Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Smitten, as ever was.

On the last day of the year.

It's been a quiet Christmas here, which is fine.  We had good food and drink, mopped up the water that the quite exceptional wind and storms before Christmas drove in, had a modest and manageable amount of social contact, perhaps the best bit of which for me was meeting Iso in Lamballe a week or so before to give her the pullover I'd made her - she'd chosen the wool much earlier in the year but only on-line, and hadn't seen it - and also the scarf and hat which I'd quickly also done for her Pascal and Princeling respectively.  I asked her what she fancied doing; normally tireless, a walk, some window shopping, browsing in the bookshop might have been on the cards, but she just said that in fact she was rather knackered and could we just go and sit in the salon de thé? So we did, for over two hours just drinking hot chocolate and café crème and nattering, and a couple of times our husbands rang, mine to ask advice on making hot lime pickle and hers as to whether she might like and be available to come and see a show with him in Rennes in January. I'd wrapped the knitwear up and made her promise they wouldn't open it till Christmas day, and in the evening of the 25th I got phone pictures of them all posing festively in their garments, looking fairly merry, including this one of Princeling in his striped ear-flap hat with matching cracker:

Way too big, like his jumper which he's now just about emerging from, with the sleeves turned up, poor little waif. I put some matching candy canes in with the hat anyway.  I think that's just water in his glass.

I managed to complete a fair amount of knitting for presents, in fact: at the last count, one pullover, one scarf, two hats (plus one for myself),two pairs of slipper socks, three cowls and four pairs of gloves.  Lest I become one of those sad and tiresome archetypal females of a certain age who embarrass their unfortunate family and acquaintances with ugly and unwanted items of needlework which they then have to go through the misery of wearing so as not to hurt feelings, I enclosed a 'knitted gift pledge and returns policy' in each parcel which read thus:

While I make every effort to observe and remember which styles and colours people like (or perhaps more importantly, don't like), making presents for others is a hit or miss affair.  However, unless requested to do so, I would not generally make you anything which I would not be happy to keep for myself.  So, if you find that you could or would not ever wear or want to keep anything I've made you, you are free to return it to me within an unlimited period, and no umbrage will be taken. Alternatively, feel free to swap it or otherwise pass it on to anyone who likes it better, regardless of whether I might see them in it or not, and likewise, no offence will ensue. You'll just get a jar of jam next year.

The returns policy does not, of course, apply to kids' stuff, since I can't usually wear that and Molly won't either, but as most people with kids know other people with kids then just give it away.

Most of the yarn I knit with is fairly easy care and should wash well on gentle cycle, though some darker colours may run a bit, and drying flat and pulling back into shape while damp is efficacious. But you already knew that.

Hope you like it anyway!

So far no one's taken me up on it; Dutch E and B the German Doctor were both to be seen wearing their cowls (joined-up scarves) on Boxing Day; E e-mailed me more than once to tell me she was wearing hers at that moment and seemed genuinely enthusiastic, B was still wearing hers the next day when I ran into her by chance in Ecomarché when she didn't expect to be seeing me, so that was a good sign.  And since they're Dutch and German they're pretty rubbish at dissembling so I think they must really have been pleased. The Quiet American said his gloves were all right but I didn't seem to have finished them. Ha ha, very funny. They were of course (currently very trendy) fingerless gloves which you can use for reading maps or anything in a chilly environment, using camera or phone, drinking coffee on outside terraces etc.  My stroppy teenage step-grandson Benj, to whom I also sent a pair, didn't get the returns policy but I put in a note saying if he didn't like them not to worry, give them to someone else, but if he did please wear them for anything and everything, they weren't precious or to be saved but used.  This was all the encouragement he needed to wear them throughout Christmas dinner, quoting the permission slip at his sister when she told him to take them off or he'd get food on them.

Other than that, we haven't gone much on presents; we generally don't but some years we order ourselves things and hand them over to the other one as they arrive to exchange on the day, but we didn't much this year. However, I did remember to order a CD I've been meaning to get hold of for a little while.  This is Contratopia's Smitten.

I have no idea whether this group is well known in the US, I'd not heard of them until a while ago when I was googling myself, as you do, in the context of this blog, and I came across a reference to a track on their first album called Lucy's Stroll / Box Elder Stomp.  This was nothing whatever to do with me, the album had been released well before I ever started here.  I chose the name of this blog rather haphazardly; I grew up under a box elder tree, a fairly unusual species to find in a small town garden in the English Home Counties (we didn't even know what it was and simply called it the maple tree) and a fairly large specimen at that, and I was fond of it. In the film Patience: After Sebald I saw recently, based on a work in which connective elements of coincidence and serendipity/synchronicity are fundamental to the structure and content, one of the contributors remarked that one's own coincidences are rather like one's own dreams: meaningful and fascinating to oneself and boring and insignificant to anyone else.* So I don't really expect anyone else to find this event as magical and remarkable as I do, but I had to act on it. I listened to the sample snippets (as you can on the cdbaby website in the link above) and thought it sounded pleasant, and now I have the full album, I quite love it.

Contratopia (their website) are a contra dance band from the Midwest. Contra dance comes from the French contredanse, a kind of dance where two lines of people danced opposite (contre) each other, a false etymology derived from the English 'country dance'.  It went from England to France and back, then to America, then nearly died out... It's a most interesting story and subject and the link wiki link will tell you more. The music, from fiddle, mandolin, piano, oboe and others, is melodious, rich and varied, its repetitions contain swirls and flourishes and grace notes and key changes and all kinds of things I know nothing about and am not sure I'm using the correct terms for but which please me anyway, and it's instrumental so there are no distracting words to worry about. Lucy's Stroll / Box Elder Stomp is a quirky swing number, I'd be happy enough to have it as a theme tune, and there are jigs and reels and airs and waltzes, tunes that make me smile and my feet tap, that make me want to get up and dance (and sometimes I do), and others that are lyrical and poignant and bring tears.  There are tunes you could imagine Emma and Mr Knightly and little Harriet and the obnoxious Eltons dancing to at the ball at the Crown Inn, and others that sound wild and Celtic and mysterious. There are tunes that take you to places in the back hills of America, and others that take you somewhere else entirely.

And not least I love the title, Smitten. Because I realise that I always have been and still am.  Sometimes it's just a passing thing, sometimes, happily, it's for the long haul, but I realise that for better or worse, I've always been smitten by something or someone, and I hope I always will be.

So those are some of the things that have been making me glad at this turn of the year.  There is worry and sadness too, as of course there always is somewhere, but it has come closer; losses and fears are felt keenly, whether our own or others', if one can even clearly make that distinction.

But at this moment, the latest lot of wind and rain has blown over and the sun is shining for a time.

The photos in the video slideshow below were taken earlier this month, the morning of the first real frost of the winter, in the Mayenne.  My brother had been in hospital going stir-crazy, we were about to come home.  He suggested a walk with the camera around the fishing lakes up the road, which their seasonal English neighbours had lately bought, drained and refilled, the same ones where Belle had shown her swimming skills back in the summer.  We left our loved ones, animal and human, at home, and he and I made a long leisurely circuit, with much stopping and looking and chat, ending with some scrambling over chain link fences and sluice gates and concrete ledges where the path ran out.  It was ever my brother's calling to lead his kid sisters clambering in somewhat precipitous places; we had a lovely morning. When we drove home later in low, bright winter light, there were still many autumn leaves on the trees, and they shone as if they'd been burnished. Within a week or so of sudden winter - for this is a year when all such changes have been sudden and surprising, the seasons shocked and hurried into readiness - most of them were gone, but they were lovely while they lasted.

The music is the title track on the Contratopia album, Smitten. (The full set of photos is on a web album here)

Happy New Year.

* unless transmuted into something worthwhile as art, was the coda.


the polish chick said...

happy new year, lucy!

zephyr said...

What a wonderful gift, dear Lucy!
Wishing you all a Happy and Healthy New Year!!

marja-leena said...

A lovely post with the added gift of the gorgeous slide show. I like that music very much, gently cheering on this dark last day of the year. Thank you.

Happy New Year, Lucy!

Catalyst said...

What a wonderful post! Great stories, great photos, great music. Happy New Year, dear Lucy, to you and your Tom and Molly.

John said...

Hello Lucy, thanks very much for the glowing review of our CD. And for the lovely use of our music in your video! Hope you have a wonderful 2014.

John from Contratopia

Dale said...

-- and I, as ever, am totally smitten by Lucy.

Happy new year!

Francesca said...

What a lovely new year post, Lucy.
Thank you x

Jean said...

What a lovely post, full of heart-lifting things. You remind me that I'd be thinking a cowl would be a very feasible and useful way to return to knitting. I love your photos and Contratopia's music - what a fantastic accidental theme tune! Perhaps most of all I love that John from Contratopia read your appreciation here and left the message - this is why I still love the Internet, however much I agree with much of the handwringing about its less positive sides.

Happy New Year to you and Tom!

Rouchswalwe said...

Ach, talk about connective elements of coincidence and serendipity/synchronicity! Just the other day, an acquaintance mentioned Sebald and the Patience DVD. Now that you've mentioned it, too, I intend to put in a reserve request at the local library. The Contratopia melody I've heard before, with clarinet. Now I've made a note of their site, too. Thank you, sweet Lucy! Und Frohes Neues to you and Tom and Molly!

Laura Frankstone said...

My gosh, Lucy, you make magic, you do. I never come to your words and images without being lifted and made better in some way, even when the message is a sad one. These photos, these words, and that music are just plain beautiful. Thank you, thank you. May 2014 be all that you want and need it to be.

Lucy said...

Thanks all, lovely to see you all. Glad Contratopia went down well!

John - thanks for coming over, and for the e-mails!

Jean - I e-mailed John to make sure it was OK to use the music, and we've had a really nice exchange, and I've lots more great links to follow up. Yes, I still love the internet for this, and such things still happen plenty, in ways we never could have imagined at one time.

Rouchswalwe - you never know, you may even get to hear them live one day, I wish I could! And do follow up the Sebald - it helps to have read the book 'Rings of Saturn', though it was a long time since I had and I'd forgotten quite a bit of it. It's slow viewing but very atmospheric. Of course you could read it in German...

Laura - you are lovely. Good to see you.

Roderick Robinson said...

To be absolutely in-yer-face I don't believe that bit about the tune/song/track occurring before you set up camp beneath the Box Elder. I find it far easier to accept you are an experienced time-traveller and that your blog is about to take on another dimension. That Queen Lucy reigned over a small allotment on Aquitaine during the 16th Century and spent a long life warning about the coming of the Anti-Christ who subsequently turned out to be...

Pam said...

Just sitting here at 2.04 am, unable to sleep. I really enjoyed the music. Thank you.

I so agree about the importance of being smitten. Otherwise, what's the point? My lovely but depressed son-in-law is extremely clever but not really interested in much. I have always wondered whether this is the cause, or the effect, of his depression.

Happy New Year to you both and to Molly.

sonia a. mascaro said...

Happy New Year!
Feliz Ano Novo!

Lovely post.

Ellena said...

I also am smitten by everything Lucy writes and does and shows.
Thank you.

Marly Youmans said...

Lovely things on show, as always. (Funny teen boy, too!)

Somehow I'm not a bit surprised that the universe has sent some Lucy Box Elder music, too... It was inevitable, I have no doubt.

Lyse said...

Bonne et Heureuse année Lucy avec plein de petits bonheurs.
Génial ton diapo autour des lacs de Mayenne.

Zhoen said...

Love your gift policy. That seems like the real gift, ultimately.

Relatively Retiring said...

As Zhoen says about your lovely gift policy.
Thank you for your note about Kazakhstan on Isabelle's blog. It was meant to be sort-of funny! Kazakhstan is wonderful. My son returned there today, and I hope to return there fairly soon. I envy your nephew in Tibet, too!

Anonymous said...

Lucy, thanks so much for the mention of Contratopia! I live in the U.S. upper midwest (even though I'm not originally from here) and I hadn't heard of them. They are on my shortlist now, though. Happy New Year. - alison