Friday, December 14, 2007

Oh, Christmas tea

Last Sunday afternoon I had the privilege of attending holiday high tea at the Fairmount Olympic Hotel, with a group of ladies I mostly know from book club. The lovely Kristin recognized that no one wanted to take on the extra responsibility of hosting, during December, but thought we could still get together and be fussed over by professionals, with the added benefit of access to downtown shopping. Genius!

I admit, I've been having a hard time getting into the holiday spirit this year. This worries me as much as anyone--Christmas brings out my most Martha-esque tendencies. I have everything Christmas. I possess a plush Santa Claus toilet-lid cover, and red and green silicone cupcake liners in which to bake sour cream-poppy seed streusel muffins on Christmas morning, and a CD of carols rendered by a Caribbean steel-drum band. Usually at this time each year my house looks like the finale of the Macy's parade without the blue police barricades. So my exhausted apathy this year is troubling, yes. I am not sure what to attribute it to; is this just more fallout from weaning myself off antidepresants this summer? I'm not depressed, but in not feeling Christmassy, I do not feel like myself, and I don't know what that means.

So it was more meaningful to me than the other ladies might have guessed, to walk into Seattle's swankiest classic hotel and be smacked with a double-barrelled Christmas blast. The Olympic is the closest thing we have to The Plaza, and it did not disappoint; it was like dropping into a 1930s movie musical, or the Warbucks mansion at the finale of Annie. Swags of pine garland and fairy lights everywhere. A massive tree at the center of the atrium, and another decked out in gold in the tearoom itself. A gingerbread rendering of the Pike Place Market in a glass case, with marzipan produce lined up in tiny rows. There was some sort of children's holiday party going on elsewhere in the hotel, too, and so all around us were little girls in red velvet dresses and little boys in crisp white shirts and dark ties, on high Good Behavior Alert not only for the environment but because of Santa's imminent final accounting. Several of us, arriving early, went looking for an ATM, and that was also "fancy": hidden away in a discreet alcove and paneled in oak, with the old-timey appellation "Miniature Bank."

It was good that we'd obtained some cash beforehand, because the special holiday tea was sort of psychotically expensive if you stopped to think about it. We were a large group, and so the included service cost brought our tab to $75 a head. Would I have gone, if I'd anticipated that? Probably I am glad I didn't know. Because it ended up being entirely worth it. We had white linen and real silver, delicate floral china and our own individual teapots. Individual crystal cruets of raspberry jam and clotted cream stood at the head of each place setting. And at that price, they keep the wee goodies coming for as long as you're willing to sit there. A polite young man in a gold vest hovered nearby, with a tray and a pair of little silver tongs to hand out as many tiny open-faced sammiches as we could stand, each no bigger than my thumb. There was a smoked salmon triangle that simply dissolved on the tongue, and quarter-sized rounds of toast crowned with curried chicken salad. One savory had shavings of black truffle; one sweet was dusted with gold flake--two outrageous delicacies I'd never consumed before. I ATE GOLD. It was awesome. We gossiped and sipped tea and daintily ate many hundreds of tea goodies; we were all also on our best behavior, and managed not to knock anything over or guffaw too openly, there in the Georgian Room...which is lovely, all pale yellow with scads of white ornamental molding, like dining inside a wedding cake.

It reminded me of being a little girl, actually...all that dazzle, the giddy tension of being in a place and a situation 100% nicer than the rest of your everyday life. We went to some sort of Santa Claus brunch at the Space Needle, once, when I was a kid--I remember it being very early morning, still nearly dark as we revolved slowly above the Christmas-lit city, eating pigs-in-a-blanket and nervously awaiting the arrival of St. Nick, the guest of honor. There are pictures of us, me and Sis in matching (!) outfits that were actually Easter dresses from the previous spring--red and white calico patterned, but by December growing a bit alarmingly short. We are showing a lot of leg, for 8 a.m. Matching Dorothy Hamill haircuts also, I probably don't need to add. Anyway. We were excited, and impressed, and anxious in a largely good way, Christmas on the line and Santa keeping a watchful eye.

I haven't felt like that in years...but this was close. Worth every penny, and with the added benefit of having that salmon, boy. I would rather have poked out my own eye, as a kid...but after sampling that with an adult's palate, I can now die a happy woman. A holiday miracle indeed!


Holly said...

Oh I so wanna go! Make reservations for us if I ever make it back there, dammit. I'm glad you got your spirit back ... I still remember going caroling with you one strange birthday night. THAT is a memory of Christmas I won't forget. Who were those people, do you remember? Regardless, have a good one, eh?

Gael said...

So glad you came! It was awesome, wasn't it. I loved the little chicken salady quichey thingies.