This is about magic weekends and the phantasmagorical wizard of the country house who is up at dawn, preparing coffee and tea, artfully arranging croissants and brioche and heaping bowls with berries. The wizard lays out the light luncheons and orchestrates the dinners where weekend guests collide with local friends in a merry round of city wit and country wisdom.
The host or hostess is free to go sailing, take guests on rambles through the countryside or beat the pants off everyone at croquet or badminton. Sometimes, having nothing else to do, the host/ess retreats to the porch to lie on a wicker sofa and reread each and every volume of Remembrance of Things Past.
The problem with the wizard situation is that it exists only in glossy magazines or glossy books about the joys of weekend entertaining.
The latest effort of the wizard is Country Weekends (by Lee Basiley, Clarkson N. Potter Inc., $18.95), a very beautiful book, lavishly illustrated and full of imaginative recipes to feed your guests on those long, enchanted weekends. Although Bailey admits in his introduction that it takes a whole lot of work to create the effect of effortless entertaining, he neglects the real issues concerning folks who have rented a house at the beach or bought a small place in the country.
And that probably makes the book the perfect hostess gift: After coping with the reality, most of us need to be reminded of the dream that led us out to this Godforsaken spot.
Picnics on the beach, dinner on the terrace watching the light fade over a meadowful of wild flowers, magic moments when it never rains and the septic system never ever backs up, which of course it always does an hour before guests arrive. Soon after acquiring a country house, most people also acquire the ability to announce in steely, no-nonsense tones that the old-fashioned country weekend will include old-fashioned trips to the woods.
Bugs. They don't show up in glossy photographs and their presence often comes as a surprise to people whose experience of the country is limited to wizardly tales of dinners under the grape arbor. They are shocked to discover that spiders and grapes go together as naturally as love and marriage and the arrival of guests and the backing up of the septic system.
The wise hostess learns to lay in an extra supply of insect repellant since city guests often refuse to relinquish the spray can, fearful of going unarmed into the night. She also buys every lotion, cream or salve that promises to stop the itching or reduce the swelling, aware that none of them will work but that guests will be comforted by their presence.
Early risers and late sleepers. Bless the former and curse the latter since the fixings for breakfast can be left out the night before and those who rise with the sun not only help themselves but usually make coffee for everyone else.
The late sleeper is usually sleeping late because he has kept the host/ess up until 3 a.m. drinking brandy. The host/ess, of course, did not sleep late, conscious of guests to be cosseted. The late sleeper invariably appears just as lunch is being prepared and in a ho-ho hearty voice announces that he will be no trouble at all--he will fix his own breakfast.
This is the time to practice patience and remember that you and the kitchen will survive and that if you had the sense God gave a goose, you would have invited another guest who likes late nights and long stories, leaving the raconteurs to carry on while you crept off to bed.
The late sleeper would still be under foot while you made lunch, but your hands would not be trembling, nor your temper short.
There are people who call from a nearby town to share the good news that they are passing right by on their way to Elkhorn, Nev., and will be there in 10 minutes to spend the night. This is the time to mention the septic system or say how nice it will be to have help rounding up the rabid raccoon that's taken up residence in the attic.
There is the guest who misses the plane you have carefully booked everyone on so that you will have to make only one trip to the airport.
There are the guests who shed bits of themselves all over the house and then call frantically, asking that you immediately box up their bathing suit/book/medicine/camera and rush them to the post office.
There is the morning after everyone has gone when you remember that there were some good times, an afternoon on the porch shelling peas, a spectacular sunset over the water, and you dig out the book Country Weekends and vow that next time you and the wizard will prepare veal-stuffed red sweet peppers, marinated mixed vegetables, sour cream corn bread, fontina cheese with crackers, assorted plums, walnut cookies, red wine and iced tea which will be eaten at the beach by eight perfect guests while you, the perfect host/ess, confine your efforts to shielding your eyes from the sun.