Yes, yes, St. Patrick’s Day is all about green beer. And ‘tis goodly true that a Guinness is a full meal in itself for the toughier folk, while a single, lighter lager with some food colouring in it will allow for a proper celebration of Ireland and its beloved patron saint, yet leave enough room in the belly for a burger, and a brighter morning after.
But St. Patrick’s is also a time when many of our local institutions invite you to tea or a giant breakfast. On Sunday, there’s brunch at Beulah United in Ayer’s Cliff. On Saturday, celebrations at the Hut and a Girl Guides coffee party at the United Church in Lennoxville. And that’s just a partial listing (check out the listings in your community paper, on Facebook, or posted at your local community bulletin board).
Also on the 15th, there’s Irish coffee (and stew), at the Royal Canadian Legion on Galt East in Sherbrooke, from 11 a.m.
And what will you be drinking that in? The porcelain teacups that we love so well are “usually slightly fluted and with a delicate handle… a derivative of the ale tankard which was often used for imbibing the proverbial hot toddy,” according to fiction writer Laura Childs.
Tea! There’s a traditional (British) cream tea on Sunday (sorry to impose, Ireland!) at Uplands on Speid Street (from 1 p.m.).
Those who know you must pour the hot water onto the tea (and not vice versa) will enjoy Laura Childs’ cozy mysteries, in which the owner of the Charleston, South Carolina, Indigo Tea Shop finds her life to constantly be steeped in theft, death, and cute dogs.
Shades Of Earl Grey (2003) is the third in the series, and it’s full of history, biscuits, rooibos and chamomile. It begins with an engagement party that ends in the sudden, horrific death of the groom.
But Theodosia Browning finds the accident’s circumstances rather odd, especially as a stupidly expensive ring has been “lost”.
Then other jewellery goes missing. Browning, and her colleagues, Drayton and Haley, must solve the mystery while keeping their customers happy in quiche, muffins, Lapsang Souchong and Irish Breakfast Tea. (Indeed, there are recipes at the back of the book: Hot And Sour Green Tea Soup, Green Beans In Garlic And Tea, Pear And Stilton Tea Sandwiches. Oh, and Easy Cream Scones.)
Browning is quite concerned with protecting the impressive exhibit on display at her neighbourhood Heritage Museum. Like Lennoxville, Charleston cares about its history. Childs’ Lady Goodwood Inn features a large tapestry, which “came all the way from France. I think it might have been hand-loomed by cloistered nuns, or something,” notes one wag.
Older tapestries, from the 15th and 16th centuries, say, were indeed hand-loomed. Some of the most famous feature the virgin’s seduction of the unicorn, which is then entrapped and killed. The seven so-called Unicorn Tapestries hang at The Cloisters in New York City. But if you can manage to go farther afield, Paris is worthy. At the Musee de Cluny, you’ll find a six-pack known as The Lady And The Unicorn. The virgin seduces the horned beast, and there’s not a hunter in sight.
Tracy Chevalier’s delightful (and bawdy) novel The Lady And The Unicorn (2004) weaves a marvelous tale around the creation of the tapestries. Each chapter has a different narrator, beginning with the artist, a ladies’ man who, discovering that he’s gotten a fling pregnant, throws a few coins at her and hopes to never see her again.
Nonetheless, Nicolas des Innocents can be quite charming (if you’re a woman of a better class than a mere indentured servant). Men and women tell their medieval tales in turn, as we follow through the years that go into the making of these masterworks. Much research went into this engaging read.
Here’s one more book that brings dusty exhibits alive: Kate Atkinson’s Behind The Scenes At The Museum (1995). It begins in 1951 at the very moment of conception, when teeny tiny little Ruby Lennox begins to talk – and talk and talk and talk. The precocious chatter about her life is interspersed with “footnotes”, further tales built around a single object – a rabbit’s foot, a photograph. Every item at the museum has a story. Just as every family gathering is a snapshot of history, secrets and brutal truths.
Behind The Scenes At The Museum is a Whitbread winner, as chosen by the Booksellers Association of Great Britain and Ireland. It’s funny, fast moving and tinged with tragedy. A recommended read.
And the cover’s sorta, kinda green-ish. You know, for St. Patrick’s Day.
– Eleanor Brown, March 14, 2014