Tuesday, April 12, 2011

parlor games

I may have enjoyed that list of things to do when I'm not turning my brain to mush (see 65 Things to Do While Watching TV) much more if it had included the following: play parlor games.

The Victorians were a tightly wound bunch. According to Foucault, "[n]ineteenth-century 'bourgeois' society -- and it is doubtless still with us -- was a society of blatant and fragmented perversion." With the assault of invasive and insidious forms of power on our bodies and our pleasures, "[i]t is possible that the West has not been capable of inventing any new pleasures..." (Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, Vol. I, Trans. by Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage Books, 1978, pp. 47-8)) No new pleasures? In that case, game on!

I suppose that the genuine playing of parlor games must begin in the parlor. The Victorian parlor room was a formal sitting room (geez, that's not a term we use with our contractors when planning an addition anymore...) wherein visitors were both greeted and later, if deemed acceptable and worthy company, entertained.

1895 parlor or sitting room
Perhaps there would be a fireplace. Perhaps ornate wallpaper or rugs or curtains... or all of the above.

Victorian parlor rug
Perhaps an organ or a piano. Perhaps a mass of family photographs prominently displayed, having been formally staged and posed and organized. Perhaps an intricately-detailed Art Nouveau glass lamp -- Tiffany? ... its pendant half-globe hanging like so much radiant shrubbery -- the 'hanging gardens' boasting one's own little piece of the electric grid that was quickly replacing gas lighting at the turn of the century.

Whatever was there in terms of decoration, it was THE place to be in the Victorian home. Not to be confused with the sitting room or the drawing room.... or perhaps to be totally confused with both of these. For the more I look into it, the more difficulty I have distinguishing which particular formalities and decorums were to be confined to which particular room. The drawing room, for instance, was the site of monologue-style verbal-bantering proto-plays... later evolving into 'drawing room comedies' such as Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.
Gwendolen, it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me?

(Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest, Act III)
So, after listening to the player piano for a while and reading some Sherlock Holmes' mysteries aloud, let's play!

1. Let's start with one of the most thrilling games: HUNT THE SLIPPER

Yes, this game is basically just as titillating and rip-roaringly fun as it sounds. Woman takes off her shoe. She sits in the middle of a circle of her friends and closes her eyes. Participants pass the slipper/shoe/Manolo Blahnik around behind their backs (just in case she's peeking!) until she opens her eyes. She then must guess who holds her very own shoe. Or she can just keep her eyes closed and follow the scent of her florally-perfumed footsies.

2. CHANGE SEATS! Another scintillating creation of the very bored and TV-less.

This is basically a variation on musical chairs without the fun and distraction of the music. A chosen player stands in the center of the previously-created circle. To begin the game, he announces: "Change seats!" BUT, and here comes the tricky part, everyone is to ignore this command and is to remain seated until he deviously and surreptitiously sneaks in the phrase, "The king's come!" Everyone is then (finally!) to find a new seat and this seat must not be to the left or right of his original seat. I guess that person in the middle tries to find a seat too, because someone is supposed to wind up seatless. I am still not sure if this person is declared the winner or the loser. Perhaps this person is designated as the Jimmy Choo-remover. Perhaps this person had difficulty running around and finding a new seat BECAUSE she was wearing new $1000, 5-inch, snake-and-mesh red JCs and was unfairly handicapped (but gorgeously annointed) with said heels.

Jimmy Choo Snake & Mesh Bootie :)

3. The old standby -- CHARADES. No explanation necessary. Unless you have been living in a hole. In which case, I don't think you should be entering the parlor. You are probably pretty dirty and smelly.

4. Here is another classic. THROWING THE SMILE

This prop-less game requires its players to form yet another circle. (These Victorians were OBSESSED with circles. Maybe they are the ones messing around with crops at night...) Honestly, I am not even sure I understand or can correctly explain the rules to this one. Something about a person in the middle smiling with a s#^&-eating grin on his face and then, suddenly!... inexplicably!... replacing that hee-haw, smirking, contained guffaw with a Vegas-worthy poker face. Supposedly, this transformation struck Victorians as hilarious because the laughing losers were then to sit out of the game. Again, how the winner was determined or how long this farce had to go on until TV was invented is beyond me.

5. This one is actually kind of cool... and I use a variation (written) with my students as a journal write. It's called THE ENDLESS STORY. One person begins a tale and (after a predetermined time) passes on the narrating to his parlor-room neighbor. The story continues around the room until it has made a number of rounds.

6. What would be even more interesting would be if you could invent some of your own parlor games. Or we could go all semiotically-theoretical and play the game Roland Barthes once suggested -- discuss music or art or literature without using any adjectives.

The index of a text, then, is not only an instrument of reference; it is itself a text, a second text which is the relief (remainder and asperity) of the first: what is wandering (interrupted) in the rationality of the sentences. (Barthes)

Or just try to pull apart Barthes himself.

7. And then there is the classic which Vanity Fair magazine has adopted as its own: The Proust Questionnaire.. which, as all well-named things are, has nothing to do with Proust other than that he once answered the two dozen questions. He did think a lot though, and to the prompt -- What is your most marked characteristic -- he responded: "A craving to be loved, or, to be more precise, to be caressed and spoiled rather than to be admired."

Here, in no particular order, are some other interesting responses. (All of the following are taken from Vanity Fair's Proust Questionnaire (New York: Condé Naste Publications, 2009)):

In honor of my dad: Julie Andrews: If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be? A meadowlark. Where would you like to live? Where there are meadowlarks.

In honor of my mom: Julia Child: What is your idea of perfect happiness? A great meal with dear friends. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? A dreadful meal badly served.

In honor of my older brother: Jimmy Buffett: What is your current state of mind? Still crazy after all these years. (I wish I had written that song.)

In honor of my younger brother: Tom Waits: How would you like to die? I don't think I would like it very much at all.

In honor of my sister-in-law: Jane Goodall: What is your idea of perfect happiness? Sitting by myself in the forest in Gombe National Park watching one of the chimpanzee mothers with her family.

In honor of one of my favorite writers: Norman Mailer: What is your idea of perfect happiness? Let the next 35 responses offer their clues. A fool draws a road map to his magic city.

In honor of one of my favorite artists: Jasper Johns: Where would you like to live? not in the past What is your idea of perfect happiness? I am not strong on perfection

In honor of my boss: David Mamet: What is your motto? My motto is "Be Prepared." I am told this is also the motto of the Boy Scouts, but, if so, this only proves that they were acting according to my motto earlier than I.

In honor of the spiritual: Deepak Chopra: If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be? The breeze.

In honor of the physical...and the moment: Margaret Atwood: What is your idea of perfect happiness? A canoe, mixed sun and cloud, no deadlines in sight.

In honor of honor: Dave Brubeck: What is it you most dislike? The suffering of innocents.

In honor of love: Julie Andrews: How would you like to die? Peacefully -- holding my mate.

                          Johnny Cash: What is your favorite journey? The last mile home.

In honor of empathy: Alec Guinness: What do you most value in your friends? Their capacity to listen sympathetically.

So, go forth! Play a game. Better yet, invent a game. Sit in a sitting room. Draw in a drawing room. Build a parlor. And ponder how Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote so eloquently of Saturday's theme (open your hand) in his poem, "The Staff and the Scrip":
And once she woke with a clear mind
That letters writ to calm
Her soul lay in the scrip; to find
Only a torpid balm
And a dust of palm.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Sancta Lilias (1874), Tate - London

No comments:

Post a Comment