First things first, Books. The War Service of Sherlock Holmes, published by The Baker Street Irregulars. I have a chapter on Tokay in the book. Here is a link where people can purchase it, if they so desire.
January 6th is the designated birthday of Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Every year there are celebrations in New York City and in London. I have been to these dinners many times. This year, I just could not face the weather in New York. I do not own snow boots or a decent winter coat. Nor do I own anything made with “camping in the Arctic” padded insulation. I regret not being able to attend as I miss the camaraderie.
Here is a photo taken a few decades ago: from left to right: top row: Mickey Fromkin, Susan Dahlinger, Evelyn Herzog, me. bottom row: Roberta Pearson, Susan Rice, Sara Montegue, M.E. Rich.
The following is an edited excerpt from my contribution to “Sherlock Holmes Fandom, Sherlockiana, and the Great Game,” edited by Betsy Rosenblatt and Roberta Pearson, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 23. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2017.0888.
When I moved to New York City in late 1977 to manage The Mysterious Bookshop—a job I was offered because I have always been a voracious reader of mystery novels—I was fortunate enough to immediately fall in with the Adventuresses, and I began attending their monthly get-togethers (ASH Wednesdays) in 1978.
What a magnificent group we were! I look back on those days fondly. We Adventuresses loved books, we loved to laugh, we knew how to have a good (and occasionally riotous) time. We were free to be who we really were—women with agile minds and a knack for mischief. Perhaps even more than an appreciation of the Holmes stories themselves, it was the camaraderie and the feeling of having found a home that drew me to ASH.
I was staying at the apartment of Mickey Fromkin and Susan Rice, two fabulous ASH, on the eve of my first trip to France in 1982. It was to be one of my free-wheeling rambles around Europe in search of some as yet undefined je ne sais quoi. That year, serendipity led me to picking grapes in Champagne and living for a time in Paris, and this in turn led me to my entry into the wine trade.
That late summer evening in Mickey and Susan’s book-filled front room, Evelyn Herzog, ASH’s Principal Unprincipled Adventuress and founding-mother of the organization, told me that I could not set out to live the life of an Adventuress without becoming one officially. She invited me to join ASH and gave me the investiture name of Mlle. Vernet, the name of Sherlock Holmes’ maternal grand-mère. It is a name with which I am very proud to be associated. The fading yellowed certificate that commemorates this event hangs in my office as I type this.
In 2006, in a hotel room at the Algonquin on a sunny morning after the Big January Dinner, I called a little meeting of some of my favorite ASH and proposed a idea, one conceived because I was lonely for Sherlockian companionship. I asked them and some clever Boys to write essays for a book called Ladies, Ladies: The Women in the Life of Sherlock Holmes. I did this not so much to amplify the place of women in the Holmes stories (although it does this handily), but rather to have a reason to be in weekly contact with some of my closest friends. The book is lovely. It is chock-full of information. But for me, it is a document attesting to long-time friendship.
In 2010, thanks to the lobbying of Venerable Ash and Old Boys from my New York youth, I was invited to join the Baker Street Irregulars, with the investiture of Imperial Tokay. This is a reference to a fine wine with startling medicinal properties, which is mentioned in The Sign of Four and His Last Bow. The investiture name is, of course, a reference to my career in the wine trade. I am grateful for this honor: the BSI parchment shares wall space with my ASH certificate.
I went back to New York for the first time after many years in Europe in the mid-2000s to attend a BSI dinner, I was assailed by a covey of young women. One of them looked at me reverently, her eyes wide with wonder, and said: “You’re one of the old ASH.” Over the rest of the weekend, I found myself saddled with that label. It was disconcerting, because I knew that—in her heart, mind, and soul—an ASH never grows old.