Whirr2006-10-02
This Is What We Did (Looong)

Wow, it's really hard to imagine how I'm going to write up SalonCon, because so much happened. Nevertheless, I'd rather spend the time to put together a blog post that people can read than to try to talk about bits and pieces that I happen to remember over IM or the phone. So, what I'll do is to try to write a bare bones, "This is what we did" bit here, and then I can go off on tangents and "interesting" reflections elsewhere. I'll include photos in a different post, too, otherwise I'll never get finished.

I finished work at 2:00pm on Wednesday and went to the Music Theory class I'm auditing. I ran out of there after it ended and went to the airport as quickly as I could (remind me to tell you about finally finding a recipient for the Fat Wad of Cash I’d been carrying around, and about how he was a "fifty-year-old homosexual", who really liked vampire movies. Remind me about his dentures, that was great!).

I got there in plenty of time, but Katya missed the flight and had to fly stand-by on the next one. At the time this was really stressful, but in retrospect it went exceedingly smoothly and didn't really even hold us up much. We spent the night in Queens.

The next day Katya and I wandered around the City (my spiritual Home). We happened to wander past my old job, Learning Worlds so I stopped in to say hello. I dimly remember that a month or two before I left I had been a little peeved at them, and then a month or two after I left I was also peeved with them, and I had this vague fear that maybe this meant that I'd left there on bad terms and that no one would want to see me. Not at all! I hadn't actually left on bad terms, I just wanted to live with Katya in Chicago, and I got warm hugs from everyone. The place is much bigger now, existing on two separate floors, and looks more finished, somehow. Hal just got married. He has a really phenomenal mustache. &c. &c.

We had lunch at the Green Tea Café in China Town, one of my favorite restaurants in the whole world. Bubble Tea and Toast with condensed milk. Mmmm! Then we went to see Neil Gaiman speak. In other circumstances that might be a whole blog post on its own, but here I'll just say that he was very funny and extremely cute, and I hadn't planned to buy Fragile Things, but now I'd very much like to.

After Gaiman we went out to Sarong-Sarong (the bar in which Stephan and Gareth's friends meet every single Thursday. It isn't actually at Sarong-Sarong anymore, it moved to Evergreens a while back when their friend the bartender got a new job, and now it was at Monthien Thai). There I drank more than I have in a very long while an became exceedingly drunk. Stephan was kind enough to front the money for myself and Katya. Gareth was there as well, and many people that I knew less well but like a lot. Afterwards we staggered to the Yaffa Café, another favorite. The next morning I had sushi for breakfast (in light of my terrible hangover, this was only possible by the grace of Miso Soup, that wonderful food). Then we left for New Jersey.

The con was supposed to start with a round of Indoor Croquet at 6:00, but no one was ready. By around 8:30 or 9:00 things had started to happen, however, and Katya and I went to the Gender Salon. This was about ten people sitting in a circle and discussing gender. I'm not sure about the background of everyone there, but there were some genderqueer folk, some queerfriendly folk (such as myself) and a couple people who were undergoing hormone replacement therapy. The leader of the salon, Kay, described zemself as a "M to A" transsexual, which is to say "Male to Androgyne". I'm not sure if everyone there was as exposed to this culture or not, but there was certainly a great deal of intelligent discussion. Very enjoyable, and the people in this Salon were people that I kept running into throughout the con.

Next was the fashion show, a real indication of how much experience these people had at running conventions (which is to say zero experience, as this is the first SalonCon ever). People kept dropping out and signing in at the last moment, so apparently they had a hard time keeping everyone straight. This meant that the models (the cast of the local Rock Horror Picture Show) walked across the stage in fascinating costume, and the person on the microphone called out the model's name. That was it. No indication of what they were wearing or (more importantly) who had designed it. All of the clothing was donated, and some of the designers had worked really hard to finish in time, for no credit. In fact, there was a least one piece (awesome hair falls by Steam Doll that I thought was part of the model's own wardrobe. At any rate, I really liked a lot of the male pieces (although I wasn't able to photograph any of them) but almost all of the women were wearing variations on the "nothing but sexy underwear and stockings" look. I especially loved a pinstriped skant (the left side was a skirt, the right side pants) and a black kilt covered in shiny things. I finally found out who made the kilt (Tripp NYC) where to get it (next door to the Fashion Show) and how much it cost (thirty-five dollars. Yes, that's right, American dollars. For the uninitiated, that is extremely cheap for any item of non-mainstream clothing, especially for a kilt). Needless to say, I bought one the next day and am wearing it now. Now as heavy as my Utilikilt, but much shinier.

I skipped the burlesque show, but apparently it was quite fun, and put on my costume for the Masked Ball. I wore pants, tucked into my boots, my collarless tuxedo jacket, an orange feather boa, and my mask. I've tried to have fun at parties while wearing a mask before, but it seems that the elastic always starts digging into the back of my head until I have to remove it. Worse yet are those stick-masks that tie up one hand all evening. The solution? I should use spirit gum to glue feathers all over my face. Maybe it didn't make perfect sense, but I think it looked really cool. For all that, the event itself was a bit of a wash. There were some truly amazing costumes there (I tried to take photos with my crappy camera phone, but I'm not sure that they turned out at all), but no "dancing" per se.

See, the con had arranged for a local DJ to play the dance in exchange for free promotion. They promoted the hell out of him, but that night he apparently decided that he couldn't be bothered to come... or to call them to let them know... or to lend them any of his music. So the first hour involved a horde of exquisitely dressed Goths standing around listening to 80's music. After a while someone got some QANTL playing, but even then it was pretty lame. For me (of course) the lighting was the biggest problem--because of the fire code, they weren't allowed to turn out a lot of the lights. So they made everything as dark as possible, which was very much. The end result was like a bunch of people trying to dance in a Hotel Conference Room... which was not very cool.

I had just about given up on the whole thing when two wonderful people showed up and saved the evening, Jeff and Chris. With impeccable timing and boundless intellect they appeared and began discussing Epistemology. Jeff is a grad student in History, is well over six feet tall and was wearing a corset all weekend--everyone took to calling him "Icabod". He was one of the better-dressed folk at the con, in that it didn't really look like he was wearing a costume, just the fabulously elegant clothing that he usually wore. His good friend Chris was an undergrad philosophy major, and acted the part with great enthusiasm--flirting with the girls a little too hard and quoting Nietzsche with abandon. I was about to go off to bed when they came up, and I happily bickered about Truth with them until three.

The next morning we went out the breakfast with Ben Newton and his friend Jill, who had come up for the ball and left after breakfast. I'm not sure that it was really worth it for them to come, but as Ben said, "It gave me a chance to put on my tux, what else do I need?". After breakfast I went to the Divination salon, which I enjoyed.

After that I went to a Salon about "Science and the Medieval Mind", in which the Salon leader was intending to explain how the medieval mind viewed science, using Lycanthropy as an example, but we rather got sidetracked.

It seemed that there were two styles of Salon at SalonCon--presentations and conversations. I went to some Salons, like the one on permaculture, that consisted of one very knowledgeable person talking to a bunch of other people, telling them about zis field of expertise. Of course people felt free to chime in or ask questions, but for the post part it was a (fascinating) lecture. Other salons were more like the Gender Salon, where although there was a leader, every participated more or less equally. The Science Salon had clearly been planned as a presentation, the leader had given some thought to what he'd say and had a really interesting point that he wanted to make. It turned out to be a conversation, however, and so I never really got to hear the main theme in depth. I was fine with that (althouhg I wish I knew more about Lycanthropy) because I got to hear a bunch of people have a conversation about mass hysteria. An amateur historian told me that a lot of the werewolf sightings (as well as the Salem witch trials) could be correlated with ergot blights on the rye. She said that it wasn't until the late 1800s that anyone realized that the ergot was a fungus, until then people called it a "cockspur", and just thought that sometimes rye plants had them and sometimes they didn't. The salon leader was stressing the need for more interdisciplinarity in the sciences (hooray!) and pointed out that it wasn't enough to say "Many people used to believe in werewolves because they were ignorant and superstitious". He said that you also have to add in the political subtext (especially in something like the Salem witch trials) and the religious (which involved an awful lot of hellfire and demonology). He had a background in psychedelics, and mentioned that when ergotamine (made from this selfsame ergot) is concentrated a thousand times is is known as LSD. So basically entire countrysides were filled with folks listening to their priests talk about demons every Sunday, and they were also taking micro-hits of acid with every meal. No wonder there were a lot of lycanthrope sightings!

Another participant at that salon is getting his doctorate in fMRI research at Johns Hopkins (involved with gestural language, I believe, which is fascinating on its own). He is also doing a lot of schizophrenia research, and has witnessed mass hysteria in real life, without the necessity of ergot. We talked about that, and about whether twenty people who all see the same things mean that there is necessarily something to see or not... more epistemology, yay!

The next salon was meant to have been Cordials, but at the last minute it was changed to mead. Fine by me, really. It was led by Rialian, who has been making mead for ten years (seriously for six). Now I'm really excited to try it and I think when I get back from NC we're going to get the necessary items from the brew shop and the apiary and start some cooking. He says to let it ferment for less than five years but more than eight months, so hopefully it will be ready by next SalonCon. I learned a lot, and this was really one of the highlights of the whole week.

Apparently there are three candidates for Original Alcohol: Beer, Wine and Mead. He said that it's likely the Wine was the first, because grapes have naturally occurring yeast on their skins and so the very instant you have crushed grapes, you have extremely young wine. He believes that mead was a close second, however, and implied that it was perhaps the first intentionally produced alcohol. Modern mead ranges from twenty to forty proof, but there's a lot of speculation about ancient recipes. One school of thought says that Viking mead was much stronger than any mead today, and that this was because instead of mixing honey with water and bringing it to a boil, the Vikings took the entire hive and threw it into boiling water. Imagine a drink made from fermented honey, water, insects and bee venom (which has other interesting properties on its own, I'm told).

He had been asked to bring some mead to the VIP room, which was the only reason that I wanted to get in there, really. I didn't manage to, but on his way there he stopped by my hotel room and "accidentally spilled" some of the VIP mead into my glass. He brought two samples: a blackberry mead, which was just fantastic, although very sweet; and the other mead, which was one of the best drinks I've tasted. It doesn't have a name yet, but he refers to it as "Catnip Damiana Mead". This is because it is strongly infused with damiana--an herb known for everything from sensory enhancement to aphrodisia--and catnip, which takes the edge off the damiana. I really don't think that either of these herbs were present in nearly high enough doses to have any effect. The taste, however, was incredible. Smoky and very spicy, rich and full. And of course, being fermented honey, it was nice and sweet. Rialian is something of an internet personae, and said that he has contests with his friends about who has the most obsessive (or frightening) online fans. I haven't read any of the livejournal posts, but I could seriously imagine penning some "Benjamin / Catnip Damiana" fic.

The mead salon ran forty-five minutes late, on account of it being so fascinating, so we were late to the High Tea. Rialian joined us, and we had a long, fascinating conversation. Among other things, I learned that he was otherkin, more on this another time. The tea was really great. High points: being in a restaurant in which every single person, every customer and every waitperson (who were all volunteers, working for free admission to the con) was dressed to the nines. The scones were only so-so, but the clotted cream was fantastic, and the tea was superb! I had three: Kyoto Cherry Rose (surprisingly sweet, and very interesting. Floral), Russian Carravan (dark, rich and smoky, but still not as good as that mead…), and Apricot (which was just a really good apricot tea). We'd missed the harpist, but there was a beautiful aria, unaccompanied. It was soooooo nice!

Wow, this is getting long, and I'm getting tired. More tomorrow. If you're lucky, I'll even go through and correct all of the silly grammatical errors that I always miss.

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