Sunday, 27 December 2009

Speaking out of my Foggy Bottom

Foggy Bottom. Thankfully not on our list of symptoms after a few days of yule-tide overindulgence but the name of our area. Childish perhaps, but there is no end to the smirk that wraps around my face every time I hear my son say it in his phony american accent. The name, alongside the houses on our street conjures up misty cobbles of a politically challenged 18th century America all awash with change and hope and glory. And periwigs. You've got to love a man in periwig. For a full dose of past times we took ourselves, on the build up to the Big Day, to The Mansion at O Street. It's hotch potch website described something along the lines of 100 rooms and 20 secret passages. The graphics were a multicoloured assault on the senses but I was hooked. My family followed me to it, somewhat reticently I have to admit, in all fairness I suppose because to be honest I couldn't really tell them exactly what we were going to see. I think Cory was indulging me purely so he could tease me for the rest of the visit if I had made another slightly oblique choice of attraction. We arrived at the heavy wooden door at the entrance to an imposing brownstone (which actually looked rather more red than brown but perhaps this is a translation thing again) and it suddenly swung open. We all jumped a little in spite of ourselves (ok I jumped) but the young lady who greeted us and invited us into the open house soon put us at ease. Once in we were at first greeted by the biggest lowest hung chandelier I have ever seen in my life. At least two metres in diameter a vision in sparkliness casting twinkly brightness over the table below it set ostentatiously for 40 tea-partiers. "Everything you see is for sale" she informs us casting a quick sweep of her arm towards the hundreds of paintings fighting for attention on the high walls and the five or six antique sofas lazing around the space basking in the wintry sun shafting in through the enormous bay windows. "Please explore at your leisure," she continues. And we were off.

Fifty rooms and twenty secret bookshelved secret doors later the family and I were on a mansion house high. Each room theatricality decorated by somebody who has let their imagination run wild. Think golds, sparkles, antiques, fabrics brushed together with dramatic carpets and paintings and lamps and more ands than even I can fill a sentence with. It was like stepping into a designer's imagination before any budget or taste constraints. Each of the bedrooms was offered as part of their hotel service with breakfast taking place, I presumed in the upstairs kitchen, a frenetic mix of 19th century and 1950s furniture with a good measure of 1980s grey black open plan kitchen mixed in for good measure. "Where are we?!" we all gasped at each other basking as we were in our childlike wander of the crazy place.

After we had desperately tried to memorise everything, including the billiard room on the top floors, the log cabin room and the bath perched half way up a wall with secret staircase hidden underneath. It was like nothing I had ever seen before and deeply satisfying. No fodder for Cory this time at least. We followed our visit with a "calming" shot of espresso and once the boy and grandma were comfortably ensconced indoors for a nice evening together the man and I hit the town. I had made reservations for a table by the fireplace at a restaurant named 1789. What can I say? I was having an 18th century kind of day. We arrived at the georgian house huddled on the corner of a beautiful crossroads of a couple of quiet georgetown backstreets. Gas lights flickered at the entrance door and friendly faces greeted us and showed us to our table. There were only about twenty tables set for dinner and the service was indulgently relaxed. No slamming out the food or speed induced indigestion here. We sipped a cocktail, a pre appetiser came (I am a sucker for little un-requested tastes of thingys. Chef's doodles) followed by a little pattie flash fried pork cheek creation of the most mouth watering sort. The wait staff were all bow tied but when our waitress realised we would be sharing our appetiser and second course she had the food divided onto two plates. I asked her whether the chef was cursing our cheap skate ways. She politely humoured me by trying to reassure me that most people do the same. I still don't buy it. The home made miniature sweet potato gnocchi that followed alongside our main courses of pheasant and to-die-for rack of lamb was then served by another waiter with the voice of a late night radio DJ. When we sat at the bar afterwards and closed the restaurant (the staff found out we had grandma babysitting so kept filling our glasses for free) we asked him what he did in real life. He told us he was a late night radio DJ. He also told us we were a cute couple. In unison we replied we are a short couple. Short and talking in unison. A ready made vaudeville double act after all. It was too much even for my own corny sensibilities.

Between then and now we have had a company party, the arrival of my dad and the delight of watching Sammy jump from toe to toe like he was dancing on burning coals when he saw that the "reindeers" had eaten the carrots he had left for them. We may have paused for a brief moment when deciding whether to commit fully to the myth of Santa or to tred the more dour road of reality but in the end we went with the make believe. It's what pays the bills after all. Besides I am very open to the idea that Sam invests in the idea of the unresolved mysteries of life. I refuse to live by physics alone. I am far too romantic for that. Anyway, the boy's reaction was priceless especially when he found a small red racing car as wished for atop the lap of the friendly georgetown santa the boys had met whilst shopping for mummy. Sammy reported back to me immediately whilst Cory took his nap before the show, "We struck out mum, and then we went to a make up shop and found you a -". I stopped him short to teach him step one of secrecy. I will only have myself to blame when he is thirteen. The day itself was delightfully lazy and filled with various games including pre-school bingo (don't believe anyone who tries to convince you it is not as exciting as the one where you win money), prolific finger painting, indoor mini basketball, movie watching and Eating, punctuated by a short speech from the queen over the internet radio. I am not a royalist per se but it was the most English thing aside from christmas pudding that we could think of. Nothing like a bit of british broadcasting to give you a taste of home.

Now we are huddled around the breakfast table steadily dismantling the gingerbread house we so lovingly built only a week or so ago. Everyone is talking at the same time. Dad is delighting in his Young Frankentstein IATSE (I -ya-ts-eeee) shirt. It may sound like a karate club but the name is actually for the stagehand union, members of which within the company are responsible for having the polo shirts made. Sammy is, loudly, describing his Gee Show, a complicated improvisational vaudeville creation with a large cast of make believe performers Bo-Bo Flak-Flak and Maggie amongst the star players. Not without scandal I might add. My son explained that Bo-Bo loves Maggie but hinted that the love was not reciprocated. He then added that he also loved Maggie, "She's a summersaulting kind of girl." Mother approves. Nothing like a prospective daughter-in-law with a bit of zing. Even if she is make believe. Or rather especially because she is make believe. Oh let me not grow up to be one of those mums. Cory is circling around the front door, loudly, pining for coffee filters on their way up with the housekeeping crew, making the sounds of a, loud, hungry dog. My mum is taking it all in whilst her, loud, family crunch a house, play with car and fill the air with noise of their stories. I blog. Slightly frantically, unsociably and perhaps somewhat ill-timed amongst the familiar familial sounds. Tonight we will toast to absent friends after watching the show before our meal in the Kennedy Centre's canteen.

Back to the extended family breakfast - Sam and I started it in hushed tones at 8 so as not to wake the folks, it is now 11. Cory shuffles into consciousness - coffee is finally ready - he breaks off half of the gingerbread roof.

"I am so hungry I could eat a house!" he says.

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