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, January 24, 2007

Time to air the dirty laundry. Not literally, people--for once I'm somewhat caught up on the laundry and there's no need to dry or clean anything, much to the chagrin of the neighbors from elsewhere who still can't figure out the whole concept of hanging laundry out to dry.

Nay, I must admit to something far more unpleasant than little white boxer-briefs on a clothesline. Truth of the matter is, I like Martha Stewart.

There's just something about her that speaks to me. I think it's the combination of ancient housekeeping ritual with the "I'm better than you are" attitude. So Baltimorean, and so very Richmond.

I perused a copy of her self-promotional rag lately. "Martha Stewart LIVING" is a very strange animal, indeed. Martha's ideas are a combination of the sort of things I consider common knowledge and the sort of things that no one in his right mind would ever do. I mean, really--who's ever going to take the time to actually cut out and make heart-shaped boxes for Valentine's Day candy? Unless, of course, one lives in some benighted city that no longer has its own wonderful confectioner to take care of the matter. Even so, I can't see anyone that I know sitting down to spend several hours constructing the stupid candy boxes. On the other hand, Martha also tells us how to make biscuits. Biscuits are the most basic of skills. Superlative biscuits are one thing, but the creation of useful, everyday biscuits is about as difficult as, oh, say, breathing.

But Martha knows her audience. She realizes that the days of women (and the occasional man) at home, doing housework simply as a fact of life, are long gone. Though I might consider biscuit baking second nature, there are millions of people who are mildly frightened by even Pillsbury biscuits-in-a-can. (Actually, they kind of frighten me, too--they taste weird and that creepy FOOMP when you open the can freaks me out.)

So the audience for "LIVING" gets a double whammy. They can learn to do things "just like Grandma," the sorts of things that were once second nature to everyone but are now nearly forgotten. And they can learn to do goofy stuff that they would never actually do, but which sounds really cool, and might get tried out for the one dinner party they have annually.

And then I turned to the page that showed Martha's basement. I pray to God, Wotan, and Clara Bow that this is not truly a picture of the woman's basement, because it scared me half to death.
It was so freakishly clean and so insanely organized that I could picture even the most meticulous German housewife reeling in shock.

Now, let me put this into perspective. Most of you who read this space know perfectly well that I am approximately as well-organized as a brain-damaged chicken. However, there is a certain deranged logic to my household; I know where most of the important things are. There is the occasional frantic burst as I realize that I cannot find something desperately needed, but for the most part, I can find the coasters, the ashtrays, the record I want to hear, and the appropriate silver to serve whatever glop is going on the table. (There may be another frantic burst of terror if I have forgotten to make ice.) My counterpoint is the rather more typical North Baltimore household, which operates under a Prussian system of order and precision. I've noticed, however, that those people are just as often stymied as I am when it comes to finding a specific item. Their system of organization breaks down under pressure. Mine, which is no system at all, is unfazed by pressure and therefore is every bit as effective.

Every household I know, whether organized on the mad confusion model or the Imperial Navy model, shares a common closeted skeleton: a basement that looks like mayhem. Nobody ever has to see the basement. Most people, even in the house itself, do not bother to visit the basement. Therefore, it becomes a repository for: all the crap that you do not really want but cannot bear to throw away; those items used for precisely one week every year; whatever items are not in season (my summer rugs and summer curtains are down there right now), tools, paint, and cleaning apparati. When I look at any Baltimore basement I am always reminded of the scene in the "Addams Family" movie, in which Morticia looks through a storage space full of ancient wardrobe bags: "Cousin Knick-Knack's Summer Wardrobe...Cousin Knick-Knack's Winter Wardrobe...Cousin Knick-Knack..."

How can anyone's basement be so...sterile? I admire the thought of a well-organized storage space. It must be wonderful to be able to say "Oh, yes. It's time to put away the winter rugs; you'll find the mothballs in Bin 84-C and the Varnolene for the floors on Shelf 23." I do find it more endearing and normal, however, to hear a voice from the basement yelling "Where the hell is the gray porch paint? Say, did you know Aunt Vesta's old summer hats are still on top of the furnace?"

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Once again, you believed that I'd died, and you were happily sending Mass cards to my family. Or, at least, the few of you who are Catholic were; or those Protestants who know enough to do so. I'm not dead, though. (Sorry, all, I did make a valiant effort, but when I tried to jump off the roof of the Lord Baltimore, I was distracted by a cocktail party. )

Today, while reading the blog o' my sometime-inspirator, sometime-irritant, James Lileks, I hit on a familiar strain. People need newspapers.

The common idea today is that the Big City Daily is gone. Apparently, in the minds of most Americans, there are only two big cities--New York and Los Angeles.

This is clearly ridiculous.

New York may be the nation's largest city, but it is also the nation's most provincial city. It has no concept of anything but itself. It is so convinced of its monumental significance that it cannot conceive of anything in the United States beside itself, and it considers London, Berlin, Vienna and Paris as no more than places in the dim memory of its foul grocers. While I am quite sure that everyone in Topeka has heard of New York, I can guarantee that less than ten per cent of New York City's vast population has any idea that Topeka exists, and even fewer could tell you where it exists.

Los Angeles, though I have--thankfully--never seen the benighted place, has, by the admission of some of its own children, no city at all, but does have seven million people inhabiting a conglomeration of suburbs. I do want to see the town, though, for the sake of the beautiful picture palaces that do still exist there--New York has managed to obliterate most of its screen dreamlands.

There are still quite a few other major cities in the United States, though most of them are shadows of their former selves. Detroit, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, St. Louis--all of them are staggering on in decay, but are nonetheless BIG cities. For those who question the status of, say, St. Louis as a big city, I say to you: spend a couple of years in a town of four hundred people and see what you think then. I have. You'd be surprised how quickly even Hagerstown looks metropolitan.

The argument against the city daily paper is this: We don't need them because we can all get the New York Times delivered to our doors. We can get BBC online and on cable. And, God help us, we can usually get the Washington Post, should we want that nasty pinko rag anywhere near our doorsteps. (Washington and its paper are most significant for their sad delusion that they are, actually, in a class with the rest of the world's capitals.) We can, if we are of a German bent, get Berliner-Zeitung, or Der Standard, online.

Der Standard, however interesting its articles may be, does not provide any information whatsoever about the fire on Greenmount Avenue last night. Nor does it provide any information about the elections in Allegany County. (I don't particularly care about Allegany County myself, but it does have some impact on the rest of the state whether I care about it or not.) Der Standard does not have the obituaries of the lordly Calverts and Weiskittels, or even of the cafeteria ladies at Forest Park High School. It has absolutely no interest in the potential destruction of the once-lovely Fulton Theatre, because it doesn't know anything about Baltimore except its geographic location and its economic connections to Austria.

Thus I sniff at those who find themselves superior because they very publicly claim to NOT read the Sun, or the Times-Dispatch, or the Virginian-Pilot. You may have a good grasp of what's happening in the rest of the world, but do you know what's happening in your own backyard? I do take pride in reading some of the European papers online--but only after scouring the papers of my home states. What good is it to know what's playing at the Burgtheater in Vienna if you don't know what movie is showing at the Byrd?