Along a cobblestone street in Budapest, a small hat shop sits a top a simple, stone step. The garish stores next door seek to crowd out its neighbor. With grace, charm and dignity, the little hat shop rose above the noise and invited us to come into the store–without ever demanding our attention.
The proprietor stood properly, quietly and elegantly in her black dress. My wife Jill browsed the rows of luxurious and delicious hats. She gave me that smile that says, “It’s pretty.” I gave her that smile that said, “So are you.” Jill expressed that initial worry about should we spend the money and I replied, “How often do you buy hats in Budapest?” Of course a hat became a hat and an outfit, but Jill looked really, really good in it.
As Jill made her final decision, the owner of the store explained that she makes the hats and designs the outfits. While she coached us on how to properly wear the hat, she reflected on how we interacted with the clothes. Clothing design, she explained, requires an element of sociology because clothes create a message. A hat, when perched just so she explained, expresses a certain “je ne se qua.”
Good hats need an occasion to show themselves. Baseball caps take the trashing of everyday use, but a really good hat requires a moment. The hat can shout today’s my birthday, claim the universe for the dark lord of the sith, demur or simply say “Here I am, I’m having fun. How about you?” If you’ve ever met Jill, you know that the last option suits her most.
Driving along an unexpected street to a wedding in San Rafael, we saw dozens imperial stormtroopers from the Golden Gate Garrison lined up outside a plainly marked building. Yup, that would be Garet’s wedding. My friend Garet and his now wife serve as a part of the Golden Garrison of Star Wars stormtroopers and bounty hunters. True to their love of a good time, and Star Wars, they had a Star Wars wedding.
We danced with R2-D2, we ate tie fighter burgers and we drank blue Bantha milk. I can’t get over how much fun we had. Jill wore her outfit from Budapest and I wore a suit with my black hat from Munich. Sometimes looking good, especially with a really good hat or perhaps a stormtrooper helmet, helps you have a good time. A good hat can put me in the mood to say life is worth celebrating.
May being the month of budding leaves, budding revolutions and budding love, we sought to celebrate Jill’s birthday amidst the parade of parties and protests. Having recently visited Paris, ah Paris!, we needed French cuisine. Our local expert for everything French, Florence, recommended that we try out Chapeau! in the Richmond district of San Francisco. As we munched potato-leek pancakes over mizuna, we delighted at the unexpected sweetness of carmelized apple. Each bite invited us to another bite and into a budding love of Chapeau!
A bitter sorbet cleansed our palates–perhaps too bitter to want it to cleanse my plate again. The Cassoulet a la Toulousaine reminded me of the wonderful duck confit Isabell made for us when we visited her home in France. Mmmm. Warm, comforting country-style food. With a tad too much salt. For dessert, I took the predictably American path and went down the aisle of gushing chocolate cake. Who doesn’t love chocolate cake? The rich sauce made me forget all my worries about the bitter sorbet and the tad too salty cassoulet.
As we finished the meal, the waiter remembered to call a cab for us without our even having to remind him. Before being whisked away to see Stevie Jay perform at the Yoga Loft, the bill came to us in a really cool hat. A chapeau, that is. The staff at Chapeau! treated us with special care. I’d like to think it was our festive hats, but they’re probably always that good.
Buy a fun hat. Dress up. Pretend your someone important. Because you are. You’re the one with the cool looking hat.