Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent Calendars and An Ordinary Life

I have a thing for Advent Calendars. I probably enjoyed them even more than my children did when they were little. There was something so exciting about watching the kids open the next window to a surprise hidden inside. Another piece of Christmas revealed each day. 

Having not had reason to buy one since Zack and Defee were in high school, yes high school, I waited too late to order an Advent calendar for my two young granddaughters this year, but recently ordered some from Germany so that I'll be ready by next December. And I confess ordering one for myself, too.

Here's the one I ordered, one for me and one for my daughter because we're both kids at heart when it comes to Christmas. The Eisenhower family had one just like it. That fact won't mean much to her but to me, old enough to remember seeing him inaugurated, it was enough to make me choose this one, to peek behind the windows that the Ike Eisenhower family peeked behind.

This is another one the company makes, but it's not the one for our granddaughters as that should be a surprise next year.

Aren't they lovely? Here's a link to the company in case you want to look.

Below is an excerpt from James Salter's Light Years describing an Advent calendar that the husband Viri makes for his children. Viri's Advent calendar must be exquisite, just as Salter's prose is. 

"He had made a whole city, the sky dark as velvet cushions, stars cut with a razor blade, smoke rising from chimneys and vanishing in the night, a city that was a compendium of hidden courtyards, balconies, eaves.

"It was a city like Bath, Prague, a city glimpsed through a keyhole, streets that had stairways, domes like the sun. 

"Every window opened, so it seemed, and within was a picture. Nedra had given him an envelopeful, but there were others he had found himself. Some were actual rooms. 

"There were animals sitting in chairs, birds, canal boats, moles and foxes, insects; Botticelli's. 

"Each one was put carefully in place and in secret--the children were not allowed to come near--and the elaborate facade of the city glued over it.

"There were details that only Franca and Danny would recognize--the names on street signs, curtains on certain windows, the number on a house. It was their life he was constructing, with its unique carapace, its paths, delights, a life of muted colors, of logic, surprise.

"One entered it as one enters a foreign country; it was strange, bewildering, there were things one instantly loved."
James Salter in Light Years

You could almost fall in love with a man who was capable of making an Advent calendar like this for his children, couldn't you?

How does his wife Nedra feel about Christmas?

"She adored Christmas. She had a wonderful idea for cards; she would make paper roses, roses of very shade, and send them in individual boxes."

Salter describes Nedra this way:

"Nedra was working in the kitchen, her rings set aside. She was tall, preoccupied; her neck was bare. When she paused to read a recipe, her head bent, she was stunning in her concentration, her air of obedience. She wore her wrist watch, her best shoes. Beneath the apron, she was dressed for the evening. People were coming for dinner.

"She had trimmed the stems of flowers spread on the wood of the counters and begun to arrange them. Before her were scissors, paper-thin boxes of cheese, French knives. On her shoulders there was perfume."

See why I think Salter's prose is exquisite? I've read few books where the prose was more compelling. I could not stop reading Light Years, but in the end I was depressed and picked up Rosamunde Pilcher's Winter Solstice as a tonic. Viri and Nedra sound charming, don't they? If you were peeking through their windows and watching them prepare for Christmas? I'm afraid it was all an "elaborate facade."

Viri and Nedra were not always so charming, but I wanted them to be.

Why can't someone of Salter's talent write a happy book? It made me so mad that Viri and Nedra did not give their children a continued childhood that was safe and colorful and interesting and Father Knows Best. 

Why can't we do it? Why can't everyone do that? Something to think about, isn't it?

So, read Light Years for the beautiful prose but not for a happy ending. I wanted a happy ending of someone who wrote this:

"Autumn morning. The horses in nearby fields are standing motionless. The pony already has a heavier coat; it seems too soon. Her eye is dark and large, the lashes scanty. Walking close, one hears the steady sound of grass being eaten, the peace of the earth being milled."

Nedra told herself:"The only thing I'm afraid of are the words 'ordinary life.'"

Strange, it is the ordinary life that I now crave. Ordinary, but beautiful. As with a beautiful Advent calendar, I want to peer through a window, especially my own, and see something lovely. Perhaps that's why we blog, to peer into each other's windows at something exquisite and to offer others something lovely through our own windows, even if the basket of clothes waiting to be folded is just out of sight. 

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