“You look like an actress from my country.”
I raised my eyes from the menu to examine the young waiter who had just spoken to me. I looked like an actress! Wow! In my younger years, I was sometimes told that I resembled Mary Tyler Moore, and that was always balm for my ego. However, at 73, I was an old woman now, and it had been a long time since I had received such a compliment.
“Yes, it’s your smile.”
A feeling of warmth spread throughout my body.
“What country are you from?”
I didn’t know any Serbian actresses, but that didn’t matter. I looked like an actress! That was enough for me. People often tell me I have a nice smile, and this proved that while it is not quite as dazzling as it once was, before all those cups of coffee and tea, before the fillings and root canals and crowns, it still had the power to please. I smiled brightly and thanked the waiter for the compliment.
And then we launched into a conversation about his country. My husband and I had traveled to Serbia when it was still part of Yugoslavia, and we chatted amiably about our impressions of that beautiful part of the world. Split! Dubrovnik! Korčula! Belgrade! The waiter’s eyes misted over as he reminisced about “home.”
But it was time to get on with dinner. Was it my imagination, or was the food really superb? I had chosen one of the specials: baked cod with black-eyed peas and green beans. The cod was succulent, the black-eyed peas nicely spiced, the green beans al dente, just the way I loved them. And the wine! We had settled on a bottle of California pinot noir, light enough to go with fish, robust enough to complement the duck that my husband had ordered. It was magnificent.
I don’t always order from the list of specials, and this for three reasons. In the first place, they are usually recited, and in noisy restaurants, I strain to hear the recitation. Secondly, my memory is shot, and by the time the waiter reaches the last special, I’ve forgotten all the previous ones. And thirdly, I once read that chefs often throw their leftovers together as “specials” in order to get rid of them.
But here, the specials were actually printed at the top of the menu. The actress in me felt bold and adventurous. “I’ll take the cod special!” I beamed at the waiter.
Coincidentally, I had just seen a cartoon in the New Yorker desk calendar. It featured a dour-looking old couple hunched over a table in a fancy restaurant. The waiter, pen poised, asks “Would you like to hear tonight’s specials, or have you already closed yourselves to new experiences?”
Hah! I may be old, but I’m not stuffy. I congratulated myself for my pluck.
Conversation with my husband was muted, as we were mourning the loss of our candidate in a recent presidential election. But we were “moving on,” “getting on with our lives,” “hoping for the best.” The wine facilitated our optimism.
And beneath our quiet dialogue, a song from West Side Story kept trotting through my head:
I feel pretty,
Oh, so pretty,
I feel pretty and witty and bright!
And I pity
Any girl who isn’t me tonight.
Such a heady experience! I smiled at my husband. When I went to the ladies’ room, I flashed my smile at other diners, at the waiters milling around, at a woman re-applying her lipstick in front of the mirror. I took care not to look at myself in the mirror, however, sensing that the blue down-lighting would not be flattering. I was feeling confident, but I wasn’t completely delusional.
And then I returned to the table. As we asked for the check, I gave in to temptation:
“Oh, by the way, what was the name of that actress you spoke of earlier?”
The waiter, delighted, wrote her name on the check: Eva Ras.
I waltzed out of the restaurant, light-hearted, happy, and perhaps ever so slightly tipsy from the wine.
Our car was parked just a few blocks away. As soon as we belted up, I pulled out my iPhone and selecting the Google app, tapped out: “Eva Ros Serbian Actress.” I clicked on “Images”! What a delightful array of beautiful young women with long hair and sultry looks, women in low-cut dresses and dangly earrings. But most of them were unsmiling. Which one was my look-alike? I was stymied.
When we got home, my husband whipped out his iPhone and proceeded to do his own search. Unlike me, he spelled the actress’s last name correctly: Ras, not Ros. The result was very different.
Eva Ras, the Serbian actress, was born in 1941. There were a few shots of her from films she made long ago, but most of the photos were contemporary. The woman she is today keeps her mouth closed when she smiles. Unlike so many American actresses her age, she has let nature take its course. Her hair, cut short, is that indefinable color between blond and grey that people refer to as “mousy.” She looks like a pleasant older woman. Not quite what I’d hoped for.
I’d like to believe that I reminded the waiter of the actress in her younger days. But as I cast one last look at my cold-creamed face before turning in for the night, I was forced to accept the likelihood that the waiter was thinking of Eva Ras as she is today. He was certainly spot-on where the age was concerned.
My husband was chuckling when I joined him in bed. “I still think you look like Mary Tyler Moore,” he said.
Yeah, right, I thought.
Aloud, I said “Thanks, Sweetie,” and I switched off the light.
© 2017, Mary Donaldson-Evans