Sunday, May 1, 2011
Crickets in the Land of Biff
Weaved through the impossibly beautiful streets of Chestnut Hill to spend the afternoon on the bucolic grounds of the Philadelphia Cricket Club, where many a damn, damn fine Mimosa met with its doom. Urp.
Although I find anglophilia to be among the most trite and objectionable of all upper middle-class American affectations, I am fascinated with cricket. And in Philly, cricket actually has a real history, with a small but avid following. Generations of well-to-do Philadelphians have played the game. In some families, it has become a tradition.
Cricket, with its handsome accoutrements, restful settings, and soothing rhythms, is a delightfully boring game. Like fishing, it provides the perfect excuse for civilized loitering and brunches that go on for eons. Emily Dickinson might have even been tempted to attend a match, what with all the "centuries of June" on offer.
According to my friend Bernie (who showed up today in a pith helmet and white linen suit, bless him), cricket was especially popular in Philadelphia up until the 1920's, when baseball finally surpassed it. In most parts of the former British Empire, it is a game played by toffs and street urchins alike; here in The States, however, it remains as closely associated with The Upper Crust as polo. Even though today's match was free and open to the public, I nevertheless got the impression that this perception is not entirely discouraged. I'd wager that not very many hockey arenas have Federal-style facades and pretty Flemish bond masonry.
The Philadelphia Cricket Club is the oldest in the United States, founded in 1854. For three decades after its founding, the Philadelphia Cricket Club lacked its own home pitch, and so had to travel the region where other teams and clubs could provide a place to play. Its glorious, screaming club colors--crimson, gold, and black--were borrowed from a famous British team, the Zingari, who also lacked a home pitch. Appropriately, the Zingari colors were inspired by a tribe of wandering gypsies of the same name. I saw several handsome club blazers today, but I really liked the brash swagger of the Philly Club's colors. There's something endearingly Philadelphian about them, as in "Up yours, Biff." Or perhaps, "Up yours--I'm frigging Biff."
Even though I frequently find myself in blue-blooded settings like these (Princeton is thirty minutes up the road), I often--gratefully--feel like a piece of riff-raff who has managed to slip inside the palace for a peek at how the upper one percent lives. I suppose the childish illusion of having gotten away with something is part of the appeal for me: chatting up and charming some filthy rich broad at the bar while ordering a Bloody Mary never loses its kick for some silly reason. (Frankly, I'm reluctant to delve too far into the whys and wherefores of my own impulses: the reasons often point to some unflattering trait, if not several.)
Another likely draw of such rarefied environs is their lasting novelty: they often remain as exotic and alien to me as they were when I first visited them. I can never shake the disorientation, the feeling of having fallen down the proverbial rabbit hole into a world as fictional as a Ralph Lauren ad. There's a narrative being sustained; I often have to stifle a chuckle when I see the denizens of the Land of Biff who are obviously playing into this collective fantasy. Perhaps for those who live in that world, it isn't a fantasy at all--and perhaps consensus itself makes the unreal, real. Perhaps as a mere visitor, I am the unreal one, the passing specter. Fair enough, but for me enclaves like these will always remain tantalizing mirages. I'm the worst sort of escapist, but despite such leanings my plebian mind is incapable of kidding itself from that particular angle.
I know I'm supposed to shake my fist at the entitlement, pretension, and snobbery of such places. As a hopeless prole, I sympathize with such egalitarian sentiments; but to be perfectly honest, I'd hate to live in a world where strange, lovely places like cricket clubs, cathedrals, and conservatories didn't exist. An argument can be made that entitlement, pretension, and snobbery are the means by which these pockets of divergent norms sustain themselves: they set the standards and keep the rules clear. If you can remain detached and ignore some of these ugly forces that maintain such places, you can glide through and have a pleasant time.
(But then, you might actually have morals, you poor devil. Guess you won't be finishing that Mimosa, then?)
I'm glad to live in a region of cultural ferment where I can visit these serene oases of ease and comfort. Regardless of how they came to be, many of these places now offer much-needed respite from the aggressive stupidity and social squalor of this lousy era. To engage in a pastime that doesn't involve codified aggression, ungodly noise, or some form of internal combustion is becoming an increasingly alien concept to Americans.
Of course, I could never pass for a permanent resident of The Land of Biff, nor would I want to. That said, I wouldn't mind one of those blazers.