A few weeks ago I went to visit my son in his last weekend at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute. If you don’t know what BUTI or Tanglewood is, let me explain. Tanglewood is a summer music festival/place located in Lenox, Massachusetts, the heart of the Berkshire Mountains. It is the summer home of the Boston Symphony. If you are in to classical music, you will recognize the spectacular line up of guest artists (and audience members) that spend their summers at Tanglewood. BUTI, pronounced “booty”, is the audition-only high school arm for young musicians.
The concerts there are given in these semi-outdoor amphitheaters. You can sit in beautiful backless buildings or on the lawn. It is popular to have picnics.
When you and I and normal human beings have picnics, we think fried chicken and potato salad, a bag of Fritos, and maybe a jug of iced tea. We think of Red Solo Cups and paper plates and a roll of paper towels to sop up messes.
Not a one of us considers a candelabra and actual crystal.
I’m gonna stop right now while y’all Google “Picnics at Tanglewood.” Oh, hell. I’ll do it for you. Click here.
Crazy, right? Who lugs actual tables and gourmet meals to picnic grounds? People who can afford butlers to do it for them, I’m guessing. Not me.
Picnicking at Tanglewood has been on my personal nerdy bucket list since I was a teenager, and I was insanely jealous of my son for having had the opportunity to do it all summer. Never mind that he did it with tubs of Goldfish crackers, he was there, listening to the Boston Symphony and artists I only dreamed of hearing live.
We went into town to buy supplies. There were several shops dedicated to picnic supplies. We went into one that promised a good cheese selection, because, well, cheese. There was an entire wall of cheeses to choose from. Before we got to the cheeses, however, we got waylaid by an entire cabinet full of tiny jars of caviar. Jacob asked me what they tasted like, and I had to admit that I had no idea. I said that we would find out, because if one could not eat caviar on the lawn at Tanglewood, when could one eat caviar? We chose black lumpfish caviar for no particular reason other than we liked the jar. Then we decided you couldn’t eat caviar on a Triscuit, so we had to buy fancy crackers. We went to the fancy cracker aisle, which was about as long as the canned vegetable aisle in our local Publix, and tried to distinguish one from the other.
That selection made, we went to the cheeses. We decided we needed something strong for fear that the caviar would overwhelm it, so we chose a soft Roquefort, as much at random as anything else.
Then I wandered over to the wine section. Because of course there was, they were having a wine tasting. A French gentleman was there, visiting from his family’s vineyard in the Bordeaux region. His family had owned this particular vineyard for 13 generations, since 15-something. I happily tried all his wines before buying a bottle of Beaujolais-Leynes to go with my Roquefort. Not that I know how to say “Beaujolais-Levnes” without sounding like Inspector Clouseau.
I went to the regular grocery store to buy paper plates and cups and plasticware. I also bought some grapes and sparkling water to round it out. I considered buying a bag of Cheetos, just because I thought it would be funny to have a bag of Cheetos next to a jar of caviar, but I refrained.
We went to the concert. We laid our beach towel out on the ground and used our shoes to prop up our cups so our drinks didn’t spill. We tried the caviar. I thought it tasted like rancid herring. Jacob loved it. Here’s a video of him trying it for the first time:
The Boston Symphony performed that night, among other things, Rachmaninoff’s 1st Piano Concerto, played by the Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky. I lay on the ground with my toes in the grass, alternating between looking at the big screen version of Lugansky’s impressive hands on the keyboard, the clouds drifting across the full moon, and the images forming against my closed eyelids. It was a chilly night: I popped grapes in my mouth and chewed them slowly. I could smell freshly mown grass and the remnants of our picnic. Everything I could see, hear, smell, feel, and taste was luxurious.
I looked over at my son enjoying the same thing in the same way. I was at perfect peace.
I realized: that’s what wealth is all about. Not the money, or the $30 a pound cheese or whether you drink your beverage out of disposable plastic or lead crystal. It’s being able to sit dead center in a stew of sensations, appreciating each one in turn and doing so in good company. It’s having a full belly and a full mind and a full heart all at the same time.
By that measure, I’m the richest person I know, even if I do prefer Cheetos to caviar.
If you enjoyed this and want to read more like it, visit Lori at her website, www.loriduffwrites.com, on Twitter, or on Facebook. Her new book, “If You Did What I Asked In The First Place” will be available October 15, 2019.