I have only one problem with Winter Carnival - there's just too much to do. But I think I do a darn good job of trying, as I did last week.
I kicked it off with the Coronation, and I must say that of all the Coronations I've gone to, this one was the best. Why's that? Well, for one thing, I had an "in" with the royal court: The princess, Christina Kok, is one of my rave fave students.
I tried to prepare Chris for all the pomp and splendor, but failed because she had no clue about Carnival and the value it holds in My Home Town.
"This is no small deal," I said. "People take Carnival seriously."
"Yeah?" she said, as dubious as only a 20-year-old can be. "Like how?"
"Like, as opposed to me, they won't think of you as some shmendrick college kid," I said. "Instead, they're gonna treat you like a real princess."
She dismissed me with an all-purpose "Whatever," which I pretty much expected. Then, after her first rehearsal, she had another reaction that I'd expected - she became a believer, all abuzz with how nice everyone had been to her, how much was involved in the ceremony, how much fun she was having, how much this and how much that, all the while wide-eyed and smiling.
"Well," I said, "you know I don't like people who always say, 'I told you so,' right?"
"Sure," she said.
"Yeah," I said. "Well, I told you so."
While resplendent in her red dress and the very picture of a princess, Chris was surrounded by a lot of other pulchritude and entertainment.
As always, the royal court was aglitter and aglow with the beauty that only youth dressed to the nines can have.
Entertainment? Chamberlain Eric Bennett may not have had an endless supply of pirate puns of the uber-groaner variety but it sure seemed that way. Of course, this is how it should be, since puns are effective only through excess (or at least that's been my approach).
And of course there are the ever-adorable pages, the band, the reading of the proclamation, the crownings themselves - not to mention the crowd, which I was delighted to see was standing room only.
The evening's highlight to me - and to a whole lot of the other folks there - was the royal court's dance number. I've always liked the coronation dance routine ... but I loved this one. It seemed a great departure because it was hip-hop - the previous dances being more traditional. But beyond the style itself, the kids did a fabulous job as dancers, which is truly impressive when you consider most of them were hardly dancers before they came out for the court.
Let the festivities continue
After the Coronation, I went over to the Waterhole for the reception with my pal Steve Sullivan. It was the usual high-spirited chaos, with a roster of friends floating by in fits, starts and no order whatsoever. Typical of the reception, I had about 75 half conversations and no complete ones - something no one ever seems to notice, much less care about.
Saturday started with my traditional low point of Carnival Week - the Ice Palace Fun Run. A run, it is. Fun, it is not. The course is a hilly 4.2-mile hump-breaker and about halfway though it, my oxygen-starved mind had a thought - something that hadn't happened till then, since all my focus was on trivial details like remaining upright, going forward and breathing.
The thought was a question: What, exactly, was I doing out here and why was I doing it? I didn't come up with an answer then - and still haven't come up with one. Some things, I reckon, are best left unexamined.
After the Fun Run was the Fry Pan Toss. It's a colorful event, of and by itself, but the two hootchie pirate wenches running the event, Stacy Ennis and Nicole Myatt, added flash and splash that had me reaching for my shades ... and my digitalis.
The final event that night was the skating club's spaghetti dinner - a must-attend, if ever there was one. I went with Steve Sullivan and his lovely bride Donna and my buddy Johnny J., and we sat with the Princess Christine and two of her pals on one side and Paul and Pat Pillis on the other, so it was a great chatfest for all. It's a fundraiser for a good cause, but it's also something else - the best spaghetti dinner in town, a bachelor's dream-come-true.
What makes it so good? Well, the sauce is delicious, and (here's where the bachelor's consideration comes in) the portions are gargantuan. Plus, the desserts are all home-baked, the coffee's strong and the servers are about the nicest girls to tread in shoe leather.
The dinner was followed by the fireworks and a walk around the ice palace. And let me tell you, for the thousands of times I've been in our ice palaces, a simple walk-through still takes my breath away.
A radical shift
Thus far, I've written about the visible Carnival, but how about the invisible one - all the people behind the scenes without whom there'd be no Carnival at all.
When it comes to the ice palace, we all know the crew who are so competent, at this point, they could put up the palace in their sleep (but I sure hope they don't try). But did you ever wonder where the equipment comes from? I don't know about all of it, but I do know Madden's supplies a bunch of it, at a great cost to them and no cost to the village.
The saw is Don Duso's - Don, the Carnival stalwart, who worked on the palace at least 50 years. In fact, one of my earliest memories is from the 1950s, looking across the lake on a minus-20 night, seeing the crew working on the palace and hearing my mother, shaking her head in amazement and appreciation, say, "Look at them working in this weather - Donny Duso and those boys." (To my mother, Don was Donny, and the boys were boys - even if they were grizzled vets. That's just the way it was).
I mentioned the skating club's members, putting the spaghetti dinner together - eminently visible. But how about what it takes to put the show itself together? First there are all the senior skaters who work with the little ones, and second, behind the literal scenes is Phil LaLonde, who builds all the sets (which, if you haven't seen them in person, you've no idea what you've missed).
The Fun Run? The runners only had to show up; the volunteers had to do all the work. Among them were Dave Stazak, Tony and Sharon Elrod, Patti Ann Peebles and Terry Tubridy.
I don't know what the arrangement with the Waterhole was for the reception, but I know Brenda Stringer's cooperation was given gladly and freely.
As for the coronation: Someone who's greatly impressed me over the years is Sharron Knapp, the woman who makes the beautiful hats for the pages. It's obvious those hats are not only works of art but labors of love as well.
I made a big deal about the court's dancing, but it was a big deal. And it would never have come off without the choreographer, Katie VanAnden, who obviously sacrificed a great deal of her time and energy.
Then again, Katie comes by her generosity naturally, as anyone who knows her parents John and Buffy, owners of Lakeview Deli, can attest. In fact, John and Buffy provided lunch for the palace workers every day they were there - something I'm sure they wouldn't want me to reveal, but that I do only out of the greatest respect and affection.
Unfortunately, I've omitted a whole bunch more of the "invisible" men and women, but only because there are so many of them and so few column inches. Fortunately, I know they'll still contribute in the future, so I'll have many more chances to give them their honorable mentions.