Sunday, August 24, 2003

Smell Me, I'm Royal!

I wasn't going to start talking about this until after Investitures on the 7th, but other people started talking about it last night so I figure I might as well. It's my life, after all.

I first mentioned my re-entry into the world of the Drag Courts several months ago... since that time, I have appeared at yet more Royal Grand Ducal Council functions, reacquainting myself with old friends and meeting new ones. I have become known again in Court circles, and my presence is accepted. A couple of months after that first Winter Extravaganza show, the Royal Crown Countess of the time Christine SaDiva resigned her post under pressure from other parts of her life, and her place was taken by her protégé and my very good friend Angelique deVille. Since then, I've appeared in even more shows, and have become even more entrenched in the Royal Grand Ducal court.

Now, I must pause and explain a little... Angelique is one of those people who arouse my protective and maternal instincts. I'm never quite sure what qualities in a person activate this side of my personality, but once it's on I become quite devoted to the person's welfare. She's very young, very talented, and very thin... very much like me at that age. Of course, she's not a big ol' drunk, like I was, and she knows a great deal more about music and stagecraft than I did, but she nevertheless reminds me of myself... and that also puts me on my mettle, I wish to be to her the kind of drag-mother (or drag-auntie, more appropriately, since she already has a drag-mother) that I wish I'd had when I was young.

I should also explain that, over the years, the Royal Grand Ducal Council (indeed all the courts) have gotten somewhat smaller and incestuous... there aren't a lot of new people coming in, and most of the people in the Court have already served in every conceivable title to date. And so there have been shortages when filling the grand titles of each year. Therefore much newer and younger people are thrown to the top than ever were in my day.

Though Angelique is very young, and relatively new to the Courts, she is talented, enthusiastic, energetic, and generous with her time and efforts; most importantly she is dependable and trustworthy... and even more than that, she has a mind and memory peculiarly suited to remembering protocol and titles, including the names and often confusing numbers of each reign; and so it is only natural that she run for Royal Grand Duchess this year, alongside Royal Crown Count Frank Salerno for Grand Duke. She ran unopposed, but nevertheless went out campaigning in order to make her election meaningful.

I of course supported their run as best I could, though over the summer my own life was rather circumscribed by business and events. I was honored to appear in Angelique's Candidate Performance at the Ducal Ball in July, and we have been talking on the phone a great deal about clothes and songs and policy (because the Courts are still full of politics, though not so backbiting and vicious as I remember them in the past). I've gotten in the habit of buying dresses for her when I find something sweet in her size at a super price, and I often point out songs that I think will fit her style.

So anyway, once elected, the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess must assemble and appoint their own courtiers... and the first among these are the Crown Count and Countess, who operate very much like a Vice President or a First Runner Up, insofar as they appear at out-of-town shows if the Duke or Duchess are unable to attend, and attend Council meetings, and host the annual Winter Extravaganza show. It is a position of some responsibility, a title you have to work for... not as hard as the Grand Duke and Duchess themselves, but harder than, say, the Princesses and Marquises and Barons and what-have-you (the precedence of titles in this Court are terribly confused, God only knows who came up with them, but they bear very little relationship to the actual precedence of titles in the Peerage or the Almanack de Gotha). And as a responsible position, the Crown Count and Countess must have approval of the Council's Board of Directors.

Early on in the election, Angelique asked me if I would be willing to serve as her Royal Crown Countess, and I said no... I would happily accept a lesser title, and would continue to support her reign, but I didn't want to commit to any more responsibilities than I already have. But then, her other friends in the court (those few who aren't already former Grand Duchesses) were similarly leery of over-commitment, and so soon after being crowned at the Grand Ducal Ball, Angelique told me she was simply going to leave the post open.

I didn't think that was a good idea. Not that she couldn't operate quite well without a Royal Crown Countess, but simply because it didn't look right... to have a full complement of courtiers but no one in a responsible secondary position. And so my protective instinct won out over my survival instinct, and I decided to accept the title. I was assured that I wouldn't have to do anything other than what I was already doing, except to host the Winter Extravaganza (which I don't consider that big a deal) and attend whichever out-of-town shows I felt like attending or which were convenient for me.

Last night we all attended the Sacramento Grand Ducal Ball, the first official public appearance of the (as yet untitled) 12th Reign. Angelique and I had talked about Protocol (the titles and order and whatnot used when the visiting Courts are presented on stage during the course of the ball), and we had assumed that since I hadn't been invested with my title yet that I would be presented to Protocol as "Friend of the Court," a sort of catch-all title. However, when I stepped on the stage, I heard myself announced as "Royal Crown Countess Marlee...Marlain? Manners!" (I'll have to find some way of making everyone in the world understand how to pronounce my name... it's not that hard... "Marlénè"=Mar-LAY-neh. Doesn't anybody speak French anymore?)

To tell the truth, it was very exciting. I've always wanted to have a title of some sort, as I imagine most Anglophiles do. I also always wanted to have an excuse to use the formal curtsey that I taught myself when I was seven or eight years old (any idiot can bow, but curtseying takes a lot of practice), in expectation of someday meeting or becoming the Queen of England (because anything is possible in the mind of a child). And last night I got both.

The Sacramento Ducal Ball itself was kind of interesting. It was held in a most unexpected place, the Towe Auto Museum (the temptation to get into the Pierce Arrow limousine that went so well with my dress was almost unbearable); though the automobile showrooms were utterly amazing, the event area was badly lit and poorly ventilated, but it still managed to be fairly glamorous (especially the really quite nice stage backdrop, and the elegant topiary oregano plants on each table that turned out, much to my surprise, to be plastic... they even smelled like oregano, I didn't know they were fake until I touched one).

It was the first time I had ever really watched a Court Ball in progress. In the distant past, I was usually pretty well sloshed by the time I found my seat at the Imperial and Grand Ducal Balls that I'd attended, so had never paid very close attention to the formal rigmarole that goes on in between the Command and Candidate Performances, culminating in the Step-Down Performances of the outgoing monarchs and the Coronation of the incoming monarchs. More recently, at the Alameda County Ducal Ball, I was so busy with the preparations for Angelique's Candidate Performance (which was rescheduled twice, for reasons I didn't understand, and so was moved from the end of Act 1 to the beginning of Act 3, all of which time we were stuck in the dressing room cooling our heels) and my own Command Performance for Royal Grand Duke XI Bob Kleypas (which occurred approximately fifteen minutes later, it was one of the quickest changes I've ever effected in my life) that I didn't see any of the rest of the show.

At any rate, these Court Balls are very interesting, especially when it comes to the Protocol. First the Sacramento Grand Ducal Court, then the in-town and out-of-town dignitaries including the Sacramento Imperial Court, then the visiting Imperial Courts, then the visiting Grand Ducal Courts (apparently, at Imperial Balls, the visiting Grand Ducal Courts are presented before the visiting Imperial Courts). All of these courts had monarchs and past monarchs and retainers of various kinds, and they all had these long and rambling reign-names. It was a lot of fun to watch and to hear.

It's also terribly silly, but then I guess any sort of pomp and pageantry is silly when you get right down to it. I'm going to have to come up with a rambling silly style myself (and by "style" I don't mean my overall look and demeanor, but rather the claptrap added on to the front of my title); I had thought of Lady High-and-Mighty Know-it-All Boss of the World, but there's actually a formula I'm supposed to follow which will incorporate all sorts of specific adjectives that I have to come up with... something about colors, metals, gems, mythical beasts, ancient deities, and totem animals. And then there will have to be the official name of the XIIth Reign, which Frank and Angelique haven't decided on yet (though Frank has his style, the Stars and Stripes Duke, and Angelique has hers, the High-Flying Adored Duchess).

I may be in over my head, here.

Well, anyway... in other parts of yesterday, before I appeared at the Ducal Ball, I was already in the fine city of Sacramento enjoying the hospitality of my dear friend Troy at his lovely South-Sac home. Troy and I are "litter-mates," in that our sobriety-dates are a few days apart and we met at the Berkeley Gay and Lesbian Saturday Night AA Meeting when we were both newcomers. He used to live in Oakland, quite near the White Horse, and we saw each other reasonably often... but a few years ago his job transferred him to Sacramento, and the two-hour commute got to be a bit of a nag... and when he discovered that he could buy a fairly large house with all the suburban amenities for less than he was paying in rent in Oakland, it was a done deal. Though he had assumed that he would still get back to the Bay Area fairly frequently, once ensconced up North he pretty much disappeared. Now I only ever see him at the Fourth Step Retreat (which I told you about back in May).

But this year, Troy decided shortly after the end of the retreat that the best way to keep in touch with people was to offer them hospitality; so he held a reunion for all of us who stayed in Lincoln Lodge at the last Retreat. I wasn't able to make it to that party (which, incidentally, was the same day as Alameda County Ducal Ball... as my life gets more crowded, certain things overlap quite a bit), but as an event it was so successful that Troy repeated it to catch all the stragglers who couldn't make the first one, as well as anyone else who wanted to meet and greet.

So I arrived two hours late, spinning with road-rage, but bearing a fabulous vegetable medley I invented the night before (fresh mint and basil torn and tossed with sliced purple onion and minced garlic, then doused with champagne vinegar and olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and left to soak overnight; then next morning add a freshly steamed bundle of asparagus and a bag of sugar snap peas with a diced tomato and a sliced red bell pepper... so scrummy-ummy).

The pool was already littered with fellow-guests, most of whom I knew and some of whom I didn't. I automatically sized up the torsos on display, rating myself amongst them and discovering that I compared fairly well physique-wise to the majority of those present (I finally got myself under 200 lbs this weekend... 199.5, to be precise), which I know is ridiculously shallow of me, but as I have shared in this space before, I have serious body-image issues. I kept my tank-top on anyway because I simply don't feel comfortable walking around without a shirt. When it came time to swim, the idea of putting on another acre of sunscreen dismayed me, so I just swam with my shirt on (besides, though my torso is much more svelte, it looks kind of funny with a shaved chest and pits but a well-furred tummy). I took the shirt off after swimming, because you can't walk around in a wet shirt (and I think I left it at Troy's), but I still felt oddly uncomfortable.

Anyway, a good time was had by all, we laughed and splashed and ate huge amounts of pork ribs and chicken sausage, apple-poppyseed coleslaw and fruit salad and vegetable medley and yellow cake and walnut torte and whatnot, and generally enjoyed ourselves immensely. Troy then graciously allowed me to use his bathroom to shower and shave and get into drag for the evening... not to mention giving me invaluable directions to the Towe Auto Museum, which was quite nearby.

It's funny, I didn't really think about how long of a day I'd had, since I enjoyed both parts so much but both parts seemed like separate days. I'm feeling it now, I'm so physically exhausted that the very idea of moving, even enough to go get another cup of coffee, feels like a gargantuan effort.

And in such a state, all of this typing has really taken it out of me. I'm going back to bed now. Happy Sunday!

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