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Striking a Blow for Masculini-Tea!

19 Jan

teas Our 6-year-old grandson has three sisters and virtually lives in a world of princesses and pink. I have always admired how he is still so secure in his masculinity.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife Diane made the kids some Funfetti cupcakes with pink icing and sprinkles to celebrate the youngest girl’s birthday. I wondered if our grandson would reject this rather girly treat. As Diane predicted, he happily accepted his pink cupcake. His only beef was that he didn’t get the one with the big piece of chocolate on top, intended for the birthday girl.
Personally, I have always tried to combat my own insecurities about masculinity by over compensating to some degree. I’ll drink beer when I really don’t want one and I’ll talk to other men about sporting events that I know absolutely nothing about.

Over my lifetime, I estimate that I have attended one ballet, one fashion show and about seven afternoon teas. In my own defense, I can claim that I have never attended a bridal shower or a Tupperware party regardless of promised refreshments.
This holiday season, Diane took our daughter, our two older granddaughters and our son to the Brown-Forman production of “The Nutcracker Ballet.” Fortunately, I was left with the two youngest children to watch Christmas cartoon specials and catch up on our SpongeBob Squarepants. I was a little disappointed, however, to not get to see the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, since I always thought the music was pretty catchy after all my years of playing Tetris. Overall, I have to agree with columnist Dave Barry who once said he would rather watch a dog catch a Frisbee than go to a ballet.

I did, however, once attend a ballet that was based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel “The Great Gatsby.” People always say that ballet dancers are really great athletes, so I used that belief to rationalize my attendance. It was exactly like attending a basketball game, except most of the players were girls, the uniforms were pastel and all the jumping and prancing about seemed to lack any essential purpose. As I remember, the final score was a shutout — Daisy 36, Gatsby nothing.

It is a little disconcerting to realize that I have gone to more afternoon teas than professional baseball, hockey and football games combined. I have occasionally wondered if there was something wrong with me, since I, unlike my grandson and his father, have no interest whatsoever in professional sports.

Love of sporting events has long been popularly considered a leading indicator of masculinity in America. In his dubious run for governor of Texas, macho singer Kinky Friedman once said at a press conference that he was not pro-choice, and he was not pro-life, but he was, pro-football.

Last weekend, Diane and I drove down to Vine Grove, Ky., to an afternoon tea at the Two Sister’s Tea Room. In November, the proprietors Paula Jaenichen and Amy Pickerell — who have relatives in the New Albany area — reopened what was formerly a local Victorian tearoom. With excellent hot fresh scones, it was a very accomplished afternoon tea. The Two Sisters should not be confused with The Sisters Tea Parlor & Boutique in Buckner, Ky., which Diane and I have also visited.

Most of the teas Diane and I have gone to have been full afternoon teas. According to the What’s Cooking America? website, many folks mistakenly refer to the full afternoon tea as “high tea,” because they think it sounds ritzier. In fact, “ high tea” (sometimes called a “meat tea”) is just the old British term for dinner. Working men and children would partake of “high tea,” so-called because it was served at a tall dining table, rather than in a sitting room or drawing room where low tables were used.

The first scholars to write about tea may have been men in third-century China, but one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, the Duchess of Bedford, is usually credited with establishing the afternoon tea tradition during the Victorian Era. The duchess reported having a “sinking feeling” in the late afternoon (probably low blood sugar).

At the time, there was no such thing as lunch and unfortunately dinner wasn’t served until around 8 p.m. The peckish Duchess found that a pot of tea and some bread, butter and cakes, served in her private rooms, hit the spot perfectly. Soon she — and everyone else — was inviting guests over for an afternoon of “tea and a walking the field.”

Over time, three basic kinds of afternoon teas evolved. A Cream Tea consists of tea, scones, jam and clotted cream. The Light Tea has all the same items, but adds sweets (which are usually cakes, cookies, tiny tarts, or shortbread). The top-of-the-line is the full afternoon tea that has all of above, and also includes savories and a dessert. Often, these courses are served on three-tiered serving dishes.
In America salads, fruits, and soups are sometimes included. I have to say that I have enjoyed all the teas I’ve attended, but the usual menu is a bit too loaded with carbohydrates and sugar for me these days.

Until I started attending teas, my knowledge of scones was limited to what I had gleaned from Scrooge McDuck comic books. I have since learned that scones are rather crumbly biscuit-like affairs with a wide variety of possible ingredients. These are traditionally served with jam, lemon or lime curd, and Devonshire or clotted cream (which is a thick unsweetened whipped cream).
Diane says that her favorite place for afternoon tea is the Hopsewee Plantation near Myrtle Beach, S.C. The owners of this restored rice plantation added the River Oak Cottage Tea Room where you can get the Hopsewee Full Southern Tea, which in addition to scones and sweets, includes such fare as cucumber sandwiches, curried chicken on ginger snaps, blue cheese spinach quiche, salmon mousse and parmesan-peppercorn crackers with mozzarella, pesto and tomato.

Around Christmas time, the girls in the family, except for our 10-year old-granddaughter Becca, all attended an afternoon tea in Cincinnati. Poor Becca had a rehearsal for the church Christmas play to go to with her brother. She had to stay and eat lunch with us boys until it was time to go to church.

We watched Cincinnati Bengals football highlights and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” cartoons until we got hungry and went out for pizza. We told Becca to just pretend that the provolone cheese-filled Rondos were scones and the Sprite was Jasmine-Apricot tea.
New York-based psychoanalyst and Psychology Today blogger Gurmeet S. Kanwal says that “‘masculinity” and ‘femininity’ exist in every individual,” so maybe liking high teas just reflects my feminine side.

Perhaps one day there will be afternoon teas designed especially for us men. Personally I doubt it, unless there is some way to add competition, danger and destruction to the event. Perhaps the tea could be held with participants wearing only gym shorts and involve running among the tables like an obstacle course, all the time juggling teapots of scalding hot tea. Now that would really be something!

Originally Published in the Southern Indiana News-Tribune

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Keeping on Your Toes

5 Dec

 

Generally you won’t see me at a football or basketball game,  unless someone gives me free tickets. I know I’m   dating myself,  but I   lost interest  back when the New York Jets won the Super Bowl and when the St. Louis Hawks moved toAtlanta. I gradually found myself  growing in agreement with President Harry Truman, who once said that sports are a bunch of “damned nonsense”.    

Last weekend, however,  I attended something even less probable than a sporting event– the ballet. I am not as  bad as Dave Barry, who wrote that he would rather watch a dog catch a frisbee than go  to a  ballet, although I do agree that about eight minutes is generally enough to fulfill most men’s ballet quota for the next decade. The prancing  does appear to get  a bit redundant to rank amateurs  such as myself .

The great choreographer George Ballenchine once said “Ballet is a woman”. In any dance school,  girls always outnumber boys by at least ten to one.  Many men feel bored and self-conscious and  put attending the ballet  in the same category as going to a “bridal shower or tupperwear party”,  at least according to Rocky Mountain News dance writer Marc Shulgold.    

Despite this innate gender-based bias, I actually found myself  excited about attending a real ballet, since my only prior experience was seeing our four-year-old daughter, with her high classical bun and yellow tutu, performing  in a recital 30 years ago. Oh,  I also remember watching a scene from the Nutcracker at Sea World or CypressGardens, although I think the dancers might’ve been dolphins.

Several months ago my wife Diane and I were at a silent auction for a charity event and by chance we ended up with a basket containing a gift certificate to a nice Louisville restaurant and  tickets to both the theater and the ballet.  Whenever we got to these things Diane is determined to be the high bidder on something. She  is still harboring a major grudge about being outbid for a boat excursion to Rose Island a few years ago.    Often the things we buy,  just languish in our house until they expire– like our house plants. I still have some old passes to Squire Boone Caverns and a gift certificate good for a ride on a small private airplane, that we could never convince any of our cowardly children to take.

Even if something  looks like a great bargain, I still manage to lose money on it. For example, when we used our  restaurant coupon,  our tab was over 40 bucks more than the certificate’s value and I had to spring for an extra ticket for our son when we went to Actor’s Studio.

I have to say the ballet ended up being very reasonable, although with two granddaughters we were almost hooked by the Angelina  Ballerina  ballet sets for little girls they were selling. For the uninitiated,  Angelina is an very perky dancing rodent.   

The   ballet we saw was based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, a book some of us remember and detest from high school English. Although many  people believe it   is the greatest American novel of all time, I could never get into it.  All I could remember was the book’s cover with a picture of creepy haunting eyes.  In the movie version the plot eluded me, but Robert Redford looked terrific in his white suit.  Personally, I thought the story was too complex  to be  portrayed through dance. It was like trying to act out War and Peace with finger puppets.  Although I am certainly no judge, the dancing, seemed  extremely impressive and professional  and the costumes were exceptional. I especially  like  the stagecraft and how they used a semi-transparent screen to give some scenes a  hazy dreamy quality.   

The theater itself could have used a few more aisles,  since I had to squeeze in front of 30 or 40  people to get to my seat. After watching all that dancing you tend to pirouette and take quick tiny mincing steps,  when returning   from the intermission.

There were a lot of people attending dressed in artistic looking black outfits, many  with little girls in tow. I didn’t see any little boys being brought to the ballet, demonstrating excellent audience judgment in my opinion. I  did wonder if the story was  appropriate for  young children,  since it involved two extramarital affairs, someone getting run down by a car, and a shooting.  However, in the ballet’s defense I have to say the affairs were  discreetly  portrayed, the shooting took place with the victim offstage, and the car was essentially a fancy golf cart.     

Addressing the question  “Does ballet really matter?  Los Angelestimes dance critic, Lewis Segal once wrote that hatred of ballet is “reasonable, even necessary”. Writer Marc Shulgold takes issue with these inflammatory words and comes to ballet’s  defense, touting such admirable features  as  the beauty of dance, the power of movement,  the glorious music, and  the  spectacle, not to mention the  magnificence of the human body,  that ballet so vividly discloses. 

Not being  connoisseurs of the arts, we felt sort of like imposters at the ballet,  to the extent that Diane felt a need  to explain our presence to some of her  acquaintances, whom we saw at the performance.  Of course, no one I knew was there or would  be likely to attend.  Maybe you can remember the old Patty Duke Show.  In  the mental health field, we  are more like Patty, than her identical cousin Cathy. You might recall Cathy adored a minuet,  crepe suzettes,  and the Ballet  Russes,  whereas Patty loved to rock and roll and a hot dog made her lose control—    that’s us. 

For my next foray into high culture I am considering gracing the opera,  or possibly the corn hole championships, whichever one  I  can get for the lowest bid

Based on a colum in the News-Tribune of Southern Indiana.