.” Instead, I wore a shirt whose prints were a foliage of colors, predominantly green that, in the book, meant “acquiescent, eager to learn, eager to speak,” a color that the narrator and lead character Elio Perlman (played by Chalamet in the film adaptation) preferred.
None of us wore the dress code to the letter, happy enough as we were with a touch of sunny here, a touch of Tuscany there. Still, we found ourselves deep into that infinite summer under our imagined Tuscan sun.
The evening’s cast of characters made it possible, Rajo and Stephanie, plus Farah Mae Sy, Jae de Veyra Pickrell, Marielle Santos-Po, Nix Alañon, Rocio Olbes-Ressano, Yvette Fernandez, and myself. We vivisected the book as if it did happen, as if it happened in our own lives, throwing in on more than one occasion personal revelations just to drive home a point. Some of us were Elio, the others were Oliver (played by Hammer), but none of us were a stranger to the depths of emotions associated with coming of age when we were first confronted by desire—new, unfamiliar, mystifying, overpowering, all-consuming. It didn’t matter in our exchange of views that what was between Elio and Oliver was in those heady, pre-HIV summer days in the Italian countryside was an affair unwelcomed, if forbidden, even in the liberal Perlman household, though, shifting from the main characters to Elio’s parents, we discussed in detail these supporting roles and their profound effect on today’s young parents, such as many of us at dinner who, touched by Elio’s fortune, had been moved to contemplate what it would take to be good parents in this age of fluid sexuality.
I wish I could tell you more, but a book club by all intents and purposes is a secret society, almost a cabal, although to do away with the negative connotations, the members only conspire to get lost in the spaces between the lines of a book enough to appreciate the story, the characters, the twists and turns, as well as the secrets, philosophies, evasions, condemnations, and redemption.
Even the menu, prepared by Michelin star chef Alain Raye, was straight out of Call Me By Your Name or inspired by it, with fresh Italian burrata and braised artichoke hearts for starters, followed by Malfatti in tomato sauce. The Telaggio with raw honey, served with such other cheeses as Gorgonzola and Parmigiano Reggiano after the two main courses, was a favorite, but it was only a prelude to the wow moment, the dolci of grilled peaches, a special request because of its central role in all that was sensual, if carnal and lustful to the point of obscene, in the novel.
Kudos to the chefs at Q&A Kitchen, and Joyce Oreña who runs it, although I think the kitchen invoked the spirit of Mafalda, the ever reliable and memorable cook in the Perlman household, because, in fact, peaches are out of season.
I must mention the suckling pig confit, one of the main courses that came with apricots drizzled in some homemade mustard. Like the peach, the apricot—“albicocca in Italian, abricot in French, aprikose in German… al-birquq in Arabic,” and, in Elio’s head, intoxicated as he was with desire, apricock—had a special place too, at least one whole page, in the book, where, while a peach, larger, juicier, and blush-colored, fell completely in the sexual thralls, throes, and tensions of the book, the apricots were only “blushing with shame.”
In our conversation about Call Me By Your Name, I would have had much more to say if I called to mind what little I learned about life from Dante or Virgil or Homer or Ovid, all of whom and more, such as Monet, Heraclitus, Shakespeare, Emily Brontë, Friedrich Nietszche, Anton Chekov, etc., made this love story more like a meditation on the human condition. In the end, I felt that I was eager to get home to read the book again and I did, at least half of it into the night and more of it as soon as I woke up the next day. Because I saw the movie before I read it last year, I wanted to know if, reading it again, I could decide whether I loved the movie or the book more. Like I told my dinner companions the night before, as we raised our glasses of Tuscan wines, Belguardo Bianco (2016) and Rosso di Montalcino (2011), I did not find it fair to compare the movie with the book, unless the book were written for the movie. Still, I thought that Guadagnino’s work was special, if only because even the choice of music, true to the soul-searching mood of the film, spoke to me—the Sufjan Stevens songs in the OST especially, along with Franco Battiato’s “Radio Varsavia.”
But Rocio, who saw if first like I did before reading it, explained it better. “Reading it after having seen the movie, I felt so privileged,” she said. “In the movie, I watched two lovers and then in the book I went inside their heads.”
Tags: #CallMeByYourName, AA Patawaran, Alain Raye, André Aciman, Anton Chekov, Emily Brontë, Farah Mae Sy, Franco Battiato, Friedrich Nietszche, Heraclitus, Homer, Jae de Veyra Pickrell, Joyce Oreña, Marielle Santos-Po, Monet, Nix Alañon, Rajo Laurel, Rocio Olbes-Ressano, Shakespeare, Sufjan Stevens, Timothée Chalamet, Yvette Fernandez