Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Geneva Steam Con, 2016

On Friday morning, March 11th, we drove down to the Lake Lawn Resort at Delavan, Wisconsin, for the second Geneva Steam Con. It was a pleasant drive of a bit less than an hour, and we found the resort with out much trouble.

Lake Lawn Resort has been a vacation “destination” since 1878. The expansive grounds include a golf course, indoor swimming pool, and other recreational facilities, as well as a lovely view of Delavan Lake. Although none of the original buildings remain, the existing complex has a pleasantly rustic style while being fully modern in every respect.

We got checked in easily, and were given a very convenient room close to the main building and just a short distance from the conference center, which also houses the two main restaurants. The sprawling complex is rather mazelike, but one can learn one’s way around fairly easily.
Once settled in, we found Convention registration in the Conference center, and then took a look into the Dealers’ Room before the first panel. This was “How To Mentally and Physically Survive a Con,” presented by Leesa Almgren. As most of the people present were veteran con-goers, this was chiefly preaching to the choir, but Ms. Almgren gave an enjoyable presentation, and audience members swapped useful tips.

Following that, we went to “Arming Your Steampunk Vessel,” by Scott Logan, which reviewed artillery technologies ranging from the Napoleon cannon that was still standard armament at the beginning of the US Civil War to the Dynamite guns and TNT loaded projectiles of the early 20th Century. This was a pretty comprehensive though not too technical review that showed an impressive knowledge of the subject.

In the three o’clock hour, I dropped in on hat maven Greg Jensen’s presentation on Men’s Hats. Mr. Jensen gave a talk on Steampunk era men’s headwear, using his truly impressive personal collection of hats, and including information on care and maintenance.

Next, we went to “Wear to Begin: Women’s Fashion,” presented by Emily “Dragonweilder” Shultz, which was a nice introduction to Steampunk fashions for women, and how to find and wear them.
We then hung around for the first stage of the Costume Contests which were scheduled throughout the convention. This one was for “beginners” and had some very impressive costumes, many of which followed the “Fairy Tale” theme of the weekend. My favorite was the awesome Steampunk Big Bad Wolf by Timothy Smith, the centerpiece of which was a heavily modified wolf mask, which had had a completely scratchbuilt top hat (with visible steamworks) added. He also had a very impressive prosthetic clawed hand, and steampunk boot tops.

Having checked out the dinner options, we had made reservations for the Frontier Restaurant, which, as the hotel’s main restaurant, tends to be pricey. However, they had a seafood buffet Friday night which was not unreasonable, and promised to be edible for us. (The regular menu suffers from over-trendiness. Every dish has either cheese (which my wife can’t eat), exotic peppers (which neither of us like) or both (Jalapeno Cheddar Smashed Red Potato?)) The buffet was quite good. The cocktail shrimp had an idodiney taste which only indicated that they were deep-sea shrimp and not farm-raised, which is not a reflection on their preparation. Deep fried shrimp were very good, as was the battered cod. There was a very nice salad bar with a broccoli slaw that was good enough that we went back to it the following night. I tried the seafood macaroni and cheese, which was very good macaroni and cheese, but light on the seafood.

The dessert table was very nice, in particular a mandarin orange cheesecake that was just delicious.

Service was friendly and attentive but not obtrusive.

After dinner, we went back to our room and changed for the evening, which in this case meant “dressing down” for the evening’s Steerage Ball. On the way to the ball, we detoured to the Clan McSteam party, hosted by Henry Osier.

This was a very pleasant gathering, with good company and interesting drinks and snacks on offer. I took small samples of a Scotch whiskey, a small distiller Irish whiskey, and an oat-based whiskey made in Chicago. The Koval Oat Whiskey was interesting and different, but I’m not sure I’d care to drink a lot of it.

There were some nice Irish cheeses to nosh on, but I was disappointed that the advertised “haggis” turned out to be corned beef hash (as a joke mainly). Having had haggis when in Scotland, I liked it, and would much prefer it to corned beef, which I abominate. We have a company making haggis now in Milwaukee, and I shall have to bring some if there’s a Clan party next year--.

We then progressed on to the Steerage Ball, with Celtic Music by the Dublin O’Shea band. Dublin O’Shea plays a good lively set of danceable music, although they tend to have one tempo for pretty much everything. There was a lot of enthusiastic dancing, and both of us trod a measure or two, both in company and with others, before wearing out and retiring for the night.

The bed mattress, at least ours, was distinctly on the hard side, which made getting a restful night challenging. This was the least good thing about Lake Lawn Resort, which otherwise was very good in every respect. The staff in particular were extremely friendly and courteous.

Saturday, we got breakfast back at the Frontier, enjoying the view of the lake, as well as an excellent omelet and Belgian waffle. (People were out boating on the lake! In Wisconsin! On March 12th! The weather was indeed uncommonly fine--.)

We began the con day with Georgie Schnobrich presenting a lecture on “Radical Cinderella,” which discussed the numerous variations of the basic story occurring from ancient Egypt, to China and Japan, to the Zunis of North America. She also advanced her well-supported theories that Cinderella might have chosen initially to sit among the ashes in mourning for her mother, which then becomes expoited by her stepmother and stepsisters; and, that, far from waiting to be “rescued”, Cinderella takes an active role in bettering her position, and the Prince is the prize and reward for her efforts.

I then sat in on “Intro to Steampunk Literature” along with writer Bill Bodden, and engaged the audience in lively discussion of essential titles in Steampunk writing, comics, and film.
At noon, Georgie Schnobrich was back up, in her persona as “The Black Fairy”, doing “Weird Fairy Tales, A Reading.” This presentation was well received, although the audience was small both due to the noon hour and the presentation “Brazing and Melty Metals for the Impractical Steampunk” by Rory Sutherland was going on at the hotel’s firepit, using real fire.

At 1PM, we went to “Belly Dance in Victorian Egypt,” in which Julianne Hunter gave a nice historical presentation of the history of Ghawzi dance and performance in Egypt from the early to late 19th Century, showing how the once culturally important dancers were marginalized by the imposition of Ottoman and European mores, which pushed the dancers from performing at weddings and birthdays, first totally underground, eventually to resurface in cafes and cabarets. A short dance workshop ended the session.

We then attended “Fairy Tale, Myth, and the Importance of Telling Stories,” by Keith Green, which was a very good introduction to the academic approach to fairy tales and myths.

Then, I was on a panel with Georgie Schnobrich, “What Victorian Children Read (and What Steampunks Might Borrow From Them)” which was a survey of Victorian Literature for young people, ranging from the famous (H. Rider Haggard, Robert Louis Stevenson) to the obscure (Anna Letitia Barbauld, Bracebridge Hemyng), and adventure writers (Fredrick Marryat, Sir Walter Scott) to poets (William Brighty Rands, Christina Rosetti).

We were a bit late in line to get seats for Terra Mysterium’s dramatization of the German tale, “The Cold Heart,” (which was, by report, very good--), so we killed some time in the dealer’s room before dinner.

Saturday night, the Frontier restaurant has a prime rib buffet, so we were for that. Henry Osier joined us for dinner and we had a very pleasant time, good food, excellent wine, and again, very nice desserts (although the orange one from Friday night was the best of the weekend). We were particularly pleased to find Yorkshire pudding on the buffet, which was quite tasty. The Frontier has a good wine list, and the wines by the glass are generously poured.

After dinner was the “Grand Ball” featuring the return of Sir Pinkerton Xyloma and the band from Milwaukee’s Dead Man’s Carnival. This year there were no carnival acts, so the evening was all music, except for another installment of costume contest. This band is fun to listen to—they frequently remind me of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy with their eclectic mix of retro and funky pieces, but they are not a great band to dance to. They did make an effort to include more danceable numbers in the show, but mainly it was the brave and the bold that took to the dance floor. The advanced session of the costume contest was won, in the couples division, by a paid doing “Wild West Cinderfella,” in which the good (but rather dim) poor cowhand is taken up by the wealthy female rancher. Individual honors went to “The Empress’ New Clothes” which displayed a creative array of colorful underthings, which the wearer insisted were completely covered by a gorgeous elaborately beaded gown.

Sunday morning, we got breakfast at the “Lookout Bar and Eatery,” which is one of the resort’s more casual dining venues. We both had the cinnamon battered French toast, which was good, but I was surprised to see that it was served with “pancake syrup” –i.e., maple flavored corn syrup—which was a bit of a let down for an otherwise classy resort. Juice, tea, and ham were all first rate, and service in the morning was cheerful and alert.

Back at the Conference Center, I began the con day by appearing with Emily Dragonweilder on “The Universality of Folklore,” which explored themes begun earlier in the con of the persistence across cultures of story motifs, not just with Cinderella/Ashenputtel/Coat o’Rushes; but others such as Rumplestiltskin/Tom-Tit-Tot, Bluebeard/Mr. Fox, and others. I gave a brief introduction to the study or folkloristics, and the Aarne-Thompson Folklore Index.

We finished up the con attending “Who’s Who and What’s What of Transgender in Victorian Edwardian History” presented by Edwin Cushing. Although Edwin wasn’t able to present his visuals due to the room’s monitor being remotely shut off (the one logistical failure I noted at the con), he was very knowledgeable on the subject, and I learned some things I had not known, which always pleases me.

We drove home Sunday afternoon with no difficulties, very satisfied with our weekend, and looking forward to the prospect of a third Geneva Steam Con. Interesting themes for next year are being bruited about.

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Tags: conventions, steampunk
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