Thursday, December 2, 2010

Dinner at Mrs. Lawrence’s Mansion

It just so happens that for the past three years or so the president of my college—a dry, smiling woman, with a predilection for Joyce—has adopted a new tradition of hosting small dinners, for the first years, at her mansion. An enormous estate reining over the avenue of Kimball, whose key has shifted through the years through the hands of ten college presidents at least.

But where shall I begin? O, yes! with the moon. For there it was, brightening the black sky, like a lantern in a dungeon. One makes his way across the lawn, embowered by the oaks’ shady limbs, and eventually reaches the door. It stands firm and exclusive in a little cavern of cobble stones. May I take your coat, a woman asks. Coats are quite necessary in these frigid places, and so this question is asked, I suppose, more often up north. This is not Miami, to be sure! Mrs. Lawrence awaits you in the living room, the woman says…

The room was bright and spacious. On the oak-paneled walls, one may spy troll-like men, hunched above pilasters or columns, lugging wood on their backs—one’s eyes wander and meet the sight of a fairy-maiden dancing in a garden. There were many curious carvings in the paneling, and one got the feeling that the walls were alive, teeming with tales that unfolded in the dark, when the room was left alone. And as the room began to fill with the jitter of the guests, one knew that the walls, and their goblin creatures were heeding to it all. There were tapestries and books and paintings—a Steinway in the corner, and a massive alcove with nothing but a rosy-amber vase, exquisitely shaped, and set on a wooden table. How nice it must be to sit in the chair and watch the afternoon sun stream through the French windows—through the splendid vase, casting rosy-amber lights about the room.

But there was something silly about the whole thing. There were about a dozen of us, sitting around a small chest in the center of the room, topped with a platter of vegetables and a bowl of dip. You could have sworn it had all been filched from the pages of some fancy home-living magazine. And how could one not laugh, when one looked on the tomatoes and the celery and the cauliflower stalks?

A vegetable is not funny in itself, when its purpose is to feed—to provide nutritional sustenance, to give one some reason for healthy complacency. But when vegetables are set out to impress, to display--to boast of their perfection, they consequently appear absurd. And the same stalk of cauliflower that appeases the vanity of the hostess provokes another into a giggle, and stimulates a third into a philosophical reverie.

Dinner followed in the dining room, in which, the president has informed me,  numerous dinner-parties have been thrown over the past hundred years. The food is delicious; it is from the East, where the air is full of spices. All my companions feel it the perfect time to make complaints about disagreeable things that happen on campus, and though the president smiles (a hospitality class told her she must!), she is tired behind her mirthful mask. My romantic mind tells me she wants to peruse through Woolf's diaries (She's a scholar on modernism)--but she really just wants to lay down with her husband, Peter. Peter? Was that his name?

It was wonderful, I say, just before I leave. Though it was actually rather silly, if you really think about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment