Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate |

Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate

Alison Berkley
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

“OK, which states are in New England?” I quizzed Ryan as we were lying in bed the other morning.

“Massachusetts …” he said, staring at the ceiling, his eyes still a little glazed from sleep. “Virginia … “

“Nope, wrong,” I said, and made the buzzing sound. “Try again.”

“Humphrey Bogart,” he said, eyes unmoving.

“Very funny. Try again.”

“New Jersey.”

I am fully aware this is a little game Ryan likes to play, where he feigns ignorance just to get a rise out of me.

I’m quizzing Ryan because New England is where we’re headed tomorrow morning for another “Meet the Fockers Weekend,” as Ryan likes to put it. It literally is like the movie, my family being on the Barbara Streisand side. It actually makes perfect sense when you consider how many times I’ve been told I look exactly like Barbara Streisand. I mean, if you’re going to compare me to a celebrity, at least compare me to a hot celebrity. Like, how about Kate Hudson or Jennifer Aniston?

This is the first time Ryan will meet my extended family who are pure-bred Jewish New Yorkers (they moved to Boston after 9/11, but still). For all intents and purposes, they are a living, breathing Woody Allen movie. You could literally point a camera at them and you’d have a way better show than “Jersey Shore,” though the accents are pretty similar.

“How ya doo-in? What’s go-win owwyn?” my cousin Fawn asked when I spoke with her this morning. “Oh, my gawd, we aww-wer so excited fow-ah you guys to get heah! We’re go-in ow-t faw-ah dinnah, right?”

Even their names are conducive to their New York accents: Roger (RAW-juh), Fawn (pronounced how it sounds, but throw in a few extra syllables for good measure), Jarrett, Austyn (Aw-STUN), Carol (Car-RAWL), August (also known as “AWG”), Leslee, (“Lez”), and Bill (just Bill).

They like living in Boston, which is indeed part of New England (while New York is not, just so you know, Ryan). Even more so, it’s part of my roots. It’s where I come from (I grew up in the Hartford area, but it’s close enough).

It just so happens I went to boarding school an hour west of Boston. It wasn’t a super-fancy school per se, but the school you go to when you can’t get into any of the fancy schools. It was where I learned rich people are just as screwed up as anyone, and quite possibly the degree of how screwed up they are is directly proportional to how much money they have. That in of itself was probably worth the fortune my parents spent on tuition, hoping it would help me get into Yale when the best I could do was Colorado Mountain College, but that’s another story.

What’s more, we’re flying back for my cousin’s bar mitzvah party, which likely has a budget ten times more than our wedding. I would say this is actually a great opportunity for Ryan to experience a true Jewish tradition, except there’s no actual bar mitzvah. Little Jarrett already had his bar mitzvah ceremony – in Israel.

His parents decided to drag Jarrett all the way to the homeland, not because they’re super religious, but because Jarrett has severe ADD and they figured a big trip like that would motivate him, keep him focused. What we’re going to this weekend is just the party. We won’t even set foot in a temple or hear a lick of Hebrew (though I’m sure there will be plenty of “oy vey”).

That means Ryan is going to be thrown headfirst into Jewish-American culture (not Jewish religion or tradition, as I just explained). He grew up in Minnesota and has only one Jewish friend, Ben Gitler, but he didn’t meet Ben until he was an adult. While I grew up on bagels and lox and learned how to drive in a Porsche, Ryan was eating ham balls and pork porchetta and dancing polka while his grandfather played the accordion at the family’s old lake cabin.

I had zero trouble acclimating to Minnesota. I love the people (who so truly are “Minnesota nice”) and all the winter sports and the wholesomeness – the way people center their lives around family and neighbors. (Though the Midwestern diet does require I bring a week supply of Luna bars.)

But I can’t help but wonder how Ryan will fare back East.

I can’t wait for him to try Maine lobster and clam chowder. I can’t wait to show him Boston, Harvard Square and Fenway Park, the smell of salt water always lingering somewhere in the air. I can’t wait for him to hear that provincial Boston accent that he’s only seen and heard uttered from the lips of Mark Wahlberg, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Cliff Clavin from “Cheers.”

What will he think of my crazy family, their New York accents and outspoken opinions and the way everyone yells over each other at dinner and has heated arguments about politics? How will he feel about the decadence of a party for a 13-year-old boy that’s as lavish as a wedding but with even more fanfare just for the sake of entertaining a room full of eighth graders? What will he think about the formalities of old New England, of collared shirts and loafers, college boys and ivy-covered colonial brick buildings?

In some ways it’s foreign to me after living in the West for 22 years, but as soon as I go back it reminds me where I come from. It makes me go, “Oh! This is why I am the way I am!”

They say you don’t just marry an individual, but you marry their entire family. I can only hope Ryan is ready to tie that bagel into a knot. The truth is I always like pretzels better anyway.