On Monday, 18th May 2021, they relaxed the lockdown rules and restaurants were allowed to serve meals indoors. My friends had a table reserved for late Tuesday night, 19th May.
The interior of The Ivy was bright and festive. The opulent décor made me think of art nouveau, but updated and eclectic. It was comfortable and fun. The background music was my favorite smooth jazz and it sounded live, but wasn’t. The Ivy has a good sound system.
We sat at a table a flight above The Hayes. I was seated with my back to the interior, looking past friends and out the window. The city was lit. There were tall cranes next to rising buildings. Cardiff is booming. We had not all sat together indoors for over a year. All but one of us were three weeks past our second vaccination. The young Señor Pérez Tavío had his first vaccination the day before. Poor Señor Pérez Tavío also had to be up early to teach. The rest of us were retired from careers.
Because the restaurant wasn’t using physical menus, it took a while of finagling before everyone had the menu uploaded to their mobile phones. We started with drinks and lots of talk and laughter.
A waitress came over to greet me personally. I didn’t recognize her. She was obliged to wear a face mask. She stepped back and pulled the mask aside. I still couldn’t place her. She knew me from when she was a waitress at Café Rouge. That was a pandemic ago. I was embarrassed. How is it this old man could not remember such an attractive face? Forgive me.
For a starter, I had tempura prawns. For the main, I had my first steak in over a year, côte de boeuf (ribeye), grass-fed and dry-aged 21 days. I ordered it blue and a side of sprouting broccoli in lemon oil and sea salt. Cheering the food on was a bottle of Saint-Émilion.
We were the last table. They held the kitchen open in order to make sure we could enjoy dessert. For me, it was crème brûlée with an Americano. We engaged the staff in conversation. They were friendly and talkative. When we finally ripped ourselves from comfortable seats, we said good-bye to the staff in four languages; Spanish, Italian, Welsh, and English.
Once outside in The Hayes, we said good-byes to each other. My friends were sharing a taxi back to Cardiff Bay, where they all lived. For me, it was just a one minute walk across The Hayes to my building. But Brian, the oldest among us, eighty-something, stopped me before I turned to walk away. He reached out his hand and beamed a smile.
I was startled with the realization. I extended my arm and we shook hands! His hand felt shockingly good in mine. Could it really be this was the first touch, skin against skin, in fourteen months? There has never been a year, or a month, or a week that has gone by in the entirety of my life when I didn’t have occasion to touch or be touched by someone. We have evolved to be social creatures. This simple act ignited me with happiness.