Last spring I chaired a regional Mensa convention, which ate up tremendous amounts of time and was exhausting, but satisfying. I received a Hell's Ms award for that, a tee-shirt that says "Party Animal", but I can't say I really enjoyed the party myself.
Last weekend, though, I enjoyed a much more laidback Mensa gathering that I had put together. It was a lovely informal weekend, and we had a great time.
The weekend was in response to a survey bbwoof had sent out last fall to the local Mensa group asking what sort of activities they'd like to see. He had quite a good response rate, something like 15%. There were several requests for activities outside of metropolitan St. Louis, for out-state members. And a couple of people suggested excursions to wineries and other destinations.
So I scouted out locations and decided that a weekend in Ste. Genevieve would be perfect. I wrote up a couple of articles for the newsletter, made a few phone calls, found a friendly winery, and booked bbwoof and me into a B&B.
We were there last weekend, and it was a wonderfully relaxing, romantic time. Here's a slightly edited version of the article I just wrote for the newsletter describing the weekend:
It was a beautiful autumn day, perfect for Mensans to gather on the terrace of the Ste. Genevieve Winery for a picnic lunch. Woof and I had brought sandwiches from home, but everyone else tried the local food. Everyone else had a good idea, at that. This pretty river town is known for its many antique shops, its charming B&Bs, and its excellent onion rings.
Alice and Bob R_____ had stopped at the sandwich shop next door to buy overstuffed sandwiches and an enormous box of onion rings that they shared with all of us. They were so good that Jackie B_____ and her friend, June S_____, decided to get sandwiches and onion rings there, too. Jim T_____ brought the third box of onion rings, so crisp and mild and perfectly seasoned that helping him eat them wasn’t a hardship at all.
Steve and Jane R_____ joined us, and we listened to the fine ‘60s and ‘70s sounds of Vintage, the live band, while sharing a few bottles of wine, telling bad puns, and talking about everything from haunted houses to the House of Representatives. The house red wine at the Ste. Genevieve Winery is quite good, dry and subtly complex. If you prefer something a little more fruity, the cranberry wine is crisp and delicious. But my favorite is the blackberry – and I normally don’t even like sweet wines!
New member Lily A_____, accompanied by her Dad, Matt A_____, arrived just as we were leaving the winery to explore the town. The group split up. Some of us checked out the Quilt Show, some went to see the other artwork and crafts for sale at the Autumn Daze street fair. Woof and I had explored the craft fair earlier that day, so we joined Lily, Matt, Steve and Jane in a stroll up the street to the Ste. Genevieve Museum.
The museum is a quirky little place with an eclectic selection of relics of the early days of the first European settlement in Louisiana territory, as well as more recent treasures. A 17th century missal, leaves still curled from 18th century flood damage, shared display space with a white zucchetto worn 50 years ago by Pope Pius XII when he prayed in the historic Church of Ste Genevieve. The safe from the town bank that Jesse James had robbed was there, along with a rusty Spanish commandant’s sword from Napoleonic times and a table covered with Indian arrow-heads. I was fascinated by the dainty filigree jewelry made of human hair. Many people in the 18th and 19th centuries made jewelry from the hair of their children, lovers, and friends. Sadly, around 1900 the funeral industry locked onto hair jewelry as another way of making money, and hair jewelry acquired a depressingly mournful meaning. Besides, when you could carry a photograph of your family with you, why settle for just a heart woven of locks of hair to remind you of them? Hair jewelry is now a lost art, which is too bad. The rings and pendants on display were quite lovely.
Ste. Genevieve has the greatest concentration of French Colonial buildings in North America, including some particularly rare examples of French Creole poteaux-en-terre construction, the oldest surviving Norman truss roof in the United States, and the first brick structure built in Missouri. (The bricks were carried as ship’s ballast from France.) I had anticipated an afternoon full of exploring these architectural treasures. But the wine, walking, and October sun did me in. I returned to the pretty Iris Room at our B&B for a Jacuzzi bath and a nap.
Some Mensans had come in just for the afternoon, others stayed later. Some of us went to the Déjá vu Spirit Reunion, a lantern-lit tour of the old cemetery where re-enactors of early settlers stood by their graves and told us of their lives and deaths. Over the last hundred years the old cemetery had been vandalized many times, but events like the Spirit Reunion are funding a mighty restoration effort. I enjoyed "meeting" spunky old Madame Odile Pratt who had insisted on being buried next to her husband even though the old cemetery was technically closed, as well as the gracious and courtly Senator Lewis Linn who knew so much about the history of the place.
We were seven at the table for dinner at The Brick House, where they serve 40-oz steaks and tasty country-fried potatoes. Declining dessert, the dinner group went back to the Winery to sample a selection of locally-made fine chocolates as well as another bottle of wine, courtesy of our gracious hosts, Elaine and John Mooney.
The next day we checked out the ferry across the Mississippi River, but decided against going on to tour the remains of the old French outpost of Fort de Chartres since we'd heard there was bad weather rolling in. We enjoyed the autumn foliage on the easy drive back to St. Louis.