Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Simple Gifts, or Colorful Squawks for Dreary Holidays

Happy Holidays, everyone. Here's a little holiday wrap-up from Santa Claws, aka the Hannukanary.

1. Ever wish you could have Christmas in July? Well, get a parrot, we're red and green all year! Better to give than to receive? So give someone a parrot; it's better than receiving a California condor, especially if you have pets or small children! Parrot-giving can be thrifty too; you get a nice little Quaker parrot for less than an iPod Nano. It can last for 25-30 years; how long before your Nano is either busted or just soooooo uncool that even your 10 year old kid doesn't want one? The Quaker also compares favorably with seven swans a-swimming ($4,200), six geese a-laying ($300), or four calling birds ($479.96; $432.00 online); though it may cost you more than three French hens ($45; $195 online - I guess you have to get them shipped from Marseilles); two turtle doves ($40; $130 online) or a partridge in a pear tree ($144.99/$211.66 - keep in mind the tree has to be big enough to hold a partridge!). Think I'm making this up? Then you're obviously not familiar with the PNC Christmas Price Index. Foresquawked is forearmed: a Macaw or Amazon is going to cost you bigtime! But no more than a 37-inch flat-screen plasma tv! And parrots won't rot your brain!

2. As I sat there on Christmas Day listening to the pitter-patter of rain on my windowsill, bits of a Christmas song for the era of global warming started to gel:

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones that used to snow
Now there's glaciers missing
And lovers kissing
By tulips instead of mistletoe

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every mortgage check I write
Though the heat is off every night
Still my oil bill's high as a kite.

3. My brother the converted evangelical Christian inadvertently convinced me that it was okay to get an evergreen of some sort and decorate it. Not that my Jewish family ever showed much reticence about doing so when I was growing up; and since I married a Christian woman (one who went to church about as much as I attended synagogue) there was every reason to get a tree. Now that we have separated I had to again confront the issue of The Tree. It was therefore fortuitous that my brother reiterated for me the rationale behind his refusal to celebrate Christmas in any way, shape or form: it has nothing to do with the birth of Christ, whose birthday we don't actually know but who was almost certainly not born on Christmas Day; it was adapted from pagan rituals; it has become a crass commercialization of a religious occasion. Rejoice, rejoice, Halleleujah! I can get a tree! I, after all, have no intention of celebrating the birth of Christ (nor condemning it; I just don't get all excited about anyone's 2006th birthday); pagan rituals are the basis of western civilization (even leaving aside the fact that a heap of Christian philosophy is based on the teachings of that eminent pagan, Socrates); and since religion has been the cause of much war and suffering for about 30 centuries, whereas I need some excuse to give my kids presents once in a while, all the better to turn it into an orgy of selflessness (to avoid dirty little words like 'commercialism'). So, tree it was. Now, do you think it would be alright if I hung just that one little figurine of the Vigin Mary....?

4. I lit the Hanukkah candles candles every night for eight nights, as I always do. And I ended up with extra candles in the box, as I always do. It's as simple as this: 2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9=44, that's how many you need, and that's how many you get. I've checked the math each year, and it's the same every time.
There are just eight nights, and you have to give your kids a present on each one, after you light the candles. If your kids happen to not be around some of those nights, it doesn't matter: eight nights, eight gifts. Each. Somehow I always end up with extra candles. I'll never understand it.

5. You may have gathered from previous items that the tree in my living room was to be called a "Hanukkah bush". Guess again. Two bushes are enough. We're happy to go with Kislev Conifer, Maccabee Pine, or even Shrub of Judah, but Bushes are O-U-T out!! Okay,
maybe we do need a Burning Bush. The Secret Service won't like it, though.

6. I had a brief email exchange with the chief administrator of the agency where I work, regarding the meaning of Christmas. It began with a somewhat glib answer to a glib query, but my answer elicited from him the response that Christmas is "what you make it". Sometimes by not being philosophical it is possible to bring out what is philosophical in others. So - what did you make of it? Or Hanukkah for that matter? My more religious Jewish friends tell me they look forward to the Sabbath because it allows one to turn away from the tribulations of the world and maintain contact with the spiritual side - with God, if you are so inclined. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and the High Holy Days in general, even more so. Hanukkah is not among the High Holy Days; it commemorates a victory and a miracle and perhaps other things, but it does not really offer you the opportunity for a more direct communion with the spiritual realm. I tend to think that for all its apparent importance - connection with the Nativity, the Immaculate Conception, the visit of the Three Kings ("you can keep the myrrh...") - Christmas is much the same. If you can indeed make of it what you wish, it cannot be a terribly important religious holiday.

7. Perhaps this is why the protectors of the Christian faith have looked the other way while the gods of Capital and Credit have turned the holiday into a phantasmagoria of playthings and ice shows and gluttony. In the city, at least, the season is certainly more conducive to a closer walk with Bing Crosby than with Jesus, Judah, or God. Between the piped-in carols, the piped-out carols, the lighting competitions, the creche competitions, the streetcorner Santas and the moose-sized menorahs, it is probably the most difficult time of year to get in touch with whatever spiritual energy Judaism or Christianity have to offer. Didn't Jesus allegedly throw the moneylenders out of the temple? But how are we going to pay for Playstation 3's without our credit cards? I've got it: put ATM's in churches, at least that's just to access your own money. Usually.

8. New Year's Day: finally, a great day to celebrate! First, the previous year was undoubtedly shitty, glad it's over. If you doubt that, tell me a single day last year when you looked at the newspaper and said, "Wow, look at the news, most of it's good." Okay, maybe Wednesday, Novemeber 8. Name another day... Second, the Christmas season is over! (See previous paragraph.) Third, Hanukkah is over! Whew, no more gifts. I did get them each eight, didn't I? I think so...

9. New Year's Resolutions:
a. Get all the books out of boxes and onto shelves.
b. Make about 20 more shelves.
c. Start getting to work on time.
d. Only make about a dozen more shelves. In my spare time.
e. Get rid of some books to make space for other things.
f. Don't try to sell them, just throw both of them out.
g. But if you do try to sell them get a good price.
h. Read all the books you already have and meant to read last year.
i. This year keep a list of all the books you want to read. No, on second thought, better not. (See h. above.)
j. Get rid of some of those old records that you never listen to anyway.
k. Which old records that I never listen to, huh? Oh, that one; well, okay, maybe that one.
l. Spend your time making music and philosophy and not writing blogs.
m. Right...
n. Stop reading Wittgenstein, you're starting to ask yourself questions.
o. What's wrong with that?

10. This New Year's Day was particularly special for me. Rain, who cares. My companion and I spent Sunday in New Hope, PA, just looking at shops and picking up little things, and then went out and spent and ate way too much for dinner. Then we came back to our bed and breakfast, on a little farm where the owners raise and train thoroughbred horses. (Five or six of these stately creatures greeted us through windows in the main office before the innkeeper showed up to check us in.) At midnight we watched the ball drop, of course. As always, I missed Guy Lombardo, who I never liked when he was around, but it was a family tradition: cheese, paté, champagne, Guy Lombardo. Nobody else missed him, as far as I could tell. Anyway, we hit the sack, still stuffed, and did not quite make breakfast at 10:00, when our very accommodating innkeepers had offered to serve it. When we finally made our way to the breakfast room, we entered a beautifully situated parlor, where the light that poured in was so much more stunning for all the gray outside. Just yards away we watched a small brook calmly overrunning its banks into the pasture, the brown water gushing past one bridge, then another, beautiful and proud for all its murkiness. Inside were two small breakfast tables set for the only two guests this morning. Occupying much of the rest of the large, strangely brilliant room were framed pictures, stacked here and there. I thought they were lithographs, but they turned out to be products of a more modern process, called "giclee prints", which are essentially very high resolution digital prints made with archival inks. The images were stunning: highly complex abstract figuration, in glorious color (the Parrot approves!) with black ink outlines. Klee, Miro, and Kandinsky came to mind, but there was no question of imitation here: as I looked through the dozens of vivid images lying framed, on floor and tables and couches, nothing could have come through more forcefully than the presence of a unique hand and an extremely serious mind. The artist, I soon learned from the prints, was named Luc Sonnet, and the owner informed me that he was in the next room. I made his acquaintance shortly thereafter, and it was an exhiliarating experience for both of us. As it turns out - and I can hardly say I was shocked given the
impression of extraordinary significance that emanated from his works - he is a philosopher by training, having studied with several illustrious pundits at MIT, Yale and elsewhere. We talked of philosophy a little, but spirituality more, as that is the nature of his work. He also described to me events in which he creates live art at musical performances; you can experience one for yourself here. I have met quite a few other philosophers who are in the plastic or musical arts; often they have something to say about art through philosophy, but I have rarely met one who has expressed so deep a feeling for the philosophical underpinning of his artwork. We did not get into detail; I am looking forward to learning more. But I already feel that being on his plane for just a few moments has helped me reconnect with the spiritual side of my own work in music, poetry, photography. (He says he is a photographer too but I have not had the opportunity to see this side of his art yet; I expect to do so soon.) This was, finally, a Hanukkah gift and New Year's resolution in one package, a bit of inspiration and motivation from a kindred spirit. So the year begins on a a high note.

1 comment:

Shqiperia said...

Dear H.A Honk.
I liked your post and I agree with you that we have commercialized Christmas and taken out the essence of the holiday. By commercializing Christmas, businesses and consumers have corrupted the spirit of the holiday and the purpose of the holiday has completely changed. More and more we expect to receive more than give and don’t see the holiday as a way to connect with our families but how much we have put ourselves into debt.