The Colonial Theatre Tea Garden

The beauty spot of downtown Richmond was, in 1921, the Tea Garden of the brand-new Colonial Theatre. Herein, we recreate the essence of elegance, joy and hauteur that was once found in Virginia's first real picture palace. Bathtub gin is available at the top of the grand ramps.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

A few nights ago I went to dinner at a friend’s house, up on Barclay street. (See how democratic I am, at heart? I even pay social calls in Barclay street.) We had a very nice evening out on the back porch, gossiped and listened to a few records.
My friend on Barclay street collects odd things. Nothing too weird, but I still lump them under “perversiana”. He likes goofy off-brand radios, cheesy “men’s novels” from the ‘50s, and has a big framed picture of an Art-Moderne style insane asylum hanging on the living room wall.
He also has, as a new addition, a nice little studio picture of two daintily-posed women, circa 1924.
Unfortunately, they are two of the homelier women God ever created.
Now, admittedly, the fashions of the 1920s, while dear to my heart, were VERY unkind fashions. If one did not have the perfect figure to fit them, one looked like warmed-over cat barf. The perfect figure to fit the fashions involved an excessively slim figure with a small (but not nonexistent) bust, practically nonexistent hips, and long, perfect legs—not too curvy, thanks, and ankles the size of the stem on a Martini glass.
If a woman is fortunate enough to possess such a figure—reference Clara Bow and Alice White—the styles of the era are magnetic. For the other 99.7% of the world, they sucked. The acres of cloth yardage required by Victorian and Edwardian fashion allowed a woman to cloak any deficiencies under a surfeit of flounces, and later ‘30s and ‘40s modes accentuated any natural curves and made just plain fat LOOK like curves.
These poor girls in that photograph looked like the human version of those rib roasts with little paper frills. Both of them had particularly unattractive faces, which were only accentuated by the bobbed Utz Potato Chip Girl hairstyle of the day. Their dresses—well, maybe if they’d shopped at a big city department store, they’d have done better, but these were obviously cranked out on Mom’s Singer to duplicate the latest style.
I do pity the poor girls. They were obviously trying their damnedest to look hot according to the latest style, which just happened to be unflattering to them.
But I do wonder what people will think when they see the photographs that we prize today. What will future generations think when they see my college-age pictures? Sure, my evening clothes are the same style that men’s evening clothes have been for the last hundred years, but my hair looks like the revenge of 1988. (It WAS 1988.) What about my dates, wearing big poofy sleeves? Will there be a time when my fairly stodgy polo shirts and khaki shorts will just seem idiotic? And why, FuturoWorld will think, did this guy take about nine million pictures of a grey-and-white cat?
The most alarming aspect of photographs is the ultimate anonymity. As long as I’m alive, I’ll know who the people in my pictures, and my family’s pictures, are. I know why I took nine million pictures of Misty the Wonder Cat.
Is there anyone left, though, who can identify those two homely—but obviously friendly and happy—girls in that picture now hanging in a dining room on Barclay street that they never saw while they were alive?

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Today marked my first actual day of summer vacation and so, trying to get into the spirit of things, I did absolutely nothing all day. I slept until 10:30 and then woke up only because the new kitten found it amusing to crawl under the sheets and attack my feet. I then sat out in the garden to drink some tea and chain-smoke while reading a crappy novel. I contemplated reading the paper and weeding the brick walkway, but dismissed the first as being too cranial and the second as too physical. Damnit, it’s my first day of vacation. I am entitled to do nothing.
As the day wore on, I enjoyed the progress of nothingness. I continued to read the crappy novel periodically; I plinked around on the piano for awhile (note to self: once the novelty of doing nothing wears off, get piano tuned); and played with the kitten (who is now insistently attacking the computer screen) for a while. I then took a nice long walk over to Bolton Hill and then downtown, had two G&Ts at the Hotel Lord Baltimore, and walked back home, where I took a nap as recompense for my hard day of doing nothing in particular.
This evening I ate dinner at a friend’s house, who is not-so-secretly jealous of the fact that I have nothing in particular to do for the next two months. He was absolutely appalled that I got nothing accomplished today. Immediately, I was able to transcribe this as code for “damnit, I wish I had two months to screw around for no apparent reason.”
When I got home from dinner (after being reminded, at eleven o’clock, that some people DO have to work tomorrow), I was attacked by a minor plague of work ethic. Fortunately, it was a work ethic inspired by my essential Baltimoreanism. Had it been my inner Prussian, I’d be bleaching the floors right now instead of blogging. As it was, I just polished the silver.
Not all of it, mind you. It takes me the better part of two days to polish the whole damned silver service. However, I’d noticed that the serving pieces in my plate pattern weren’t looking so hot, and so I got that out of the way, allowing me to claim that I did something productive today. I also noticed that most of the secondary plate service wasn’t looking too hot either, which will make sure that tomorrow morning will be occupied. If I get started on the sterling, I’ll be busy the rest of the week.
All of which brings to mind a recent article in the New Yorker about a silver thief. Wow. I’m sort of flattered, really; I thought that silver thieves had gone the way of the dodo. Doesn’t the modern thief content himself with X-Boxes and elaborate stereo systems?
This silver thief had some pretty damned good taste, for which I commend him. He must have been a Southerner. Everyone knows Yankees don’t even know what to do with silver. I found myself sympathizing with the thief, not only because he had the sense to steal nice things, but because his victims were so palpably…well, tacky.
The story was introduced with a vignette of one victim, a nouveau-riche sort who just sounded unpleasant. He’d bought a big 1820’s estate outside New York and hounded the descendants of the original owners until they sold the old family silver to him, in order to complete the “look” of the house. First, that’s poor form, and second, why doesn’t he have his OWN family silver? Ah—not the sort of person who HAS silver, one expects. Probably still eats off of stainless, too.
I was also reminded of an informal dinner I had not so long ago. Informal meant that I used the plate—not the everyday plate, but not the sterling either. Among my guests were a gentleman from Massachusetts and a lady from Tennessee. The Tennesseean, who—shall we say, is not particularly feminine and prefers the company of other ladies, is not a stickler for form and tends to ridicule many of the formal tendencies of her fellow Southerners.
When the soup was served the Northern gentleman exclaimed that he’d never eaten dinner with real silver. Knowing that I wouldn’t be offended—I knew perfectly well what I was using--the lady from Tennessee said “You still haven’t. This is plate.”