The Head Butler 2012 Holiday Gift Guide
Published: Nov 28, 2012
Category: Beyond Classification
With winter upon us, the child’s school had a coat drive. We had none to give. Then a package arrived. Coats. My wife had bought them online, on sale, so we could give them away.
I thought: That’s an O. Henry story. And it warmed me.
I’m a fool for small gestures, private experiences, little personal moments that could easily be overlooked but which say everything. But the holidays? This year, I’ve lost the beat. Just a few miles from here, the storm erased whole communities. I have a roof and heat and lights and water. I want nothing more. Gifts for loved ones? I picture hungry children and classrooms without books, and I want to be the person who changes that, if only for a few.
But….’tis the season. I say this year, as I do every year, it came too soon. I say I’m not in the mood and won’t be. But here’s a church bazaar. Handel. Our daughter choosing a tree. And this. Always this.
It’s all horribly sappy and completely wonderful, and in the end, I surrender. Maybe that’s the reason I produced a new version of "A Christmas Carol."
And then there’s this Gift Guide. I am a creature of ritual, and this one’s big for me — I set the bar high, I try to present books, music, movies and products you won’t see in InStyle. But it’s more than that. Creating the Gift Guide is my end-of-year report card. It forces me to look back and consider if what I chose to feature on these screens has enriched your lives as much as it did mine.
These are the choices I affirm. I hope they’re what you might want to give to people you like too much to give Jon Meacham’s dreary biography of Thomas Jefferson, Gillian Flynn’s over-praised “Gone Girl” and the newest releases from graduates of American Idol.
Clarins Beauty Flash Balm: Someone noted on a message board, “It’s like eight hours of sleep in a tube.” My wife: “At the end of a long day at work or, later at night, when your makeup begins to settle, you rub a little of this cream in your hand, then press it on your face. Very quickly, your skin looks dewy — it’s almost an instant glow.”
Egyptian Magic The ingredients are olive oil, bee’s wax, honey, bee pollen, royal jelly and bee propolis. And — so it says — “divine love." With the exception of the last “ingredient," you could whip it up yourself. But you couldn’t improve on the original. What does it heal? Burns, scrapes, skin irritations, diaper rash, sunburns, eczema, psoriasis — and more.
Ready, Steady, Shoot: The Guide to Great Home Video A 113-page, pocket-sized book that will help you to master the basics. How to hold the camera steady. How many different shots you might want to use, and in what order. How long each shot should last. Invaluable.
Prada L’Eau Ambree Body Powder with Puff Perfume is a necessity. Powder is a luxury. With multiple uses: My wife shakes the puff over pillows. And in the air. “For me, it’s a kind of aromatherapy.” And at Amazon, it’s half the price as it is at the cosmetics counter.
Epictetus The book is the size of an iPod Nano. But perhaps more powerful. Put it this way: Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD) was a student of the teachings of Epictetus (55-135 AD).
The World of Madeleine Castaing There must be something from France. And this is the most sumptuous. In one of her rooms, you could be in Russia, in another room London. Most of the time, the mood she created was timeless, poetic, a fantasy. As she said, “There is always beauty in mystery.”
A FILM FOR EVERYONE
The Snowman 23 minutes of animated perfection. It contains a song called “Walking In The Air,” and it is life-changing — the sequence when the boy and the snowman start to fly and the song comes in is one of the greatest moments in film. Period.
This Is Not My Hat “This hat is not mine,” a little fish tells us on the first page. “I stole it.” And why not? It was too small for its owner, a big fish. And the big fish was sleeping, and likely to remain asleep for a long time. “And if he does wake up, he probably won’t notice it’s gone.” Guess what? He wakes up.
All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother’s Dementia A record of a mother’s dementia. But Alex Witchel’s book is more than a story of a triumphant personality laid low. It’s a guide for those whose parents are disappearing. And it’s a love story. Alex and her mother. Alex and her husband. Very affecting.
Canal House Cooks Every Day Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer won the lottery. They get to live authentic lives and cook real food and write books that are both creative and simple. These 250 recipes are the proof.
At Home with May and Axel Vervoordt: Recipes for Every Season The Vervoordts live in a castle. Axel is an art and antiques dealer and a decorator. May cooks. She quotes Virginia Woolf: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” Her guests do.
Atlas of Remote Islands (Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot on and Never Will) The author disdains any island you can easily get to. The more remote the destination, the more enthusiastic she is for it. Like Peter I Island in the Antarctic — until the late 1990s, fewer people had visited it than had set foot on the moon. A one-of-a-kind treat.
The Tallis Scholars: The greatest Renaissance choir delivers the Church’s greatest hits. Two and a half hours of music for $15.
Blake Mills A major talent, an actual artist, a musician without an upper limit. And, pretty much, a secret.
Leonard Cohen Just because.
Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell When Tammi sings “My love is alive” and Marvin whoops — with that Motown drummer playing circles and a xylophone in the background — it makes me wanna holler. And at $4.99!
Alabama Shakes Many reasons. Not least, the way Brittany Howard screams: I don’t care, I can’t pay attention/ I don’t give a fuck about your attention at all…
Caetano Veloso-David Bryne My wife and I saw the 2004 Caetano Veloso-David Byrne concert from about the tenth row. It was magic, spectacular right from the from start — I think pretty much everyone there got that, and felt privileged, and went nuts with pleasure and gratitude after each song. Veloso begins the show. If you’re new to him, you might not immediately grasp that Brazilians rank him in the Bob Dylan zone. Then the sweetness and sensitivity seduce you. Byrne’s presence comes almost as a shock. But not really, because there’s no band here, just cello and percussion — the Talking Heads songs you know and love do rock, just more intimately.