The Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum, affectionately referred to by students and staff alike as “the Ath”, is a place for intellectual engagement, water cooler conversations, and, most importantly, great food. Though the Ath is known best for its lunch and dinner speaker series– where specialists in a variety of fields come to the Athenaeum dining room throughout the week to talk about their theories and accomplishments– a quintessential aspect of many a CMCer’s experience is Athenaeum Afternoon Tea, or Ath tea. Held in the library of the Ath Monday through Friday, 3p – 4:30pm, Ath tea is the perfect midday pick-me-up.
Ath tea is held in a room with hundreds of books, a piano, and soft lighting. There are often people who play the piano at Ath tea, adding layer of performance to the general spectacle that is Ath tea. These cultural elements work to supplement the attendee’s experience, for there is no proper way to be to be able to get some sweets and enjoy music, as opposed to the Ath’s dining room programming which has a dress code.
There are certain signals1 that people who frequent the Ath, known as “athletes”, know very well and use to inform their conduct at Ath tea. There is the familiar sound of one of the student fellows exiting the kitchen, equipped with a tray of baked goods that will be gone in an instant if the listener does not act fast. Beyond this, there is the seasonally persistent phenomenon of tours full of potential future Stags and Athenas coming to the Athenaeum, and those people can devour treats like no other. The trained ear is attune to hearing phrases like, “And this is the Ath, here we have…,” for that indicates what would soon be the end of whatever goodies are still available.
For all that Ath tea has to offer in sugar and calories, its biggest asset is the small talk and light banter its attendees have there. This is a keynote2 of Ath tea for one never knows who they may run into at Ath tea; peers, professors, even President Chodosh have all been known to stop by Ath tea to get their sugar fix. This daily event is an opportunity for students to ground themselves in the presence of others, exchange pleasantries, and take themselves out of the high-stress environments they often put themselves into. For me, Ath tea reminds me of my elementary days, where a snack at 3pm was all I needed to believe that everything was right in my world.
1”Signal” is used in R. Murray Schafer, “Soundscapes and Earwitnesses,” reprinted in Hearing History: A Reader, ed. Mark M. Smith (Athens: University of George Press, 2004), 7. It represents “foreground sounds… listened to consciously”, examples of these are “acoustic warning devices.”
2”Keynote” is another term used in R. Murray Schafer, “Soundscapes and Earwitnesses,” reprinted in Hearing History: A Reader, ed. Mark M. Smith (Athens: University of George Press, 2004), 7. It “identifies the key or tonality of a particular composition”, so the one sound could be seen as most encompassing of a particular soundscape.