Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bridesmaids in Fezzes

The dreaming mind is an amazing thing. Consider this pre-dawn conflation: a parade of francophone bridesmaids wearing fezzes.

Of the three weddings we’ve been to in the past months, only one featured bridesmaids, the traditional gaggle of pretty girls – but none so pretty as the bride - wearing matching unflattering gowns in colors named for fruits.

I would be lying if I said that the fate of the Odd Fellows Hall in Bingham, Maine has not been on my mind. It was last used by a genuine Odd Fellow 13 years ago, though its current owner and recent inhabitant (David Jones) says that he was made an honorary Odd Fellow when he lived there. It is 10,500 sq. ft., of post and beam construction, and in perfect condition. Mr. Jones was hoping to get $100,000, but says he will take $85,000. The sad part is: if he gets anything at all he will be lucky. The Odd Fellow plaque just doesn’t have the cachet it used to.

And then there was the obituary of Richard Hagan in the Morning Sentinel, listing his Masonic memberships and titles, a list that cries out to be set to music.
"He was also an active 32nd degree Mason, a lifetime member of the Riverside Lodge No. 135 of Jefferson, Ancient Brothers Lodge No. 178 of Auburn, Bradford Chapter No.9, Dunlap Chapter No.8, Pine Cone Council No.31, and Valley of Portland Consistory; Past Officers Association No.1, Lewiston Commandary No.6, Eusebius Conclave No.3, Red Cross of Constantine, Maine Lodge of Research, Pine Tree Priory No.65 York Knight Cross of Honor, Valley of the Androscoggin, Dirigo College No.103, Lake View Chapter No.179 Order of Eastern Star; High Twelve Mid Coast Masonic Club No. 738 – Rockport, and life member of the Keystone Royal Arch Lodge No.24 – Rockport, past district deputy for Masonic District No.7, member of the Scottish Rites in Auburn and past high priest of Scottish Rites.”

Neither the Odd Fellows nor the Masons wear fezzes, but the Shriners do, and the Shriners are an offshoot of the Masons, and they are all secret societies featuring elaborate rituals, initiation rites, mystical titles, hierarchies and yes, funny hats.
(Not being a Mason, or even of Masonic material, I don’t know what Scottish Rites are, but I hope and pray they involve bagpipes and flaming torches.)

Bon Papa, my Belgian grandfather used to wear a fez when they lived in Egypt, but only when he smoked a pipe. Only when seated in his special armchair. When he was settled in with his pipe and his fez, Ahmed would bring Bon Papa exactly 10 ounces of chilled Belgian ale, made by Trappist monks back in Wallonia and shipped regularly to Cairo, and he would pore over maps of the Upper Nile and Sudan. In all ways except the beer, my grandfather preferred his life in Egypt to life in Belgium.

Somewhere in my mother’s attic is my grandfather’s fez, wrapped in tissue paper and labeled: Fez of Arnold Brancart. My mother labels everything, in detail, in permanent markers, with dates & provenance; she is to Labeling what YoYo Ma is to the cello and what Meryl Streep is to acting and what Serena Williams is to tennis.

I am told Bon Papa spoke perfect English, but he forgot it in his later years, so I only spoke French with him.

One of the ‘floats’ in the West Athens Fourth of July Parade, was the perennial “Always a Bridesmaid.” I had o explain the joke to CSB, who oddly enough had never heard the old saw, Always a bridesmaid, Never a Bride. As you can see, he was not wearing a fez.

Fezzes are named after the city of Fez in Morocco. Once my sister and I stood on a rooftop in the Medina and looked down on other rooftops covered with raw leather curing in vats of colored dyes, and then drying in the sun. The active ingredient – the fixative- in the dye, was pigeon guano. The vats were tended by young men whose skin became permanently colored to match the fezzes.
We spoke French in Morocco, did not wear fezzes, and did not encourage my mother to use her kitchen Arabic.

1 comment:

Diggitt said...

Was the Odd Fellows Hall built in 1895? You didn't say before that it's post-and-beam and in perfect condition. Now I, too, will worry about it. Maine is full of well-built things that are going to be abandoned -- just a decade or so before climate change drives people north.

Maine climate change question: if Maine gets warmer will it still have black flies in August?

I once watched a Shriners parade in Boston and who showed up but Elliot Richardson. He was accompanied by scrawny young men, plural, each with a clipboard and harried look. Richardson was wearing a Shriner's fez with his rank in glittering metallic stitching: AMBASSADOR. Elliot Richardson, in the Back Bay, wearing a Shriner's fez marked AMBASSADOR -- what a dissonant image.