June 1st, 2004

Burrahobbits, Good Omens, 05-25-04

The Burrahobbits met at the Long’s residence Tuesday evening to discuss “Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. We had quite a bit of fun speculating on which writer had contributed which parts of the book. There were differences of opinion as to whether “Them”, the Anti-Christ’s kid gang, were useful to the plot or not, although the majority agreed that they did fulfill a very necessary purpose in the humanization of the Destroyer. Some felt that the ending rather petered out, but most of us declared that the book was quite enjoyable, although not “deathless prose.” Crowley the tempter and Aziraphel the angel were the general favorite characters, and we appreciated the parallels to spy lit like John Le Carre in addition to the apocalyptic plot takeoff of “The Omen” which is the major thrust of the work.

Ten Chimneys

On Wednesday, May 26th, we were able to realize a year-old goal, and visit the home of theatre stars Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne, now open as a museum. The home has been almost completely restored after decades of neglect following the death of Fontanne, and is most unique in that it as closely as possible represents the way the home would have looked in its heyday, when both artists regularly retired there during the summers, and had as guests other luminaries of the theatrical world. It is fascinating to see the guest room that Helen Hayes favored, the one that Noel Coward insisted upon, and the one where Lawrence Olivier was a long-term resident when down on his luck. Katherine Hepburn, Carol Channing, and critic Alexander Woolcott were among the many others that visited there as well. It is commonly said that every room there is arranged as a theatrical set, and I see that in several of the rooms. However, few theatrical sets are as intensely decorated as the public rooms of the main house, studio, and cottage. Lunt engaged a set painter to add character touches to these rooms, a weekend commission that stretched to years as the walls were intricately painted with decorations, portraits, and bible scenes, accented with hand-cut and accented wallpapers. The rooms are also furnished with an eclectic collection of antique furniture, figurines, and other artworks. For all the theatrical importance of the setting, the amount of memorabilia on display is surprisingly small. Lunt and Fontanne seem to have preferred to surround themselves with things they found beautiful and personally significant rather than things like autographed photos or posters (although there are a few on display). In later years, Lunt took up the decoration of the cottage himself, and the walls there are muraled in a vigorous primitive style recalling his boyhood years in Finland. (Lunt, though born in Milwaukee, lived in a Finnish community with his mother and stepfather for a time, which seems to have a strong effect on his tastes.) One can easily see how the beauty and seclusion of the setting, in an unincorporated hamlet in the Kettle Moraine area, must have contributed to the artistic revival of the Lunts and their guests. On the day we visited, which was both the first anniversary of the museum opening and the Lunts’ wedding anniversary, there was a dedication ceremony adding the property to the list of National Historic Landmarks, making it one of 30 in the state of Wisconsin, and one of only ten nationwide dedicated to the arts. We came in shortly after the ceremony was ended, and had a very fine tour with just ourselves and one other person, herself a former volunteer, along with the docent, which was great fun and allowed to look very closely at whatever we wished.

WisCon Friday

Having packed our car with our considerable impedimenta, we drove over to Madison late morning, and got to the Concourse by 11:30AM with no difficulty. Both traffic and weather were good, none of which could be said for those arriving later in the weekend. We were able to check in, unload, and move into our room with fair ease as well, although no baggage carts were to be had.

We then took the necessary stuff to the ballroom for The Gathering setup, where we staffed the “Custom Button” table. My job is to take tickets, cut rounds of colored paper and pass them to Georgie, who letters the purchaser’s slogan. Then, I compress the button parts together using the press to make the finished item. Having practiced at home this year, I did a fair job and didn’t screw anything up unsalvageably. We were kept fairly busy, producing almost four dozen buttons. In addition, Georgie lettered a sign for pat Murphy, and was rewarded with a handsome balloon hat for her pains. This event gives us an opportunity to meet new people and discuss their enthusiasms while the buttons are made. Some of the wittier sayings made it into the con newsletter.

After clearing up the table, we ran over to Myles Teddywedger’s to get Cornish pasties for supper, and to them back to our room to eat and get changed for Opening Ceremonies. The sketch was “Conablanca,” with the final script adaptation by Tracy Benton (replyhazy) after suggestions by myself, Georgie, Bill Bodden (billzilla), and Jim Nichols. As usual, we did it radio-style, with script in hand and minimal blocking, but the audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy the play, and we got compliments on it all weekend long. The cast was: myself as “Rick” (my Bogart impression—more like a “faintly reminiscent”—went over OK), Georgie as “Ilsa,” Tracy as “Louise Renault,” Victor Raymond as “Victor Laszlo,” Bill as “Mr. Strasser,” Jim Nichols (who played and sang his own version of “As Cons Go By”) and Ruth Nichols as “The Narrator”. Tracy intends to put the full script up on the Net shortly. Then off to parties and panels, with me on an 11:45PM panel on “Male Bonding in ‘The Lord of the Rings’” where we had a vigorous and enjoyable debate on whether or not reading any homoerotic subtext into the work is legitimate. (I was firmly in the ‘Nay’ camp, and was able to bolster my position with reference to Leslie Fiedler and other critics.)

WisCon Saturday

We awoke and were displeased to find the weather pouring rain, which stinted us our tour of the Farmer’s Market, although I did coat up and venture over to L’Etoile to procure the necessary croissants (chocolate and marzipan, yum--). We attended Eleanor Arnason’s reading of her Hwarath short stories, which was excellent. Of course we also toured the dealer’s room where we visited friends, bought books from DreamHaven, and I acquired a few toys for my collection. Dinner was back to L’Etoile (fortunately, the rain had let up) with Paul Kincaid and Maureen Kincaid-Speller (peake and brisingamen, respectively). It’s great fun to dine with them, as they are wonderful conversationalists and are also charmingly appreciative of L’Etoile’s exquisite cuisine. After dinner, I was back on the panel circuit for “Arg, Pirates!” which was a purely fun panel and gave me a chance to plug the pirate-themed Fancy Dress Party for the following evening.

WisCon Sunday

Sunday was a big day for us: Georgie had her panel on “Trickster Goddesses,” with Guest of Honor Eleanor Arnason, and fellow Milwaukeean Sue Blom in the Chair. The panel went well, Georgie pulled out some impressive references, and the audience contributed obscure bits of knowledge in the traditional WisCon fashion. In the early afternoon, we went out party shopping with co-conspirators Tracy and Bill to get perishables for our party. Once back to the hotel, we gave ourselves a brief break to rest up, but had to go to the discussion on the WisCon retreat to find out what had transpired there. We’d had less ambitious plans for dinner, but ended up at our usual Sunday place, Kabul, anyway, and fortified ourselves for the coming tasks. We encountered Tracy and Bill on the way back to the hotel in search of ice cream, and joined them for a scoop. Then on to the party set up, which went very quickly and well, since we had a smaller room, and did not have to fool around with lighting or drapes as much. We got into costume, and I must say we all looked fabulous, especially Tracy in her hand-made Barbary Pirate outfit. I took charge of making punch and tending bar, which kept me busy throughout the night, but I met almost everyone who came in, and had a good vantage point. We had Pirate Music (“Pirates of Penzance,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “Toucan Pirates”) but at one point I discovered the music I was hearing wasn’t ours—one fan, whose name I never got, produced a “squeezebox” and gave us live music, which evolved into a session of singing sea and folk songs, lead by Ellen Kushner. They were still going strong by 1:00AM when we ran out of rum (three quarts!) and Tracy declared the party closed. A good time was had by all, and we seemed to be the talk of the con the following day.

Due to the party setup, Georgie had to miss the Tiptree Award ceremony, for which she had been commissioned to produce a gift of artwork for the winner (Matt Ruff, “Set This House in Order”). We did hear afterward that Ruff was very pleased with the multiple portrait depicting his characters, and that the Tiptree Committee members were very happy as well, which was a great relief and pleasure for Georgie.

WisCon Monday

I had one panel, on “Life after Fandom,” on Monday morning. The topic was SF and Fantasy oriented reading groups, how to organize and run them. We had a variety of experiences related by me, Minnesotans David Lenander and Eric Heidemann, and Janice Eisen, with interesting input on a Chicago-based political SF group from the audience. After checking out of the hotel, we made a last pass through the “Sign Out,” a new ending event, and the Dealer’s Room. As usual, we leaked out before the “Dead Dog Party” and drove home, where we collapsed in satisfied exhaustion.