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Sunday
Dec272009

Things Change

Greetings,

How demanding the season is, even though all the regular, personal stuff gets put aside. I do hope your holidays are going well so far and I look forward to hearing about what you’ve been up to.

As you wrote - things change. So Every Christmas Eve, I return to the past, to what doesn’t change, to the memory of the réveillons held at my Grandparents’ (The Prévosts) home. After all these years, I can still see, smell and hear the Christmas Eves of my childhood: the six foot pine adorned with ornaments passed on for generations, the sound of boisterous French Canadian songs accompanied by my uncle on the accordion and my aunt on the piano, the aroma of home made tourtières and sugar and raisin pies, the sight of my aunts in their satin dresses and rhinestones and muskrat coats and the snap of crisp new playing cards (all under the haze of cigar and cigarette smoke). Although these all night parties have long left the realm of reality to become part of family lore, they remain my clearest and favourite memories.  

This year, Jess and Kate were with us on Christmas Eve and it was a lovely, quiet time. We shared an old-fashioned meal, but not really French Canadian like my family had when I was young, because one needs tourtière and so many special dishes. I served escargots, French onion soup, and cheese fondue, which is great for conversation and slow eating. (I have to give a special nod to Chabichou for helping me with this gourmet meal). Then we paused to open a few gifts and to savour some jasmine tea before dessert of Crème Brulé.  Jesse had been in Mississauga the day before and noted that shopping in the malls was so very different from shopping locally, the way he does here in the city or in Berlin. He said that the consumer mentality was almost palatable at Costco: great slabs of food and skids piled with every sort of Christmas decoration and mounds of toys. By comparison, all of our gifts were small, lovely, thoughtful purchases.  

Wow! This all sounds rather snobbish. I am reading Status Envy so I’m quite aware of this at the moment. Do you know where the word snob comes from?  I didn’t.  It’s really interesting. Oxford and Cambridge colleges would write s.nob - sine nobilitate -'without nobility', next to the names of students on examination papers ‘to distinguish them from their aristocratic peers.’ Ah, those Brits know how to keep everyone in their places!

Jess and I have also been playing around with the magnificent German use of compound words as many are used in Status Envy. One that came up recently in conjunction with Tiger Woods’ fall from grace, Schadenfreude, meaning, pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. Is it also joyful sorrow?  Learning German might just be another pastime to take up when I leave teaching.
 
I tried to buy Gardam’s, The Man in the Wooden Hat, but no luck. And, as I was scanning the The Globe, I came upon yet another one of their ‘best writers’ (sic) lists. I think it was Barbara Gowdy who chose a short story from Gardam’s collection People of Privilege Hill. The stories are an assortment of unusual tales, tragedies and the odd comedy, which you would probably enjoy as you really appreciate her short stories. I’ll try and get it this week. I did buy Amy Hemple’s latest book. I realize that I’m not a great lover of the short story genre, so I may be the wrong person to pass judgment on her work, but I can’t say I am intrigued by what I’ve read so far. It may also be because I have just finished Gardam’s short stories and again I’m comparing two absolutely different writers/writing. But then, it all does come under the same genre, so …  

Sarah

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