Saturday, June 16, 2012

Steamy Port Townsend Tales part 1

So: I spent last weekend over in Port Townsend, a town that has long been a favorite of mine but I now like even more after seeing it through the brass-colored goggles of Steampunk. The event that lured me to town was the inaugural year of the Brass Screw Confederacy, a brand-new Steampunk Convention. And I have to say, Port Townsend has never looked finer.

The brainchild of new PT arrivals Nathan Barnett and Cindy Madsen (now proud proprietors of The Old Consulate Inn Bed and Breakfast, of which more later), the Brass Screw Confederacy was pulled together in a series of months by the newly formed Olympia Peninsula Steam, which is passing along some of the profits to local arts and culture organizations. Though there were only a few events on the calendar, they were well chosen, at least from my perspective: at the Friday evening absinthe tastings I had a wonderful time mingling with other guests in assorted finery, enjoyed the fire dancers, and ended the evening by following the Green Faery with unsteady steps back to my tasteful hotel room at the always-elegant Water Street Hotel.
 Oh yeah. My room. This is how I roll, out of town anyway.

Then on Saturday I dropped by the Bazaar of the Bizarre, which featured tables full of Steampunk merchandise (in some cases somewhat loosely defined--Steampunk preserves, anyone?).

That's STEAMPUNK Dandelion Nectar!
Picked up a new gray cravat for the ensemble, because--well, it's harder to find cravats than you might think. Watched some blacksmithing and daguerreotype processing, and enjoyed the sight of little kids running around wearing top hats and faux brass goggles. Then I headed over to the Key City Cabaret (a fetching little black box theatre) for the scheduled seminars and events. 

The first guest was the major reason I'd come over for the weekend, one of my favorite science fiction writers, Neal Stephenson, reading from one of my favorite of his novels, The Diamond Age. The sartorially elegant Mr. Stephenson read from the novel and engaged in a generous Q&A about some of the themes of that astonishing book and how it relates to Steampunk as fiction and as a movement. It was heartening to hear someone who's done such a superb job of avoiding genre labels in his own career apparently untroubled at his work being taken up by the Steampunk movement. (Even if you think all this Steampunk stuff is some sort of middle-aged derangement on my part, read The Diamond Age. It's a neo-Victorian hearty idea soup about nanotechnology, virtual realities and the revolutionary power of pedagogy, and it's a corker.)

Steamcon founder Diana Vick delivered a great and compact feature on what the well-dressed Steampunk lady is wearing these days. The elegant Ms. Vick is a great ambassador for Steamcon and peppered her presentation with a whole series of amusing anecdotes.

The acts that followed, Professor Payne's Flea Circus and The Shadow Sprites, were both quintessentially delightful. Payne completely reconstructs the old vaudeville Flea Circus act and it's an hilarious and exquisite hour, the sort of entertainment that was once described as "fun for the whole family" before that honorable term was copyrighted by Disney (your check is in the mail, Mouse lawyers). And the Shadow Sprites? All I can tell you is if you ever get a chance to see them, do. Like everyone in the audience I thought that the old fashioned 3D red/blue glasses I was given when I came in to confront a white screen were a joke. But then the music came on, and the shadows behind the screen became three-dimensional creatures before our eyes. Absolutely astonishing, and in our sensation-saturated age an honest-to-god novelty. I hope to steal this wonderful idea some day and make millions.

The evening ended with a Steampunk Hootenany at the American Legion Hall, where the assembled throng was an elegant answer to the question "What's Steampunk, anyway?" (Almost every person I talked to admitted that they hadn't even known what Steampunk was until a week or two before, but thanks to some internet research they'd figured what to buy, what to pull from the closet, and here they were!)

I also got wonderful answers to my eternal question: "what do you think of Steampunk?" My favorite answer came from a young guy working Security who'd grown up in Port Townsend. He admitted that he'd gotten pretty bored with the annual Victorian days celebration, and said that this was one of the first times he'd seen an event where both the young and the old in town had come together and shared interests. (In fact he said "partied like it was Saturday night," which it was and they were.)

More on the Brass Screw Confederacy soon--including zombies vs. steampunks, beautiful books, and my visits with several of the folks who dreamed it all up and made it happen.

I am a visitor to your adorable Victorian town. Kindly direct me towards the absinthe.

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