From strawberries and cream to champagne and Pimm's Cup; the manicured grass to the maddeningly unpredictable weather; from the echoes of empire in Kipling's call to meet triumph or disaster with equanimity, emblazoned above the archway to Centre Court, to the carefully cultivated ivy scrambling over walls and fences and multi-hued hydrangeas that help create the ambiance of a garden party; in some respects the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club's annual tournament at Wimbledon seems as much a monument to tradition as to tennis.
In fact, the organizer's own Web site (www.wimbledon.org) calls this the time of year when tennis "pauses on its axis" in a bow to tradition, adding, "indeed the All England Club is knee-deep in the stuff."
Strange, perhaps, to think that the $20 million Grand Slam tournament getting under way, supposedly to decide who plays tennis best on grass, is "knee-deep" in something other than the sport.
Or, perhaps not. After all, Wimbledon is still the place where the players must all wear white, where the men earn more than the women, and where the best seats in the house are reserved for those who've inherited them, or who'd need an inheritance to afford to purchase them — all traditions the Club fiercely defends.
My friend Michael Mewshaw, a journalist and novelist, once described Wimbledon as "a lofty fortress of tradition (which) chose to establish itself ... as a theme park, something along the lines of Disneyland, in which crowds gather annually to worship the real and imagined virtues of the nation's past." As Mewshaw sees it, Wimbledon's master stroke happens less between ball and racquet than between publicity agents and the press. As a result, every year there are stories lauding the place for which "... dreamy euphonious notes have been struck, all harkening back in time to some misty halcyon age when Britannia ruled the waves."