The Countess Penelope of Arcadia Plays it Cool

Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me the pleasure of introducing my very first guest post, which has been contributed by the daring Dilettante herself, Helena Hann-Basquait. I greatly appreciate her kicking the guest posting off. Anyone is welcome. We’re all in this together… you know, life.   

Life. It’s what we make of it. It’s truth. It’s how we capture situations, write about them, and tweak the moments without ruining the actual truth of the matter. 


Thank you, Mr. Malone, for being so kind and generous with your blog as to give some space for a story about Penny’s birthday!


“Penny,” I whispered at first, and then a little louder: “Penny, wake up!”

WHAP! A hand came out of nowhere and smacked me right in the head.

“Ow! What the hell, Penny?”

“Gimme nine more minutes, please.” She moaned. “Just nine little more minutes of snoozy time.”

“But Penny,” I whispered in her ear, “it’s your birthday.”

Penny rolled over and mumbled something unintelligible. Then she stretched like a cat and rolled over again.

“You know what I’d like for my birthday?” She grumbled.

“Nine more minutes of sleep?” I guessed.

“How well you know me.”

Nine minutes later…

“Birthday breakfast is ready,” I declared, and then flopped down on her bed and began bouncing up and down repeating, “Breakfast is ready! Breakfast is ready,” until Penny finally rolled out of bed onto the floor and crawled her way toward the smell of breakfast.

“So what’s for breakfast?” She asked, still moving slug-like along the floor.

“Ah, remember when we stayed with Manuel’s mom in Napa, and she made us chorizo and eggs?”

Penny’s eyes lit up.

“Well, it’s not going to be as good as that — you can’t really get proper chorizo here, but…”

“Did you make fresh tortillas?” Penny asked, suddenly awake and excited.

“Hey,” I rebuked, “does the name on my shirt say Betty Croquierrez?”

“You don’t have a name on your shirt,” she replied.

“Yeah, but I was thinking up that Betty Croquierrez line for the last half hour. So, nothing, then?”

“Yes, yes, it was very clever, but I’m just only two-thirds awake and you’re expecting what from me, exactly?”

“Never mind,” I sighed, feeling greatly unappreciated for my wit and humour. “Come, let us repast, and break the fast., before the time has passed.”

“Just loving the sound of your voice this morning, aren’t we?” Penny said, not unkindly.

I practically danced to the dining room, and tried to get Penny to join me. I love birthdays. Other people’s birthdays, and Penny’s in particular. Because I never do what she expects. She’s long stopped dropping hints about what she’d like for her birthday, because she knows that the fun for me is not just buying her something she wants, but something she’d never think to ask for but will absolutely love. Now that she’s older, I like getting her things that are irreplaceable — like memories, experiences. Things can get lost, stolen or broken, but you’ll never lose the memories you make.

You know, Helena, if this writing thing doesn’t work out, you could always go to work in the greeting cards business.

You know, voice in my head, if this snarky commentary thing doesn’t work out, you could always go and fuck yourself.

Where was I?

Ah yes, Penny was pigging out on breakfast burritos, filled with chorizo, eggs, and fried potatoes with fresh salsa, and washing it all down with hot coffee and cold grapefruit juice.

“So,” she said, mouth full of her mostly masticated Mexican meal. “Where’s my birthday present, oh favourite aunt of mine?”

“I’m your only aunt,” I said.

“And so you’re my only favourite,” she said without missing a beat.

Without any further flourish, I presented her with an envelope, which I’d doodled all over, putting her name in the middle, surrounded by mosaic-type random shapes and squiggles.

“What’s this?” The Countess of Arcadia demanded.

“Open it up! Open it up!” I urged, barely able to contain my excitement.

Penny opened the envelope and pulled out the card, and performed the ritual shaking of the card and finger in the envelope, checking for cash, but instead of cash, she found…

“Tickets to go see Jack White,” Penny said, lacking the enthusiasm that I had imagined. “Cool.”

“Um, that’s not exactly the reaction I was looking for,” I said, heart sinking a bit.

photo (1)“Well,” the Countess replied, “Jack White is kind of your thing, Helena. I mean, there’s even precedent that states that Jack White makes you feel like a seventeen year old girl in a go-go cage.”

“Nineteen, darling,” I correct her, “I was nineteen.”

“Whatever. You bought these tickets so that you could see Jack White.”

“I bought these tickets so that we could see Jack White. Who’s the one who, upon discovering The White Stripes, dyed her hair black and dressed in nothing but red and white for an entire month?”

“That was a fashion challenge,” Penny insisted.

“And who wanted to write a stage play based around the song Carolina Drama from the second Raconteurs record?” I challenged.

“One has to respect grassroots storytelling abilities when presented in such a stark and harrowing way,” Penny countered.

“And who cried like a baby when Jack and Meg announced that The White Stripes were officially finished a couple of years ago?”

“AHA!” Penny said, pointing her finger at me. “That was you!

“True, but you locked yourself in your room and refused to come out,” I accused.

Penny sighed. “Okay, it’s pretty cool,” she allowed. “I guess. If you want me, I’ll be in my room trying to figure out how I’m going to salvage my birthday.”

“Okay,” I said, mocking her melodramatic manner, “you do that.”

Penny stormed up the stairs, stomping her feet childishly, and then slammed her door behind her.

I counted to ten, and didn’t even get to six before I heard the sound of Penny screaming in sheer joy, followed by the opening drum beat of Seven Nation Army being played at full volume.

I smiled and poured myself a cup of coffee.

Mission accomplished.


e-book coverHelena Hann-Basquiat dabbles in whatever she can get her hands into just to say that she has.

Her niece Penny, AKA the Countess Penelope of Arcadia, provides amusements and makes life interesting.

Her book, Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One was published April 1st, and is available in paperback HERE  (if it’s not available in your region, try HERE) or for Kindle HERE

11 thoughts on “The Countess Penelope of Arcadia Plays it Cool

  1. Aw, bless Penelope, acting all cool and “whatever” but inside she was so happy with her present. You always get the best things, Auntie Helena!
    I could definitely use one of those breakfasts right about now.

  2. Oh, gee, for a moment there, I thought Penny was going to be like me when my mom bought me tickets to see David Cassidy (I was 12) but by the time the concert came around, I had already outgrown him and sulked practically the whole time 🙂 That was the last time she ever bought me tickets anywhere.

  3. GREAT birthday gift, Helena! In fact, the lineup for Osheaga (Jack White, Arctic Monkeys, Outkast, etc.) has me reconsidering my no-music-festivals-because-I-don’t-do-porta-potty’s situation. Methinks I may have to relax my standards and head to la Belle Province this summer.

    p.s. you can get great chorizo at St. Lawrence Market…

    1. That festival is the day after my concert — I was totally thinking of going!

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