BACK TO WHERE IT ALL BEGAN

A Life Without Limits II - A Renaissance Fantasy
Weehawken - New Jersey

The 2008  B&B Con Report by Annik

(Quick and dirty first draft, no time to add pictures, but you'll find links to lots of them on the batbland Con page)


I was really thrilled at the prospect of going back to New York. Well, New Jersey, but, as Rosemarie pointed it out, you can't truly enjoy the NYC skyline if you're living in it and, boy, did we enjoy it! Our hotel was on the waterfront, with a very good view on Manhattan. The sight at night was just dazzling.

Claire and I arrived at Newark on Wednesday afternoon. Moira (a big thank you to her, she did a wonderful and certainly exhausting job playing airport shuttle for so many of us!) was there to drive Vee and us to the hotel. We got a little lost on the way, and there was a lot of traffic, but that's New Jersey!

First familiar faces in the lobby. First hugs and chats with friends. Dinner with other fans at the hotel's restaurant, and up to bed, because it's already the middle of the night, European time.

Thursday

Very early (time zones again) next morning, our first gesture is to open the curtains and gape. There, right in front of us, the sun is rising over Manhattan. We can't resist going down for a few pics and have breakfast on the waterfront at one of the outside tables of the hotel's restaurant.

More people have arrived by now, which means more hugs and greetings and chats, and by 10 we all meet in the lobby for our first add-on activity, the tour to Ellis Island and and the Statue of Liberty. I didn't take many pictures there because I'd done the tour in 2001 already, but certainly there will be dozens of them posted by other people.

Back to the hotel to prepare for the second add-on, the dinner and show at Medieval Times. A huge place, with rows of seats behind long tables surrounding an arena where the show was taking place. Good food (that had to be eaten with our fingers in the Medieval way, and in the dark, rather a messy business but fun) and a very entertaining show with a tournament. We were in the yellow section, so "our" knight to encourage was the Yellow Knight and you can guess we did a good job of it! Didn't hurt that he was the "cutest knight of all", too.


Friday

First day of the Convention proper. A little before nine, we're in the lobby waiting for the doors to open and get enrolled by JoAnn to help with some last-minute table adornment. At nine, the doors open to a beautifully decorated room. We register and get our name-tag, tote-bag, conzine, con-schedule and other goodies, then sit down for a nice breakfast and a clever "ice-breaking" game. We all have to find a certain number of people and get them to sign our paper. For example: someone who's been to more than ten cons, a con virgin, someone from the north of the USA, someone from a different country, a classic fan, an all-season fan, etc... A great opportunity to go from table to table and learn about the other attendees.

Then come the Opening Ceremonies. We get to watch a video (the delightful "Smile" by Candlelight Creations), then Rosemarie gives us various con information, and there's another fun game, a quiz named "Just How New Jersey Are You?" I'm not, fancy that!

Next comes Winterose's mask making workshop. She's brought white masks and all kinds of stuff to decorate them with. Paint, pens, glitter, stickers, paper flowers, feathers (the peacock feathers are very popular) Con attendees unleash their creativity to produce beautiful things that will be left to dry on a table for everyone to admire, then worn at tonight's Masked Ball.

Then it's time for the Chesapeake Helpers' "Dirty Minds" game. I was not going to miss that!
Brenda gives us some very, ahem, ambiguous definitions, and we have to guess the word. For example: "You have to get me hot to get me up" is... a hot air balloon.
I'm definitely dirty-minded: I won a prize.

Time for a lunch break, before Judy's Beast Bingo, a classic of the conventions. Always a lot of fun, with lovely prizes, the game's also a great fundraiser for the Con charity.

Next comes the Calligraphy workshop, run by Linda S (fic readers may know her as Linda Barth). She gives us special felt-tip pens, example sheets and training sheets and shows us how to reproduce the beautiful letters. Not quite as difficult as it seems, even for someone as artistically challenged as I am.

Then Deb introduces this year's charity "Threads of Love", an organization that helps parents who go through the illness or loss of an infant, offering both support and beautiful, hand-crafted baby items. A very moving moment.

Next workshop is the Renaissance Line Dancing with Peggy. She teaches us a couple of dances. Country line dances, in fact, but on Renaissance music. We strain to remember the steps, bumping into each other more than once as we go right when we were supposed to go left and laugh ourselves silly.

Dinner break, before the Masked Ball and talent show.

Re-reading all that, I realize it looks a bit "dry", just a succession of activities, but believe me, it wasn't. It's just that I don't have much time for this report and tend to stick to the facts. Now fill in the gaps with hugs, chatter (lots!), hoots, fits of giggles and roars of laughter (we had a hearty, rowdy bunch of con virgins, this year!) and you'll get a more exact and colorful picture.
I also had a great time watching my French roomie enjoy her first Con!



Friday night



We dress up and go back down to the Convention room, where a dazzling, colorful sight awaits us. Lots of people are in Ren garb, every outfit more beautiful than the next. Time to chat and take pictures! Cameras flash away as new groups make their entrance. Vincent and his Knights, Fair Maids, a pair of butterflies, two hilarious roaring lions...

We take our places for a first Renaissance dance, then the Talent Show begins. And Talent is the right word. Of all kinds. Poetry, songs, dances... Vicky and Suze move everyone to tears with their beautiful voices, the Chesapeake group (Vincent and his knights) have the audience in fits, then up and dancing all around the room, waving tambourines... and sorry for all the others, but I was having way too much fun to take notes. Or take many pictures, for that matter.

Up to our room to don our pyjamas, and back down for the slumber party. When we arrive, there's a young man in the room, glass in hand (obviously not his first), talking excitedly. A hotel guest, his eye has been caught by the sign above the con room door and he's come to see what it was about."I used to watch that show when I was a kid!" A true fan, if a very drunk one. He is enthralled by the "Vincent's chamber" set and Bubba, does a double-take on David "Oh my God, it's Mouse!" and of course, wants to see Vincent. Lisa has gone back to her room, but people kindly show him pics of the Talent Show on their cameras, to prove that "Vincent" was there. He frowns at the pics from the Chesapeake Helpers' dance: "What's he doing? The Macarena? You had Vincent do the Macarena?!?" He seems truly shocked by that sacrilegeous lack of decorum, and of course the whole room's in fits.

After a few unsuccessful attempts, he's finally herded out of the room by his girlfriend and the slumber party begins, with milk and cookies, as it should, and a very sinful chocolate cake, yumm. I must admit I was so tired by then that I don't really remember much. I went to bed before the zine reading began, but I'm told it was a lot of fun.


Saturday


A hearty breakfast, and it's time for Daria's signing workshop. Another great  moment. In her energetic, humorous way, Daria teaches us a few rudiments of the American (I didn't know the language was not universal!) sign language. I'm afraid I remember only a couple of signs by now, but it was fun!

Then come the Q&A with David. As usual, I was so busy trying to understand everything (hey, foreigner, here!) that you'll have to read other reports (come on, people, especially you Con Virgins, we want to hear about your own  experiences!) to learn what was said.

Lunch break, then it's the  Chesapeake group's 
infamous "Kazoo for Dummies" workshop. We blow away on our kazoos along some great musicals' tunes (sometimes out-of-tune, too), illustrated by Jackie H who dances with various disguises and accessories, all absolutely hilarious. At the end, we all get a diploma from the "Kazoo University".

While we're finishing, a group has started to assemble in the lobby, and my heart almost misses a beat as I realize that Franc Luz has arrived. He's my favorite guest star, from my favorite episode! At first sight, he doesn 't look at all like Kristopher Gentian. Taller than I expected, more muscular as well, but on a closer look, there's something of the character in the eyes and the smile. I just found out on IMDb that he's 57, he certainly doesn't look them. He has a great voice, too, deep, resonant and very clear to my foreign ears.

He begins with an homage to Rosemarie, whose gentle but stubborn insistance has finally convinced him to accept the job. We get various behind the scenes anecdotes (Vincent, minus the wig, puffing on a huge cigar and bitching about the Dodgers...) To Franc, Kristopher was undoubtedly a ghost, and he enjoyed the character a lot. He tells us about other roles (another ghost in Matlock, Star Trek TNG, The Doctors) and about the acting profession.
At one moment, Rosemarie comes up on stage with a small object in a plastic bag. It's a card... THE card. Kristopher Gentian's business card that he hands to Catherine then wants back, because it's the only one he's got. Turns out that it was truly the only one, which is very unusual for a prop, and after keeping it as a memento for twenty years, Franc is donating this unique and precious item for the charity auction. How nice is that?
Until then, I saw only a professional, deploying an easy but superficial charm, but at that moment I begin to suspect that there's a truly nice guy under it, and as the week-end progresses and he begins to truly enjoy his time with us, an authentic, warm friendliness will replace the "job-required" one.

A long line begins to form for the autographs with David and Franc. Since they both  take their time with people, say a few words to each person, pose for pictures, it's a long wait and we eventually have to move  to the Dealers' room, so that the hotel staff can start setting the tables for the banquet. Autographs in hand at last, we head up to our room to dress for the banquet.

We meet in the lobby, in all our finery, for the 'social hour' before the banquet begins. Ideal time for more pictures, more chats, and a glass of wine as well, while we wait for the door to open.
Finally we're admitted into the banquet room, and make our way to beautifully decorated tables. There's a Winterfest candle near each plate (a gift from the Chesapeake group). When everyone's seated, lights go out, and David reads out the Winterfest opening speech as light passes from candle to candle. On the last words, we all raise our candles together (I don't know about everyone else, but that ritual always gives me shivers! It's a great moment of collective emotion and communion, worth the trip in itself.) Only after putting down our candles can we applaud David. During the banquet, we are entertained by the Renaissance Players, a theatre troup playing (of course!) Beauty and the Beast -The (tongue in cheek) fairytale.  They're good, and very funny, and their Beast is not bad at all.

After a short break, it's time for the charity auction. JoAnn and Deb start, but soon, the theatre troup comes back and the Beast  takes over the auctioning, making it a hilarious show. And a successful one, as well.

Sunday

The last day of the Con, already! At 10, we make our way downstairs for the 'Central Park' brunch. The whole room is decorated as if we were truly in the park. They've even taken (stolen?) the bench that was outside the hotel door (we poor smokers will have to remain standing...) to complete the impression. The tables are again set in a lovely way, with branches, flowers and pebbles, and a tiny bench, complete with a minute leather book, for each of us. We sit down for a delicious brunch, then there's a very interesting and instructive video about Central Park, how it came to be (the idea was to 'civilize' New York!) and all the things that can be found there.
Franc comes on stage and gives us the schedule of tomorrow's outing. Central Park, of course, but also a number of NYC landmarks, many of them B&B related. A very ambitious schedule, and he warns us that there's little chance we'll be able to do all of it, but he'll do his best.
He also warns us that the weather, which has been lovely so far, might not be so nice tomorrow. Drats! But our first stop will be a souvenir shop where we can buy umbrellas if needed. We're not going to let a little rain stop us, are we?


Another round of Beast Bingo, then Karen Q's rubberstamping workshop. I didn't participate in that one, being all thumbs as I am.
After a break, time for the Art auction. All the items have been exposed for silent auction in the Dealers' Room since Friday, and we've been able to admire them. I realize I haven't said anything about the Dealers' Room, yet. It's located across the hall, in a smaller room, very comfortably outfitted with a couple of couches. That's where the boards with the pictures of  past cons have been set. There are also tables with all kinds of merchandise, and the art auctions items. Drawings sculptures, boxes and booklets, dolls, cushions and a beautiful quilt. There's also some original B&B merchandise, like the assorted V&C chalices, and two resin Vincent figurines, one painted, the other pewter-like. All those who didn't get a bid, or got more than one, at the silent auction are now going to be sold.


They go one after the other to their new happy owners. Lyn's cute "Vincent Roo", Sandy2's lovely little boxes and booklets... the last one to go (our auctioners know their stuff) is the delightful  drawing that I think of as the 'darn pencil!' one. It's a nude Vincent, but a perfectly decent one (aw!) since a hand holding a pencil hides, ahem, the pertinent (or impertinent) part of it. The pencil's pointing upwards, though...


After the auction, the raffle tickets that have been sold throughout the con are drawn. Various prizes to be won: free registrations for next year's New Orleans Con, along with beautiful drawings representing the city; Judy's famous goodie baskets as well.


It's already time for the closing ceremony, my,where have those three days gone? Before Rosemarie passes the candle to Deb, there's one more treat coming. And what treat! Longtime fans who've been to many cons already take as much pleasure in watching the Con Virgins' reactions while they watch that very special video as they get from the video itself.


The candle passes, the Con is over. But the fun isn't. Lots more to come!


Tonight we're going to the movies, see Hellboy 2. The theatre is not within walking distance so a car pool is organized, those who drove to the Con take the others, and we all meet at the multiplex, where we buy dinner at one of the food places in the lobby. I discover that in the USA it's allowed to take your whole meal with you to watch a movie (In France, you can only have snacks like popcorn or candy) so I get to eat my first cheese and steak sandwich while watching the teasers.

The movie was fun, and it was even more fun watching it with a bunch of friends who laughed and cheered exactly at the same moments. A raucous crowd we are, and it got us a few curious looks, as we're not exactly the target audience for that kind of movie, but hey, that's our own big guy in there!

Monday

When we wake up, it's pouring outside. Drats! Seems like we're going to have to buy those umbrellas, after all. But by nine, when we board the bus, the rain has stopped, if the sky's still very cloudy. Our first stop is to pick up Franc, just at the exit of Lincoln Tunnel. He surprises us in wearing the  Con T-shirt. Nice of him, and it will turn out very practical to keep the group together: difficult to lose sight of a tall guy in bright yellow! Then we head to the souvenir shop he's told us about. It's not too crowded yet, and we take a little time to browse the shop, buy presents for the ones we left at home. Then we walk to the Empire State building, a block away. It's early, so the line's not too long, and we enjoy the view from up there, still a little misty but clear enough.

By the time's everyone's back down and aboard the bus, it's close to lunch time, so our driver Al takes us to Grand Central Terminal. On the way, Franc points to various places of interest. He's a very skilled tour guide, and knows all kinds of interesting things about the city. He's chosen Grand Central for a lunch place, first because it's a beautiful Beaux-Art s monument (truly impressive!) but also because its a dry place with seats and bathrooms, more comfortable than Central Park to go through our lunch boxes on a rainy day. A tour of the station, including a place called the 'Whispering Gallery' with astonishing acoustics, some free time to eat, then back to the bus.

Our next stop is Rockefeller Center and St Patrick's Cathedral, and he tells us all about them on the way. After a short visit, we head to Central Park.

To me it's a very special place THE B&B place in NYC, and I've kept enchanted memories of the first time we were taken through it in 2001. I won't be disappointed this time either. We make not one, but two stops in Central Park, in two different places, and from there walk to the locations we want to visit. The carrousel, not the one in the show, which is in Griffith Park in LA, the Mall with its statues of great writers and poets, the Angel Fountain where we take a group picture. The weather has cleared, some sun shines through, and despite the heat and humidity, we enjoy the walk a lot. Franc takes us to the John Lennon memorial, the 'Imagine' mosaic, next to which there's a bench with a plaque bearing the words "Though lovers be lost, love shall not, and death shall have no dominion". Not 'our' bench, but I think of it as 'the other bench', discovered by fans during the 2001 NYC con, and I think the finding of it played a part in wanting to have our own B&B bench.
Then there's the Dakota building, where John Lennon lived, and which also can be seen behind Catherine in the opening credits. Next to it, the Langham building, used as Catherine's building in the Pilot (in the other eps, it's the Langham building as well, but in LA, we saw it last year).

Next stop, central Park as well, but a bit further north, to the Delacorte Theatre, where 'our' Bench is, not far from the Belvedere castle. At the bench we meet David, who's spent the day in the park. We make a long stop there, take lots of pictures, and the most courageous ones climb the steep stairs to the castle. The view from up there is breathtaking.

Back to the bus, for one more B&B 'pilgrimage', to St Vincent's
Hospital. We have to go all the way down to the Village in the late afternoon traffic, and on the way, Franc tells us about the different areas we're going through. We finally get to the hospital, but it's difficult to figure out the place where Vincent might have been found. The hospital has probably changed a lot since the 50s. A few pictures later, we head back to Midtown for dinner in Mars 2112, a 'futuristic' restaurant near Times Square. The restaurant is located below ground, to enter you go through tunnels, then go down into a huge cavern, lit in red because you're supposed to be on Mars. After dinner, Franc takes a group to see Times Square, while others prefer to rest their feet in the bus, and then it's time to go back to the hotel. On the way, we drop Franc near his home, cheering him one last time. He looked like he enjoyed his time with us. We certainly did.

Tuesday

We're not as numerous today, for the scheduled add-on, the visit to the Sandy Hook lighthouse. No need for a bus, two minivans are enough, driven by Rosemarie and Deb.
The trip was fun, though!We found the visit very interesting and the surroundings beautiful, but, my, the mosquitoes there are hungry!

Back at the hotel just in time to shower and change, and catch the ferry to Barbetta's restaurant, followed by 'Wicked'. I didn't go to Barbetta's, but was told the place is lovely and the food excellent. Me, I just wandered on Broadway and had myself a true NYC street-corner hot-dog!
 
We met outside the theatre just in time again to get our tickets from Rosemarie and get in.
Wow! You've got to see at least one Broadway musical in your life. It was... just awesome. Music, story, singers, acting, sets, special effects, everything. Well, almost everything, as some of us were right under the AC and had gusts of icy wind blowing down on us. With Deb's help, I managed to get a better seat next to Claire between the acts, before freezing to death. But apart from that, I enjoyed the play a lot!

Back to the hotel by bus and ferry, a little sad. This time, it's truly over. Most people are leaving tomorrow, some very early, and the time of goodbye hugs  has begun.

On Wednesday, the goodbyes continue, sniff. We hug friends "as we part for another year" (or maybe longer...).

Claire and I take the ferry back to town for a little more tourism, since our plane leaves only tonight. We walk halfway through the Brooklyn Bridge and have lunch in Chinatown, then head back to the hotel where Moira is waiting for us. Thank you again Moira, it really means a lot to have a friend drive you rather than an impersonal taxi!
 
The plane must have felt that we were reluctant to leave NYC, since it remained stuck on the tarmac for five whole hours before taking off, but the rest of the trip was uneventful we finally made it home, exhausted, jet-lagged, but still starry-eyed and filled with wonderful memories. Memories of places and events, and a heartfelt thank you to the Con Com for putting it all together, for all the hard work it must have given them.

But most of all, it's about the people, all the beautiful people we met again or got to meet for the first time, all the warmth, the laughter, the emotion our B&B family so lavishly provides.

I want to see you all again!

Next year, maybe, in New Orleans...