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Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Power of Ignorance

My friend Kay and I attended the annual Ceramics Fair in its new location, The Bohemian National Hall on East 73rd Street in Manhattan. It was a cold, slushy night, the kind that begs for cancellations but no way were we going to miss this charming affair.
Last year was our first encounter with this annual event that drew a crowd who clearly reached the top of Maslow's hierarchical needs by acquiring that $12,000 ceramic artichoke.
Fascinating as the objects of porcelain and ceramics were, it was the gathering of "old money" that amused us.
We signed in and hurried to the elevator that was heading up to the festivities. Fitting with the old world charm was the addition of an elevator operator wearing white gloves who graciously pointed us in the right direction when the doors opened on three.
Fortunately there was another coat check on this floor since we forgot to check our big black Parkas on the main floor. This year the event was a bit different. Last year appetizers and wine were passed as we viewed the objects of desire, but this year they separated the food and wine in a room away from the other floors where the exhibit was housed. We were eager to load up on the goodies, and then see the show. There was a man blocking the doorway to the reception area speaking to a couple. All three were rather rude to be just doing their cocktail talk in the doorway, so we pushed past them. I did say "excuse me" but, you know in that "excuse you" tone.We dashed to the cocktail table where Kay was brave enough to try the Czech liquor. It seems that the Bohemian National Hall was also the home of the Czech Consulate. It was a nice touch that they blended a bit of the Czech culture with the ceramics fair preview.
The trays of appetizers appeared and we were both impressed. It was real food, not  misrepresentations of edibles that are passed around at cocktail parties Kay and I are accustomed to. We mostly attend design industry events where the appetizers are teeny tiny bits of highly designed morsels that support the environment but not the linings of our stomachs.
It was amazing how the servers appeared at regular intervals just as we were ready for our next bite of something. No need for us to park ourselves near the caterer's prep area like we normally do when pouncing on trays in fear of scarcity.
We also adored another great feature of the reception, the inclusion of chairs. Kay and I took advantage of those immediately. I took the opportunity to take my hairbrush out of my bag, gave myself a quick tidying up, and a new coat of lipstick I happily applied too. We were certainly off to a good start and we hadn't even seen the show yet!
As we were enjoying the act of sitting, we noticed that the crowd was entirely different than last year's. They were mostly men in black suits, nothing like the eccentric garb the patrons wore at last year's show. But then we did arrive an hour late and the true lovers of pottery were already perusing the collections upstairs. It was time for us to get up and see the works of art rather than spending the night stuffing our faces and drinking all their wine.
As we left the room there was that man again standing in the doorway. Maybe he was part of the Hall so I decided to introduce Kay and myself. I immediately went into how wonderful the building was and asked him if he was part of the establishment. He told us that the building had just been renovated and that all the work was done by Czech workers and architects.
I proceeded to tell him that Kay works in ceramics aside from her work at Interior Design magazine where we both work and that we were so looking forward to seeing the show. On that note we moved on. Across the hall was another room where they were serving cake and coffee. Lovely. We would come down after the show and have Czech cake but we did enter for a brief perusal of the space before we continued upstairs. There was a young man there who looked like he worked at the Hall and I asked him if they would be serving wine at the show upstairs as well. He said he didn't know for sure. He then told us that the people at the ceramics show probably were serving just as they were at the Ambassador's going away party here on the third floor. It was at that moment that Kay and I realized that the whole time we were eating and drinking we were at the wrong party. No wonder that man in the doorway didn't know what I was talking about. He was the host and it was his going away party. Well the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the United Nations certainly was diplomatic about Kay and I crashing his party.
Up to the fourth and fifth floors we went and yes there was a wine bar and passed appetizers, not as good as the Ambassador's though. One of the antique dealers, a man of years approached us as we were studying a porcelain medicine bottle and asked, "What do you ladies collect?" I couldn't help but think, "embarrassment," but I was good and refrained from clever talk.
The crowd was just as we remembered, quirky, peculiar in dress, and bored with wealth. Perfect for people watchers like Kay and I. The show was coming to a close and it was time to leave. What seemed fortunate earlier was something we dreaded now, we had to go back to the third floor to get our coats. Just as we were approaching the coat check, the servers saw us and they still had plenty of food left on their trays. The Ambassador wasn't at the door anymore so we decided to go back in and help the caterers get rid of the excess food. This time we felt uneasy in spite of  the servers' happiness to have us back. How could we resist? We sat down again as we were being served. The caterers attended to us solely as we chatted with them. It was nice but it wasn't as enjoyable this time around. Suddenly Kay was turning her back around and hid her face into the chair. She grabbed my arm and told me to turn around too. The photographer was rounding up the guests for the group photo and we were in his line of vision. It was one thing to have the guts to come back in but to be the spoilers in a lasting photograph, that we just couldn't do. I turned around to see if there was an opportunity to escape. The photographer was calling for the Ambassador and that's when I pulled Kay off her chair and we scurried out of there. We watched from the doorway as the Ambassador made his way into the center of the group for what looked like what was going to be a lovely captured memory without the back of those two stranger's heads in it. As the guests were preoccupied, Kay and I realized that this would be a good time to help ourselves to a cup of coffee and a piece of that coffee cake in the room across the way. We figured why not, we came this far.
The coffee was strong and the cake wasn't too sweet, just the way we like it. The china was delicate and the silver divine. Finally we collected our coats and left the building.
On our way to the crosstown bus, we discussed how fortunate we were that the Ambassador was so diplomatic, the way he was trained to be. When Kay told her parents about the night, they said it had little to do with the Ambassador's diplomacy, and everything to do with our power of ignorance that got us in the door and enabled us to enjoy ourselves.

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