Nearly Solstice

Kage Baker always celebrated the Winter Solstice. The Summer one, as well; and the two Equinoxes, those festivals of equipoise and calendrical toe shoes … but the Summer Solstice was inarguably her favourite.

“The longest day!” she would exult. “The high point of the Sun!” And she’d eat pizza for the ritual meal. Pizza was designated since our adolescence as the perfect Summer Solstice food; being, as it was, the nearest edible object Kage could come up with to a burning wheel …

It’s a matter of perspective, I guess. In Kage’s perception, the Summer Solstice was a solar triumph, a deep well of sunlight striking through the calendar year and the turning ecliptic. She never thought about the fact that, in reality, the Earth begins at that moment to turn back into the embrace of Night. It’s the beginning of our long fall into the dark.

Conversely, I love best the Winter Solstice – but not because now we begin to climb back into Light. I love it because of its dancer’s balancing act on the diamond linchpin of the Dark, the perfect stillness of the turning world there on the summit of the Winter. It’s where Winter begins, after all; though its glittering, frozen heart won’t be triumphant for another month or so, the ice crown settles on the brow of the world now.

I don’t look across the rim of the wheel to the fever days of Midsummer, any more than Kage paid attention to the icy jewels on the opposite diadem of Midwinter. We just spun in place, where our hearts were happiest.

Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice. To be precise, it happens at 23:03 PM UTC, which translates out to 3:03 PM here in Los Angeles. Still an hour and a half shy of sunset, but with the grey ceiling we have over the Basin right now, it’ll be getting dark already. And if you go out in the back yard and turn your face up to the unseen stars and spin as fast as you can for a moment – well, you can feel the abyss of the winter sky drawing you up like ablating frost from the cold ground. You can fall into the sky, between the dark moon and invisible Venus, and from there into the cold silk of the new grass that’s sprung up from the winter rains.

This year, the winter seems especially dark,  with not even the memory of light to be seen. The Universe is all black glass and bell tones, velvet and matte silver: no reflections. No echoes. If we’re spinning, I can’t by looking this year.

And yet (as Galileo muttered under his breath): Eppur si muove.

Still, it moves.

 

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PSA 12/14

Kage Baker suffered from bronchitis on an annual basis. Every winter, every Christmas season, every Dickens Fair was highlighted by the revolt of her bronchi. She caught bronchitis like other people develop hiccoughs – often, inexplicably, and extremely stubborn of purpose.

Flu shots – which she lived just long enough to be eligible for every year – did not help. Oh, she didn’t catch influenza; but she still developed that deep, barking,  selchie’s cough every winter. The sound fascinated Harry, and he learned immediately to mimic Kage’s cough. Now he does it to everybody, giving the clear impression that my avian dinosaur is mocking the mammals that surround him.  Which is probably accurate.

I did not, in previous ages of the world, get such upper respiratory illnesses. I was usually immune to whatever annual flu mutation was sweeping the nation; I rarely catch colds, and can go literally years without a stuffy head or dripping nose.  This made me handy as a home nurse and exasperating to annual sufferers like Kage – while she was grateful that there was a dependably healthy person in the house, she resented my bright-eyed, clear-lunged winter stamina.

Well, nothing lasts. My inhuman resiliency to winter viri imploded the year after Kage died, with the general collapse of my health. Now I get my flu and pneumonia shots with trembling regularity, waiting anxiously through December to see if the right vaccines made it into my helpless veins.

This year, my luck is bad. I have caught the flu – some flu, there are at least 3 strains floating around California, I am told – then had side effects from my flu shot. Last week I started wheezing, which is something I’ve never done before. There’s a certain amusement to it, what with mysterious noises coming from one’s chest out of synch with one’s breathing … after every exhale, there’s a long creaking, squeaking, leather-hinges-sort-of-noise that emanates from my lungs. It varies without warning, and it sounds rather like demon kittens crying. It’s weird.

It turns out I have a sort of bacterial pneumonia. Or bronchitis. Or maybe both. I’ve been to Urgent Care, the ER an my regular doctor – they keep giving me chest X-rays and breathing treatments and sending me home. They are all obsessed with my damned heart, when I would appreciate some real thought being applied to my damned lungs … At home, I continue to wheeze and cough. It feels like I am breathing only with the very topmost tiny percentage of my lungs, and the rest of the volume is filled with some sort of packing foam. Which squeaks and sings like evil kitties.

I’ve spent most of the last 2 weeks mostly in bed, mostly at home, taking weird meds and cough syrups that taste like watermelon and turpentine, and missing Dickens Fair almost entirely. Only today have I felt well enough to sit up and write.; my fever finally packed it in, and my head is something like clear … And I am still hacking and wheezing and doing devil-kitty ventriloquism. Our two cats sit and stare at me in horrified fascination.

So that’s my state at the moment, Dear Readers. Today’s unusual lucidity gives me hope that I can start rebuilding my daily routine. This coming year, I think I’d best devote some time to repairing my health. I clearly can no longer skim along below the radar of whatever disease is making the rounds, but must stock and deploy some serious defenses and weapons.

Time for force fields, and lots of sparkly flak, and  caltrops to scatter gaily behind me like confetti to confound the determined evils that follow me.  I do not intend to get used to spending the winter sick. It’s a serious waste of my time.

And I got things to do.

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Storytime Tonight!

Kage Baker loved storytellers.

She loved stories, yes, but maybe more than even those, she loved the people who made them. It was not sparkling gems that moved her so much as the jewelers that made them that captured her fancy. It was her admiration and wonder at the ability to make a palpable Something out of indisputable Nothing that made her a storyteller in her own time. It seemed to her the finest of crafts; as Shakespeare (himself one of her fave rave storytellers) put it:
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to Earth, from Earth to heaven.
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

When asked who her favourite writers were, she would grin and reply “Old dead white guys.” Because mostly she liked storytellers, and most of the ones she could find on the library shelves were, yes, old dead white guys. They make up a considerable proportion of the global population, and an even larger proportion of what was free to small girls in the 1950’s. The Brothers Grimm and Andrew Lang. Kipling, Stephenson, Twain. Shakespeare and Marlowe, Homer and Ovid; heck, Walt Scott and Walt Kelly and Walt Disney.

In the 1960’s, Kage moved on and up and out the scrutiny of the Children’s Librarian. She discovered that most of her favourite juvenile storytellers also wrote for adults; she found Keats and Tennyson and Yates and Shaw and O’Brien and Kerouac and Hesse and Dunsany and Peak, and more Shakespeare, more Kipling, more Stephenson. It was always the story for Kage, white-hot and clear as a lightning bolt: character and plot were in service to the shape-shifting power of the story. These dead white guys set her mouth for it.

Then all the singers of the 60’s showed up, making a very loud noise, and for awhile she was captivated by words, simple and of themselves. But the search for more beautiful and stranger words led her back into history; and the long twisty road that eventually led out of the library via a hidden door and a troll-guarded bridge, a deadly desert and roads of bricks every colour of the rainbow. And there one day Kage walked out into the Woods Near Athens, and there she stayed and became a storyteller herself.

The Renaissance Faire was lousy with storytellers. Just walking along the roads was like wandering through all the books on a miles-long shelf – you went in and out of dozens of tales just wandering along with a beer.  You might find yourself the audience, the narrator or suddenly be handed a halo and a divine mission: a star! What, a play toward? I’ll be an auditor. An actor too, perhaps, if I see cause. (Shakespeare again) says Puck. That’s what it was like.

And if a fairie can’t resist, what are the chances of a 22-year old with a head full of stories?

Not that Kage resisted. We used to laugh about it, incredulous we had stumbled into this perfect, and perfectly insane, place. O, don’t throw me in de briar patch! we would cry to one another, and stagger on laughing. At Faire, Kage found out what stories were for. She found out how to let them in her head, and out again through her mouth and hands. Ultimately, she couldn’t have kept them in or out even had she wanted to. “But why would I want to do that?” she sad once to me. “I’m a voice on the wind, a pair of eyes and a mouth to tell what I’ve seen, a horn hanging in the branches of an oak. The story flows through me like a river!”

It was under the oaks that she found that river. She was sitting, waiting, on a sleeping bag, most incongruously on the edge of a Persian rug laid out in a little hollow under an oak the size of a church. Tents ringed the flat floor of the grove, where other actors reclined and waited; in the branches of the oak, high in the air, three or four limber young men lay on their canopy ropes like sailors in the sails of a great ship, and waited too. On the rug was an armchair and a standing lamp, wired up to a car battery; and to that chair came a man striding out of the warm dark to sit and tell us a story …

That man was Mark Lewis. He was The Storyteller: not A, but The. He was as bright and as distinct and as singular as a Tarot card. He was the only one of what he was, larger than life, with a laugh like a benevolent god and a smile like a toothpaste commercial. His voice was deep and sweet and variable; if you could make wine out of velvet, it would taste like Mark Lewis sounded. He was big, and bearded like a particularly dimply pirate, and even when he leered at customers as he followed Sir Francis Drake through the streets with a chest of gold and jewels clutched to bare, broad chest – he somehow looked wholesome. Nice.

And at night, once or twice a Faire, he’d come out and set up in the dark and tell us stories. He could make it rain (no, I’m not kidding; I participated in it more times than I can tell). He taught us the taste of stars in our mouths. He could play two recorders at once AND a kazoo, and tell a story around them. He was a nice guy, a good man, and a brilliant artist.

When there was no more room in the grove for the audience, he moved to Main Stage, where he could hold the entire cast of Faire bespelled at once. When the Faire was forced to move quarters, Mark would still come out and find us, and set up in the dark on some other stage, and people – by then carrying babies that had not yet been born when their parents first heard Mark Lewis – brought their kids to fall asleep to his magic voice.

By then, though, he’d grown up and out into the world, just like the oak. He married a wonderful woman; he had beautiful children. He deserved every good thing that came to him, and he never betrayed his craft. He won two Emmys. He was a teacher and told more stories, and more and more of the world came to know and value him; you can look him up, Dear Readers, as Mark Lewis Storyteller: Word Pictures. Watch and listen to him if you can. It’s not the same as sitting on the warm ground with a bottle of sweet wine and Kage Baker at your side; but you will hear what she heard, you will feel what she felt.

Two days ago, Mark Lewis died. I found out last night, coming in off the road after a long weekend at Dickens Fair – tired but happy, so freaking full of myself; we’d had a grand show that weekend, and I was still burning high. And Mark Lewis – was dead.

I can honestly say that, although we know we all must die – yes, and all whom we love as well – I found it easier to believe in my own death than Mark Lewis’. Gods spoke through that man. Kage knew as soon as she’d heard him once, that she wanted to dedicate her life to the same muse. I don’t compare to either of them, but you should find his work, Dear Readers, you should hear him and find out for yourselves. I don’t have the words to describe his. Maybe the famous Muse of Fire could do it, but she’d need a better vessel –  Maybe one like Mark Lewis.

Sleep well, dear man.

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend/ The brightest heaven of invention, A kingdom for a stage, princes to act./ And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!

 

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The Mysteries of Packing

Kage Baker loved travelling. She loved packing – she was very good at it, too, and always managed to get all her clothes into bags she could almost carry unaided. But then, she also loved luggage, and made sure she had available suitcases, duffles, packs and sea chests in all sizes.

She was fond of retro styling, so she had a lot of suitcases with faux crocodile and snake skin finishes – not real, because it isn’t really cool to kill endangered reptiles for mere fashion; also, they scared her. But you can print any texture you like on cow hide or cardboard. And since what Kage really liked to do was plaster every piece of luggage with old travel stickers, she could have had bags bound in flour sacking and they still would have looked elegant.

No sissy modern conveniences like long handles or wheels, though – she abhorred that look, though millions of women have praised all the gods of going for supplying luggage with wheels … No, Kage packed carefully and carried her own gear; and if she ran out of arms, I bungied her suitcase to my vulgar wheelie cart and hauled it happily. Kage had usually packed my cases, anyway.

These days, I just about always forget something vital when I pack. Two weeks ago, I packed a dozen pair of underwear for a mere weekend (I kept thinking Pack panties! and stuffing 3 more pair in the bag.), and neglected to pack my Buke. I can’t blog on my phone or Kindle, Dear Readers; I don’t have enough fingers, or I have too many, or maybe my thumbs are hinged on the wrong sides of my palms … at any rate, forgetting the wee computer leaves me mute for the duration.

Costume pieces are always at risk of vanishing from one’s bags, of course. Because of that, there is always a weekend during a Fair where everyone is wearing some piece of someone else’s clothes. Opening Weekend, I was wearing a white shirt from the Goon Squad days of Renaissance Faire under the zouave jacket I’d borrowed from our saintly Costume Mistress (thank you, Liz!); Neassa was wearing  one of Kage’s camisoles, her sister Kelly’s knickers, and my earrings. Various ascots, socks and tie pins were rotating through the Bar Crew, and I think one of the Parlour Maids was wearing a spare doily in place of a missing cap. And I know we pinned Kelly’s sausage curls to Ashby …

There is no ensemble cast in the world that doesn’t hold its costumes in common like this. If the audience had X-ray vision, we could charge an extra fee for playing Who does this belong to? from the mezzanine.

The sheer amount of stuff that has to be packed for a weekend at Dickens Fair is, naturally, part and parcel of the problem. You need your costume pieces – and most of us are costumed from the skin out; even if we’re wearing 21st century skivvies somewhere under all the lace and linen, we’re wearing period pantaloons, camisoles and corsets over them. Character clothes for Dickens have to include our personal props, as well: capes or shawls or jackets for street wear; bonnets and top hats and bowlers; umbrellas, walking sticks, reticules, shopping baskets, gloves, stuffed rats, gin bottles full of tap water (Or Mountain Dew. Or cream soda. Or even gin).

I carry a reticule, of course – it’s the Victorian lady’s purse. In fact, I carry two, a little one in a larger one. The reticules contains my pass, my money, a pen, a pearl-handled derringer (fake); nitroglycerin (real). These things tend to reside in my sewing basket when I am seated in the Parlour, along with my knitting, my phone (turned off), my car keys, and whatever else has crossed my event horizon since that morning. And while the sheer amount and fussiness of my kit is larger than most of my household – as befits the lady of the house – nonetheless every other cast member in the place has similarly packaged necessities concealed about their persons.

And somewhere in the Cooing Cave (our narrow, dark kitchen) are a series of Trader Joe’s bags and duffles, with everyone’s real clothes stashed for changing into when the show closes that night. Kage’s crocodiled and stickered case used to be there, too … The gentlemen often don’t bother to change, as they know they look perfectly divine in Victorian dress. But you can’t drive in hoops or a corset, so we ladies have no choice but to at least strip off a few layers in order to get into our cars. And since it’s freaking cold in San Francisco by 8 PM, we usually pile sweaters and jeans on top of our Merry Widows and combinations, and hope the car doesn’t break down somewhere before we get home.

Your chances of looking halfway normal if you have to stop to buy sugar cubes or lemonade mix on the way home are all determined by the skill which you brought to packing your costume in the first place. It’s something Kage excelled at. She was always put together, man. She said it was just costuming – whether it was the black percale she wore as Mrs. Drumm the cook, or jeans and a pirate hoodie over a Jethro Tull T-shirt, it was all costuming of some sort – and she knew how to pack costumes.

I’m a rummage sale without her: rags, bottles and bones, and it’s striped socks in two different colours today, but no one will see my legs anyway; just someone please tell me if I got the extra two earrings out of my ears …

But in my mind, at least, everything is perfectly packed. It’s a kaleidoscope up there, of slivers of glass, paste gems, dipped pearls, bits of tinsel and sequins. It all revolves around the image in Kage’s imagination, the portraits of us and our particular London, that she packed into my mind before she died.

Always ready, always waiting.  Right where she left it.

It’s all there.

 

 

 

 

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Something Is Coming

Kage Baker loved the winter holiday season. She didn’t especially love winter – those beer commercials that show beach side huts and palm trees festooned with Christmas lights were actually pretty much her heart’s desire.

But she loved the holiday season. With a true ecumenical spirit, Kage loved any and all winter celebrations; someone who, like Kage, had a real and intimate conversation with God on a daily basis was not disposed to scorn anyone’s festivities. Besides, she loved parties. She considered herself a Catholic (and would be very happy with the present Pope) but she was pretty … generalized … in her own observations.

She left the front door unlocked during our Christmas Eve dinners, for the beloved dead to come in; and always set a place for them, too. She  amiably watched me pour out whiskey, grain and salt on the doorstep on the Solstice night, and raised her own glass in tribute. She attended tree-trimming parties, Novenas, Kwanza feasts, midnight Masses and Handel’s Messiah sing-alongs. And, of course, she and I went to every last dance at Fezziwig’s at Dickens Fair, and sang the Hallelujah Chorus with our whole hearts.

(At New Year’s, we used to go down to the sea at Pismo. Kage would wade into the winter waves, declaring her fealty to whatever deity heard her prayer and took up her petition to succeed at her writing. I’ve no idea Who answered, but obviously Someone always did. Kage graciously did not insist on last names from any of her divine Partners.  She was a true lady …)

She loved coloured lights, tinsel swags and wreathes and feral branches flung helter-skelter over everything; the scent of conifers and wood smoke and burning sugar and chocolate.  The Parlour at Dickens was thick with green garlands and red bows, candles everywhere, scarlet glass bowls full of nuts and apples, plates of gingerbread and Turkish Delight on the tables with white lace over red and green and gold table cloths.

Our houses were always richly bedecked with lights – the big ones, the C-9s, preferably ones that blinked. For outside lights, Kage would not countenance LEDs or even faerie lights; and monochrome displays evoked her scorn.  Our Christmas tree (Real! Green! Smelling like summer!) was always on display in front of the living room window, glittering and gleaming. Kage favoured old-fashioned blown glass ornaments, and no two of ours were the same – we bought them singly, years after year, whatever exotica appealed to each of us: flowers, fruit, Madonnas, Red Queens, dancing hares, hot air balloons and lighthouses and blown-glass antique cars. Her favourite was a tiny squirrel. Mine was a white glass crane.

Sacred music playing – Kage disliked most secular carols, but loved Church music and medieval melodies. And she identified British Music Hall songs with Christmas, in a connection I never fathomed; but we listened to lots of hilarious comic songs translated from wax cylinders and lacquer disks as we drove to and from Dickens. What a Mouth and Don’t Have Any More, Mrs. Moore and When Father Papered the Parlour and Burlington Bertie from Bow.

Mysterious packages sneaked into the house in featureless bags, under lumpy coats, and snatched from the hands of UPS and FedEx drivers – the mere fact of being a Christmas package rendered a parcel invisible, in Kage’s eyes; she’d enter the house yelling, “Don’t look! Don’t look!” and proceed to her room to hide the swag, confident that even if someone peeked, they somehow couldn’t see the packages in her arms. Her shielding must have worked – she put some astonishing things under the tree over our many, many years and people were frequently amazed at what she had contrived to get them.

The Yuletide was an extremely complicated and highly detailed season, with Kage. Doing Dickens Fair in the middle of it actually restored some order to the melee: no matter what else was going on, those doors were going to open at 10 AM every Saturday and Sunday, and something had better be ready to dazzle the crowds when they poured in. And it always was.

And it it still is. Though I missed last week due to alien flu from Hades (or something), I am restored now and eager to head North. I have new stockings, and a new blouse, and fresh sweeties, and my stalwart nephew Mike for a co-pilot, and Harry the parrot who whistles Rule, Britannia from the great iron cage in the Parlour. (My amazing bird has actual fans …) The road should be diverting, especially if it’s still raining between LA and San Francisco, and we shall head out early Friday for the adventure.

Winter is here. The holidays are crystallizing out of the frozen air. Something is coming.

And it’s probably us.

Scratch the Corona, replace with rum.

Scratch the Corona, replace with rum.

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Stuff Happens

Kage Baker would sometimes observe, with a world-weary shrug, that “Stuff happens”.

She wasn’t speaking casually. That particular phrase was a declaration of deep rage. When she said it, she was quoting Donald Rumsfeld, partial architect of Dubya’s  war effort in Iraq; a man appropriately known by the nickname “Rummy”. That world-encompassing gem of philosophy was his specific quote on the looting of the National Museum of Iraq, in Baghdad – in April of 2003 (mostly), it was looted when American forces failed to protect it after occupying Baghdad. Who looted it? Well … everybody, really, who was still up and running around Baghdad; mostly, though not entirely, the Iraquis themselves.

But, you know, it’s as Rummy said: Stuff happens. It was the uncaring universality of that dismissal that so infuriated Kage. It was fools not only not taking responsibility for things, but denying that there was any responsibility at all.

Stuff has been happening to me. Dress Rehearsals went wonderfully for Dickens, as did Opening Weekend – then, this week, I came down with flu and have spent the last week observing the world through the gently obfuscatory glow of fever. I haven’t made it to San Francisco for the 3-day Second Weekend; my dear people, I know from frequent bulletins, are even now approaching the end of the last day of the weekend, and have done an heroic job without me. I miss them, and I miss the Fair – but I think they’ll appreciate my not coming North and infecting everyone with plague … Stuff Happens, sure enough, but it’s more moral not to spread it around to your friends.

Also, last weekend, someone apparently tried to break into my PT Cruiser. Their chosen method was to yank on the rear hatchback handle until it disconnected – luckily for me, that meant the lock wouldn’t disengage at all. The presence of parking lot guards evidently discouraged them from smashing a window; not that it would have done them any profit, as everything of any interest was down in the Cow Palace being part of the Green Man Inn. But at least it meant that I could keep the car warm as I drove through the night on Sunday. Now I’m waiting for the necessary part to come in, but at least my car is drivable. I just have to load the way-back cargo area through the back seat. But, you know: Stuff Happens.

My writing hat crawled away and hid under my desk during this last week; Kimberly only found it for me this evening. I have spent a lot of time sleeping, having terribly intense but nonsensical dreams – mostly about having arguments with a Federal agent who will not believe I am a writer. I keep scrabbling through heaps of paperwork, looking for contracts with my name on them; he keeps insisting I am not a writer, but a spy. Even in delirium, Stuff Happens.

Missouri is burning from St. Louis to Kansas City. That’s most of the way across the center of the entire state, for those of you keeping score. The news reports detail protests over the Ferguson MO incident from all over the country, but I mostly get the LA feed. For over a week now, protesters have been trying to block the freeways in Downtown Los Angeles , and succeeding for small periods – then they get arrested, traffic resumes, and later the next day another crowd storms the on-ramps. Stuff is definitely Happening.

In Egypt, their top judges have dismissed all charges against semi-ex-President Mubarak. Happening Stuff for sure, there; except for when your Prime Judiciary says it isn’t happening after all.

And yet. And yet, Dear Readers, the Christmas season is upon us. Lights are blooming all over the place, holding back the winter darkness. Never mind the maddened crowds at Black Friday sales; think instead of all the happy recipients there will be on Christmas morning. Old recipes are being taken out and dusted off and filling houses with all the perfumes of Araby and a pastry shop. Trees, wreaths and garlands are appearing everywhere.

And this Friday, I will head North once more for Dickens, happier than ever to fight my way to London. The road is long but never fails of entertainment; the exit reads “1850”. London is waiting, alight with candles and smelling of meat pies, beer, chocolate, rum, cookies and incense.

Good stuff. Really good Stuff Happening.

 

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Dress Rehearsal: Making Christmas

Kage Baker loved doing the Dickens Christmas Fair. It was her perfect Christmas, and it went on for 5 weekends, one of them a 3-day: 11 glorious, over-the-top days of Victorian Christmas, in all its tinselled, ornamented, be-hollied and stained glass glory. She coined the phrase “Extreme Christmas” to describe the madness, and it now seems to have permeated every level of the Dickens Fair community.

I’ve even seen it used in official announcements from the Front Office. But then, even the highest level staff of Dickens Fair gets out there with hammers and screw guns and corsets and top hats, to put it all together. It takes several weeks of manic building and decorating on the part of its various crews, vendors and performers to reach the peak of perfection that is Extreme Christmas. The guy who handles plumbing may be selling hot chestnuts later in the run; the gentleman who installed the 10-foot-long sign, 8 feet in the air over my front door, may be seen swilling champagne in flawless evening dress when we’re open.

Everybody does at least 2 jobs. Some vendors who sell hamburgers and Coke to the participants during Rehearsals will later be dispensing elegant chocolates, delicate tea and cakes, exotic foods and drink from every corner of the British Empire. (And there won’t be a burger or a soft drink to be found.) Some performers cart their stages to the Cow Palace from backyards and storage lockers, and build them over 3 insane weekends.

My group, the staff and tenants of the Green Man Inn, are among those who build their own set. My extraordinary cast has been working on it for two weeks – this was the first time I’ve made it up to “help”. Mostly what I did this weekend was sit and point, making decisions on what went where on the walls. I could do that because my folks had assembled the shell of the Inn already – they constructed its walls and put them together like an immense jigsaw puzzle. They painted it all a-fresh, and fetched in all the massive furniture, plumbing, and boxes full of glasses, tableware, silver, linens, carpets, lace drapes, green garland and red ribbons and palms in brass pots and freaking  peacock feathers needed to transform what is basically a large green cracker box into a Victorian Parlour with a discreet bar on one end.

There are three layers of decoration just on the tops of the walls! Green garlands studded with big red-and-gold bows run along the tops – then the crown molding goes up, ditto – and then the patterned wall paper strip runs below them. Above … well, it’s thin air to the rafters of the Cow Palace to the uninitiated, but actually there are 6 more floors of assorted rooms for rent, where dwell the Pickwick Club, various musical groups, and God alone knows who else. God and Neassa, that is, Neassa being the one who sat down and figured out who-all was up there … through these layers of imagination descends the glowing chandelier that illuminates the Main Table in front of the Bar.

My nephew Mike and semi-nephew Patrick laid down and fastened in place the Turkey rugs that make the asphalt floor livable; everyone carried and set the tables, settees, chairs, fainting couches and wooden stools and wooden chests that make this reformed cattle shed into a warm and welcoming Public House. That’s why and how I get to sit comfortably in a straight-backed chair and point -put  this couch here, move that chaise lounge there, hide the extra folding chairs for Mr. Dickens’ audiences behind the draperies that frame one elegant nook.

The Head Parlour Maid is a decorating fiend – our walls are packed with portraits, mirrors and bric-a-brack; all festooned with peacock feathers where they will accent the frames and lamps to best advantage. We are perfectly overdone, and I suspect my Parlour Maid spends the rest of the year mugging birds … a perpetual fire is laid, crackling and glowing, in the Parlour, with a hearth rug before it and a basket of toys for wandering children waiting under a Christmas Tree made of white goose feathers.

It’s amazing, Dear Readers. It’s Christmas as it existed in Kage Baker’s mind, resurrected and built anew by folks who actually knew her. No wonder they’re a little peculiar.  No wonder she got headaches.

Anyway, Dear Readers, there have I been for the past 3 days. I came home well after sunset each night and managed to have a  civil dinner with my generous hosts, the semi-divine Skolds, before falling into bed. Yesterday Mike and I set off before the frost was quite off the Cruiser (it gets cold in Santa Rosa) and drove down I-5 back to a grey, mild Los Angeles. Kimberly made sure we had all our luggage and most of our wits, fed us and more or less poured us back into bed. I’m exhausted and exalted, too, by the beautiful miracle performed in the Cow Palace this past weekend – I have two more days to get ready for the next one, and Opening Day!

Extreme Christmas is coming.

 

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