2003-07-13 - 9:06 a.m.
Filial Piety II
The Saturday luncheon was poorly arranged (from an organisational point of view), of peculiar menu and served strangely.
A pointer for those who may be planning large luncheons: having more than one speaker is a bad idea. Having so many speakers that you need to allot two full hours for the luncheon and have the speakers give their talks while people are still eating is an even worse idea. I am opposed to the idea of mixing presentations with meals anyway, and an endless parade of people yapping while the audience works its grim way through a mass-produced lunch menu is cruel and unusual punishment.
The menu, which was good enough as lunch, but hardly worth the price charged and not sufficient fortification against the marathon of speakers, was a bowl of chicken broth followed by a ham and cheese sandwich, artfully garnished with a dab of industrial potato salad and some carrot sticks. I hasten to point out that the sandwich was just that -- ham and cheese between two slices of squishy bread, not a club sandwich with multiple layers, or even a simple sandwich with interesting ingredients and bread. It was, as I said, good enough as lunch, but seemed designed to suggest a school cafeteria or hastily consumed workday meal rather than a gracious ladies' luncheon.
The service was frankly bizarre. Most of us who are raised with the notion of quasi-formal multicourse dining are raised on the Russian service, in which the table is laid at the outset with the necessary flatware and dishes, which are removed in stages as each course is completed. (This is why it is important to know which fork is which). The other option is the French service, in which dishes and cutlery are brought to the table in stages, and the table is fully cleared after each course. This is considerably more labour-intensive and the French service is generally not much seen in this country.
For a luncheon of this nature, served in a ballroom of the flagship of a prominent hotel chain, one might not unreasonably expect to see the Russian service carried out with a certain degree of elegance. I have seen allegedly lesser hotels pull this off. Perhaps it was just an off day. Things did not start out badly, although the fact that the desserts were set out on the table before the rest of the meal was a bit odd. The absence of butterplates caused some minor consternation when the rolls were passed, but the real problems arose after the initial arrival of the main course. Most of us were still eating when the staff began to circulate with the pots of tea and coffee, and after an initial pass with those, the staff disappeared entirely. The plates for the sandwiches were never cleared, which meant that we had to fish our desserts out of the centre of the table and shove the larger plates back in order to eat the desserts -- a complicated proposition given the large and intricate centrepieces, salt and pepper shakers, sugar bowls and what-have-you that also occupied the tables.
There are two good, or at least moderately useful, things about these gatherings. One is that they do wonders for my self-image. I am far from skinny, and most days am not much of a fashion plate. However, there is nothing like looking at 300-lb women in poorly fitted skirt suits to make me think, "hm, perhaps I do not look so bad after all."
The other is that they always put SCA politics in perspective. SCA people like to complain about how bad our politics are, and insofar as organisational politics hurt people, I agree that yes, they are a bad thing. Nevertheless, the SCA looks like Shangri-La in comparison with this group. These women never smile; they bare their teeth. Leaving the luncheon, I was half-tempted to see if I could manoeuvre so I could see my back in a mirror just to count how many daggers were lodged in it. I am a nobody in this group; my sole claim to fame is that I am the daughter of a lower-ranking Sash, and not even an ambitious daughter at that, but still I am a target.
Maman did not get the ONO, and she is moderately disappointed, but she will live. She was recently elected the national poohbah of another, similar organisation, but one which is smaller, generally better behaved, and likely to be a great deal more fun, so all things considered, missing out on this ONO is probably for the best, and there will be other opportunities. She also won a really lovely porcelain doll with a magnificent wardrobe in a raffle. Maman loves dolls, and as a consolation prize, this dolly and her trunk of clothes do quite well.
The waiting around for the election results and time spent consoling Maman, packing up the extensive wardrobe for dolly (37 outfits, each with coordinating shoes, handbags, and hats) meant that Sis and I did not get to the Metro until 6, and not to our stop until 6:30. After I dropped Sis off at her abode, I drove home with a pounding headache, but with the windows down, and grateful for the balmy summer evening, the trumpet creepers that grow up the concrete sound barriers, and the fact that once I reach a certain point, I can get off the highway and use a quiet back road to reach Chateau-sur-Magothie, where my dog and my Viking love me and there is a frivolous but very comfortable chair waiting.
And there was still a bottle of raspberry lambic in the fridge.