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Burning Sugartown January 1, 2009

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.

Our buddies Deb and Dan had a New Year’s Eve party last night. We had a fabulous time for all the usual reasons: We’re surrounded by friendly and fascinating people in this ’hood, and a bunch of them were gathered together in one room for a bunch of hours. Amazingly, all these people can cook (really, really well). Potlucks in Vermont tend to surpass the quality of most restaurants in the area. Enough of these folk are wine snobs that we also drank really well. There was a fire going in the fireplace, and it was a three-dog night in at least two senses.

More than anything, though, I was looking forward to burning Sugartown.

Deb had explained this recent family tradition to me more than once. As I understand it, everyone gets together and—à la Martha Stewart—creates an entire town out of sugar cubes and candy. People create their own themed buildings. This year Deb’s hunting cabin featured pretzel logs and mounted deer heads with antlers (I think the antlers were made from some shoestring-type red licorice product—perhaps Deb will chime in if I’m wrong). Dan made a disco in which a rave was in progress. Attendants were mostly jelly-bean based. There was a DJ with headphones and three turntables. There were jelly beans dancing, doing drugs, making out, all in varying degrees of undress. The walls were covered in sparkly candy.

There was a soccer field, game in progress, with a scoreboard. An elaborate orchestra with candy beings playing instruments had been dismantled by the dog, who, in a jealous rage upon not being included in a dinner outing a few nights previous, had pushed a chair close enough to the display to do some devouring damage. We got to see what was left of it.

When the Sugartown tradition began, Deb threw the displays out at the end of the season. She found this dissatisfying. Thus began the tradition of burning Sugartown at midnight on New Year’s Eve. It was that tradition I was dying to witness.

We had a snowstorm yesterday, and there was a possibility that it would be too windy for a fire. But by 11 p.m., it appeared all was well. The wind had pushed the clouds along, then died down, so when we ventured into the cold to huddle around the fire pit, the sky was that mass of Vermont stars that is so beautiful that—as some character said in Big Night, I think, in a thick Italian accent—you have to kill yourself.

One by one the buildings were dumped into the fire. Their cardboard bases caught first. Eventually the air filled with that burning sugar smell, that caramely smell, a sweetness that occasionally, briefly, hit me like the boiling down of sap to syrup. There, around the burning Sugartown at midnight, we Veuve-Clicquot-toasted the new year: to friends, to Vermont, to those jelly beings who gave their lives in sacrifice as we all burn with hope for a better world.


1. Cedar Waxwing - January 1, 2009

How fun! Glad you got to be part of the experience!

And thank you for that Nancy Sinatra. I thought she only sang about boots (my brother had a crush on her when he was about 4. He used to sing These Boots are Made for Walking in a cute little boy voice.

2. Craig (Maito Sewa Yoleme) - January 1, 2009

Mom was a bowler, very nearly a professional. She’d always be going away for one tournament or another, and when she did, Dad always took me to a diner in Langley Park that served the BEST hushpuppies in the world, and had a jukebox with songs I loved. I always played “Winchester Cathedral,” “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You,” and—you guessed it—”Sugartown.”

I can see “Burning Sugartown” catching fire, as it were, and becoming as big as the Burning Man Festival someday. What a perfect, perfect story.

I think you need to start creating a roller rink for next year’s building, with jelly beans pushing one another down and rolling by them, and a jelly bean audience applauding wildly.

3. Adam Byrn Tritt - January 1, 2009

This sounds lovely, fun, and astoundingly satisfying.

For many years I would take part in the creation of sand mandalas, with many visiting monks, and the destruction of the perfect, glorious mandala at the end of the creation.

One day, I shall like to create for sugartown and, in the end, watch, listen and smell as it burns.

4. bettyslocombe - January 2, 2009

Boiling down sap to syrup? now you’re just rubbing it in.
That sounds fabulous though.
Don’t kill yourself. That reminds me of a story about a Melbourne comedian: he was having a terrible gig and he said, as they do ‘Oh god I’m dying up here’, whereupon a woman in the audience said ‘Oh,no,don’t die!’ and hung around to talk to him afterwards: now they are married. Isn’t that nice?

5. She She - January 2, 2009

There are so many things I love about this post. The friends, the tradition, the fire and sweet smell of burning sugar, the reminder to rent Big Night, and the evidence that I can dance better than someone else on the planet. Fabulous.

6. laurie - January 2, 2009

what a great party! what a great tradition!

all those poor jelly people….

7. indigobunting - January 2, 2009

CW: So glad I could help expand your Sinatra horizons!

C(MSY): (Why do I always think CMYK when I type that?) First, as per your note on my Facebook page, I think you should definitely ship something up for Sugartown. Or maybe even bring it up yourself. Second, love your Langley Park story and your love of “Sugar Town.” I had a babysitter who used to sing it and make up verses. Third, I love the idea of a roller derby theme. Wonder if I could pull that off? I have art phobia.

Adam: The mandalas sound wonderful. Maybe you and Craig need to plan a road trip next year.

Mrs. S: I keep thinking about the syrup. I need to talk to my lived-in-NZ coworker and discover how best to make this work. While taking inventory of the cupboards yesterday, I found a tiny 1-ounce jar of syrup, probably from some hotel. It seemed way too mean to send it. In other news, I’ll try not to kill myself. Lovely story. Given your obvious utter devotion to Kate and mine to Tim, I’ve decided to believe it is not, despite the don’t-kill-yourself directive, a marriage proposal.

She She: Yes, yes, rent Big Night (one of my favorite movies!). And the dancing comment made me laugh and made me feel much, much better about my own feeble abilities.

8. indigobunting - January 2, 2009

Laurie: You beat me to the post! Yes, all those poor jelly people. First, vicious border collie, then fire…

9. Eulalia (Lali) Benejam Cobb - January 2, 2009

I can’t believe we missed the burning! Had we known, we would have “stayed our leave,” and maybe even jumped into the pit (because of all those Vermont stars, you know).

10. Helen - January 2, 2009

Wow, you Vermonters have such fun parties. My new year’s resolution is to have a better New Year’s Eve next year…

11. Lynda - January 2, 2009

The last line brought tears to my eyes. It was a truly wonderful evening, but your words make it even more divine in my memory, almost dream-like. There was something so romantic about gathering around that fire pit and you summed it up perfectly in that one sentence. Thank you!

12. Deloney - January 2, 2009

I think I had some vaguely romantic notions about Vermont even before I knew you, but since then, and because of your writing, all those romantic notions have been confirmed.

13. Deb - January 2, 2009

I loved your story Indigo and feel so privileged to be instigator of such inspiration, both in your story and in the comments generated here. Even I am finally posting!

Lali – I’m so sorry you didn’t realize our plan. Next year you will surely be there – perhaps we’ll set some off on London time for those on an early schedule.

Craig – I love your roller derby idea. Clearly you must come up next year to realize this vision.

14. Susan - January 3, 2009

I don’t suppose I could persuade you to move the party to PA next year?

15. indigo bunting - January 3, 2009

I’m thinking Burning Sugartown could become the venue for we bloggers to meet! I’m sure Deb and Dan won’t mind hosting what is sure to become the next Burning Man or somesuch. If that doesn’t work out, perhaps people could burn Sugartown all over the world…

Thanks for all the nice comments. Makes me continue to feel warm and gooey about my friends in Vermont and everywhere else. And Del, your writing has kept all my romantic notions of city life firmly intact.

16. Mali - January 3, 2009

I’m late to the party. Burning sugartown and everything around it sounded wonderful.

17. Joya - January 5, 2009

I’m even later to the party, but this is so great! What an odd and interesting tradition!

18. damyantig - January 5, 2009

“One by one the buildings were dumped into the fire. Their cardboard bases caught first. Eventually the air filled with that burning sugar smell, that caramely smell, a sweetness that occasionally, briefly, hit me like the boiling down of sap to syrup. There, around the burning Sugartown at midnight, we Veuve-Clicquot-toasted the new year: to friends, to Vermont, to those jelly beings who gave their lives in sacrifice as we all burn with hope for a better world.”

It is surreal how well you write, and still refuse to take it up professionally. I spent my new-year’s eve at a prosaic barbecue, so, of course, I envy you :). Or not. Cos I wanted to stay home, curl up with a book and the hubby under covers. Oh, well, age catching up, I guess!

Though it is terribly late, Happy New Year! May your entire year be like the “boiling down of sap to syrup”, may you and yours live in happiness distilled. A big virtual hug from across the world, Damyanti.

19. Helen - January 6, 2009

I also wanted to add that last night, I caught the tail end of a book review on the CBC, in which the smitten reviewer described the writing as “exquisite in its simplicity and clarity.” He was talking about Marilynne Robinson’s latest book (I haven’t read any of her books, but now have one on hold at the library). Anyways, while he was talking about her writing it was reminding me of someone, and I finally thought, that’s how I would describe Indigo’s work. True story.

20. indigobunting - January 7, 2009

Happy new year and a hug to you, Damyanti!

Helen: I’m honored.

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