We would sit down fifteen, sometimes twenty, to the table on seder nights: my parents; the maiden aunts -- Birdie, Len, and before the war, Dora, sometimes Annie; cousins of varying degree, visiting from France or Switzerland; and always a stranger or two who would come. There was a beautiful, embroidered tablecloth that Annie had brought us from Jerusalem, gleaming white and gold on the table. My mother, knowing that sooner or later there would be accidents, always had a preemptive "spill" herself -- she would manage, somehow, to tip a bottle of red wine onto the tablecloth, and thereafter no guest would be embarrassed if they knocked over a glass. Though I knew she did this deliberately, I could never predict how or when the "accident" would occur; it always looked absolutely spontaneous and authentic. (She would immediately spread salt on the wine stain, and it became much paler, almost disappearing; I wondered why salt had this power.)
-- Oliver Sacks, Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood (New York: Knopf, 2001), 174-75.