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Tea, Guacomole: Masters' Open Houses

By Cyrus M. Sanai

What do you think is the most important question facing the average Harvard student?

A. "Are suppositories compatible with a well-ordered society?"

B. "Should Harvard divest from companies doing business in Albania?"

C. "Where's the party?"

If you answered A or B, you should turn in your bursar's card to the nearest authority figure--you obviously came to Harvard for all the wrong reasons. While Harvard cannot claim to host the kind of campus-wide revelry found at a Florida State or a USC, the much-vaunted Harvard diversity makes up in quality what its parties lack in size.

Seeking out the tree food and drink essential to a social atmosphere is no easy task on Sunday evening or a Thursday afternoon. But, in a tradition of humanitarianism that puts U.S.A. for Africa to shame, the masters of Houses throw regular end-of-the-week get-togethers for the calorie and conversation starved masses.

For one week, this reporter rode the arduous afternoon social circuit, seeking the best in drink, cuisine, and social atmosphere. What follows is a moderately objective and unbiased set of recommendations, reconstructed as much--as possible from beer and guacamole stained notes.

The Miss Manners Elegant Entertaining Distinction is bestowed upon the Lowell House Teas, presided over by Masters William and Mary Bossert. Held every Thursday from 5 to 6 p.m. at the Master's residence, this affair is considered by many to have the best food and the best people at the best time. The Bosserts provide an amazing assortment of takes, cookies, brownies and assorted goodies, in addition to the requisite tea. This tea draws hordes from the other River Houses--and the Quad--so the line soon stretches out the room and into the hall. Unquestionably the first among equals.

The PAAAARRRRRTTTTYYYY!!!! Award is cheerfully hurled at the misnomered Quincy House Sherry Hours (4:30 to 6 p.m. every Thursday). Masters David and Mary Aloian are responsible for the nearest thing to a frat party legally possible, Cola, pizza, quiche, dips, chips, and yes, even sherry feed the Quincy elite in the Master's penthouse. The Quincy affairs are as crowded as Lowell Houses, but lack the aura of social restraint caused by the presence of time china and tea services. The only thing missing is a 500 wall stereo blaring "Psycho Killer."

The Holiday Season Special Effects Oscar goes to the Adams House Teas. Normally pretty sedate affairs, held every other Friday from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at Masters Robert and Jana Kiely's house in the courtyard of Randolph Hall, the tea rouses itself from cultured calm whenever it tally on a holiday. The St. Patrick's day tea, which has included cases of Guinness and poetry readings by resident Bard Seamus Heaney, gets the biggest kudos. On ordinary Fridays, however, the Adams teas are the first choice for people after cucumber sandwiches and quiet conversation.

The Julia Child Creative Cuisine Prize is awarded with lip-smacking gratitude to Myra Mayman at Cabot House. Each Friday afternoon Mayman and her gastronomic aide-de-camp Christine King prepare a different set of ethnic appetizers. Last week's cornucopia was Mexican, including throat-clearing Margaritas, spicy nachos, and the best guaeamole outside of the San Fernando Valley. Mayman flexes her Office of the Arts muscle to bring over a guest artist or performing talent each week, providing a serious threat to A-World's dominance of the Art-with-a-capital-A scene. Nevertheless, the parties are frequented mostly by SoHoites, who still overcrowd the inadequate space at 17 Walker Street. You best bet is to fight your way to the table, take the food, and run.

The Revolving Block Party Award goes to North House. Each week the scene of the Friday afternoon revelry shifts from the Master's residence to one of the three brick dorms. Noho's Weathered Suburban architecture and the itinerant character of the event contributes to a cocktail party atmosphere. This reporter paid a visit when the run wound up at the Master's residence. Plenty of food, not too crowded, lots of chairs to sit down on. Just follow the signs to the site of the part.

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