Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Tudor year: May

Theme: gardens

Photo credit

May 1 -- May day
May 16, 1568 -- Mary Queen of Scots takes refuge in England
May 19, 1536 -- execution of Anne Boleyn
May 20, 1536 -- betrothal of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour
May 30, 1536 -- marriage of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour

The picture shows some of the gardens of Hampton Court in all their glory. Hampton Court had been the private residence of Cardinal Wolsey, and was taken from him by King Henry VIII in 1529, when Wolsey fell from power. Anne Boleyn was the first mistress of the refurbished palace. The age of exploration brought many new plants -- among them tulips, lilacs, sunflowers, and nasturtiums -- into the English garden, which previously had bloomed with old favorites like primroses, daisies, columbine, roses, and the great favorite, "pinks" (carnations). Plants were grown as much for medicinal as for decorative use, and "every literate man or woman" would know what herbs could be distilled into what "simples" to cure what ailments. A grander home would have a stillroom, and a family its treasured recipes, for this purpose.


Ian Dunlop, Palaces and Progresses of Elizabeth I. New York: Taplinger, 1970, p. 87

Ibid., p. 93 (Anne Boleyn first mistress)

Elizabeth Burton, The Pageant of Elizabethan England. New York: Charles Scribner's, 1958, pp. 230-231 (English gardens)

Ibid., p. 182 (knowledge of herbs and simples)

F.G. Emmison, Tudor Secretary: Sir William Petre at Court and Home. London and Chichester: Phillimore & Co., 1970, p. 34 (a stillroom)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Shatner's Star Trek cameo (if only they had consulted me)

Okay. I saw the movie. It was good. The time travel/double reality plot struck me as a little bit weak (is Spock's mother dead or isn't she?), and the snow planet monsters a little bit gratuitous. But it was a lot of fun, and the young folks playing the classic characters acquitted themselves well. One thing though -- why couldn't they give the kid playing Kirk brown contact lenses? Not that anyone asked me.

I do wish they had asked me, about that, and about other things. Why no tribbles, for example? And I'm glad Kirk at least ate an apple during the Kobyashi Maru training session, but that didn't seem quite sufficient a tribute to the fact that one of the charms of the old series was that these people were people who were, after all, at work, and who took breaks, had leisure pursuits, and ate actual food. Remember the old episode where Kirk's yeoman -- a girl -- serves him greens because he is on a diet?

And then there's the question of the movie's cameo appearance. Leonard Nimoy's "Spock Prime" was all right, but too extensive for a cameo. I recall reading somewhere recently that the producers wanted to work William Shatner into the story line in a cameo also, but just couldn't do it. Perhaps that's a polite way of saying "the dude wanted millions." If, on the other hand, they just couldn't think of a way to work him in -- well. That's ridiculous. Of course they could. They should have thought harder. If only they had consulted me.

I'm assuming, of course, that they could have written him into the script as an actor playing anybody, not necessarily playing "Kirk Prime" from the future. Why not? Shatner would have been huge fun as a janitor at Starfleet. As an instructor. As an ambassador.

Or this. To beef up the weakest section of the film, in which the preteen Kirk drives a car, really fast, as far as he can down an Iowa road and that's all.


Iowa, ca. 2240. A blazing hot summer day.

A preteen blond boy races an antique 20th century red sports car at 80 m.p.h. along a dusty road. He is scolded by a furious voice coming over the car's intercom system, shuts it off and keeps racing.

A police officer on a personal motorcycle/hovercraft catches up with him and orders him to pull him over. While the boy is distracted, a vintage 20th century pickup truck approaches his path from a farm in the distance. The boy and the cop both swerve and stop at the last minute to avoid a crash.

The dust settles. Doors slam as the three drivers emerge from their vehicles. The driver of the pickup is a good-looking woman in her mid fifties. She takes in the situation.

Woman: Well, at least you're in one piece. And so is the car.

Officer: You know him, ma'am?

Woman: A little better than I'd care to, sometimes, officer. Of course he was speeding?

Officer: Excessively. Driving far under age. In a stolen vehicle, I assume.

Woman: Not stolen. Borrowed, sir. That should get him some time off, almost like for good behavior (she glares at the boy).

Officer: What's his name?

Boy (quickly): James Kirk.

Woman: My nephew. My sister could never handle him.

Officer (to Kirk): You got a license and registrations, kid?

Kirk: What's registration?

Officer (reading a hand held computer): According to this, the owner is --

Woman: If you'll allow him to drive, you can both follow me back to my property and see that he stays there until my sister comes to get him and claims the car. (Quietly) She's had a rough time, officer. If we could get back before her husband -- before the car owner knows it's gone, that would be good.

Officer (hesitates, glances at the distance, then at his computer. Hands the computer to the woman): Punch in your name, address, and sign it. When I file the report, you will be on record as the responsible party. That's an expensive antique, ma'am. And I don't know your brother-in- law.

Woman (smiling, works the computer and hands it back): Actually you probably do. Apples don't fall far from trees. But I can handle him. Thank you, sir.

The policeman roars off in a cloud of dust. Kirk and the woman face each other.

Kirk: Why did you do that?

Woman: I think it's kind of stupid to drive off cliffs. How about you? And because ... you remind me of someone. (Businesslike.) Get in the car and follow me.

Kirk: Why should I? (Woman whirls on him.) Okay, okay.

They drive to a farm, get out of their cars, and Kirk follows the woman across a dusty open space, rutted with tire tracks, to a stables.

Woman (peering in): Hey?

In the shadows and shafts of light, an old but imposing looking man is brushing a horse.

Man (still working): You're back early.

Woman: Have we got a spare charger?

Man: The device, or the animal?

Woman: The device. I met a ... motorist in distress.

Man (turning slowly to face the woman and Kirk. Does he recognize the young son of the dead hero, George Kirk of the USS Kelvin? Possibly. Do we recognize William Shatner? Definitely): He's a little young to be a motorist, isn't he?

Kirk: That's why I'm in distress. (Glances at the woman.) The cops caught me.

Man: Evidently not.

Kirk: I mean, they did until ... she .... (Turning to the woman.) Thank you.

Man (still working): I see. That's better.

Woman: I kind of signed off for him -- on his good behavior, the car, everything. It's all going to be in the nice officer's report.

Man: Is it.

Woman: I thought you could look over his vehicle. It's a real antique. You'd have a lot to talk about. And then you could see that he gets home? I've got some things to do.

Man: I can do that.

Kirk: It's okay. I mean, I'm not that far from my house. I don't need any help. Thanks.

Man (putting down his brushes): I'm not sure you'll get too far in Starfleet with that attitude, sir.

Kirk: What do you know about Starfleet?

The camera lingers on lifetimes of experience in the old man's face. Who is he? We don't know. The next time we see the preteen Kirk, he'll be the young man in the bar ten years on.


Now I ask you. A brief cameo, a thrilling mystic jolt for the audience, no time-travel "Kirk Prime" problems, and surely no jillion-dollar fee for these few minutes for Shatner. I even throw in a good looking woman as a reference to, well, all Kirk's good looking women. Is she daughter, niece, wife? I throw in horses as a nod to the actor's hobby.

Now I ask you. Couldn't this have been fun? Why in the world didn't they consult me?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

If they make Kirk a frat boy ...

Tomorrow the new Star Trek movie premieres, the prequel of all prequels, in which the crew of the original series are seen in youth and all played by new young actors. I have seen the trailers on television and I'm concerned. Of course the special effects look good, but that was never the point of the show. And the young man playing Kirk seems to do a lot of jumping and screaming.

Please no. I quote my text. Dr. McCoy and Captain Kirk discuss, briefly, his time at Starfleet in the episode "Shore Leave."

McCoy: ... and you were a serious young cadet.
Kirk: Serious? Bones, I was positively grim

There. Let us, please, see the young Kirk as a slowly evolving, almost monkish martinet, talented, proud, and yes grim, as young heroes are. They soften with maturity, and are able to crack a smile perhaps by their mid-thirties, just when they're out exploring the universe with the responsibility of a starship crew of 430 on their shoulders.

Let us not, please, see him as what I suspect the scriptwriters have already created. Barracks frat boy suddenly sobered up by -- let me guess -- some unexpected tragedy or betrayal which he sees as "his fault." No, no, no. In fiction heroes really are born (hello, Riverside, Iowa!), not transformed into such by some after-school-special plot twist.

... please. I'll be upset. And no one wants that.

(Photo, New York Post blog)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Pearls and Roses, chapter 9

Pearls and Roses, chapter 8

A building whose cornerstone was laid in 1100 has a way of dwarfing the people around it. Of it you can say, It is nine hundred years old, almost a thousand, and those statements will both be true even while a century is overlooked in that gap and little lives, swallowed in a century, go on their little courses now. It is impossible to summarize little lives in huge neat numbers. It wouldn’t make sense; life is more complex than that. A girl and her baby become a woman and her teen son, Trish’s young daughters start school, Frank Boyd dies of cancer, Peter is fifty-nine and has been married to Elaine for twenty years. And all these people have lived lifetimes in every year. A little life does not imply a dull one. Each one has had triumphs and embarrassments, each one has learned "how much grief feels like fear." Each one has kissed lovers in the dark, even if no one else was there. Each one still thinks of himself as just starting out, really, with the possible exception of Peter, who did not have an American education and so cannot help agreeing with the Guardian that, indeed, the age of majority in America seems to be about the mid-thirties. All the time in the world. Meanwhile Fontevrault is nine hundred years old, almost a thousand. All true.

Nine hundred years after the laying of its foundations by Blessed Robert of Arbrissol, some of the walls at the Abbey stood with their feet in water, and the French government at last called in Peter Shepstone, soils engineer, to help with the commission established to preserve the site. Bureaucracies had moved slowly, elections were held, ministers shifted about in the seats of provincial power, but at last in the spring of 1997 he was asked to come back, for everything needful so far had been approved and the work – even if only the work of listening to him – could begin. Alice was thirty-four. He had been called to help at other monuments in other places since his talk with Frank Boyd years before. He had worked in Spain, in Petersburg. (Who would have thought Petersburg would become Leningrad and then revert to Petersburg? It took less than a century.) His own native town had built a new church in these years, and he went there and tried to be open-minded but felt nothing but a tired, wondering disgust.

Of course the town didn’t have much money. Even the architect who built it had to grit his teeth at some of the required economies. But the little building was an absolute carbuncle. It never failed to remind Peter of Fontevrault, merely by its architectural poverty in comparison. What had happened to human beings in nine hundred years, that they could no longer build beautiful houses of worship? What, was it all just money? Were we so much poorer now? He missed half the comfort in contemplation he was looking for, because he was too busy, during prayers, looking sideways up at the walls and ceiling and then down at the floors and finding everything wanting.

The modern architect had no need to pay any respects to the sunlight, that surely was the main problem. Light came from bulbs, and so his town’s new church was like any other small-town attempt at grandeur lit by bulbs. It was a big cardboard square, meant to be sleek and non-threatening but only as a result windowless, spotted down below with mauve carpeting and mauve chairs. It hunched over its worshippers like a poor tent in a desert, shooting warm desert air at them in winter, and trapping the warm air around them in summer. Fontevrault’s stone piers, each like ten tree trunks melded together, the quiet light flooding through its clerestory, its cool broad floors fit for a giant to walk upon, made him understand the medieval architect’s very mind across nine hundred years. He fancied it made him even think with it. It was an adult mind and a worshipping one, a mind filled with beauty. A mind that demanded beauty.

This building, the new church, did not come from such a mind. Where it came from he could not fathom, trapped child of the civilization that he was. Anyway this new church would hardly last forty years without major problems. And it had been hideously expensive to build. The parish could barely afford the grandeur it had bought – that was why it looked so poor.

At any rate Fontevrault required preserving not only for its own sake but because it was an important tourist stop among the fabulous chateaux of the lovely Loire valley. There is always a coterie of romantically minded Anglo-Saxon tourist ladies who know a little about medieval queens, and perhaps a little more about medieval heroines like Joan of Arc, and who want to see the abbey where Eleanor of Aquitaine lies buried, or the well in the town square of Chinon where Joan the peasant maid mounted her horse. (Never mind the gap of three hundred years separating them. Tourists visit America to see both colonial Williamsburg and Disneyworld.)

For his part Peter was glad of a new challenge, and happy to travel. He bid a swift goodbye to Elaine, planning now only to stay a few days to have a look at what was wanted of him. He traveled by the Chunnel to France, and drove to Chinon, to the Hostellerie Gargantua, a lovely, crumpled little rose-trellised pile of an inn there, which he loved. The following day, a commonplace Wednesday in April, he drove to Fontevrault, parked, got out, and walked around.

He was usually not as romantically-minded as Anglo-Saxon ladies, but he had to admit that each time he came here he felt a chill, an aristocratic ghostliness about the place that forced itself upon his imagination, and made him stop, and wait, every time. Wait for what? Almost for permission to intrude, as if the ghostly wimpled head of a twelfth-century abbess must peek out at him from an upper window, and recognize his sex and his harmlessness before she would let him go on. This was very much a precinct of ladies, he knew. It had actually been founded, on the text "Behold thy mother," as a double monastery in which monks and nuns lived apart but under the rule of the abbess only, an abbess who had to be a noblewoman of the outside world, not a nun drawn from within the cloister.

An odd rule, but it helped bring in many a capable ex-queen, many a superfluous duchess. Medieval women too well-connected to be simply immured or brutalized, or those who had already been immured and brutalized regardless, flocked to this rich and important refuge when their medieval men no longer wanted them for one reason and another. Failure to produce a male heir, failure to be a male heir were often the reasons. Here they joined a pleasant society full of their own kind. Here the fallen and poor came also. Here all were safe.

There were five thousand nuns here in 1150, five thousand. Those who came entirely to pray could pray. Those who still had visions of power in the world could watch the busy roads from Poitiers and Chinon, and keep abreast of events. Eleanor, nothing less than the queen of England, had her younger children reared here while she was in her forties, avoided being made abbess here against her will – immured – in her fifties, beat a path to safety here in her seventies. And died here. "1204: In hoc anno obiit Alianor." Here in the church she lies buried, her effigy startlingly, garishly painted, along with the husband who found her superfluous, and their son called Lion-Heart, and a sad exhausted daughter.

Peter kept on pacing deliberately about the grounds. There was the convent, the hospital, the Madeleine for repentant women. It was hard to believe what life had once been lived here, what life. "One can almost take oath that in this, one knew life once, and has never so fully known it since. Never so fully known it since!" Henry Adams, in Mont St Michel and Chartres. Splendid book, if one may overlook its precisely three nasty cracks about Jews. Still, belaying that, why does the modern tourist look a rag doll in comparison even to ghosts? Probably because the ghosts built buildings like this, Peter thought, and we do not, not for God anyway.

He walked toward the church. Little was left of it but its bare form. It was of massive piers and arches, all white-gray, unornamented stone, its walls scraped down and battered, but its nave still washed with light, as the architect knew it must be. He was still alive in this, wasn’t he, his mind was still alive. He was still here. The high capitals carved in foliage and complex netting patterns, the smaller arches a little mozarabic in style, gave the only indications of what must once have been the sanctuary’s elegance. Any statues were gone, of course, as were banners and lamps and people, and probably God.

He tried to imagine the place thronged with people, the smells, the murmurings, the flickering candles amid colored vestments, the hooded peasants and cowled nuns and perhaps the silk and furs of the great. In the silence, now, incongruous warped metal handrails spoked out here and there on the bare walls, put in to guide the modern tourist – or by the look of them, the nineteenth-century tourist – or warn him away from the dangers of falling masonry, he supposed. The medieval congregation would not have needed that.

His footsteps ground pleasantly on the floors and gravel pathways. There was the well-known monastery garden, rather spindly in the early spring, and there were two great coach-buses already parked on the lot and disgorging their modern day sightseers. Well, he was one of them. And there were the famous Romanesque kitchens, endowed by Eleanor herself, so it was said. They made an odd-looking, sand-castle apse to the refectory, shaped vaguely like an octagon, and thrusting up dozens of nestled turreted chimneys about the big cone-chimney. Enormous. Meals for a thousand at a time.

And what exactly did the modern-day keepers of Fontevrault want him to do here? He retraced his steps a little, back towards the church, and there along the south wall down in a pit exposing the foundation he caught sight of a big pool of water, with yellow plastic tapes fluttering from wooden stakes set into the mud around it. There, evidently, was the problem, or a good enough one for the time being. If there were others beside it, he was sure to hear about them later.

He bade a mental goodbye to the suspicious twelfth-century abbess at her window, walked to his car and drove back to Chinon, to a wonderful little lunch at Gargantua, and an afternoon of phone calls to colleagues to let them know he had seen it. "What do you think must be done?" asked the French government representative that afternoon, during his last phone call.

"I’m afraid the problem is probably going to prove simple enough, but will require an unaesthetic solution," Peter said. "My guess is that we are going to have to break open the floor and either repair or install a – ."
"Aha, that is what we feared. Where?"
"Anywhere and everywhere. It depends. The difficulty lies in the prospect of holes and drains and manhole covers and God knows what in the floor of Fontevrault."
"There are very discreet grates in the floor at Rouen. Original."
"Yes, but are they working? And how big are they? Would they work here?"
"I don’t know. That is very much for you and the commission to advise."
"And we don’t know how sloppy the soil has become elsewhere around the whole precinct. You may have to permit all sorts of testing. That will be expensive and may postpone repair of this one problem. It might also place the abbey off-limits to tourism for a while."

The official sighed. "We could hang a curtain. In Paris while they were repairing Saint Germain des Pres they hung a giant curtain painted with the image of the church. Right in front of the scaffolding, you know."
Peter smiled. "Beautiful. But in the meantime, what will we do behind the curtain?"
"I suppose even very modern drains would be preferable to the tourists getting their feet wet, or having the Plantagenet tombs sitting in their own reflecting pool."
"Perhaps. It could be done and it might answer for the next ten or twenty years. Or you might disguise a new system entirely. A new floor over the old. The old could be made into a kind of sub-floor and the repair work underneath could really be permanent. State of the art, as we say."

There was a small silence from the Paris phone. "I’m not sure...a major construction project underneath a national treasure."
"Everything concerning a national treasure will be major, Monsieur."
"True. But I cannot picture it. You must forgive me, I am a tourist, my education does not bear comparison with yours. Imagine adding a new floor all over the old one in your house. You would be walking, what, how many centimeters too high to reach your sinks and bookshelves? Am I wrong? The structure thrown entirely out of proportion, surely. To resolve a temporary problem, a puddle."

"Oh, I don’t think water outside the walls is a temporary problem. Nothing involving a nine-hundred year old structure can be regarded as temporary. It will always rain again. The beauty of engineering problems, you know, is often that the prudent answer is the most expensive and complex one." His friend on the other end of the line sighed again. "That’s why you have other people on your commission," Peter continued. "Just in case I’m wrong. By the way, do we have puddles elsewhere on the abbey grounds? I didn’t see anything."
"Sometimes, yes. So I am told."

While Peter Shepstone, almost sixty, paced about the torn up grounds of Fontevrault where excavators plowed the earth and white tubes looking like giant medical equipment lay poked into the ground around the abbey, while he silently paced Chinon’s plain archives that summer, glancing into the rooms as if expecting to see somebody there, while Frank Boyd slept with his ancestors and Trish – Diana Patrice Fairfield Markham – in November bought a new biography of Princess Diana, shaking her head in sad wonder over the similarities between the two of them (both blonde, both named Diana, both almost the same age, both mothers of two children), and then left the book on the front seat of her truck while she went into her daughters’ school to confront the handsome fifty-year-old principal over an injustice her children had suffered, while Pat and her husband ate a silent dinner because they disagreed over whether to have more children – while all this was happening, Alice, thirty-four and afficianado of Pie Night, and her jazzed-up newsletter were not yet, completely, elite.

Pearls and Roses, chapter 10

Friday, May 1, 2009

Pearls and Roses, chapter 8

Pearls and Roses, chapter 7

Pat, who had at the very first sulfurously telephoned Alice about the horrifying letter, Pat who had been quite upset even before Trish had called upon Alice to explain how important it was to be positive – Pat had been the last employee personally hired by Frank Boyd. He hired her, among other things, to keep her eyes peeled for Peter Shepstone, his name, his work, Fontevrault, any connection or excuse to "catch him on site," as he explained. But he also liked Pat for herself. She was a woman after his own heart, another daughter with her great height and her great laugh, and her ringing metallic voice.

To Alice, she was a great stentor of a woman (almost six feet tall), blocky and rectangular. They had started their workplace acquaintance on a poor footing. Alice much regretted it. Probably both were at fault. Pat was a little nervous and not looking her best that day. She was growing out a dyed permanent, her hair was a bowl of thin overworked yellow straw, her clothes were gauzy and unflattering on her big body. Alice had an obnoxious habit of staring unthinkingly at people, especially at their hair, without noticing or complimenting the things that mattered to them, like weight loss or health or pallor. So when Pat had had enough of the stare, within what seemed like two minutes of their introduction, she suddenly said, "Well, it was nice meeting you," and turned aside, even though there was no one in the room within twenty feet of her to turn aside to, not with much grace. She simply walked away. It was an escape, and a dismissal.

Alice was hurt. If their positions had been reversed, she with the manners of her dark patient father, and of her putatively aristocratic mother, would have stayed rooted to the spot to make someone comfortable, even if no one had relieved her of her company for an hour.

Alice sensed it must be her fault and she very much wanted to make amends, but for a long time afterwards Pat’s image in her mind was a hard one. She pictured her as made of rectangular metal blocks beneath her clothes, gauzy in summer, dark blue, green, and black in winter. Her ringing metallic voice seemed to accost the world, her small brown eyes to survey it from behind fashionable glasses. She was eternally cheerful, God knew. Her whisky laugh lay ever poised at the top of her throat to burst out any time, particularly at the stories she loved to tell about herself, or about the foolishness her family did because they would not consult her.

When Alice caught herself unfairly prejudging Pat she remembered what she had heard. Pat had had a troubled life which few of her colleagues knew about at first except Alice herself, who listened carefully, more carefully than Trish, as it happened. Pat came from a family broken in some way. She was one of those people who speak quietly about "my dad’s wife," or "my stepmother’s son," leaving all the rest of that history and its implications unexplained. And she had been married before, had even once had a small brood of step-children which divorce – her first, their second at least – had scooped up and whirled out of her life. Alice could sympathize with that. And at length she had found Joe. She bore babies, thankfully, late in life, girls. But no sons. Pat could not have any more. They were exploring the possibilities of adoption.

For her part, the awkwardness of a first meeting was the sort of thing that Pat forgot about the day it occurred. Her joy upon hire at "Monique-Boyd" was in discovering Trish. They ran into each other in a bathroom. Coincidentally they were well on their way to being good friends already, having met at a series of art lectures the month before. "Oh my God!" they exclaimed, and embraced happily. They already had so much in common, it was eerie – same name (Patrice Irene, Diana Patrice ("Trish"), both married, both mothers of girls, both with enough experience in their working lives to be hired for positions of authority right away – that to work together now seemed a heavenly arrangement. And Pat was a rule-flouter, too, like Trish, or perhaps even more powerfully, a rule-ignorer. If she had lived in Indiana and attended the School of the Art Institute but not paid the exorbitant out-of-state tuition, she would simply have made no bones about it. "Oh. Okay. Well, I don’t live in Illinois," she would have drawled out, laughing, and the bursar or the dean or whoever it was would have had to solve his problem some other way.

When the time came for it, Pat was also a great supporter of Pie Night. A few years before, Trish had had the idea of holding a routine Boyd Foundation subcommittee meeting, just once, at a little cafe in the evening. Trish was head of the committee, but she had a Girl Scout function to supervise that night, and was leaving town on a business trip the next morning, plus planning her husband’s surprise birthday party and a cousin’s bridal shower that weekend. The little cafe was near all the other four committee members’ homes in Naperville and was convenient to the expressway for her own impending, nightly commute. It would have been the most sensible thing in the world for her if, just this once, they could take off work early, hold one meeting at a place where she could grab a bite to eat in the midst of her appallingly busy day, and then they could all go straight home.

They did it and it was a big success. All the Foundation’s meetings were always, in theory, open not only to the relevant staff but to all who cared to and were able to attend given the other responsibilities of the workday. This time, when word got out about an after-hours session at the Muse, Trish’s routine committee of five was joined by six delighted others, which gave it far more input from the staff than it had ever been blessed with before, and made everything seem far more democratic. They did a lot of brainstorming, got a lot done, and had fun. Trish was almost late for the Girl Scouts.

It became a settled thing. Frank Boyd was very ill and Monique was grieving and busy. The Muse was famous for its pastries, and so the meetings there began to be called simply "Pie Night." The committee began to meet two nights a month there, more often than it had ever done at work before, and work and friendship flowered. Someone joked that this meeting was also becoming "PMS Night" thanks to the howlingly funny therapeutic revelations voiced there. Sometimes the cafe staff, usually patient, placed the women at the back of the restaurant or in the smoking section on sight, having learned that as the night wore on they tended to intersperse, with shop talk, blow by blow descriptions of childbirth, or to announce what movies "sucked" in front of other patrons and their children. Once Mill, another near six-footer with bright maroon hair, blurted to a new young hire, "Oh Katie, promise him oral sex, he’ll do anything!" Then she called out "Sorry," to the other patrons, completely unfazed.

The regular attendees at Pie Night never looked back, and afterward rarely conducted important business in any other way. Everything came up for discussion there. Whatever business did not come to the table there, apart from actual Executive Board meetings, was relegated to the day-to-day office grind. Trish and Pat, or Pat and Lily, could decide something sufficiently minor at the water cooler if need be. But under Trish’s and Pat’s burgeoning leadership, Pie Night became settled and rowdy and, most of all, exclusive. Everyone at Monique-Boyd remained, officially, as welcome to join in as ever, but it quickly became obvious who would be there and who would not. The elites, the friends, the attractive and the confident, went. The little people, the churchmice, did not. Nor did the few men.

Alice went. She was thrilled to feel she fit in. She of all people, the pointless child bride, the amateur Bible lecturer, the mother of a giant, she fit in with the women who had modeled in Greece and negotiated the Los Angeles freeway system, and laughed at Pie Night. Time passed, passes, is passing; she had been twenty-six and Hunter nine, and soon she was thirty and Hunter thirteen, and then she was thirty-two and he was fifteen. In not much more time, she was elite enough to be invited, by Trish and Pat themselves, to do something special.

"How long have you worked here?" Trish asked pleasantly one day, and was shocked when Alice replied, "Fourteen – close to fifteen years." Longer by far than she had guessed. "Really?" she said.

"Well, what better person to write the company newsletter?" Pat laughed her big, raspy laugh. Alice’s heart leaped. Surely they were joking. "The newsletter?’ she asked, her voice curious and calm.

"Yes, I’ve cleared this with Monique Boyd and she has no problem with it. Well, actually we do have a problem," Trish laughed too, and her laugh was bell-like, echoing against her teeth. She was sitting on Alice’s desk. "Our secretary quit very suddenly and we are parceling out her jobs while we figure out who should take her place," she explained. "We were thinking you might like to write the newsletter. You’d be very good."

"Your secretary quit, personally? Or the Foundation’s Secretary?"
"The Foundation’s. Caroline."
"Good grief. I had no idea."
"It was very sudden," Trish agreed. "But she normally takes care of the newsletter and we thought you could do that. It wouldn’t involve a lot of time. And you’re creative. One side of one page is enough. I mean, whatever happens except that we get a new person now and then? Obviously we don’t write about people quitting. And it wouldn’t mean you’re now on the Board, of course."
"No, thank God," Alice nodded. "I don’t know if I’m quite cut out for that."
"But the newsletter might be right up your alley," Pat put in.

Alice was delighted at the invitation and accepted it. "As long as it’s temporary," she said, making a pretence of modesty but reasoning that if she liked the task she could probably find a way to keep it even after they found a new Board secretary. She remembered being handed a copy of the bylaws with all its official job descriptions at nineteen, certainly, but she also knew things had loosened up a bit and if it meant she was moving among the elites, and being given elite tasks, she was all for it. It was just like Bethany. You were asked to do things because they trusted and respected you. Why not? I deserve it, she thought. It was another way for her, the amateur lecturer, to reach people – Pindar in the newsletter? – and she was flattered to be singled out.

At the next Pie Night she accepted everyone’s congratulations. Louisa asked her if she planned to do anything new with the newsletter, which for years had been very plain, still only typewritten in this modern age. Yes, she said, she thought it was about time the thing was jazzed up. She asked if anyone had one of those calendars which show birthstones and flowers of the month. She had it in mind to add staff birthdays and interesting quotes to the monthly sheet. "Wow!" Trish said, looking at her. "That’s great."

The very first quote Alice added to the bottom of her newsletter, in a pretty, flowing font, was indeed her favorite from Pindar about life being sweet as honey. In truth there wasn’t much to write about, otherwise, except personal milestones in the employees’ lives, and announcements of upcoming projects, or invitations to volunteer for this or that blood drive or 5K walk. The newsletter had not included, for some time, items like the mission statement or copies of the budget figured to the last penny. Alice dutifully inquired of Trish whether she ought to restore that information, but Trish advised her not to bother.

She didn’t. Things had become streamlined: maybe that is the nature of women. The place was run by efficient, good women, women who had a lot to do in life besides work. The newsletter and Pie Night were the proverbial tips of a newly efficient iceberg.

Frank Boyd died. The business fell to the Boyds’ son Bob, who neither liked nor disliked inheriting his profession, but merely knew it through and through. He was a practical man, a plain and plain-looking man, and did not, for example, think many of his employees read the copy of the bylaws they were always given, by his father’s orders, immediately upon hire. That was the first custom to go. You are always told that if a thing is static, it is dead, which is not good. Yet for a thing not to be static, for it to change, something of it must die, a little. And the people around it must not care, not in quite the same way.

Old distinctions between tasks and responsibilities blurred. It would have been a ridiculous aberration of good nature for these women working at a double headed non-profit corporation not to chat, and exchange ideas, and do favors, and borrow pencils, and share equipment and rooms, and socialize after hours. Members of the Foundation, who were only supposed to do research and sign checks for travel expenses, began to handle cameras and go on recruiting trips to the film school of the Art Institute of Chicago. A pleasant hour at the gift shop and lunch downtown was also fun. And employees of Monique Productions drifted into the Foundation’s meetings – or simply enjoyed Pie Night – contributing their thoughts to the debate on future assignments, or in time even "signing up" quietly, at company picnics, for Executive Board positions which Mr. Boyd’s bylaws, now available for perusal in Bob Boyd’s office, had insisted should be filled strictly through the most complex election processes. Even Alice learned to use a real camera. It was black, clicky, exciting.

Eventually, of course, the inevitable happened. The last pier fell, just as it would have in a muddy church that someone like Peter was not there to prop up. It took a year or two, but Mr. Boyd’s precious interests in American architecture lost their pride of place. Old forts in Kansas sagged, whipped by the prairie winds, while the women at Monique-Boyd explored Vancouver or Montreal , and then once or twice Europe. There was always "an American connection," but it was frequently a stretch to find it. Sometimes it was just that a robber baron had tried to buy the place, or something. They laughed behind their hands about it. Everyone was cheerful and happy. It was a great place to work. The answer given to any newcomer who had any questions (few did) was a bright smile and an Oh, I wouldn’t worry – we don’t do that.

And they won awards. Monique found herself interviewed on television news programs all in her gray and pink and pearls, on documentaries about documentaries. She was given the keys to Naperville on the fourth of July. Her company’s endorsement could now help launch other young filmmakers’, other non-profits’ careers, and could bring unaccustomed notice to the dry work of preservationists and historians. Her birthday, too, went into the newsletter. It seemed very appropriate that she should be a June baby. June, Alice noted, albeit tastefully, is the month of pearls and roses, beautiful things, classic and rich. What Alice did not realize was that there were still some things that did not go into her newsletter because she, elite as she was and fairly well-liked, did not know of them. Some of the prioresses of the rich abbey of Fontevrault must have been in a similar position almost a thousand years ago. Prioress, but not abbess: elite, aware of a lot, but not of everything.

Pearls and Roses, chapter 9