Archive for December 2012

And they wonder what we do for fun up here…

December 6th, 2012 — 7:30pm

Resplendent in a plum velvet coat, oversized bow tie and silk top hat, Montpelier’s book guru George Spaulding presides as the Mad Hatter over his eponymous Tea Party in the Children’s Wing. Under the Grecian friezes in the Fiction section, handmade truffles and heaps of chocolate-and-raisin-studded cookies lie in wait for the unwary. Down in Nonfiction, a pair of handsome men dispense red and white wine to a snaking line of women in beaded jackets and men in unaccustomed blazers, while other guests prowl the Periodicals room for treasures among the festively laid out silent auction items.

Mad Hatter and friends at the library gala

Welcome to An Evening at the Library, the Kellogg-Hubbard Library’s annual gala, the one time all year you see Montpelierites dressed up. Which is to say, the women pull out their silks, velvets, laces, sequins and palazzo pants while the men don ties and tweed jackets smelling ever so faintly—or is it mere imagination?—of mothballs. This year’s Gala honoree is the author and woodcut-maker Mary Azarian, copies of whose latest collaboration, a Christmas book with former U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall, are snapped up as soon as they’re laid out.

People who’ve missed one another through summer’s busyness and fall’s chores and early winter’s indoor retreat create a hum that rises to a buzz and then a roar, bringing library staffers into their section with diplomatic smiles and whispered requests to “keep it down a little” while the speeches are going on by the great white marble fireplace in the Library’s main room.

The Guest of Honor's artwork for Donald Hall's tale

I’ve trotted out an Eighties designer number picked up for a song at a vintage boutique in eye-popping swirls of black and white silk, something Alexis Carrington would have trampled Sue Ellen Ewing for back in the day, with the linebacker shoulder pads of that era. I ricochet from one old friend to another, trading sartorial compliments with the women, fetching up at the feet of ninety-something John Wires, who’s holding court by the hors d’oeuvres table between American History and Collectible Crafts. John, a tall, slim man with bright blue eyes, hasn’t made it to vigorous magehood by settling for small talk; he’s always got interesting observations on life and society.

When they close the silent auction, I’m only half-dismayed to find I’ve been too busy yakking with half the people I know in town to get around to making bids. Happily for the Library’s coffers, others haven’t. Many of the items are bid up past their market value, among them a tour of Brooklyn hosted by yours truly and beloved spouse, who’s had to settle for dinner at the New-York Historical Society’s Caffé Storico on Central Park West this evening since he’s not due back home to Vermont again until next weekend. The high bidder, I’m delighted to learn, is a friend and community benefactor who in January 2009 was the prime mover behind Montpelier’s own People’s Inaugural celebration at City Hall, when President Obama was sworn in—another even rarer dress-up occasion.

The Library gala was the central event of an early winter weekend which began for me with a slightly scary drive on still-snow-covered dirt roads to the southern reaches of nearby Northfield, where the ladies who run the Green Mountain Girls farm are hosting a “simple soup supper,” actually chili con and sin carne, all made by my friend Anna, who works here, from on-farm ingredients, which probably goes without saying since this is Vermont. It’s followed by what’s billed as “Community-Suppported Chamber Music” upstairs in their barn. Sixty-odd people crowd into a warm, nicely restored space to hear local talents—and they are prodigiously so—Mary Bonhag and Evan Premo join with Chicago’s Spektral Quartet for a program of modern vocal and string classical music. I confess I had to talk myself into this; I didn’t think I liked modern classical. But when Mary’s gorgeous soprano soars over mid-20th century composer Earl Kim’s settings of three French poems, I’m enchanted. Ditto for the string quartet’s rendition of “Arcadiana,” written by someone who was born when I was a college sophomore. And, by the way, is that New Yorkercartoonist Ed Koren sitting rapt in the row ahead of me, he of the “fuzzy creatures with fangs and bedroom eyes” whose work I adore, and who provided a Fat Toad variant of his signature beast for the labels and leaflets of my friend Susan’s brother Stephen’s goat-milk caramel business? It is.

Ed Koren's Fat Toad

The young friend I’ve talked into joining me enjoys herself too, but has to head home right after the concert in her brother’s borrowed car, hers having died with a big loan still outstanding. She’s got to be up and out by 5 a.m. to drive to her weekend job at Killington—a sobering reminder of how many people, particularly the young ones, must “moonlight in Vermont, or starve”. I go back to the barn and load up on Technicolor jars of the Girls’ heirloom tomato salsa and sun-gold tomatoes to take home.

Starvation’s far away at the season’s first indoor session of the Capital City Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning, where colorful heaps of carrots, beets, and squashes compete for attention with locally made meads and wines, pickles and jams, fancy maple syrups, silver jewelry, soups, breads, and pastries. I load up a small root-cellar’s worth of soup ingredients and pick up a broccoli samosa to go with the carrot-ginger soup I learned to make courtesy of vendor Claire Fitts of Butterfly Bakery, my secret weapon in this year’s successful weight-loss campaign.

Sweetening winter at the Farmers' Market

I’ve resisted all the latticed pies, plump sweet breads and chocolate brownies on offer at the Unitarian Church’s annual holiday bazaar, where ladies in red gingham pinafores serve tea and proffer houseplants, bric-a-brac, and gorgeously decorated wreaths, one of which follows me home every year. I have not resisted a couple of bargain-bin fleece jackets, in cranberry and maroon, (size small, I might add) at Black Diamond Skiwear’s annual Warehouse Sale. I haven’t skied in years, but the clothing is Vermont standard and I’ll wear these all winter. From bazaar to Farmers’ Market to picking up a trio of poinsettias whose proceeds will help send a group of Montpelier High School Humanities students on a trip to Ireland, to the Library gala, Saturday’s been localvore from start to finish (overlooking the fact that the fleece jackets are actually made in China, but what isn’t these days?).

Sunday broadens my horizons a bit. I head over to Plainfield, aging-hippie capital of the world, for an art opening at the Blinking Light Gallery, which proudly displays my husband’s photographs and my first novel on its shelves. His membership has lapsed, so I sign him up again and proceed to enjoy the work of talented world traveler and photojournalist Teo Kaye, who seems far too young to have been to all the places he’s been.

One of photojournalist Teo Kaye's amazing shots

His roamings through Central Asia have produced a breathtaking portfolio of award-winning action shots that have graced, among other settings, the pages of Taiwan’s Chinese-language equivalent of National Geographic. Married to a Plainfield native, he’s returned to Vermont with her for the birth of their first child.

That evening, aforementioned friend Susan and I head to nearby Barre to set up at the Good Shepherd Church for a concert she’s brought together as part of the Attic Series she founded. The series took place in her actual attic until somebody ratted her out to the City building inspector. Now this floating entertainment series roosts where it can. Tonight it’s singer, songwriter and guitarist Frank Burkitt from Edinburgh, joined by guitarist Calum Wood, a proud Aberdonian, and local Vermont bagpipe hero Hazen Metro, who tonight confines himself to the flute and Border pipes because Highland pipes overwhelm small indoor spaces. Small world: Hazen learned to play the pipes from Iain MacHarg, who played at our wedding. Hazen’s just back from a long spell in my native Glasgow, and I’m picking up cadences of Lowland Scots that have crept into his Vermont speech.

After the all-acoustic, unmiked concert, a mix of lively Scots and Irish jigs, reels, sea-chanteys and romantic folk ballads, the band is hungry. They’ve been traveling or performing all day; there was no time for food. And now we come to the dirty little secret, the one respect in which my little corner of Vermont is manifestly inferior to my Brooklyn haunts: there’s nowhere in Central Vermont to eat late. Even Julio’s, which can usually be relied upon after theater performances and rehearsals for nachos and other snacks-that-will-do-as-a-meal-in-a-pinch, is closed on this rainy Sunday night.

Then Hazen has a happy inspiration: McGillicuddy’s Pub on Langdon Street will still be open, possibly serving food as well as drink, and so it proves. Susan and I order fries to be sociable while the band reviews its U.S. tour to date and gets talking about loyalties back home. When Burkitt and Wood square off over the relative merits of their favorite football teams (Liverpool vs. Aberdeen) and fall into what Hazen ruefully describes as a continuing argument that sometimes verges on fisticuffs, Susan and I bid farewell and leave them to it.

The acute attack of French-fry-and-beer-induced indigestion that hits me at 5 a.m. is a small price to pay for as full and rich of a weekend as I could wish for anywhere.

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