Tuesday, October 07, 2008

In the Court of the Pumpkin King

Gaspard greets the guests

Well, as hinted at in last week’s post, Amynah and I hosted a pumpkin carving party chez nous this past weekend. It was a little early for Hallowe’en, but perfect timing to celebrate the temporary return of our friends Danielle and David. The latter showed his gratitude by rushing home after the soirée in order to scoop me on his own blog. His take on things is well worth a read.

Our goal, in hosting a pumpkin party, was to allow guests to engage in an activity that, by it’s goopy nature, tends to break down people’s reserve. Hallowe’en being an almost entirely North American phenomenon, it also allowed me to show that we burger-munching lumberjacks do have cultural traditions as well, inexplicable as they may be.

We ended up with nearly forty guests. About half were from Amynah’s lab, many of the rest were former French or English students of Danielle’s from Amynah’s institute. A theology professor, on sabbatical in Strasbourg from McGill showed up with his wife and daughter were the only other Canadians - but every other inhabited continent had a representative, almost none of whom had ever been encouraged to play with their food in this way.

The massacre begins

I had spent much of the week fretting about local pumpkin quality. Strangely, French people seem to believe that the primary purpose of pumpkins is to be eaten, rather than turned into a ghoulish effigy. Most pumpkin-like objects are therefore unsuited for carving, being too small or too fleshy for the purpose.

So when people showed up with miniature squash that might serve as earrings on one of Howard Dill’s monster gourds I was convinced that we were going to have to make an emergency run to reinforce the battalion of 17 pumpkins we’d already recruited to sacrifice themselves in our cause.

Natasha wants in on the fun. Sebastien begs her to reconsider

I needn’t have worried. While I hovered anxiously over the operating table we assembled in our living room, pumpkin novice after pumpkin novice turned out Jaques de Lumières worthy of any discerning collector from even the least promising of vegetables.

The artist and her masterpiece

The ridiculousness of my worry became clear fairly early on, as I was attempting to instruct a friend on the finer points of carving a lid. I asked the theologian’s daughter if she’d done this before, to which she replied “Yeah. Twelve times.” “How old are you?” I asked. “Nine,” she replied. Given that I had only carved my sixth-ever pumpkin earlier that afternoon, I left her to supervise everyone else’s efforts, in order that I could do my part to lessen the load of food causing our sturdy dining room table to sag in the middle.

By the end of the evening, our friends and colleagues had produced some twenty grinning, shrieking, cringing, laughing, grimacing visages. We assembled the fruits of our labours on the back verandah, where they formed a flickering, gruesome choir. Many more photos here


julie said...

wow - what a great idea. those are all beyond fantastic and awesome.

in japan, they only knew the word "pumpkin", not squash, despite the (frustrating) reality that a REAL pumpkin was nowhere to be found in japan (i.e., just squashes that everyone called pumpkins but weren't).

Natalie Joan said...

Love it. I think I may have to do the same here - though it won't have quite the foreign appeal in Halifax.
I'll have to dig out the pictures from the time you & Gina & I carved pumpkins for our party.

Mark Reynolds said...

Julie: All credit goes to Amynah, who had the good sense to steal the idea from friends of ours who did the same in Montreal. Only about half the people here brought the "right" kind of pumpkin, but squash proved to be a perfectly adequate substitute.

Nat: I still have that photo - there's no doubt as to who carved which one.