Published: Dec 13, 2012
Category: Beyond Classification
When I compiled the 2012 Holiday Gift Guide, my focus was only on new stuff.
Imagine my horror at 3 AM when a nightmare woke me --- the ghost of holidays past.
The past. Eight years of it. Thousands of artifacts of our culture that seemed important to me. And still do. but you know how it is: “There are places I remember/ All my life, though some have changed….”
I rectify that now, with this supplemental holiday guide: The classics.
Ascenseur Pour L'Echafaud: The only movie soundtrack Miles Davis ever recorded was made in a single, champagne-fueled session. At one point, a bit of Davis's lip blew into his mouthpiece; he pressed on. There were repeated takes of certain ideas; a number of tracks on the soundtrack are variations of earlier cuts. No matter. This is one of the greatest jazz soundtracks in film --- some say the greatest. The trumpet couldn't be more evocative: mostly slow and breathy, thoughtful and tender, lonely and okay about it. In a word: cool. The quintessence of cool.
The Hare With Amber Eyes: This book has, as they say in show biz, everything. The highest echelons of Society in pre-World War I Paris. Nazi thugs and Austrian collaborators. A gay heir who takes refuge in Japan. Style. Seduction. Rothschild-level wealth. Two centuries of anti-Semitism. And 264 pieces of netsuke, the pocket-sized ivory-or-wood sculpture first made in Japan in the 17th century. It is on these netsuke that Edmund de Waal hangs his tale --- or, rather, searches for it. Decades after he apprenticed as a potter in Japan, he has returned to research his mentor. In the afternoons, he makes pots. And, one afternoon a week, he visits his great-uncle Iggie, who owns a large vitrine, in which he displays his netsuke collection. An unlikely thriller, beautifully written.
A Village Lost and Found: Scenes in Our Village: Brian May --- lead guitarist of Queen --- went on to earn a PhD. from Imperial College, London. He wrote some learned books, and then he took a lifelong interest in stereoscopic photography and produced a picture-and-text book that is at once a historical chronicle and a work of art. (The book comes in a slipcase; in a separate folder, you get a 3-D viewer.) The pictures are of small English village in a magical, soon-to-vanish 1800s moment. The book has about 80 scenes, some in color. Intelligently, the left hand page offers a large single image. On the right, you’ll find two panels of that image. Slip the page into the 3-D viewer, let your eyes relax --- and enter a world that’s 150 years old.
The Red Balloon: Pascal --- an only child --- is lonely. A red balloon follows him around and becomes his best friend. The balloon gets him in trouble at school. Boys gang up on Pascal and burst his balloon. Then a flock of balloons shows up and takes Pascal flying over Paris. For adults, that signifies the liberation of art and imagination. For kids, “The Red Balloon” is a film set in reality. And that is the magic of the movie --- it hits kids at their level. A level where anything is possible. Where magic is afoot every day. For kids ages 3 to adult.
Bach Cello Suites: It seems hard to believe that these six masterpieces, written around 1720, went almost completely unperformed until almost 1900. They weren't “lost.” They were just regarded as études --- as exercises. And then, in 1879, 13-year-old Pablo Casals was browsing through scores in an old music shop near the harbor in Barcelona and “found” them. Life is now infinitely richer. For inspiration, consolation or mediation, they are, as Casals said, “the essence of music.”
State of Play: When was the last time you watched six hours of anything and found yourself moving closer to the edge of your seat as it moved toward its conclusion? “State of Play” --- the BBC series, not the stinker of an American movie --- starts simply. Sonia Baker falls to her death in the London subway station. Did she fall? Commit suicide? Or was she... pushed? That's the last simple question in the mini-series. For, that same day, a kid gets killed in another part of London. No connection. Not possible, really --- Sonia Baker was a young research assistant to Steven Collins, chairman of the prestigious Energy Select Committee. The kid? A nobody. At the newspaper, investigative reporter Cal McCaffrey and his colleagues start to dig. Great dialogue, great acting, great surprises.
Clarisonic Pro Care Skin System: Still the one. Why it is so great? Because it doesn't scrub. It cleanses --- a sonic frequency of more than 300 movements per second works on your skin to clean it, then smooth it. How you use it: Wet the brush head with warm water and cleanser, power it up, and gently move the brush in circular movements across the face. Clarisonic recommends 20 seconds on the forehead, 20 seconds on the nose and mouth and 10 seconds on each cheek. When finished, rinse the brush. You can, with good eyesight, see the proof that something really happened --- down the drain go dead skin cells and dirt. The good news: The Clarisonic handle is waterproof. You can use it in the shower. The unit beeps when it’s time to move to another area of the face, so you don’t need to watch a clock. It seems to help rosacea and acne. You don't need to buy special products
T3 Bespoke Ionic Ceramic Tourmaline Hair Dryer: A high-powered woman in media; you've seen her hair --- wrote me to say my wife would adore me forever if I gave her this dryer. I may be a man, but I can listen; I ordered one right away. And it came to pass that my wife is now insanely happy at 6:30 AM. Sometimes, before she heads out to work, she flips her hair as if she's in a commercial. For your benefit, I asked my wife what's great about this dryer. “It feels gentle, and yet it dries my hair faster,” she replied. “I was told I would never have another bad hair day, and I haven't. I don't understand how it works, but it is easier to get my hair to do what I want it to do. The only conclusion is magic.” Actually, it's not magic. It's “100% crushed Tourmaline jewels.”