To Dine or Not to Dine

The Butcher is having dinner with a high school buddy, which means I am going to get a huge chunk of time this evening to write. I want to get two things done. One is that I have this idea that how we relate to history is like we’re dancing the dance of the seven veils, which is, itself, a religious rite turned strip-tease. We dance it thinking that we can seduce Herod and change reality to suit our whims. But we forget that it’s a ritual, designed to invoke Inanna’s holy strip tease into the underworld. Which items we’re willing to remove, how many gates we’re willing to go through–that all ties in with how square in the face we’re ready to look at our history. And the ancient lesson we’re all trying to pretend like we don’t know is that there is no escape from Ereshkigal’s land. We, too, join the heroes and the regular people in a kind of depressing place–which is, obviously, the past.

I don’t have it quite worked out. Plus, even though I know it like it’s a fact–that the Dance of the Seven Veils is an allusion to Inanna’s journey–I think I just made it up. I see no mention of it on the internet at all. It’s possible Barbara Walker made it up and it’s stuck with me? I don’t know. But I like it.

Anyway, so there’s that–history as the eternal dance partner of the stripper.

And there’s the infamous Walpurgis Night seance at the Allens, which I’m totally making up. But doesn’t it seems like there should be an infamous Walpurgis Night seance at the Allens? I need to write that.

I’m just not sure if I have to include the dinner before the seance or not. I’m not sure what could happen at the dinner that would be necessary for the book, but it seems weird to jump right into the whole “Let’s talk to dead people” thing.

I may leave it out but with a note to myself that it may need to go in in the next draft.

But I’m hoping to get a draft of the meditation on strippers and the seance done tonight! I am nerdily excited about this.

8 thoughts on “To Dine or Not to Dine

  1. I’ve seen written meals done well and poorly. In Caleb Carr’s The Alienist, I think he stumbled on a Delmonico’s menu and just could not let it go…the descriptions of course after course started to feel like an assault. Arguably, he was seeking to communicate sensory excess, but I thought it was overkill.

    However, this does bring up the question of pregame. What kind of food makes one more attuned to spirits? Is there a ritual quality to the ingestion, a nervous energy, a sort of food as foreplay thing? Are people preoccupied with what was about to happen and studiously avoid talking about it — what happens in the seance room belongs only to the seance room? Do all the people at the dinner know that they are there for dinner and a seance or is it proposed as one would propose a game of cards with after-dinner drinks…or with the sly furtive inquiries of the guy who would like a threesome, but isn’t sure if everyone is down with it?

    Hadn’t ever really thought of it, but I would find it interesting.

  2. Everything that Bridgett says makes sense, plus there’s the whole question of heavy Victorian meals. If they made people slightly sleepy, would that make them more receptive to what was going on?

  3. Yes to that, nm, plus didn’t they often have wines paired with each separate course, and THEN the after-dinner drinks? They’d probably all be half in the bag by the end of the brandy and cigars. You could make that more explicit if you showed a dinner like that, however briefly.

  4. Jess, they did in the north-east. I really don’t know about Nashville — some local religious differences may have come into play. And I would guess … could be wrong … that if a party planned to follow the meal with a seance the sexes wouldn’t separate after the meal, so no brandy and cigars. Of course, the women were expected only to eat a couple of bites of anything, so just a couple of sips of anything would likely have made them loopy as all get out.

  5. Food also establishes their social position rather concretely. Upper middle in the post-Reconstruction South is still pretty damn upper and formal (and busy! hoo boy, the tassels on the pillows and the decorations on the Oriental screens, etc), but I don’t think it’s “several different meats served a la Russe and paired wine courses” formal. You’d definitely have gotten out all the silver and the china and perhaps hired another person to help as either prep chef or server or both. But that’s a good question about whether the creation of atmosphere and the booze calls into the question for some of them the reality of what they experience.

  6. nm, I was thinking that the mixed-sex (sitting in the dark, together) setting of the seance would have been very erotically thrilling to people who usually split into two different brightly lit rooms.

  7. In real life, in the case of the Allens’, just judging by Lindsley Warden’s article, I think people knew they were going to a seance, that the seances were probably on set days (Lindsley Warden says, if I’m remembering right, that they happened twice a week), and that they happened in the dining room. Oh, and that people really wanted invitations, but that they were hard to come by–which leads me to believe that the number of people at any given seance was small–8 including Ben and Sue or maybe 12, depending on how large the dining room table was. If I’m understanding the Allen’s financial and social standing correctly, while they’re not at Warner (or other Belle Meade citizens) levels of money, and they were certainly living on the slightly less fashionable end of Spruce, they were still incredibly wealthy. Ben, for instance, was well known for making jewelry for his dinner guests as a host present. They had a live-in staff of various sizes throughout the years.

    So, I think you got invited to dinner followed by a seance. You knew what to expect and it was highly ritualized. Remember, these were people heavily, heavily influenced by the Spiritualist movement which upper class people in Nashville would have been very familiar with.

    In my manuscript, I am assuming there’s a great deal of erotic charge, especially since everyone wanted The Thing conjured up and it was, in real life, responsible for stealing women’s stockings and unbuttoning their shoes.

  8. Bridgett, and how. If nothing else, a chance to ‘accidentally’ play footsie, a chance to hold the hand of someone you maybe shouldn’t ought to. And maybe more.

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