Say nice things about me 'cause I'm gone, southward...

January 1, 2012

After my exams, I took Mt. Grademore from Halifax to Washington for my family's annual Solstice festivities.  You may remember that the only rule of Sycorax Solstice (besides the fact that it is firmly non-denominational and features only natural decorations) is that everyone must wear their most longed-for outfit - the one thing they most want to wear but never seem to find the opportunity for.

Utterly unintentionally, my family's outfits spanned the last century.  My dad broke out his 1890s chic, complete with dashingly knotted silk cravat (tied without help of a valet, no less, and with an injured hand).  My mother channelled the 60s with an asymmetrical mini-dress and go-go boots.  I split the historical difference with this look.

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Before the party, my grandparents (who are now too rickety to come to raucous parties) came to see the decorations, which are all inspired by nature - holly, apples, cranberries, elaborately feathered birds, and glassy drops and icicles.  

While they were here, I told my grandmother (and other collected family) about a friend whose niece-that-will-be might be named Reginabelle (the first three syllables pronounced like the Canadian city). "That's a lovely name," she said. "I just worry about the nicknames," I replied. "Why?" my grandmother asked, "What am I missing?" "Um," I replied wittily, before steering the conversation in a different direction.

To no avail. "D!" she said urgently and loudly, "You have to explain to me what I'm missing about that name." "Um," D said wittily, and there was a brief pause before the braver of the Sycorax family decided to rescue him.

"VAGINA!" my father said in his crispest, loudest tones, in case his mother-in-law's poor hearing should cause any further awkwardness or confusion. "It sounds like 'VAGINA'!"

"Oh," said my grandmother, sage and unfazed.

Just another Solstice chez Sycorax.

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The following day grandmother asked me about how the Solstice Party went. Then, having listened for a time: "I've thrown some good parties in my day. There was the Parisian nightlife party at the house in Baghdad [which was on the banks of the Tigris, but that's a tale for another time], where your mother played a cigarette girl. And then there was the time we threw a farewell party for someone at the embassy in London, a party that started at our house and ended at someone else's. In between, we rented an open-top, double-decker bus to transport guests across London. We even called the police and arranged to pause on Westminster Bridge, where your grandfather read a poem he had composed for the occasion. But the driver panicked and began to drive off just as we were toasting the city from the bridge. We all were flung about terribly. I, on the other hand, didn't begin to panic until our DCM leaned out the top of the bus to wave his glass of champagne in raucous greeting at a group of gathered bobbies."

Me: "Um, DCM?"

Nonna: "The Deputy Chief of Mission." (She purses her lips.) "He was a very uptight man. Well, normally."

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After Solstice, D and I headed south to North Carolina, to his family and the land of our meeting. Mostly (as in Hawaii at the beginning of the month) I was holed up with Mt. Grademore for the whole visit, but I finished my grapple with the Mount just in time to go to see my beloved alma mater's holiday game in Chapel Hill.

God, is there anything more beautiful than the game of college basketball? Earth hath not anything to show more fair than Harrison Barnes, suspended on his way to the basket in defiance of gravity. 

The skyey dome, live, filled to bursting with fervent Tar Heel faithful, who adored our team slavishly, ferociously. Until, that is, the standing Bojangles offer to give out free biscuits if UNC reaches the 100-point threshold transformed the crowd into frenzied Bacchae, shrieking "BISCUITS!!!" in a crisis of violent desire. I worried that if the bench players didn't fulfill the crazed demands of these volatile worshippers, they risked being torn limb from limb.

Of course, I did learn a series of fascinating new usages for the verb "to biscuit." For instance, delivered as a frantic banshee wail: "NOOOO!!!! Don't you DARE biscuit us out on free throws!!!!". There's a honour to biscuiting, you see, and it reaches Spanish Golden Age levels of labyrinthine intensity.

I unashamedly aestheticize this sport. For me, basketball is either poetry, or farce, or ritual worship, but it's always a formalist encounter.

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Then, the road trip back.  A handful of fragments to give you the flavor of it: 


Bojangles refuses us our biscuits, saying that they stopped honoring the offer 45 minutes earlier. We look at them with hazy incomprehension, the giddiness leaching from our faces. 

They are dead to us. They're lucky we didn't go into a Bacchic frenzy. Ask Pentheus how that worked out for him.

So we moved out, sad in the vast offing, having our precious lives, but not our biscuits.


Driving along, we see two very sinister vultures sitting gloomily atop a McDonald's sign.

Mom: (In her best vulturish tones) "The end is nigh!"

Me: (lugubriously) "Come in, have a Big Mac." (Unctuous grin.) "We'll meet you on the way out."


I: "Here's what I don't understand about the central conceit of 'The Gambler.' If death is 'when the dealin's done,' and you're not supposed to count your money while you're sittin' at the table,' does that mean that you shouldn't reflect on the ethics of your actions until the final Day of Judgement?"

My mother: "Um. I hadn't really been thinking about it on the level of allegory."