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The City That Was: Making our Christmas White

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In The City That Was, Bohemian Archivist P Segal tells a weekly story of what you all missed: the days when artists, writers, musicians, and unemployed visionaries were playing hard in the city’s streets and paying the rent working part time.

snow in sf

Turning dream states into real world experiences was one of the things that the Cacophony Society loved to do. A lot has been written in the last weeks about SantaCon, which has grown global and fairly tedious, and that started as a Cacophony prank—roving street theater riffing on the commercialization of Christmas. But that wasn’t Cacophony’s only holiday event. The best one was White Christmas.

Everyone’s probably heard the old Bing Crosby song, “White Christmas.” Bing, probably holed up in Hollywood at the time he recorded it, just dreamed about having one. Cacophony set about making it happen in San Francisco, where snow falls every 30 years or so. The event provocateur was the clever Ms. Ethyl Keytone (Carrie Gablraith), creator of the Zone Trip concept that gave us our first Burning Man.

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Like many Cacophony events, this one called for location scouting, preparation of the site, and a lot of pre-event costuming, gathering of props, and making of stuff. The location selected for this holiday extravaganza was a room in a bunker at Fort Funston, which had an aged concrete gray interior. So the first order of business was to slip in a late night crew, days in advance, to cover the bunker with a gleaming coat of white paint. Cacophony preferred leaving no trace, but the fallback option was to leave places more interesting.

Ethyl Keystone established the rules of the game. We were going to have an elaborate sit-down dinner party in the bunker, and everything—dishes, tablecloths, food, candles, flowers, clothing, and props had to be white. This was a challenge for a lot of us, who wore pretty much only black clothing, with the addition of some battleship gray garments, which were black before too many runs through the laundry.

But life was cheap then, and we could all dredge up some thrift store finery, white shoes to be worn once and probably never again, yards of white fabric to cover folding chairs and tables, and hundreds of candles to illuminate the table and illuminate a path from the parking lot to the inner bunker where the party was held.

On the night of the event, the advance guard pulled up in the lot with a truckload of folding banquet tables and chairs, clip lights, boxes of dishes, glassware, and other things. We knew in advance that driving into the bunker was prohibited and access blocked by a big concrete impediment. However, we had a lot of stuff, and the room we prepared was deep into the belly of the bunker. So a bunch of strong people picked up the concrete barrier and moved it aside, and the truck sailed in with our ton of crap.

We set up the tables and chairs, set out formal place settings of silverware, glassware, plates and napkins. I had a catering business at the time, so I had all this stuff squirreled away in various corner of 1907. Luminarias traced the path for the Cacophony members who would enter with pot luck white food on white trays.

Ethyl had brought a boom box and the music of Hildegarde of Bingen, a 12th century German abbess, who was probably the first famous female composer. The gorgeous, if liturgical, music reverberated off the concrete walls and resonated throughout Fort Funston, and then the guests arrived.

A bunch of foodies limited by color didn’t expect the best culinary spread of their lives, but it’s amazing how good hard-boiled eggs, cauliflower, cheese, white fish, and pasta can taste, smothered in cream sauce and laughter. However, the unsealed concrete bunker, next to the ocean in December, was pretty much sub-Arctic, especially for people in flimsy white costumes. No one wanted to spring for a white coat, which, like the shoes, would go back to Goodwill immediately. Nonetheless, we stayed for hours.

White Christmas was magical, fabulously weird, and bitterly cold. Fortunately, by the next year, when everyone wanted to do it again, we’d found the John Wickett Museum of Exotica. We had to accept an interior that was hardly all white, but then, we’d done all white already.


From when we did it at the John Wickett Museum of Exotica

The above photo of SF covered with snow was snatched from Palm Talk. We took no photos of White Christmas at Fort Funston, having no idea that one day we’d want documentation of our adventures.

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P Segal - Bohemian Archivist

P Segal - Bohemian Archivist

P Segal is a San Francisco native, writer, therapist, and life coach. Literary agents have called her a clever niche writer, but none of them can figure out what the hell her niche is.