Visit the Gimlet Gallery to see more of our photos from the AGM.
At last, the much-anticipated day arrived and Team Gimlet was off to the JASNA Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Vancouver. The trip took a little longer than expected, between choosing an out-of-the-way border crossing and navigating Vancouver’s downtown, but finally we found the entrance to the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. Our delays cost us the opening reception but The Gimlet grabbed some banana bread as the tea things were being cleared away, and I slipped into a seat in the back of the first breakout session. Meanwhile, The Gimlet attended to our room reservation, and we were upgraded to a suite on the Fairmont Gold floor. The upgrade more than made up for the day’s earlier inconveniences.
Breakout sessions were available on a wide variety of topics to satisfy any interest. The Vancouver AGM web site has a complete list of sessions and speakers; here are the five I was able to attend:
Travel in the time of Emma. Of course Emma doesn’t travel, but the speaker talked about women who did travel during Jane Austen’s day, the conditions they encountered, and how Jane Austen may have used those women’s experiences to create various characters’ attitudes about travel. For more information, read the speaker’s book: No Place for a Lady: Tales of Adventurous Women Travellers.
“Charming Furniture”: Book Production in Austen’s Time. The speaker was a professional bookbinder. She explained that publishers produced essentially unbound books (cardboard or paper held the package of pages together) and it was common practice to bind one’s books all the same way, usually to best coordinate with the room. If the library were repainted/refurnished, it was common to send the books out to be rebound in an appropriately coordinating set of bindings as well. She also discussed printing and the types of bindings chosen by buyers with less money.
The Idlest Haunts in the Kingdom: Discovering the Spas and Resorts in Emma. The speaker, a medical doctor, discussed several spas and resorts around England (mentioned in Emma, visited by Jane Austen, and others) and discussed the reputation, health claims, and effectiveness of each. She also explained the processes of “taking the waters” and sea-bathing. Enthusiastic and graphic details about certain medical procedures left more delicate audience members squirming, but even so this was an entertaining and informative session.
Women’s Clothing & Men’s Clothing in Jane Austen’s Time. This pair of breakout sessions was led by a former curator of History for the Vancouver Museum who has been collecting historical clothing for over fifty years. (He’s also a Classical Studies major, which endeared him further to my heart.) He brought several gowns and men’s coats to display, as well as two spencers, a tippet, breeches, a pocket, shoes, and I know not what else. (Okay, I forgot what else.) We were allowed to come up to the front to see the costumes up close (but no touching) and take pictures. This very lively presentation covered the ideals which led to the different styles and tales of the speaker’s adventures in costume acquisition, ranging from Christie’s to Value Village. What a wonderful way to end the lecture portion of the AGM.
In addition to plenary, breakout and panel sessions there were a variety of other activities: tours of Vancouver and the surrounding area could be reserved; the hotel hosted a daily afternoon tea and a Regency Emporium sold books and other Austen-related items. Evening entertainment included an Emma-related play; a card/board game room and discussion groups were open; and there were several opportunities to take English Country Dance lessons.
These lessons were very popular, filling up almost immediately. The instruction moved much too quickly for me to learn everything immediately, but the nice feature of country dancing (especially with the long sets) is repetition; about partway through each dance I finally caught on and was eager to dance another set by the end. The Gimlet loves to dance and has no coordination issues so he was dancing much more quickly. As the evening progressed he may have been wishing to upgrade to a partner possessing both a left and a right foot.
On to the ball! While about one-third to one-quarter of AGM attendees wore Regency attire during the entire meeting, about half or more of the Saturday evening attendees dressed the part, or wore some sort of fancy dress to the banquet and ball (we saw some beautiful saris and distinguished kilts). The elaborate neoclassical ballroom looked like a scene from the films. Unfortunately we missed most of the social hour prior to the banquet because it took so long for me to get dressed. (An experienced lady’s-maid would have been useful.) When we finally arrived at the social hour, most guests had brought their cameras and were asking people to pose – making it a lot of fun to be dressed up. A Mountie in full dress uniform was also in attendance, very agreeably posing for photos. At the conclusion of the social hour a bagpiper led the guests in a procession around the reception room, then through the halls to the banquet room. After the banquet the piper again led a procession from the banquet room to the ball room.
My once-in-a-lifetime paparazzi moment came when I had gone into the ladies’ room to make some adjustments to my dress. A very nice lady came in and asked if she could take my picture. Fortunately she gave me time to put myself back together before snapping a photo. Now I know how celebrities feel.
The sets at the ball were long, stretching the entire length of the room. I was still intimidated by all the dance steps, so Team Gimlet danced one of the easier dances, “When Laura Smiles”. Another lady claimed a waltz with The Gimlet (not period correct, but it was an intermission with recorded music to give the musicians a rest break); then The Gimlet and another partner danced “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot” (the dance seen in both the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries and the 1996 Emma film.) While English Country dancing doesn’t require an equal number of gentlemen and ladies, gentlemen were in short supply and those present, able, and willing to dance were much appreciated – bringing to mind Mr. Darcy’s initial rude refusal to dance, and Mr. Knightley’s gallant “rescue” of Harriet Smith.
The meeting’s activities kept us well occupied, so we chose to forgo the sightseeing we had planned for this trip. After the closing Sunday brunch, we took a rainy drive around Stanley Park before leaving Vancouver.
Critics have sneered at these sorts of meetings, suggesting that the participants are a pitiful lot with difficulty separating fiction from reality. Sure, the meeting was not without a few strident crazies, but they were easily avoided. Here’s reality: we just spent a weekend without the Things (delightful as they are) in a lovely city, in a luxury hotel suite with a private concierge lounge (well-stocked with amenities, including chocolate croissants). While The Gimlet enjoyed some much-needed downtime, I attended several fascinating presentations on a variety of Austen-related topics, with no exams or term papers to spoil the pleasure of listening and learning. Team Gimlet has never harbored any delusions about resembling Austen’s characters, but how often these days do adults have the opportunity to dress up, much less attend a formal ball? How often do we take time out of our hectic schedules to enjoy life, try new experiences, meet up with old friends, and make new ones? We’re already planning our trip to Chicago next October for the 2008 AGM.
The Gimlet displayed true Mr. Bingley-like enthusiasm and happy manners all weekend:
What’s not to like about this conference? Beautiful ladies in their finery (my date the most beautiful), no responsibilities for the Gimlet, fine food (Tim Horton’s Donuts across the street from the hotel) and dancing. Sounds like heaven. If the Tim Horton’s hot chocolate had been cooler it would have been perfect. Where can I sign up for more?
Tags: canada, geekery, JASNA, local fun, vancouver