Gail Carriger: Manners Unabridged

I’ve gotten a lot of people asking me what Gail Carriger is like. I don’t know how to answer that, because she’s a lot of things. My journey with Gail (and partner, A.B.) can only be characterized by propriety and beauty: two subjects in which I sorely lack education.

When I stepped off the plane in San Francisco, I was lost, but her partner was waiting for me. A.B. didn’t carry a sign, instead approaching me outside the terminal with a sure eye and serene smile. I gave A.B. a stiff, Alabama handshake and instantly felt a sense of imposition as I crushed delicate fingers.

Blushing from overzealous affront, I thought I might could load my bags into the trunk. When I’d finished I spun around to see A.B. waiting, robbed of a chance to be a good host by my foolery.

I knew then that it’d be a long trip.

She lives in a fantastic house.

I was first struck by the size of Gail’s place–not its largeness, but rather its perfection–exactly the right space, everything in its place. She doesn’t own a television for enjoyment, but a series of rooms, each an eloquent testament to the socials of old. A section contains no more than four chairs, because that’s the number of people who should converse in an evening.

After I’d arrived, I had a bit of emailing to do, so I found a favorite vantage overlooking the Alameda channel, and scooted a chair over to it. Before I could sit, I had to paw around my bag for the power brick. When I’d finished, I sat down without looking and fell straight on my rump. Blinking, I found that A.B. had moved the chair back with a sort of soundless efficiency. I apologized, and A.B. pretended not to know what I was talking about, probably so I could save face.

When I asked for the wifi password, I was told that, “We do not provide distractions. Only reflections.” While that snarled my yarns a bit, I was in Rome, so it was time to figure out what the Romans did. I asked if I could meet my host, and she called out to me from the far hallway door, appearing on command. As she closed ranks, I got the distinct sense she’d been watching my buffoonery for awhile.

Gail is a tall woman, slender, with wide, knowing eyes. She only wears suits that I’d expect to see on Saville Row with simple, elegant vests of a single color. She favors bow ties, one in particular that resembled a carnation. When I took her gloved hand, I thought I caught a whiff of limoncello and rosemary. I made an effort not to squeeze so hard this time, and found her grip full and confident, whereas I’d been about as firm as a flan.

She is informed.

I thought this might be the right time to give her the little happy I’d brought with me. In the South, we pride ourselves on hospitality, and it’s hard to imagine being a guest without giving  a token of affection. My bags contained a bottle of Jack Daniels, procured at the airport, since the distillery is just a short distance from my home. It was a large bottle, and not cheap around these parts.

She took it, made all the polite noises, and placed in my hands a bottle of G.H. Mumm–the champagne sprayed across every one of Formula One’s podiums. As a racing fan, I thrilled to see the Brut Cordon Rouge red stripe, but a thought occurred to me: We were at the stem of the Napa Valley. Why would she buy me a French champagne?

The deep thoughtfulness of her gift sunk in, as well as the vast gulf between our manners: I was proud of myself and my hometown, she was proud of knowing me. And, once again, I found myself at a powerful disadvantage.

A.B. showed me to my room, and it was the one time I felt a little more at ease. The fit was poor, for I was traveling solo and the bedroom was… also for entertaining. My mind unspooled a few speculations about the sorts of parties that might happen here, then quieted. I’d been told I was quite safe, and though Gail was an odd one, she seemed trustworthy.

The clock struck, and A.B. summoned me for afternoon tea. After a complicated ritual of just-so leaves, water and milk, Gail began to wax poetic about her time in Peru, digging up ruins of ancient civilizations. She’d pause every now and again, offering me ample time to contribute to the conversation, but all I could do was marvel at the depth of her knowledge–and feel powerfully provincial. Sensing my trepidation, she changed the subject to toys and games, inviting me to speak on my love of Legos. Again, I had no idea how she knew that about me with no internet.

I carried on for a time, but felt awkward, since it seemed she had nothing to say. She urged me to continue and asked insightful questions about the toys, comparing them with the construction methods of ancient Etruscan societies. Once more, I was humbled by the distance between us: I could only flounder in my ignorance of her passions, but she swam in curiosity about mine.

We would continue onward that trip to visit a pinball museum, dine out on some of the finest foods on the planet at Saison and stroll the Embarcadero in the bracing bay breeze. And while all of those were impressive moments, none were so telling as the way Gail generously invited me into her home. In the South, we believe we know manners and hospitality, but I believe we could take a leaf from Gail Carriger.

(And to all who’d like to know how much of this is true, I ask: isn’t it more fun just to believe?)

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