Tuesday, May 01, 2012

A Little Tea, A Little Laughter: a Photo Essay

Never let it be said that I don't occasionally enjoy
a little fantasy.
Pretending to be a 'lady,' perhaps - a west coast, 21st century upstairs resident of Downton Abbey? 
Why yes, don't mind if I do...for a little while.
 There is this glorious old hotel in my town, a Spanish colonial revival masterpiece that spreads out quietly across the street from the beach where I like to visit. 
Most of the time, I go there for the beach itself - to sit or to walk, to meditate on the wonders of God's creative genius.
Generally, I pay little heed to the old Biltmore because I'm always looking the other direction, across the small stretch of sand that is Butterfly Beach, staring out across the Santa Barbara channel. I admire the waves, the extensive beds of kelp, the Channel Islands - if they're visible - the angle of the light as it bounces off the water. I am always searching for dolphins or pelicans, 
even whales some seasons of the year.
But every once in a while, I stick my small camera in a pocket and stroll across the street, just to pick up a little atmosphere, to wander and wonder about who built this place, who stays here, how many weddings there have been on these grounds. 
It's lush with old bricks and old greenery, service personnel moving efficiently and silently across the pathways connecting its many outbuildings and cottages.
The place fairly reeks of elegance, of old money, of careful attention to the smallest architectural detail, of thoughtful planning and hushed voices and class.
Class - that indefinable something, that vibe which whispers, 
"We know what we're doing, we do it very, very well, and you're welcome to be here as long as you behave."
Even the luggage carts are discreetly tucked away.
The view is lovely - not spectacular 
(that might not be classy, after all) 
but truly lovely.
And there is a brick pathway that leads directly from the hotel to a specially built staircase leading down to the sand.

Taking my fantasy life into reality for a little while last Saturday afternoon, I had the rare treat of going inside this grand place.
I had a special birthday gift, you see. 
High Tea at the Biltmore Hotel, hosted by my daughter-in-law and my 6-year-old granddaughter. 
Can you imagine?  
High tea. 
Arriving at the Biltmore is quietly dramatic. 
Parking valets whisk your car to places unknown, 
the heavily-vined porte-cochere invites you into the cool, naturally lit archway entrance. 
Flanking either side of the front door are statuary 
and entire bins of orchids. 
A small, silent fountain slips water down the side of a  glistening urn.

The lobby is large, with high ceilings, expensive carpets, more orchids and a variety of lighting fixtures. To the right and down the steps is the wood-paneled lounge and bar, with a 15 foot window framing the ocean view.
Once upon a time, High Tea was served in that lounge.
Now it has moved to the restaurant, a sweeping space of beauty and calm.

There is something strangely soothing about such a space.
A je ne sais quoi  spirit of welcome,
of invitation.
It has that affect on all kinds and ages of people.
Yet despite the beauties of the room,
which truly did elicit sighs of contentment and appreciation,
I have to say that my favorite view of the entire afternoon was this one:
Gracie, across the table, looking so grown up.
Pink bows right down to her toes,
she loved every minute of this experience.
And what's not to love?
Beautiful china place settings, linen placemats and napkins,
delicious food, beautifully presented.
(Well...Gracie was not at all sure about these sandwiches. But the tea and the second course? Oh, yeah. She was into that!)
Each of us had our own teapot, with a hand-wrapped silk bag containing the tea flavor of our choice inside. I went for straight mint, they went for chocolate mint flavored black tea. All of us were deeply satisfied with our choices.
Two lumps, please.
Milk? Why, yes, please. I'd be delighted.
And drink it down she did - complete with elevated pinkie finger. I do declare, I believe she was the most scrumptious thing on the menu that afternoon!
And this is the second course.
And the third.
And the fourth.
A plethora of deliciousness, three of each item, all prepared strictly according to the number of reservations made.
There are NO drop-ins for High Tea.
And in one of the most extreme instances of overkill in recent memory, this was the special additional goodie tray for the birthday girl...which was moi.
Surely the largest dipped strawberry on the planet,
 plus truffles hand crafted by the chef.
Gracie thoroughly enjoyed carefully scraping off the dark chocolate birthday greeting as we packed most of the treats to take home.
It was a very full day, in every way I can think of.
I have written before about how blessed I am in my daughter-in-law. She has been a gift in my life from the moment I first met her, almost 20 years ago.
And the three of us had a lovely time of making small dreams come true for a little while on Saturday afternoon.
Downton Abbey?
Well, maybe not quite.
But for this California Nana, it was close enough.
Thanks, Rachel and Grace - I had a grand time.

This is not a particularly 'spiritual' post, at least in the way most people on the internet define spiritual. However, for me it was an experience rich in blessing, in love and in joy. And all of those things are among God's richest gifts to us. 
 So, I will list this at Michelle's Hear It on Sunday at her Graceful blogsite 
and at Jennifer's Soli Deo Gloria sisterhood over at Finding Heaven. 
I'll also join in with Laura's Playdate at The Wellspring 
and with L.L. at Seedlings in Stone.

The new blogger format makes transferring buttons nearly impossible for me to do and I am sorry not to be able to include them with my posts. 
I used to be able to open another window in my editor and copy them from earlier posts. 
I can no longer do that. So I'll keep trying to figure it out. 
In the meantime, I encourage you check out these fine blogs I enjoy linking with 
whenever I can.