The Cocktail Bar

NOTE: This conversation runs backwards! For the benefit ofregular readers the newest comments are put at the top.

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Music Playing: The Quirrie Quintet with The Right Kind Of Love

Dateline: Saturday, September 6th, 1952

Thanks for the invitation, Elizabeth Ruth... er, might there be a more wieldly abbreviation of your name? Not to be rude, of course, but I'm accostumed to nicknames from school. I don't mind telling you- in confidence of course- that my classmates have an irritating tendancy to call me "Candie".

Anyway, a marvellous story you've told about life in Amazonia. Seems so much simpler there. Life is so cyclical. Everything is so dependant upon the seasons that one could never lose track of Dea's rythmns, as one might living in other provinces. Even though the academic year offers some regularity, I rarely have occasion to look up from my studies, and the time seems to fly by too fast.

But I suppose I digress... the subject I initiated was that of Fairladies. I must admit to being something at a loss. As I've mentioned, I get a bit tongue-tied in their company, and I often... embarass myself when I try to force the words to come. Oh, there are a few girls I can strike up conversation with, you know, my suite-mates' sweethearts or the blondes I know from back home. But even on those rare occasions when a blonde shows some sort of... interest, I just can't seem to find the words.

You astutely point out that perhaps my problem has to do with a "someone special". I- uh, I almost never discuss this but I feel that I have a sympathetic ear. You see, there was once a blonde, back home. Her name was Emmeline. She was the sweetest, most beautiful thing in the world. But I suppose her family must have preferred a more business-minded brunette for her, because she was encouraged to spend time with someone else from my graduating class. I think I haven't yet recovered from that. Do you think that might have something to do with my problem?

Barpette? Uh, might I have one more of your vodka tonics? I think I may be in for a long night... Sigh.


Sweet Expectations

Dearest Pettes,

Hello sweeties and sweetums! How utterly delightful that our Miss Fox would bring in those charming piccies of her abode down under. I know a couple of married pettes who live in the upside down, topsy turvy part of the world. They watch kangaroos and wombats run through their back yard in the mornings. Imagine! Zoo animals in your paddock. But, no matter where we live, I think we can all agree that the in-betweeny seasons are the most magical and delightful. Here in the world "up over," fall is being hinted at, with the sweltering summer heat blown away by chilly morning winds. Trees are just now thinking of changing colors, and all of the girls in New Quirinelle are bringing their sweaters out of the moth balls.

I remember last year telling you all about how much I love canning and freezing and putting by for the winter during the late summer. I still love it and feel such satisfaction when I look at the dozens and dozens of quart jars that now stock our larder. No other activity is quite so racinating for me, and, here in the Pit-midwest, everyone who hears about my canning responds with a sigh and with a very warm and loving comment about how their grandmothers canned all through August and September. I take that as my cue to reply in the exact same way I do when a pette comments that my house looks exactly like her grandmother's house, "Oh, yes, your grandmother is the very girl I choose to pattern my life after." Somehow, this has the most profound effect on souls.

But if any of you pettes ever find yourselves canning when you are "in the family way," take a bit of advice from little Amy: do as much of the work sitting down as you can, otherwise your back will be the worse for it! Even with taking my own advice, I still find myself singing along with the Andrews Sisters, "South America, Take it Away." And if that Kadorie song is being played on your wirelesses too, you'll know just what I mean.

Speaking of the little one, who is moving and kicking all of the time now, a dear friend of mine just penned a little poem about the event, one I thought you pettes would appreciate. None of the self-indulgent silliness that passes as "poetry" in the Pit here. Of course not. I choose my friends much more carefully than that. Don't we all!?

The more the life inside you grows,
so too your luminescence glows
in warming tone and tender hue,
the mystery of life anew.
On feathered tip of angels' wings,
the dark of winter this year brings
proof the gods upon us smiled
for they gave you this golden child.

I don't know how my friend knows our little bambina will be a blonde rather than a brunette, but even so, it is a lovely poem, isn't it?

Love to all of you, and thank you again, Dear Miss Fox, for showing us the photographs and giving us all a taste of spring,


Back Again

Well, I'm back again, just had to attend to the oleanders and redwoods for a bit. Now, where has Elizabeth Ruth gone? Oh, dear, I do hope we weren't boring anyone with conversation better suited to the Academy. I'm quite counting the days till Term resumes!


More Fish

Well, I am back from my fishing trip with the warrior brunettes of Sta:lo, which is the name of the Amazonian region I'm staying in now. (The colon is pronounced as a click, the sound commonly represented by "tsk"). It was the most astonishing adventure, and I'm not really sure I have the words to describe it . (This is a new experience for me, to run out of words!) I went to a magic island, where Dea still walks on the land and writes on the sky, a place not too far from Kwethalyn's village of Unalakleet. People live there on the knife edge between the Sea and the Forest Primeval, and dance with Dea. Perhaps later I will write more about what happened to me, but right now it is too special and fresh, and I don't want to trap it and make it dull and limited by using the wrong words. And no, you impudent little blonde, I did not fall in love. Love is not the only adventure of the heart, youngling!

Yes, I did catch fish, two big Queen Salmon (well, they looked big to me) and halibut, and ling cod and yelloweye, and I'm giving some to all the blondes I know who are good cooks, and they cook charming delicious dinners with them. This, of course, is the brunette's opportunity to tell the story of catching the fish, and impress the blonde (her eyes get big; her lips part in astonishment... an unexpected bonus from the fishing trip!)

Oh yes, Katherine, it is more than possible to visit Amazonia, although Immigration is more difficult, at least in the part of Amazonia I know (it is really an enormous place, you know). I have been visiting Amazonia from my home province of Arcadia off and on for several months, and it is becoming more and more like home to me. I believe you might find a hint in Kwethalyn's letter, about how you might get there for a visit. If hints and games and mysteries don't appeal to you, you could leave your address with the barpette to give to me, and I could let you know more about where the gateways are.

Well, I must go, and finish laundering my fishy clothes. I will hang them over the sage bushes, so they will smell extra sweet when they dry.


The Tall Novarian Trader Reveals Herself

That was an extraordinary carved ivory bead little Kwethalyn offered me for that velolumiereogram she sent to the Cocktail Bar Editrix, but not less extraordinary than the girl herself! The child is an azure-eyed pale, pale blonde and stands barely as high as my shoulder. She is exquisitely shy, becoming thoroughly tongue-tied when addressed by a stranger, particularly a tall one wearing a very short, gossamer-platinum tunic. Kwethalyn was clad that June day in a grey, mid-calf dress of feathered bird skins and wore white leggings of split reindeer hide, all beaded and embroidered in the finest detail imaginable. Her dainty slippers of waterproof seal-gut were likewise beaded on the uppers.

I suppose I oughtn't to have pinched her (I was overcome with desire, I confess, half-hypnotized by her chanting), and, having done so, dematerializing was even more unforgivable, but I did manage to see her swan-white neck blush crimson, like a laser-flash, just before she spun round and I whisked myself back on board my titanium gyrocraft. [Ed. Note: Novarians have learned to transport themselves over relatively short distances by dematerializing in one place and rematerializing elsewhere, but never farther away than a couple of miles. Urban transportation in New Ladyton is thus infinitely simplified, though abrupt, unannounced arrivals (and departures) have more than occasionally proved embarrassing both to the traveller and to those whom she may surprise.]

Yes, I am Cassiopeia, that tall Novarian trader come to buy the premier cru of the northernmost Queen Salmon caviar, exceptionally rich this season; Unalakleet Queens have a high fat content to contend with icier waters; it is reflected in their caviar, which fetches premium prices in Novaria, up to five Imperial Guineas the quarter-ounce (Novarian delicacies and luxuries are always priced in Imperial Guineas).

But, pettes of all Western Aristasian provinces, you must see some of the magnificent clothing these Northern Amazonians wear, and some of their fine baskets, too. Although Northern Amazonians, like Amazonians everywhere, will not allow anymaid to velolume them for fear that any mischief coming to their image may come to them as well, they pose no objection at all to one's 'luming inanimate objects, so by now I have quite a fine 'lume collection hanging in my flat in New Ladyton.

Here, for example, is a fine salmonskin coat, from Tuntutuliak, a small Northern Amazonian metropolis of about 10,000 souls. The coat bears designs imprinted with bark stencils passed down from mother to daughter over eight generations. The stitchery is almost inconceivably fine, all done in winter by the light of a seal-oil lamp. A girl may have two or three of these in her wardrobe if her family is well-to-do. The triple border on the hem tells a girl's clan, caste and marital status, depending on the colors. This one, for example, belongs to an available maiden from the Yukaghir clan, one of the artisan castes. Yukaghirs are renowned for their skills at weaving willow-root mats and baskets and for brewing the most potent willow beer and ale in the province. They also know how to make a secret effusion from the bark of certain of the myriad species of willow, which treats fevers and swollen joints and is therefore much in demand. The Yukaghirs are sometimes called Willow Women, and I am fortunate enough to hold the Novarian franchise for distributing their products.

Now behold this apron which bears a remarkable resemblance to Quirinelle aprons, minus the frills. It is edged with dyed reindeer skin borders; the delicate geometric design is created by weaving strips of dark, dyed skin through slits in undyed skin and by lines of dyed reindeer hair bounded by a blue and white beaded border. A maiden's apron may not have any fringes, but once she is married fringes are permitted, the longest fringes belonging to newlyweds. If a maiden is betrothed, she may sew fringes on the pocket only.

Finally, Kwethalyn mentioned baskets of baleen. Baleen is found only in the mouths of right whales, hanging from their upper jaws; it is a fringe-like sieve for filtering phytoplankton from seawater -- by the whales, that is, but Northern Amazonians make it into cables, baskets, tent supports and boats. (Arcadians use it extensively for corset-stays and skirt-hoops. It is used there, too, by school-mistresses in certain educational establishments, as switches in lieu of light cane: its remarkable pliability and resilience provide very desirable characteristics for some applications.)

When split very thin, baleen is like fine, shiny wire and can be woven into various durable items. Here is a good example of a baleen basket showing an ivory finial on its fitted top in the shape of a right whale's flukes; what one cannot see is the precious fossil ivory starter disc on its bottom. Baleen baskets can be so tightly woven that they will hold water, and hence most water buckets in Northern Amazonia are made of baleen. I am afraid I have no lumiereogram, velo or otherwise, of a bucket, however.

But I have no time to write further; I must return to Unalakleet before freeze-up for five thousand combs of tundra rose honey. A Novarian cosmetics firm has ordered them for compounding a facial restorative now very much the rage, and I have contracted to procure the lot for three thousand Imperial Guineas. But if the weather should turn bad and the harbor freeze early, I may be ruined. So I am off! I think I shall meet my tiny Kwethalyn again.... Wish me luck!


Dateline:Wednesday, September 3rd, 1952

The Joys of Spring

Girls, my dear Petal and I have been so BUSY the last few days. Winter seems to be losing her grip on this mountainous region, and the spikes of the daffodils and jonquils are opening up into their sun-coloured blooms. I am feeling very virtuous, because up to now I have been a busy city-based career brunette. I am in a new job at a Secretarial College in the mountains, and it is so lovely to live close enough to work that I can come home in the afternoon, don an apron and a sun hat, and dig my fingers into the rich earth. It somehow brings me more in touch with Dea and her beauty.

Mind you, we knew the days were getting warmer because all the frogs have started their mating calls, and pretty soon or little pond at the end of the garden is going to be full of tadpoles. Petal, who is very wise in these ways, says that they'll keep down the insects in the garden, but I wonder that we'll be able to sleep in summer with all their croaking and ribbitting.

We live across from the most beautiful bush valley. For those girls who don't know about this side of Kadoria, where the seasons are back to front, the bush is a mass of gum trees and wattle (a fuzzy yellow flower) and rocks and birds and a waterfall at the end of our valley and it is a joy to live beside. The Currawongs (big black magpie-looking birds) feed in our garden and I really hope they don't eat all the tadpoles as well.

I hope this picture has turned out. This is our little cottage where Petal keeps house and looks after me. Although the area has been explored for many years, most of the houses were only built quite recently. Ours is actually a Vintesse style. The verandah at the front is because we have very hot summers, and we end up on the week end sitting on the verandah, looking out over the valley and sipping cool lemonade from our lemon tree out the back.

Of course, we're only 10 minutes walk from the train station, and the trains head down to the city once per hour, so we're not cut off or isolated like some of the pettes even further west. The local shops provide most of our needs, and Mrs Marypette keeps a close eye on the rations (this IS Kadoria, after all) and ensures atht there's tea and sugar for everyone. But the long journey to town means even this pette has learned the arts of cross-stitch and fine knitting, and unlike some of the sad pit trains one hears about, every girl on the trains ends up talking to each other. It's a little community all its own.

So I'm back out to the garden, to put in the pansies and the luculias we bought yesterday. And to water the trees (it's been so dry here) and to look after the petunia seeds Petal so carefully planted in the seed baskets last week. Remember, pettes, to keep those youthful looks it helps to wear a broad-brimmed hat when gardening, to keep the sun off our delicate pink noses. Barpette - could I have a cool lemonade in a half-hour?



Another Amazonian Fish Story

[The following letter was delivered to the Editrix, inscribed in bright purple lingonberry ink on a delicate scroll of lemon-grass parchment, tied in a fine leather band with two tiny fur pom-poms dangling at the ends. The handwriting, though fine and regular, was so diminutive and left so little of the parchment blank as to be nearly indecipherable. A glossy Novarian photograph, enclosed in a sheath of soft sealskin suede attached to the scroll by the finest cord of braided grass, is reproduced at the end of the letter. -- The Editrix]

O Heavens to Dea! Here is Elizabeth Ruth telling you all about fishing and berry-gathering and I, a North Amazonian maiden, have let almost a whole season slip by without giving you a single report! (But first I must ask Elizabeth Ruth, when she said the brunettes "generally hang around and admire them," was she referring to the drying salmon or to the blondes in sunshades, or perhaps to both? >Giggle<)

I live in a tiny Amazonian village on the shore of the Great Northern Sea, icebound eight months of the year. Like many northern villages, ours is at the mouth of a clearwater river that rises high in the unreachable snowfields of the Eastern cordillera, crashing and plunging downwards through rockbound gorges until it reaches the coastal plain, where it fans out in braids and meanders in loops, languidly pinching off oxbows each year on its way to the sea. Our river is called the Unalakleet, the same as our village, home to only two hundred souls. The Unalakleet runs almost two miles wide in places near the base of its delta.

As we can raise neither crops nor livestock of any kind, we are completely dependent on wild foods for our survival, but our mothers and their mothers and their mothers before them, going back over countless eons to time immemorial, have passed on all the skills and knowledge we need to keep ourselves well-fed, sleek and warm (and fashionably dressed, too!) even in the dark, cold months when the brightest lights we see are the dancing displays of the Aurora Borealis, undulating like a great luminescent curtain stretched across the heavens from horizon to horizon, shimmering green or blue or even red and shining so brightly that they blot out the stars for days at a time (I say days because days and nights are no different in winter).

But this is still summer, glorious, all-too-brief summer, so may I be flogged with green rushes for even mentioning winter before it has come! Unlike the Full Moon Festivals of more southerly peoples, which take place around the vernal equinox when all is still frozen solid up here, our Salmon Festival commences with the summer solstice, when the Unalakleet breaks up and ice floes large as boulders keep us awake for three days at a time with their terrible grinding together as they tumble downriver and wash out to sea.

Then the Great Queen Salmon runs begin. Yes, it is true, just as Elizabeth Ruth says: the runs are so thick that the river boils with fish and audibly pops in little explosions where their dorsal fins break the surface. The runs come so regularly one can almost set the village's only Arcadian hourglass by them: when half the sand has run through the isthmus, along comes the next run, and so on and so on, day and night (though the night at this season is a mere formality) for a fortnight. A girl wading near the river's edge when a run passes up rivier may be knocked over and drowned!

Perhaps where Elizabeth Ruth visited further south, the blondes do all the fishing, but that is not true in our village, because blondes, even northern Amazonian blondes, are really not quite strong enough to meet the strenuous demands of drift-netting, which is how we catch our Queen Salmon. In older days we used nets woven of cedar bark from the south (no proper trees grow here, just alder and willow, the bark of which is neither stringy nor strong enough to make nets, and our driftwood never has any bark), bartering our raw walrus ivory for it, but now we trade our ivory for superior, ready-made nets from Novaria, which are of the same stuff your stockings are made of, nylon, I think you call it, but it is pale green or blue rather than beige, so the fish cannot easily see it. (The Novarian traders arrive towards the end of each summer in sleek silvery-green boats that hover noiselessly over the water.) Each net is eighty yards in length and three in height; I say "height" because the net hangs down into the water like a curtain, so along its top edge, at regular intervals, are strung little floats made of inflated seal bladders dyed a brilliant berry red, while along the bottom border smooth stones are tied on to weight it down in the current.

We carry our stitched sealskin skiffs (the skins stretched over whalebone frames), upside down, several miles upstream along the riverbank, ten girls under each skiff, (which encourages a wonderful posture), then launch them in pairs, one boat at each end of a net. We maneuver the skiffs to keep the net stretched across the main channel as we drift downstream towards our village. When fish strike the net, the red floats jerk beneath the surface; when all the floats are submerged we know our net is full, (this is where the brunettes come in), and it is hauled into the boat (by the brunettes -- a full net holds hundreds and hundreds of pounds of fish, sometimes more than a thousand!)

Now, once the net is in the boat, the brunettes tend to sit back and break out their flasks of willow ale and indolently watch the blondes pluck salmon from the net - no easy task, as the fish usually get quite tangled up in their death-throes, but the brunettes are adept in giving directions, whether or not the blondes need them (invariably not, though they enjoy hearing them just the same, as they are usually far off the mark and thus occasion considerable giggling. After all, what do brunettes know about disentangling salmon from a net? Never in life has one done it!)

By the time all the fish are plucked from the net and lain in sturdy, six-handled black baleen baskets (the brunettes are generally quite jolly by then), our long skiffs will have been carried downriver right to the village, so we paddle ashore and unload the baskets of fish, or, rather, the brunettes unload them, as most of the Queen Salmon weigh at least forty-five pounds, with grand dowagers sometimes as large as ninety! The blondes then clean, skin and cut up the fish with knives shaped like crescent moons, with ivory handles on the backs of the blades (some with intricate and rather interesting carvings that might be considered quite naughty by some).

As Elizabeth Ruth said, we sing ancient fish-cutting chants, praising Dea for the bounty that swims up our river each year. The bones are saved for needles, the skins scaled and tanned for raincoats and waterproof boots, the guts dried for sewing skin boats, and the flesh is cut into strips, scored and hung on racks of driftwood to dry. As soon as a pellicle has formed, the strips are put into a smokehouse and smoked over a slow driftwood fire, then wrapped in leaves of dried cow-parsnip which have been soaked in seal oil to render them pliable. There are deep caves in places high up on the cut-bank of the river where thick lenses of black permafrost glisten; the packets of salmon are kept there, frozen, all summer long, until it is cold enough for them to be moved to each family's particular store-house for the rest of the year.

When the runs are done, we have a brief respite before the basket grasses are ripe for reaping, so we have a three-day celebration on the beach, roasting fresh salmon, Queen Crab, oysters and sea-scallops in firepits banked with fragrant seaweed, drinking our best effervescent alder wine mulled with tundra rose honey. We dance till exhuasted to the lilting of walrus-tusk flutes and skirling seal bagpipes. Several banns are always posted when the three days are done; weddings are held when gathering is over for the season, a month or so before the autumnal equinox, just before the Unalakleet freezes again.Here is an image of some Queen Salmon strips drying in the midnight sun right outside our village. It was taken by a tall and dashing Novarian trader who had come up early for the Queen Salmon caviar.The image sprang right out of a little silver box she held up to her eye; she touched a button, there was a click, a soft whirr, a shiny white square popped out and and a perfect miniature image appeared right before my eyes! I offered my finest carven ivory bead for it, but the trader just laughed in that peculiar light Novarian fashion, gave me the image for nothing and told me to keep my carven bead for something more precious, saying my smile was payment enough, though she was bold enough to help herself to a very skilful Amazonian pinch the moment I returned to hanging my salmon! But when I spun round, already blushing deeply, she had already vanished. Novarians can be so very mysterious sometimes. But so dashing!

Tomorrow I shall tell you about mushroom and berry gathering.



Some one has described Aristasia as "one long conversation". Well, Aphrodite is rather like that. If you want to catch up on the conversation so far, the Archive is the place to do it.