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.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Great Christmas Elephant is beeping frantically as it backs up, preparing to sit on my face. The Christmas Elephant does not care that I have not finished shopping. It does not know, or understand, that I have not had time to go downtown at all; it is blind to the idea that I've been so dreadfully busy that I haven't even consulted my Rheb's Candy lists to see who has died, or whose taste has changed. It marches on oblivious.

I am trying to throw a monkey wrench into the Christmas Elephant's stride. I have decided that this year, though I actually have enough in the way of liquid assets to really go shopping, I am going to--once again--make all of the Christmas presents.

This, in itself, presents another problem. While I certainly haven't the time to go downtown or--God forbid--the suburban malls, I haven't really the time either to fart around the house in the making of presents. Yes, X is supposed to get a set of pillowcases with her initials embroidered into a spray of roses. Yes, Y is supposed to get a postcard of his hometown framed in dried roses from my garden. Christmas Elephant, you fail to provide the time needed for these things! And, naturally, on top of the "special" things, I've committed myself to giving the gift of comestibles.

I figure that edible presents are among the best. Everyone likes candy, don't they? Cookies are always nice, and a couple of jars of homemade preserves and relishes imply that I took special time to prepare them Just For You. Under normal circumstances, I didn't really--I put up gallons of these things every year--but this year, I'm refusing to pull a jar of pickles out of the basement. No, you little fartlings, you're all getting something that I've especially preserved and packed and baked and cured for you. And you'd better bloody well like it, too, because I've got to do all of it in the next five days and either deliver it or get it to the post office.

Why? Because I like you! And, as one of my long-suffering friends pointed out, I could earn a million a year and I'd still do my own pickling and canning and baking. I'm just that much of a skinflint, and besides, I'd rather burn in hell than let my friends eat questionable pickle relish that didn't involve a good Southern Maryland cucumber.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Friend B is a native--one of the few--of Washington, DC. Once upon a time, people really did come from that city; they spent their lives there and probably had a nice time in what was then a pretty and impressive, though not very big, and rather sleepy Southern city. It was pestilent, of course. The Potomac is still more or less tidal, there; and it tends to develop backwashes that are smelly at best and bacteria-laden at worst. Even so, Washington was once a nice city. It had very little to do, though, with most of Maryland--the state that surrounds it--and even less to do with Virginia to the South. When B. was "comin' up," as we say, in the '50s, Washington had just started to develop suburban sprawl. So, no surprise, really, that he wasn't much aware of the rest of Maryland--except for the motor trips and antiquing ventures that his mother insisted upon. This led him, as a child, up through the hinterlands that are Maryland's Western counties.

Although Washington's sprawl has encroached upon once-beautiful Frederick and Baltimore's has inundated the rather less-scenic Carroll, the Western counties are still pretty to put this politely? Oh, I can't. They're buttfuckEgypt. The countryside is lovely, though, and some of the towns are most picturesque. When, today, B. and I decided to vacate the city for the afternoon, the quaint charms of Western Maryland (and adjoining parts of Pennsylvania) called. Taneytown, Emmitsburg, and such--little towns whose days have passed, but for pretty old houses and a pace of life that time itself has forgotten.

Now, it seems that when B. and the family cruised through Western Maryland in the Mercury station wagon in search of the detritus of former eras, he and his brothers were amused by the name of the river that flows through Frederick County. The Monocacy is a pretty, unnavigable, and slow river. Its name must have seemed quite odd to city children (I'll try to refrain from pointing out that "Potomac" is also an Indian name...oops, just did...) and so, whenever they traversed the Monocacy--which one inevitably does several times when travelling around Frederick--they made up an "Indian chant." As they all grew up, this became a personal totem, as well. If you forget to do the Indian chant, you won't find good crap at the antique shops and flea markets.

B. is not as conversant with the northern sections of Frederick and Carroll as am I; so evidently did not remember that he'd cross the Monocacy, and forgot about the chant. He didn't find anything cool whatsoever. I scored; though-- a groovy '20s vacuum for $15, a bound set of "Scribner's Radio Music Library," an ice-cream freezer (beware: all of you will be conscripted to help operate the thing at the beach next year), and various other crap.

Despite my few finds, I was mostly appalled by the absolute garbage available in antique shops these days. Some of the places we scoured were those I remembered from my high-school days as troves of fairly good-quality items, interesting ephemera, and amusing crap. Now, they're just full of... CRAP.

I think that Antiques Roadshow and ebay have joined forces to decimate the old methods of antiquing, as surely as the malls killed the downtown department stores. Easily nine-tenths of what I saw today was best described as landfill. The shops where, twenty years ago, I saw Dresden porcelain, good crystal, good silver, and significant furniture now harbor such ungodly things as '80s lunchboxes, Coca-Cola "collectibles" all of six years old, those awful hoopskirted dolls made to hide a roll of toilet paper, and those unchristly glass candy dishes shaped like a brooding chicken. LOTS of them.

I'm unsure, though, about the real horror here: is it that this hangover-puke of our culture is flooding the antique shops? Or, that somebody actually bought this shit when it was new?
Those tacky "snack sets" with coffee cups and plates decorated in icky peeling decals... worse, that somebody might buy them now, when they could at least be considered kitschy and funny, or that somebody actually parted with hard-earned money to buy them fifty years ago? Then, there's the category of Just Plain Disturbing. B. called my attention to the cookie jar/Urn of Unholy Sacrifice shaped like the head of an elf. Its Mona-Lisa smile and almond eyes fix you with eerie certainty. Its jaunty orange ceramic cap promises madness. It is... a vision of hell in your kitchen. I want it. But: a) I already have two cookie jars, b) the cats would probably break it, and c)the $55 price tag was just ludicrous.

Just to offset the GLAH produced by most of the day's finds, though, were two things: A big scrapbook assembled by a Gettysburg College co-ed, that featured everything from her high school graduation programme and her Gettysburg acceptance letter through her sorority bids and dance invitations right up to her Gettysburg College graduation programme. Damn. I wish I'd done that at W&M.

Also: for a mere $3000.00, a dime-operated mechanical horse. "Ride SANDY! 10c. " I remember SANDY. He stood outside the dimestore in Frederick. I'm pretty sure this was the same one, though I can't bet on it as I'm sure there were hundreds of the things. By the time I knew the one in Frederick, I was far too old to ride a ten-cent mechanical horse in front of a dime store, but I could tell that there was something sweet and innocent and happy about such a thing. He still had his original paint and a nice leather saddle. There aren't any dime stores left, and even if there were, they wouldn't have "Sandy" or his ilk. They're just lawsuits waiting to happen. But isn't it nice to remember when happiness was nothing more complicated than a ten-cent horse ride and a chocolate soda at Woolworth's in drowsy old Frederick, Maryland?