Today's report: The First Thanksgiving.
The Pilgrims were on the verge of starvation. The dreadful winter of 1620-21 had wiped out nearly half the Plymouth settlement. One more bad harvest, and the remaining colonists might have perished or been forced to abandon their New World refuge.
Squanto, a friendly Patuxet Indian, kept the colony alive. First, he arranged a peace treaty with the local Wampanoag tribe. Then he showed the famished Pilgrims where to hunt and fish, and how to plant corn.
In the summer of 1621, the colony enjoyed a bumper harvest. So a grateful Governor William Bradford decreed July 30, 1621, a day of Thanksgiving, a time for feasting and prayer.
The Pilgrim womenfolk prepared an elaborate meal. Sources tell us they roasted wild turkey, venison and all manner of fowl, and served them with succotash, corn meal bread and nuts.
The sources, however, do not tell us if the ladies spent the next day shopping at the Plymouth Rock Mall.
They probably did. That's because the day after Thanksgiving is traditionally the biggest retail day of the year, the kickoff to an orgy of spending that culminates on Christmas Eve.
Now, normally, you'd have as much chance of luring me to a department store as you would enticing J.D. Salinger to the Jerry Springer Show. Once I pass through the door, I can stay calm and lucid for maybe 30 seconds. During this brief interval, I feel like the eunuch in the harem--I know there's something here getting people all excited, but I can't figure out what it is. Then my shopping phobia shifts into high gear. The symptoms--heavy sweating, manic anxiety and an overwhelming urge to flee--are exactly the same as those I experienced during root-canal surgery.
But recently, I forced myself to go to Scottsdale Fashion Square, where two of the Valley's toniest temples of conspicuous consumption, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, conduct services. No, I didn't go to shop. My idea of consumption is about what goes into my body, not what I wear over it. I went to eat.
At some point during the holiday shopping frenzy, I figure, just about everyone in town will stop in and poke around these two stores. And most everyone will need some down time for refueling. Cagily, each department store has set up its own in-house dining room, aiming to keep customers from straying elsewhere. Is the fare good enough to do the job? I wondered.
When I stepped into Cafe Nordstrom and the NM Cafe, however, I almost lost sight of my original purpose. That's because the female-male ratio in both places is approximately a bejillion to one. Hey, guys, forget about meeting women through church, work, volunteer groups or 1-900 numbers. These two restaurants carry the complete line. Three sure-fire conversation-starters: 1) "Is that a new Donna Karan you're wearing?" 2) "Excuse me for staring, but I just love your shoes." 3) "Can you tell me if they accept American Express Platinum Cards here?"
At Cafe Nordstrom, there are other things to look at besides well-heeled Nordstrom-bag ladies. The full-service, sit-down restaurant (there's a cafeteria area, as well) features a trio of wood-framed mirrors and abstract art hanging from the walls, art-deco-like chandeliers suspended from the ceiling and decorative oil bottles lined along the shelves. The place reminds me of the kind of restaurant you see in world-class museums. And that's not too surprising, considering both are designed for the same purpose: to help patrons gather enough energy to get back to the business at hand, whether storming the galleries or rummaging the racks.
Cafe Nordstrom seems to be a hit. Show up at noon, especially this time of year, and you'll be lucky to get a table by 1:30. If you're determined to eat here during prime lunch hours, get to the hostess station between 11 and 11:30, put your name in and nab a beeper. You'll have time to get in an hour's more shopping before your beeper goes off, summoning you back.
What's keeping customers here, and out of the dozens of other restaurants at Fashion Square? It's certainly not the bread, a mushy loaf, with no charm or character.
But once you order, Cafe Nordstrom does a pretty good job of keeping your mind off the store's $80 ties, $110 shirts and $200 shoes. (The menu, incidentally, is the same at lunch and dinner.) If you're lucky, you'll come on a day when the soup of the day is the spunky tomato basil. Creamy turkey rice is another decent broth, punched up with smoked turkey and wild rice.