Part 3: The Gala Ball
Collective nouns are a funny thing. Some are familiar to almost all of us; a “pack” of hounds or a “swarm” of bees. There are other, more obscure, collective nouns that many of us would go a lifetime without hearing; a “congress” of baboons or a “rhumba” of rattlesnakes. The mere existence of this category of words seems to prove the inherent humour of the English language itself. A language that decides it needs all these words in the first place, and then sets about deciding upon them based on wit more than efficiency. Creatures seem to be allocated collective nouns based on snickering in-jokes about their traits; a “crash” of rhinos, a “sneak” of weasels, a “prickle” of hedgehogs.
I started investigating some of these more obscure collective nouns in the hope of finding one that might help me describe the gathering of Montessorians present at the Montessori Centenary Gala Ball. I’ve found a few that come close – a group of owls is called a “parliament”, which would be appropriate since the venue for the Gala Ball was Parliament House and we do like to think of ourselves as “wise”, but it doesn’t have a very poetic ring to it! I wondered whether we could borrow the collective noun for a group of mice by becoming a “mischief” of Montessorians. This would certainly do justice to some of the cheeky behaviour of the more extroverted among the group! After careful consideration, however, I’ve decided to go right back to a more familiar term borrowed from the lions. I’m going to call us a “pride” of Montessorians, because that’s what we were on the night of Saturday 8th June at the Gala Ball. We were proud, and we were ready to party!
Andrew and I were in Canberra with 6 of my colleagues from the “SA Montessori” centres and we were spread across two lovely apartments in the artistically hip suburb of New Acton. We all frocked up separately and then congregated for the showcase and photo shoot! It was such a delight for me to see my “co-workers” in their finery. We spend our days together in clothes that reflect our professional personas: black pants, sensible shoes, shirts that won’t be missed too much if they are sacrificed to the world of paint or sand. It was a revelation to get to see a bit more of my workmates (quite literally in the case of Josie’s fishnets!). I know how beautiful these women are – inside and out – but that beauty was particularly highlighted by their stunning outfits for the Gala Ball. I can’t help but share an image of my gorgeous girls (and Andrew!). You might notice that Andrew and I have gone for “Montessori Child” green in our outfits! Here’s a little game for fun: two of the women in the line-up were my teachers when I was a little girl attending Jescott Montessori Pre-school. One is my mum but see if you can guess the other one!
Andrew, me, Barb, Josie, Mary Ann, Kylie, Pam, Adriana
After showcasing our outfits we briefly covered them back up again to keep ourselves warm on the way to the Gala. We shivered our way up to the entrance, teetering on heels that differed wildly from our usual “OHS” conscious footwear. Before getting inside we all submitted to a security search; bags on the scanners, keys out of pockets, hands against the wall for the pat-down (don’t worry, that last one is just a joke!). Only one of us was pulled aside for a more thorough metal-detector scanning…and by coincidence (or not) that one of us was the one wearing fishnets! Adriana whipped out her camera, ready to snap a photo of the scan for posterity, before I suddenly stopped her with a “hang on, perhaps we’re not meant to take photos in here”. Sure enough a security guard confirmed that while we could take photos in the rest of Parliament House the “security screening area” was off-limits to cameras. So instead we saved up the memory card space for when we took our next steps towards the Great Hall.
The foyer leading Great Hall is a stunningly impressive landscape of granite columns and staircases. It certainly feels rather humbling standing in such a cavernous space. Perhaps this is the point of having such a daunting entrance to our Parliament House – to try to keep the egos of the usual residents under control. We joined the queue of Montessorians waiting to get inside the Great Hall itself and, like our peers, we stepped in and out of this line to pose for photos! When we reached the front of the line we greeted the ever-smiling Roelie Hartwig (there must be something in the water at MAF Headquarters – almost everyone involved with MAF duties seems to have a permanent supply of grins and energy!) and checked our places for dinner.
Stepping into the Great Hall for pre-dinner drinks (sponsored by SA Montessori – always happy to see our banner in place with my beautiful niece’s face looking back at me!) was awe-inspiring! Another enormous, breathtaking space but this time filled to the brim with tastefully decorated tables and beautifully dressed Montessorians! Candelabras and souvenir Hundred Squares on the tables, cocktail dresses and suits on the attendees! There was much mingling to be done as the drinks were served – with 290ish people present, all eager to meet and greet one another! There was something quite special about seeing all these “Montessori bigwigs” in a social setting! Laura Flores Shaw looking vibrant in red. Andrei Roberfroid dapper in his dark suit. (Interestingly, I discovered later that dress-style and presentation-style seem to directly correlate to dancing-style; our robust American speakers were particularly exuberant dancers whereas our European visitors were slightly more subdued!). An energetic band provided a musical background to the initial montage of mingling but as plates begin to swoon into the room we all found our places and took a seat.
The meals were delicious – which was lucky because an empty spot beside me (reserved for the representative of one of the conference sponsors but left vacant for reasons unknown!) provided our table with an extra serving of each course! A tasty (if teasingly small) chicken entrée whet the appetite, followed by “The steak or the fish” and finally a fairly unique desert (rosewater macaroons?! It’s like a scented candle in my mouth yet surprisingly enjoyable!). Interspersed between courses were drinks, dances and shouted attempts at conversation (we were competing with the tones of the very eager band!).
My only complaint about the dining experience – why are the teetotallers of the world doomed to be ignored?! There were 9 of us on the table and three of us were abstaining from alcohol – one for practical purposes (our designated driver), one for cultural reasons and myself simply because I discovered several years ago that I seem to have more fun sober than tipsy! There were several bottles of wine open on the table when we arrived, plus two jugs of water. As the night went on I noticed that the wine was frequently poured by passing waiters and was replaced when it ran out, but the water remained stagnant and no alternative non-alcoholic drinks were offered. After our waiter repeatedly offered wine to the non-drinkers I explained that the three of us wouldn’t drink at all throughout the evening and therefore we wouldn’t think he was being rude if he simply skipped us when offering refills of wine. At this point he just said “ok” and off he went…which slightly surprised me as I would have thought he might like to offer us an alternative beverage! Eventually Andrew spotted my disappointment and offered to request a coke for myself and for my fellow sisters of sobriety. The waiter returned with one glass of coke for each of us. Maybe I’m just a fast drinker but I can’t make a single glass of coke last 5 hours and 3 courses! It might seem like a petty detail but it would have been a nice gesture to bring a jug of coke for the table, to offer us refills when refilling the wine…or even to just bring us more water! By the end of the night I was literally trying to lick at the last few precious drops of warm water in my glass! Shouting over music plus a limited supply of hydration is not a soothing experience for the throat! I do realise I sound like a bit of a kill-joy complaining about cokes and water in the midst of such a spectacular event but as a consistent non-drinker it’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine.
Back to the positive stuff – the dance floor was addictive! The band played an impressive array of cheery, poppy tracks. There were conga lines and dance-offs and people blaming it on the boogie all around! In fact the dance floor was so popular it started to become the blob that ate Brooklyn…it just expanded in all directions until people were dancing into tables and chairs! Anyone who tried to get away with remaining seated was quickly accosted by my eager mother – she became the self-appointed High Ambassador of Dancetown by inviting all and sundry to dance with her (before abandoning them to go invite the next person!). Mum’s addictive energy was matched only by the similarly infectious enthusiasm of MAF President Christine Harrison. If mum was High Ambassador of Dancetown then Christine is surely Lord Chancellor of Boogie-ville. Between the two of them they seemed to find time for a dance with every one in attendance! A highlight for me was watching the two of them side by side having an impromptu dance contest! Meanwhile I stood by the side of Christine’s lovely daughter Gemma as we smiled proudly (and tutted slightly!) at our crazy, wonderful mothers!
After several hours of eating, drinking and being merry the time came for us all to bundle back up in our coats and head home. I’m sure many people wanted to keep going on Saturday night but the spectre of Sunday morning was looming. We all needed the intellectual-equivalent of “beauty sleep” to get us ready for the inspiration awaiting us in the Sunday session so dutifully we swapped cocktail dresses for pyjamas and tucked ourselves up tight. We took with us the souvenir Hundred Square (courtesy of Nienhuis), a tummy full of celebratory treats (gold-dipped chocolate balls representing Golden Beads!) and many happy memories of a fun-filled evening!
Stay tuned for Part 4: The Exhibitor Perspective