Thursday, January 05, 2017

Twelfth Night, three gifts

The last red candle is burned, the cards come down, we eat the last piece of Christmas cake with the last glass of very delicious aged port. We skip breaking our teeth on the fève in the stodgy galette des rois, but I'm a stickler for the decorations, such as they are, coming down in time; not for us moulting Christmas trees, sad bits of tinsel and other tawdriness hanging about into February thank you very much.

To end the season, here are some lovely things made by others. I had these cozy and beautiful booties and bonnet for Christmas:

In fact I bought them myself early in December from Soize's stall at the marché de Noël at Ploeuc-sur-Lié near here. It was a lovely stall, loaded down with beautiful things she and BN had made, and in fact the whole market was really very good - I've seen some truly dismal marchés de Noël round here it must be said, but this one made me think perhaps they really might be getting the hang of it: it was cosy and bright with Christmassy music, hot food and drink and a good variety of nice merchandise. However, as she related, the trade was pitiful, not really worth the hours of time and work the stallholders put it, and poor Father Christmas sat sadly up on the stage with no one to talk to. Obviously they don't quite have the hang of it after all, at least not on the customers' side. But Soize was typically cheerful and not disheartened. I bought the hat and slippers (for a fairly derisory price but at least I appreciate the skill and effort that went into them) thinking I'd give them away as presents, but liked them so much I put them back in their pretty bag, and passed them to Tom telling him to give them to me on Christmas morning. Soize told me to pretend to be surprised when this happened. 

We didn't do much gift giving this year, but as always there were parcels in the post from Tom's kids; M always sends us DVDs, which is a kind of interesting lucky dip; sometimes they're turkeys we've no taste for at all, often, as with Sherlock and Broadchurch, they're revelations which we'd never have thought to choose for ourselves, this year there were three films (they're more often tv series), which we've yet to sample. A always sends her dad marzipan in various shapes and forms which is a safe bet and very kind as it weighs a ton. K is more unpredictable; her parcel this year was very heavy, and turned out to include this little turned olive wood pot: 

I've always loved olive wood, I hanker for a big lumpy unique pestle and mortar made from it, but desist from getting one because it would really only be for its visual beauty, we have a good working ceramic one, plus a mezzalune and board and an electric spice grinder, so it would simply be clutter. Olive wood also seems to have an emotional resonance, a memory I can't quite pin down, perhaps of objects shown by our kindly, churchy primary school teachers as being from 'the Holy Land', perhaps from the Mount of Olives itself, handled and spoken of with reverence, but fascinating to me then as now for their exotic, rich grain and figuring. This is perhaps Palestinian olive wood too. The base of the pot looks like a strange bird's head.

The loveliest thing about her parcel though, and the reason for its weightiness, was that it contained two substantial bags of whole cumin seeds. She knew, for Tom spoke about it when the family visited while we were in lodgings in the summer, that the stores of cumin and other spices, many of which she had sought out and brought over previously, were among the principal casualties of the house fire (their interesting savoury aroma mixing with the vile fumes of burning plastics, I remember noticing on waking) and that he had felt their loss keenly. K teaches English in England to people from all over the world, and likes nothing more than trying new flavours and learning about how they are created, and the finer and more obscure points of Asian cooking are an area where she and her dad have often bonded. The cumin seeds were an encouragement to him to start afresh.

And finally, Colin and Li Yi's Christmas video for 2016. I've still not ever met these two but feel as though I have, as they've been around in an exceptionally vivid way in the lives and conversations of my family for a while now. They've been sending me the videos ever since my niece forwarded me the first one, and I've posted them ever since I've been getting them (with the exception of last year's which I missed because we were in Iceland, I think, and one year they didn't make one because they were getting married or something). This one came a bit early because Colin went off to Malaysia, where he and Li Yi came from originally, and she came to my sister's for Christmas, much to everyone's delight there, I gather. Now in London, they live, work, volunteer at a soup kitchen, and endlessly make endlessly beautiful things, for a living, to share and give away, to do good in the world and simply for the love of doing so. Colin's website is here; though clearly very digitally savvy, he uses all kinds of very hands-on, low-tech media: architectural paintings done in coffee, an earlier Christmas video was made mostly using bits of pastry dough an other kitchen bits and pieces, and a lot of these layered paper-cut-out montage things, all done freehand with scalpels and a lot of loving patience. 

I challenge you to watch this without getting a lump in the throat and without applauding its conclusion, delivered without preaching but with typical humour, gentleness and sincerity. Here's to 2017.


the polish chick said...

yes, i am all tearful and lumpy of throat. such loveliness, though i had to hush the clearly non-romantic part of me saying, they're different species! it's never going to work!

i, too, have a fondness for olive wood. for all wood, really. back when i was little, it was customary in my home to eat sandwiches and other dry foods on wooden trays. when i moved out on my own, i was very excited to find a tray that could replicate the one from my childhood (my aunt still has it: indeed, it's likely older than i am and holding up beautifully)

we don't do gifts except for the children. i buy gifts when the fancy strikes me, or when i find the perfect thing for the perfect person. i must admit i get resentful around christmas about the expectation that one must shop, shop, shop. then again, like you, i like the smaller markets with handmade goods. on a whim i bought mr. monkey a handmade shaving soap at one, and for the both of us a handprinted calendar from another.

hope you're enjoying the cozy season!

marja-leena said...

So many wonderful things you share with us here! Twelfth Night is not mentioned much here in Canada except perhaps in some immigrant groups. My mother always made a point of remembering Epiphany from her own life in Finland, as the day we take the tree and other decorations down.

I love the knitted things (am presently wearing the ones you made for me). Olive wood is unknown to me but the grains are so very unique and lovely, as are the objects made out of it.

The video is heartwarming and beautifully done.

Thank you for all these gifts today, Lucy! Happy New year!

Pam said...

It's lovely, isn't it? I'm somehow on their mailing list too (must have signed up at some point) - thanks to you.

Zhoen said...

So much pretties! No wonder you kept the hat and boots. I mean, Tom gave them to you as a surprize. (Dylan and I do the same sort of thing, so much easier than guessing.)

I really must keep Tom in mind when I buy spices. Which from around here means chilis. Does he like that sort of spicy?

Unknown said...

Had to switch to chrome to watch this. Excellent, touching, beautiful. Thank you so much.

Catalyst said...

That is a wonderful video. Colin is a wonder.

And that olive wood bowl is also marvelous. And the cumin! How thoughtful!

I think you two had a happy Christmas. As well you should.

Roderick Robinson said...

True about the French and Christmas Markets. Last year, post Cologne, it was Lille, this year Arras. They try, bless them, but it's as if the Germans have Christmas woven into their DNA while France, supporting many of the views I support, can only rise to tokenism. And it seemed particularly noticeable this year when I sought solace from Brexit.

But then, but then... We arrived in Arras at lunchtime and parking was a nightmare. We had a hasty lunch, moved to our hotel which overlooked the Grand Place (and thus the market), then Occasional Speeder, who had cherished us throughout like a mother hen, went to pick up the car and park it in the underground park. She was gone for ages and came back in tears, worn down by the complexities of her tasks. But we, sitting in the hotel foyer, at least were able to do the right thing; as she came up the steps, red-nosed and red-eyed, I pointed to an ice bucket from which protruded a bottle of The Widow. Wouldn't have achieved the same rehabilitation with sekt.

All these "made" things which somehow emphasise the spirit of Christmas and are evidence of friends who like you and who know what will please you. Suddenly a blog comment here or an email there seems insubstantial in comparison; too businesslike. I watched the video, delighting in its expertise (I am just finishing a monster biography of David Lean, the great British movie director) but unable to play the sound because VR, still be-shingled alas, sleeps next door. I was moved, I promise.

Here's why your posts are well read. You are able to bestride the aesthetics of the olive wood pot and its resonances while, almost in the same breath, referring to the culinary, possibly moral, dilemma posed by a pestle/mortar in the same material which would, though tempting, (Ah, the creative bathos!) "simply be clutter". Layers of your life, precisely sliced. Seedcakelike.

Lucy said...

Thanks all, for such lovely comments.

PC - Now look, they're only birds made out of paper, let's not worry too much about taxonomy and genetics! I like the idea of eating from a wooden tray, like an old fashioned trencher. We went to a restaurant a while ago which served meals, meat and veg and stuff, on wooden boards, it was quirkily nice.

ML - thanks to you for stopping by! It's not much of a festival for Brits really either, any more, though I think it once was. More so here, with the cake and the charm and all. But I've always found the taking down of the decos a bit sad and anti-climactic, so of recent times I've taken to making a little ritual and celebration of it.

Pam - that's nice that you get their videos too! They are a delight.

Z - that's kind, yes, all kinds of spices, and a variety of chillies isn't always available. Basque espelette ones are very good but terribly expensive. I'll ask him. Glad you liked the video.

Cat - we did, thank you. You are always a faithful and appreciative reader.

Robbie - 'Suddenly a blog comment here or an email there seems insubstantial in comparison; too businesslike'. Never think that, gifts come in many and incomparable forms. The Christmas markets in the bigger towns are better packaged, but still seem lacking in soul, somehow. I gather those in Alsace are more the thing, Strasbourg is famous. Do you know these? Glad you were able to appropriately restore OS's spirits!

marly youmans said...

Joyful Epiphany to you--I like the handmade presents (complete with cumin) and the charming video. I haven't even begun taking our extravagant tree down, even though 12th Night is upon us. We have entirely too many ornaments. But I'll be out celebrating in a few hours. Have another wonderful year.