Austere but Serene


In the middle of the holiday season, it is very still here at home. The atmosphere is austere but serene, with everything more or less quietly in its place. In a few days, I’ll buy a tree, and re-arrange the living room in order to put it up; that will inaugurate the grand interruption that Kathleen and I have been evading for some time. We haven’t “done” Christmas since I don’t know when — three, four years ago? The interesting thing is that, even though I am “doing” Christmas this year, it’s with a minimum of fuss. I’ve sent out about half of the Christmas cards. I’ve ordered the roast for Christmas dinner — and the bûche de Noël, too, now I think of it. But I don’t feel harried or rushed. Tired yesterday morning, I could take the day off and read. If I hadn’t been so sleepy, I’d have appreciate the luxury more. But I did appreciate it.

At four or so, I realized that I had to watch a video that was due back in the evening. Curious, how long it took to rent it. Last spring, Kathleen and I heard Jordi Savall and friends at the museum play music by, among others, Marin Marais. Not having any CDs at home, I ordered a few. I came across them just the other day, still unopened. They reminded me that I wanted to have another look at Tous les matins du monde, Alain Corneau’s 1991 film about Marais (more or less), starring both Depardieus, Jean-Pierre Marielle, and Anne Brochet. Which I finally got round to picking up on Sunday.

What a Protestant movie, I thought — in Seventeenth-Century French terms, that is, where “Protestant” signifies a resistance to extravagant courtly grandeur and a preference for black garments and underfurnished interiors. Somebody else’s idea, in short, of “serene but austere.”

5 Responses to “Austere but Serene”

  1. George says:

    From looking at this I would have also ordered my bûche de Noël. Simple baking, pies, cobblers, biscuits and breads these seem to define the limits of my ability in baking but not my aspirations. I would love to do more complicated pastries but I think it requires some work side by side in the kitchen with someone who has the accquired the skills. My heritage alone limits me in this area not my desire. All I need is a skilled friend and the time with them in the kitchen over the course of several dozen preparations. I wonder how “serene but austere” plays out in blue collar terms other than spare, clean and underfurnished. We’re working on the clean today aspect today. The rest of the Christmas cards, the snail mail cards to the close ones, and the Christmas email go out today. The tree is up. Gifts off the Web today and tomorrow and all is done. Enjoy your day off.

  2. 1904 says:

    I hope it is not a very large tree, and I think you very generous and brave to let one in. I have rarely had the space and end up resenting the amount they seem to require. And the needles they leave behind. Which I suppose is compensated for by the smell and the effect in the dark. Pagan, of course, and sensual — all that glitter and tinsel-refracting beauty — nothing protestant about that, is there. happy holidays!

  3. Max says:

    I got endless laughs when that film came out by listening to the Moviefone announcement. In his inimitable Moviefone voice, the announcer called it “Towse less MaTEENs do MAW.”

    The viola da gamba is such an odd instrument. Interestingly, the double bass is not a pure member of the violin-viola-cello family, but has a dual lineage: violin and gamba. Like the gamba family, it’s tuned in fourths instead of fifths. Like the violin family, no frets.

  4. Ellen says:

    Dear RJ,

    Thank you for that photograph and the opening two sentences. They help.

    We have done what we have to do towards Christmas and it had its moments (shopping, buying and putting up the tree, putting out lights on the bushes in front of our house for the first time ever). But it’s very wearing on this human spirit.


  5. Joycelin says:

    That’s so exciting! I am lucky eugonh to have a studio space in my house and it’s great to be able to close the door and get some work done. That and the wireless internet isn’t working so it’s that much easier to be productive. I can’t wait to see the “finished” space!