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Chocolate With Tam at the Umstead

An unexpectedly uplifting experience yesterday:

I went to “tea” with five friends, as the guest of one of us, photographer Karen Tam. We were celebrating a combo of birthdays and Christmas. Tam took us to the Umstead, a still-newish hotel at Research Triangle Park that has been years in the making. It’s extremely well-appointed and it’s expensive.

So we dressed up. That alone can feel ennobling, if you spend a fair amount of times in jeans and Uggs before a computer screen.

And then, here’s what really got me. Every detail there was so well done that it made me feel like doing everything better. It’s a remarkable experience to be somewhere, however briefly, where everything is done as well as humanly possible.

The armchairs, the proximity to the fireplace, the pastries, the hot chocolate, the way we were treated — wow! And the thing is, it wasn’t even all perfect at first crack. The first round of hot chocolate wasn’t hot. Ardis, who is bolder than I, mentioned this. The lukewarm chocolate was whisked away and a woman in an elegant black suit came out and apologized and we were then elevated to the rank of visiting queens. (It’s always inspiring to see someone turn a glitch into an opportunity for an even better performance.)

I came away feeling more full of purpose, more capable, and (amazing in combo with the other two) more relaxed.

This is the way outings and vacations are supposed to work, and this one was only three hours.

Me and the buds had good time talking too. We do this three times a year; some of us have been friends for 39 years, others only about 35. We shrieked less than usual and were very grown-up in keeping with the fancy setting. Though we did each wear one of Jan’s 1940s hats with feathers and veils.

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