Saturday, 3 January 2009

The party’s over


As the beginning of the New Year staggers to an end, so does the Great Party Season in Todos Santos. The time when we all put on our sparkly dresses (in my case, metaphorically) and head out to cavort with permutations of the same flock of people, who share being in the same place at the same time, but often little else.

I’m sure other places have a party season, but Gringolandia in Todos Santos must be able to claim the dubious honour of the crown; the latent intensity of such a bunch of off-centre people as are found in Todos Santos fertilized by the absence of a family environment for many residents, and, for others, by the influx of friends, relatives and hangers-on who, for some strange reason, consider that a party season in sunny warm climes beats suffering through another cold, dark, ice-encrusted family event up North.

When, partway through this Olympic season, I explained to a friend that I used to be a wallflower at parties, he looked at me in disbelief. Apparently, I have developed a reputation as becoming livelier when surrounded by people at a party. I had to explain that, lacking the essential training in party etiquette that we should all receive as part of growing up, my party skills are a learned behaviour, determined heuristically later in my adult life.

Parents are supposed to provide the first lessons in party behaviour. Mine were very self-contained, and socialising, let alone partying, was kept to a minimum. One Christmas, my parents, uncharacteristically, went to socialise with the neighbours in our duplex (whom I never met in the 12 years we lived side-by-side), leaving us children to fend for ourselves. No more than 30 minutes into their experiment, I tried an experiment of my own, consuming large quantities of peanuts and imbibing several glasses of Coca Cola. I can report that the results of my experiment were that I explosively decanted the mixture through my nose, causing my brother to have to run next door and retrieve my Parents , screaming “Vic’s being sick through his nose!” And so ended the socialising experiment, never to be repeated. For the sake of squeamish readers who may now think twice about inviting me into their homes, I can honestly say that I also have never repeated my experiment. Half-chewed peanuts and acidic Coca Cola are not meant to be expelled through delicate nasal passages.

University is where most people develop their graduate party skills. Regrettably, for me, University was socially more traumatising than educational. I had come from a working class background, only one step removed from “Downstairs” in the caste system of England. Indeed one grandmother had spent her life working as a cook “Downstairs” in the Country Houses of a succession of English Lords. I won a scholarship to Oxford, and suddenly found myself alone in a credible facsimile of “Brideshead Revisited”, populated by the “Upstairs” graduates of Eton, Charterhouse and other bastions of the English Public School system. For those unfamiliar with the term, English Public Schools are only public in the sense that entry is bought, though often also requiring the facilitative salve of being a scion of generations of alumni. Not surprisingly, my social encounters at Oxford were limited, never enjoying, for example, the experience of escorting debutantes to May Balls, nor attending grouse shooting events.

Highly educated, but totally naïve in the skills of partying, I entered adulthood and have had to divine the rules through empirical research. The recent season has highlighted a few of them:

1.You must be able to simultaneously balance and use a plate, a wine glass and a fork, and still be able to converse in a manner that appears, through an alcoholic haze, to be sentient. I have often thought that, if God had wanted us to be party animals, he would have left us with prehensile tails.

2. Interactions with any one person must be limited to no more than 10 minutes. Transgressions of this rule can lead to fertile and inventive rumours of the intent of the interaction, and social ostracism. Adherence to this rule is aided by two points
a. You are going to meet mostly the same people at every event over a short period of time, so you will eventually run out of things to discuss
b. Rule 3 below

3. You must, at all costs, keep conversations at an appropriately frothy “party” level. Topics of substance, or likely to require the other party to think or feel, are to be avoided. And similarly, all responses must also be packaged for party consumption: “party answers” as a friend put it. Responses sufficiently tasteful, simple and glittery to satisfy the equally polite enquirer, but revealing little beneath the shiny exterior.

You could be forgiven for thinking that I am a party pooper. That, having come to them only as an adult, I hate parties. But such thoughts would be untrue. I am energised by parties, at least when the novelty remains. I enjoy the thrill of the game, for a game they are. However, just as a diet of party appetizers would fail to nourish, so the thin gruel of party interactions and conversations palls after time.

So, though it was fun while it lasted, I am not sorry to see the Great Party Season end. I long for the opportunity to let the party answers marinate in the complexities of developing friendships, to see the glittery shell dissolve, the fibrous protective sheaves below the shell slowly part and allow, eventually, the delicate naked humanness within to be revealed.

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