June 1, 2006

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Got milk?

The social lubricant
Wine works, but so did Pat Seremet
By Tim Protzman tprotzman@sbcglobal.net

Journalists, like people in many other occupations, have a sort of fellowship. We commiserate over deadlines, word-slashing editors and the public’s perception of our chosen field. Added to that, most of us present our stories in anonymity. Few readers remember the names on the byline. But one journalist who transcended that was Pat Seremet. People remember her work, her words and, for those who were lucky enough to meet her in person, the sparkling personality.

I first met Pat over the phone. I was producing an outdoor staging of The Taming of the Shrew. I presumptuously called Pat, who wrote a People column for the Hartford Courant. It was similar to Page Six in the Daily News, but it had a bubbly “with malice toward none, charity toward all” slant. I wanted to plug my show and get some Nutmeg glitterati to donate articles of clothing for costumes. As I left a message on Pat’s phone, I felt I was in over my head. I’d probably have an easier time getting Garbo to take me to Katharine Hepburn’s for an afternoon swim than making it into Pat’s column. Just the previous week she’d featured Walter Cronkite, Lowell Weicker, Soupy Sales and Martha Stewart. But Pat returned my call. Pat returned everyone’s call. And when I answered, she made me feel important. It was her way. But the best of all, she put me in her column. Me, a Nobody. The morning my name appeared, my phone rang off the hook. Overnight I was a Somebody!

For the next few years I ran into Pat at many Hartford functions. Sometimes she put me in print, sometimes she didn’t. But she always asked what I was up to, and she always made me feel like one of her special friends.

In 1993 I got a job at a private club. I planned events. I saw Pat a lot. One March night it started snowing right at dusk. We were having a White Burgundy Wine Dinner. But most canceled because of the snow. There was a business event, but that got canceled, too. So this dinner, with the already-opened bottles of expensive chardonnay and fresh seafood, was woefully under-attended. There was the man from the distributor, an old rich guy whose father had a town in Colorado named after him. This WASP couple whose family name dates back to the 17th century, the beverage manager and the pretty bar manager, Tommy the bar boy (he was 23), James who worked as a guide, Mr. R, the manager, the chef’s vivacious southern wife, myself, a guy my age whose first name was just one letter, a couple who had a villa in Umbria and a judge. We clustered in the middle of an elegantly set table, where barely half the seats were filled. Everyone had plenty of room. The hors d’oeuvres weren’t anything to speak about, just some under-ripe cantaloupe and prosciutto, but the wine they had us taste with it was, well, delicious, a 1990 Wild Horse Central Coast Chardonnay. It was that glass that made me fall in love with the grape.

Just as the appetizer was being served a familiar redhead popped her smiling face in the room. It was Pat and she was looking for the canceled business function. We invited her to join us and soon she had everyone in the room talking. The scallops were served in a saffron butter sauce and they were good. We had them with a Chablis Les Clos Domaine W. Fevre. I don’t remember the year. By this time the beverage manager had told us how his daughter was almost born in a Manhattan taxi cab. The WASP couple related a hilariously gross story about food poisoning on their first and last cruise and how it was compounded by seasickness brought on by a storm.

“I have never tipped a housekeeper as much as I did that morning, by god!” he finished with. Mr. R told about babysitting the sons of a congressman in one of the living suites during the 1952 presidential campaign. Of course everyone guessed who they were, but he never said their names. (One’s a Senator today.) And the wealthy son, whose larger-than-life father carved out a real estate empire in the West, told how he was bequeathed and subsequently disposed of the world's largest collection of Victorian gay erotica left to him by a business partner. We laughed 'til we cried as he said,“And he wanted me to donate it to a museum! What museum? So I made some phone calls and tried to delicately explain…. just what I had.”

He finally got a Midwestern clinic to accept the collection but not without having to make a sizable donation. We drank a magnum of 1991 Genevrieres Bouchard Meursault, which was brittle on first sip but creamy at the end. And we finished with a cheese course paired with Corton Charlemagne Domaine Moillard.

Pat may have written about that night, but it didn’t matter. Pat had blended this group of strangers, she’d enlivened us, she’d savored wine with us and through the power of her personality she’d given us a night of food and laughter we’ll always remember.

Thank you Pat.

Pat Seremet, Java Columnist for the Hartford Courant, died on May 20, 2006.

Tell Tim your wine stories. You can reach him at tprotzman@sbcglobal.net.


Comments? Thoughts? Discuss this article and more at hippoflea.com


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