Tuesday, December 25, 2007

In keeping with the season...

This photo is actually of last year's Christmas tree. Hey, if you want up-to-date imagery, look to Reuter's

Merry Chirstmas! I’m unlikely to be doing any posting here for the next week or so, as Amynah and I will be in Budapest, Prague and Vienna (not in that order). I promise to do something stupid that will bring some entertaining suffering upon me, that I will then render in what I hope will be amusing detail. Consider it my little belated Christmas present for you, my dedicated readers.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Merry Old Execution-land

Tower Bridge, from where the heads of the executed would be mounted on pikes for display. That's just how they decorated things before they invented flowerpots.

Just got back from London, where we had an excellent time being shown around by Todd and Jane, looked at funny by their suspicious son Maarten (the kid literally backed into a corner, staring at me like I was the devil, when his mother stepped out of the room for a minute), catching up with Melania and Jaideep (who happened to be in town and who assures me that "everyone" reads this blog. I remain unconvinced) and hanging out with Amynah's cousins.

Anyway, we managed to get to the Tower of London, from where this picture is taken. The Tower itself isn't very towering - five stories, maybe, and full of all sorts of saguinary torture devices, the provenance of which was always blamed, disingenuously, on the Spanish. We were shown around by a Yeoman (Beefeater), who hollered at a volume attainable only by retired British Army sergeants, and who described for us with great relish the various Royal personages who had been separated from their heads at this location. He would go into great detail about how many hacks of the broadsword this sometimes took, causing me some concern for the delicate sensibilities of the young children on the tour. That is, until I saw one of them swinging an imaginary sword at the neck of his little sister, with accompanying sound effects I can only describe as a "wet thump."

Little monsters.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Le stuff

Relax, this isn't about my Speedo. That said, I'm the guy on the right

Sorry I’ve been remiss in blogging for the last couple of days… errr, make that weeks. Thanks to some prompting (Hi Peggy! Hi Victor!) I’m finally getting around to it now. I will have more and better stuff to write about next week, when I have returned from our trip to London to visit friends and family there. Back Tuesday!

Anyway, when I neglect the blog for so long, the stories tend to accumulate, leaving me with a surfeit of choice… no one wants to hear about my nascent career as a faux-scientist, I’m sure, and I don’t think I can get much narrative mileage out of our night at the symphony. I will save my Hot Underwater Speedo Adventures ™ for another day, which leaves me with… lemme see, something seasonal…. Shopping?

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but when Amynah and I moved here, we were suffering from “Stuff Shock.” When we quit North America, we had to store, sell or throw away everything we owned. We now have possessions scattered in the homes of friends and family across the country. Boxes exhumed from the nether reaches of our closets were emptied and parted with for a Loonie or two, not having been opened for years beforehand. It was stressful, and more than a little bit shaming: what were we* doing with all this crap in the first place?

On our arrival in France, knowing that we weren’t staying here forever, we were determined to not accumulate anything we weren’t going to be happy to part with later. On our first trip to Ikea, we got into an argument because I didn’t see the point of owning any more than two plates, two bowls, two forks… you get the idea. I was aiming to make the Spartans look like Caligula throwing a party for the Ottoman court.

We pretty much kept to this rule – we have enough dishes to entertain guests without having to eat in shifts, and a couple of wall hangings, but our esthetic has been “if we don’t use it, we don’t own it.”

And so things remained for the last 18 months. Right up until the weekend before last.

This has very little to do with the post, but these are traditional Alsatian costumes. Photo from http://hanau.folklore.free.fr/

That weekend, we were invited out to a Christmas market in Dachstein** by Annie, a friend of Amynah’s from her institute, and her husband Jean-Luc. The market was much like Strasbourg’s, in that there were thousands of slack-jawed tourists wandering around not buying anything from a bunch of bored looking stall-keepers while Dachsteiners in period costume wandered around.

Annie is a collector of the local pottery, of which Amynah and I are also big fans. We had a couple of pieces already, both of which were completely functional: a tea-set, and a pot designed for choucroutte in which Amynah cooks her briyani. Annie is personal friends with the potter who made our tea set and so, after the Dachstein market, invited us to an open house he was having in his workshop in Betchdorf, north of Strasbourg.

Amynah and I were, as far as I could tell, the only people there who were not already friends of Monsieur Remmy, who, entranced that such exotic Canadian creatures as us would know and appreciate his art, introduced himself to us and spoke to us for a good ten minutes, despite the other sixty-odd guests demanding his attention.
In any case, with that kind of treatment it behooved us to buy a few items, and so we walked out with a vase, two ornaments, a soup bowl and a second teapot (“For guests!” says Amynah).

The problem, we discovered on coming home, was that we had no place for all these lovely items. The window-sill is too risky a spot for the vase, and there’s no spare shelf space for the teapot.

And so we discovered the first law of stuff; namely, stuff begets more stuff. In order to display the lovely pottery to best advantage, we needed to purchase an end-table or shelving unit of some sort.

And so, the following weekend, we trudged off to Emmaus, the French equivalent of the Salvation Army thrift store. From there we purchased an end table… and why not another end table? And why not a small lamp to put on the end table? And why not a few more glasses while we’re at it? And so, after living a year and a half like monks, in the last few months of our expected time here, we finally cracked and moved in.

One of the end tables, with some of the pottery. Consumerism has given my life new meaning.

* By we, I mean me. Amynah had no extraneous crap in her life until I came along.

** Though Annie and Jean-Luc are from Alsace, I was the one who ended up giving directions to get to the village, as I had been twice before and it was their first time. This, combined with my recent Speedo acquisition, has confirmed me as a true Frenchman.