It was Christmas and Kinlocochbervie had a festive atmosphere about it. Decorations and fir trees decked out with tinsel stood in windows, lighting the dull afternoon with flashes of cheerful Technicolor brilliance, and the door to the Compass was adorned with a massive wreath. The smell of burning wood was in the air, as the wind tugged at the ribbons of smoke issuing from most of the chimneys. I walked past the Compass, and my nose was assaulted by the wonderful odor of roasting chestnuts, something I had not smelled in years. It conjured many images of Christmases past, and as I walked to the first of the shops on my list, I was whistling a merry carol. — Richard Brennan in Paul Brandon’s Swim the Moon
One of our centuries old Estate traditions among the inhabitants here is to leave presents anonymously for each other in places where the intended will be likely to find them. I was the recipient a few years ago of a leather case with silver workings for my button concertina. I suspected Ingrid, my wife, was the gifter but she said no and gave me a lovely goat shearling lined leather duster. Some of the gifts are clearly intended for everyone here, such as the new stove in the sauna that appeared overnight.
Mrs. Ware and her oh so talented Kitchen staff spend much of the period from late November right through to lambing season providing lots of edible treats that are placed around Kinrowan Hall and the grounds as well, such as peanut butter dark chocolate fudge behind the bar in the Pub; s’mores ready for roasting in the warming hut out by the Mill Pond; and carefully wrapped clay pots of smoked sausage and veggie soup in the Barn for those doing outdoor chores in this cold weather, to name but a few of them.
I keep myself busy here in the Pub and elsewhere in this Hall as my aging bones no longer tolerate the cold all that well. Iain’s off with his wife Catherine on a concert tour in Sweden which means that I’m doing this Edition, so let’s get started…Let’s start off the book reviews this time with a look at Charles de Lint’s Newford Stories: The Crow Girls. Of all the immortal shapeshifting beings that inhabit the Newford stories, the most charming, at least for me, are Maida and Zia, the two Crow Girls, who look like pinkish teenagers — all in black, naturally. After you read Cat’s review, you can experience them first hand in ‘A Crow Girls Christmas’ written by (obviously) Charles de Lint and charmingly illustrated by his equally talented wife, MaryAnn Harris.
Chris looks at deservedly beloved holiday classic: ‘Perhaps it’s the season, or the utter magic of Van Allsburg’s talents, whatever the reasons, the Twentieth Anniversary Edition of The Polar Express appears luxurious and incandescent. If you have (as we do) a beloved dog-eared copy that gets read each Christmas you won’t find any misguided, dramatic, self conscious, ‘gee, how can we repackage this for media savvy kiddies?’ mistakes; just the familiar, wonderful, book in a nice matching slipcase. What you will notice most are the deep, rich, exquisitely printed illustrations.’
Grey looks at a seasonal work from Wendy Froud and Terri Windling: ‘The faery court of Old Oak Wood was not the largest in the British Isles, but it was the oldest, steeped in elfin history and tradition. Ruled by Titania and Oberon, those celebrated lovers of story and song, the wood was a misty, mossy place hidden deep in the hills of Dartmoor. The court maidens of Old Oak Wood were said to be the most beautiful, its dancers lightest on their feet, its flying faeries faster than the wind. Its wizards and its warriors were famed throughout the faery realm. But young Sneezle was none of these things; he was just a humble tree root faery who lived in a small round house at the very bottom of Greenmoss Glen — The Winter Child’
Jack says that ‘being a fiddler in a Celtic band and of Scotch-Irish extraction, I’m very intrigued by Celtic aspects of the various midwinter celebrations. Henry Glassie’s All Silver and No Brass: An Irish Christmas Mumming is a superbly written account of a vanishing Celtic holiday ritual that can be traced back well over three hundred years.’
Our wrap-up for books this outing isn’t a book review, but very much worth telling you about anyway. Kathleen has an online journal where she talks about her late sister Kage, author of the acclaimed SF series The Company. Here is an entry which which has her reminiscing about Kage during the Christmas season.Chocolate at this time of year is one of the most sought after treats. So let’s let Kelly tell us about one she found: ‘By the register little chocolate squares beckoned. Labeled, somewhat exotically, ‘Xocolatl de David’, there were three sorts, but the one that caught my eye read “72% Ecuadorian Chocolate with Black Truffles and Sea Salt”. Not a chocolate truffle, mind you, but the kind of truffle pigs sniff out of the woods in Italy and France. I surrendered to impulse and bought one.’
Robert has a look at some chocolate truffles, definitely not the kind that pigs sniff out: ‘Trader Joe’s Assortment of Boozy Little Chocolate Truffles seems to be a seasonal item, which is possibly why they’re not listed on the Trader Joe’s website, which in turn is why I’m not able to provide any background information. . . . The box does state that the truffles are made in England and claims “A little bit of booze in each bite.” The booze in question is either London gin, Scotch whisky, Navy rum, or Prosecco. Since the truffles are bite-size, a helping can add up to more than “a little bit of booze.”
Denise has a feel-good film to tide the wee ones over after the games and presents have been done to death. It’s Disney/Pixar’s Brave, and while she thought it was a fun romp, she wished for more. ‘If Disney/Pixar had simply touted the film as their latest story-telling adventure, I would have thought it was adorable. Instead, it was trotted out as the second coming of awesome. … But instead of sweeping vistas and an “epic fantasy adventure”, we get the same ol’, same ol’, with Scottish accents.’ Still, the Celtic music in this film is amazing. Which brings us to…
But before we get there, Robert has a must-see for us: Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name: ‘It’s hard to avoid comparisons between Call Me By Your Name and Brokeback Mountain, even though the stories couldn’t be farther apart. Let me just say that, for this viewer, at least, the impact was equivalent. I remember after seeing Brokeback Mountain, I just walked around for about an hour, not thinking, really, just sort of digesting what I had seen – or trying to. Call Me By Your Name had a similar effect — it’s like a time bomb that goes off as you’re leaving the theater.’
Charles de Lint says in The Forests of The Heart novel which I’m reading now that we should ‘Have another drink and just listen to the music’. So let’s have another drink and see what I found apt to the Christmas spirit…
April looks at Vintersongs: ‘Originally intended as a Christmas CD, Triakel’s second release developed a broader theme while the trio was in the studio — winter. And not just any winter, a Swedish winter. This beautiful follow-up to 1998’s eponymous Triakel celebrates not just Yuletide, but Advent, St. Stephen’s Day, New Years and Epiphany with a glorious blend of tunes and words old and new, both joyous and somber.’
Gary looks at a delightful album which celebrates Acadian-Cajun Christmas traditions: ‘Valse de Noël is authentic rooted music made by real folks. It’s music of the season for anyone who is tired of the same old commercial ditties and worn-out carols. It’s a gentle but hearty way to wrap up the year.‘
Iain looks at Drive the Cold Winter Away, a sort of trad album: ‘On whole, the album plays like it’s a cold winter night in our Pub with the Horslips playing music to warm their bones and ours. It is a superb acoustic album with excellent production on the remastered CD (and all of their albums are on iTunes in USA) that was marketed as a Christmas album when it first released but it really is just great Irish celtic rock music which has been toned back a bit.’
Judith looks at a cool project: ‘The Golden Dreydl is subtitled “A Klezmer Nutcracker for Chanukah.” It combines a children’s story by writer and radio host Ellen Kushner with a klezmer adaptation of tunes from the Nutcracker, originally released by the Shirim Orkestar in 1998 as The Klezmer Nutcracker. Kushner has behind her several fantasy novels, including Swordspoint, Thomas the Rhymer and The Golden Dreydl. Resumès of the Shirim include the Klezmer Conservatory Orchestra, Hypnotic Clambake and Les Miserables Brass Band.‘
Lars looks at the Gothard Sisters’ Christmas: ‘It is always nice to hear an album from artists you have never heard before. I have come across many seasonal albums over the years, but never one so cute as this one. It is nicely packaged and well thought out with some imaginative arrangements.’
He also looks at a very Swedish affair: ‘Whoever came up with the idea behind Jul i Folkton (Christmas in a Folk Style) must be praised. It seems so simple, yet it works so well. Gather a number of Sweden’s best singers and musicians within the folk and roots field and let them tackle, in small groups, some of our best loved Christmas hymns and songs. No rocking backgrounds, no jingle bells nor songs about Santa Clause or reindeers — after all they are relative newcomers to Christmas — just the songs and tunes beautifully performed, nothing else.’
Michael has something decidedly delightful for us: ‘The show’s film of the Steeleye Span Mummers Play was known to have existed but was feared lost, as much of the (Australian) ABC’s early programming was tragically and carelessly thrown away, wiped or literally used as road fill! No other video of the play has ever been mentioned. Luckily, the bulk of the GTK sessions were found unharmed a few years ago and have been appearing with some regularity on YouTube.’
Robert is equally delighted by a concert album, String Sisters Live: ‘There seems to be something magical about the number “6” when you’re talking about fiddles. Maybe that many fiddlers reaches a kind of critical mass that sets off a chain reaction of some sort. At any rate, when the six fiddlers in question are six star-caliber women from across the Britanno-Nordic musical realm, what you wind up with is some really, really good music.’
He also has another album that’s especially suited to the season: ‘Magnum Mysterium is a collection of choral music around the celebration of the birth of Christ – the “Magnum Mysterium” that has provided such a rich heritage for Christmas celebrations. Although Grex Vocalis is a Norwegian group, the disc also offers carols from France and England and includes a “Norwegian” hymn, “The Infant King,” that originated in the Basque country.’
Vonnie says that ‘Strike the Harp is not the best collection of Irish holiday music I’ve heard. It is, however, an excellent reminder of the 2012 Revels show, and a pleasant, somewhat eclectic collection of Irish music.’Our first What Not is entitled ‘Iceland’s Yule Lads are Like 13 Demented Santas and They are Amazing.’ The article on Atlas Obscura leads off this way: ‘“Unless you are lucky enough to have been born an Icelander, or have lived in Iceland through a Christmas season, you probably won’t have heard of the Yule Lads,” reads The 13 Yule Lads of Iceland, a children’s book by Brian Plinkington, presumably for non-Icelandic kids to learn about the holiday myth.’ Read the ever so slightly demented story of them here.
Up to her passing a few years back, Vonnie was a frequent attendee of the Christmas Revels at the Sanders Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Here’s her lead in to the one she saw fifteen years ago: ‘The Christmas Revels is a special event, an annual tradition on par with performances of the Nutcracker, only tailored to lovers of folk traditions. After 42 years, it has accreted tradition of its own, which helps audience members to feel like part of the holiday community — which is the point of the Revels. The culture on which the performance focuses changes from year to year but the basic shape of the performance — and its professionalism — remains constant.’It’s certainly quite definitely Winter here as the calendar reckons such things and it feels like it with cold mornings and snowy, chilly days. So let’s see what I can find on the Infinite Jukebox, our server of all things digital, to brighten us up a bit… I choosing the Horslips doing ‘Drive the Cold Winter Away’ as their cover of the John Playford composition is outstanding. It was recorded at The Spectrum, Philadelphia on the 24th Of March thirty eight years ago.