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.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Heat, beautiful heat. While I'm fond of existing as an anachronism, I don't care to take it quite as far as the era when the house was built--i.e., the era of nebulous heat.

When this joint first opened its doors to Blue Book society in 1883, it did actually have central heat. Having studied the arrangement, I very much doubt that anybody was ever warm. The house had one of those big "octopus" furnaces seen now only in '30s cartoons. It was a primitive hot-air system that relied on the principles of physics--in which I only marginally believe--to get the air heated by the furnace up to the three stories of rooms above. Even a modern forced-air system has several heating vents in every small, eight-foot-ceiling'd room. This house has twelve-foot ceilings and one tiny register for each sizable room. No wonder people wore acres of clothes. Thankfully, by about 1915 somebody realized that this wasn't working. I accredit the discovery to the changing fashion in ladies' evening gowns, which went amorphous and filmy in about 1913. When Frau Hoffmann discovered that her legs were turning blue, Herr Hoffmann promptly installed a radiator system and, when I remember to buy oil, it keeps me toasty to this day.

Today, my department head, who is a nice German/Polish Baltimore girl, reminisced about the featherbeds that her family used over in East Baltimore, many of which had probably been made over in Gdynia or Ostpreussen. They are, of course, much nicer and much warmer than American-made featherbeds. They'd have to be. East Prussia and Poland still believe that a giant ceramic stove in the corner is a perfectly adequate form of central heat. It is, as long as you're within six feet of the thing.

I do hate cold. I am just Southern enough to believe that cold is the work of Yankees and/or Satan, who are obviously allies anyway. Still, isn't it grand to be underneath a featherbed (American, Polish or otherwise), looking through a frosted window and wondering if school will be out for the day? I think that defines "exhilirating."

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Naturally, I have run out of oil. The furnace KNOWS when to do this. It knows that its mission in life is to wait until a fairly cold spell, with snow predicted, when I am expecting half the damned planet to make a social call. It just knows, and it plans. (I was going to say that it lies in wait, but being a furnace and therefore immobile it's not as though it might nip off for a smoke instead of lying in wait.)

Never fear: if you're intending to visit over next weekend, I'll have oil delivered by then, and the place will be back to its usual toasty-warm self (unless you're inhabiting the back bedroom, which never does seem to warm up).

Fortunately, there are things to counteract the cold. My hands are kept warm from the acres of Christmas correspondence. Like most people, I fall into the trap of sending cards to everyone I know. This is vaguely ridiculous, really: most of them are sent to people I see, or to whom I speak, on a very regular basis. Do they really need a separate card? Or, the cards go to old friends--as in, they're old friends because they were friends in a long distant time. I was quite fond of them, but I never see them OR speak to them anymore, so why are we still wasting thirty-seven cents on each other once per annum?

Because that's just what you do. The charm of the Christmas season lies in the comfort of its trappings. Every year we need to pull out tattered decorations from the '30s and '50s and reminisce about them. (One family I know seems to hate every Christmas ornament they possess. I've never figured that one out. Yet, their tree is always lovely.) We need to dust off forgotten pages of the address-books and send cards to those friends of long ago. At the very least, while we write the cards and as they read them, we will remember why we'd been friends all those years distant.

We need to go to church even if we haven't in years, because Christmas was always the most heartwarming time to be at church anyway. It also has the appeal of changing even less than our own family traditions. I think that my great-grandparents may have seen some of the same Christmas decorations at St. Alphonsus that I see now.

And we need to go berserk catering to all of those little details for Christmas. Things like the Rheb's candy shopping list: Kathy can't eat anything with nuts; Barbara likes caramels and mints. Jacques knows that I prize orange creams more than BG&E stock. Who is particularly fond of divinity, but won't eat fudge on a bet. Who thinks that the sun rises and sets on fruitcake (I mean the real stuff, not that unspeakable hydrogenated-oil-laden, congealed goo that comes from Hickory Farms). Who must have plain Stollen rather than the kind with cherries in the filling.

I think the most delightful, if the most labor-intensive, aspect of the holiday is the baking. (I say that every year, don't I? ) It's so nice to have the kitchen alive with activity, a pot of pralines getting happily sugary while two Gugelhupf rise away in the oven. Nice to bring out the mental log of who likes what; what will travel overseas and what won't.

Also, when the furnace has spitefully eaten the last of its oil, a busy kitchen is the warmest place in the house.