Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, December 12, 2004


Every Christmas we have a dessert reading party, and it’s become one of the highlights of my calendar. It started in Christmas ‘98 when my then-girlfriend-now-spouse was traveling in Africa, and a good friend of mine was house-sitting for her. At my instigation we read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which takes place at Christmas. I’d read it a few times (in translation) and loved it. The party was a success -- something happens in the combination of rich food, alcohol, good friends, and spoken literature, everybody taking a turn with the poem as we pass it around the room. The poem itself is a feast, and takes a few hours to read aloud, and it is worth it worth it worth it.

Last year we read Shakespeare’s “Tempest,” and we were stuck on what to read this year. Someone suggested Chaucer, and, not having read any of his stuff since high school (and consciously remembering only the fart jokes in the Miller’s Tale), I did a web search for summaries to choose what to read, settling on The Nun’s Priest’s Tale and, if we had time and people were up for it, The Wife of Bath’s Tale, which as it turns out I’d read in high school, having remembered only the ending, not the title or author.

We started cooking Thursday night for the Saturday night party, ending up with fudge, chocolate cake, chocolate-cappuccino cookies, lemon squares, and squash pie, with crackers, bread, cheese, and homemade olive paste for savory snacks. And wine, beer, store-bought eggnog, warm spiced cider, and whiskey to drink. Everything turned out either fine (the stuff I cooked) or wonderful (the stuff my spouse cooked). People started arriving at 7:30, and shortly after 9 we started reading. 16 or 17 people came.

Chaucer is hilarious. I won’t summarize here, except to say that he’s rich in daily-life detail in a way that I’ve come to adore in late Medieval painting and literature. Less idealized than what came after, without disdaining humans for our foibles and weaknesses.

We read the Bantam Classic facing page translation, and a few times people read the Middle English for a paragraph or two, which was sweet-sounding and pretty-much-followable. Luckily, the Nun’s Priest’s Tale is pretty short, so we decided to plow on through the Wife of Bath’s Tale too, which was longer, finishing up around 11:15 or 11:30, and hanging out talking past midnight.

Alcohol, rich food, and reading out loud. With a great piece of literature, I recommend it highly.


Away at a training for work this week, might not be blogging much. Happy trails.

And well do I remember a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend in Oregon with rich food, drink, and a reading of The Comedy of Errors. Still the best version of that play I've ever heard.

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