Saturday, December 25, 2004

A brief cooking lesson

To be fair, none of the potential irritation discussed in this piece actually ocurred this year, save for the Rosti itself. Rosti, or a big potato pancake, or shredded potato that isn't fried enough to be a latke, is sort of Swiss. It's sort of any nordic country with a lot of potatoes and butter hanging around. You shred potatoes and mix them with whatever's handy, pressing them into a flat cake, cover the pan and cook at a temperature that's warm enough to make the outside crispy, not black. And not too low, which would make the outside golden but the potato itsef crunchy or mushy.

Here, following, is my lesson to potential Rosti makers just before lunch on Christmas day when somebody says "Michael, why don't you make a Rosti before your mother gets home?"

Rule 1- Take out the cheese. Somebody might say "Don't use too much cheese." Following their exit from the kitchen, use as much as you want. To be exacting, 3/4 cup is just fine, the sharper the better. Any substence described as soft process cheese food is NOT acceptable. But soft goats' cheese is.

Rule 2- Black pepper. Somebody might say "Don't use too much." Use what you think is a reasonable amount, them return to the pepper mill for further grinding, aronud 45 seconds worth. A bland, buttery potato cake fried in butter or oil without pepper is a bland experience indeed.

Rule 3- Salt. A goodly amount. Somebody might try to convince you to use some trademarked substitute such as Mrs. Dash. Send them away. Use salt. See the above bland comment.

Rule 4- Two onions. One would do, yes. But use two.

Rule 5- Some tobasco, if it's available. A few sprinkles. If somebody says "Does it really need that?", answer "Really, who is to say?" while sprinkling.

Rule 6- Rosemary, dried or fresh. And basil, likewise. Summer savory, in a pinch. Go wild. Around a 1/4 cup of your choice. And fresh parsley is a luxury, maybe a 1/4 bunch.

Rule 7- Oh yeah, the potatoes. 4 or 5 good sized, grated, the water squeezed out. And an egg, preferably two, to bind it all.

Rule 8- A straight sided frypan, big enough that the Rosti is not more than an inch or so thick at time of frying. On medium heat, use unsalted butter (best), or olive oil (perfectly acceptable). Use margerine only for true dietary restricitons or if there is a blizzard.

Rule 9- Drop in the potato/egg/cheese/spice mixture, press it down on to the bubbling oil or butter. Cover. Keep covered for 10 minutes. It should smell tasty, not burned. If smelling burned, flip it immediately.

and finally Rule 10- FLipping. Get a plate as big as the frypan, or a bit smaller. Hold it on the pan, flip it over in a manouver that you're sure is going to cause a disaster, and you will find yourself with a plate that has a 1/2 cooked rosti on it. Slide the uncooked side onto the nice hot pan for another 10 minutes. Then flip it onto a plate.

Serve it and feel Swiss. Or German. Or Swedish. Or Danish. Or Scandanavian. Or Estonian. Or Finnish. Or simply, indulged. Maybe some primal German sense memory- I made a Rosti once simply because I was horrified that a local restaurant made one (and a really GOOD one, truth told) for $4.99, which should buy enough Rosti ingredients for a week. I tried it and it's worked every time. And it's damn tasty.

So Merry Christmas. Ok?

Sunday, December 19, 2004

A new twist on an old favorite, and let's underline the word TWIST...

Can't make this up. From Sunday, Dec 19th ABC News:

" Iceland, where there are 13 Santas. Instead of bringing gifts, they take turns sneaking into town and creeping out the locals. 'One of them is a window peeper. He just peeks through windows. One of them comes in and licks your spoons,' said Iceland native, Hoffy Steingrimdottir.

The 13 Santas live in the mountains with their troll-like mother and her giant cat, which eats all the children who don't receive new clothes for Christmas. They party for 13 nights, and then things really get interesting. 'That's when people come out of their graves,' said Steingrimdottir. 'Seals take on human form. And cows develop human speech.'

The moral of the story? It doesn't matter what you believe as long as you believe. The other moral of the story? They've got some good hooch in Iceland."

Sort of like George A. Romero's 'It's a Wonderful Life'. I have a sudden craving to visit Iceland. The season is closing not with a bang but a sigh. No whimpering. With no conclusions made other than it's not so bad on most levels- no screaming family members. Nobody ill- mostly. Nothing sudden, which is enough. Better job, more steady paycheque which is welcome and necessary and, hopefully, not taken for granted. As granted? Something like that.

The rest is a 'well, so...' situation. The season is what it is.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Man and Superman... a very wordy but (if you're in the mood for it), very witty play by George Bernard Shaw. He sort of makes fun of organized religion, politics, and Nitzche all at the same time. But this entry has nothing to do with that particular kind of Superman, I just wanted to pitch the play. It's very good.


I'm thinking about the standard up-up-and-away Superman today. I saw very few movies with my father, maybe unusual since I became a film buff, but he didn't really like the bother of heading to a theatre (or there was nothing he wanted to see). One exception was Superman: The Movie, opening...when? 1978? It was playing in a theatre that no longer exists, in a spot only blocks away from where I now live. He took my sister and I, a few days after my birthday long ago.

Thus and ergo Superman is always a distant Christmas memory only by virtue of it opening a few weeks before and the general tinsel. Not the character, only Christopher Reeve in the movie. Around a decade ago, the Crash Test Dummy 'Superman's Song' about his death (unrelated to 'Superman's Dead' by...wait...I forget their name...anyhow) was overplayed and overanalyzed to, well death. I mentioned to my wife once that I never needed to hear it again, but it plucked some mostly dormant heartstring. She rolled her eyes (and not improperly, just for the record). "Every boy says that about that song," she said.


Notice the term 'boy' rather than 'man', and here again, she's not being improper. Superman as a character will always evoke some kind of manufactured (but no less legitimate) nostalgia because every man has at one point in their life worn a (hopefully red) towel around their neck as a cape and run around their back yard pretending to fly. I have the DVD of the first movie somewhere and can't quite bring myself to watch it, I'm either too old or simply afraid of sliding back to being too young by watching it. The second film in the series is actually better directed and better written but it's not as much fun- the first film's director took it deadly seriously and it comes across onscreen as reverent, and every former-towel-wearing man will acknowledge it.

It was re-released a few years ago, I couldn't make the screening but a few friends attended, standing up and cheering at the first laser-printed appearance of the great red and yellow 'S' during the opening credits. I would have done the same. I did, in 1978 with my father and sister.


The theatre is gone. The Howard Johnsons restaurant next door is also toast, both of which I wish I could wander past. You can't go home again. You can barely even go to the movies again. But for the sense memory- since the season breeds so much of it, why can't I pick and choose a few myself? A month's pay for a plate of french fries, a snowy evening and a table with my sister and father after I saw Superman fly, for real, shortly after my 10th birthday.

Friday, December 10, 2004

A ma ricordi

...which is "I remember" in Italian. Sort of. 'A ma ricordi' is part of the Italian dialect in the area where Federico Fellini grew up. He remembers it being prouncced 'Amacord', which is the name of a film he made about his childhood.

A ma ricordi or Amacord both represent "I remember", through a gentle wave of pronunciation. Maybe preference. Even in the term, we choose (or are compelled) to remember through a gauze of ourselves. And thus is Christmas, 2004.

I work for a large company to remain nameless, in downtown Toronto. And I work in a complex which I visited frequently as a child, for the view. A long view of Toronto from a high tower. Perhaps not frequently. But resonantly. I would not have remebered the visits here were I not working here, and suddenly see my childhood surrogate wandering some since-changed hallways. I probably looked at the adults and though 'I could work here, someday', and forgot about it for decades before ending up here. A quirk of fate.

It's Christmas and clammy. Wet and cold and gunmetal grey, which to its credit at least makes the bright decorations stand out. The colours work for their status, and are actually appreciated against the grey sky. It's a retro year- pressed glass ornaments in the shape of cars and sleds and more or less anything, a style popular in the 1930's because they were new and cheap. 75 odd years later, it's new again.

I like my job. I am better off on numerous levels for it, especially given the last few years which I have, until recently, been too busy living through. And did. And would not want to repeat. But if I am on the other side it is uncharitable to look upon them as somehow less than where I am now, but still...I was too busy living them. I can see them now on a grey morning in Toronto and the minutae of those hours/days plays against the season. I know what led to today. I know I would rather deal with it clinically, but the shapes of swirling, slippery, of their own accord and land where and when they wish.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The Christmas Omen (as in Gregory Peck)

Sense memory doesn't have to be traumatic. Can be delightful in the right circumstances. Candles don't have to smell like Christmas, but they always do in churches to me. This is the primal brain- innumerable midnight candlelight services in a baptist church, so all candles in churches must be Christmas.

I'm not saying rational brain, I'm saying primal brain.

The candlelight service is a lovely idea for a Christmas night service. Of course they heat the room up, and it's amazingly easy to set somebody's hair on fire. Downright amusing too, in the right circumstances, although a little hard on the person's head. And hair. I can't say I condone such behaviour.

Cheap wax candles, the small ones, which have been kept in a freezer in a church basement (freezing parrafin is supposed to make it dripless- whether this comes to pass or not is a matter for some conjecture) will always make me thing of Christmas, despite the fact that cheap wax candles are sort of, well everywhere. Maybe the scent needs a few other elements. Hairspray. A too-warm room from all the open flames and the smell of cold air from a cracked-open door in an effort to get a draft moving. And perfume. Somebody's perfume.


This brings up 'The Omen' Christmas special. A brief history- The Omen is a not very good mid 70's movie about a nice millionaire who accidentally adopts the anti-christ. Hey, these things happen. It's pretty intense for those who freak out at religious imagery (and they are legion). The tot is taken by his trusting father (who's had to replace the nanny, who's hanged herself crying his son's name) to church where the kid freaks out, froths at the mouth and generally acts up to the extent that the local clergy get a bit concerned. Yes, church is pretty dry for the under (and frequently over) 10-year-old set, but c'mon...

Anyhow...the Omen...famous for the being-strewn-from-the-church scene. Keep it in the back of your mind. Go rent the DVD if you must. It does have Gregory Peck, and he's always fun to watch.

My father liked company for the candlelight service and my mother was usually too beat from a few Anglican Christmas related services of her own to get one more dose of the carols/blessing/gentle commercialism admonishment. I would willingly go with my father for two reasons- it would make me feel less guilty for not going to church consistently during the year and it was also kind of a nice service. Quiet. Dark. Would have been even nicer without all the singing.

One year (I think I was 20 or so) I lit my cheap wax candle at the appointed time and waited either for the holy spirit to move me or for the service to be over so I could meet some friends for a late coffee to complain about how weird our families get at Christmas. Whichever came first. Some bright light had included artistically matching tiny buckets of sand alongside the pews in the event of disaster.

Sure enough, something came into me. I still don't know what- perfume. The cheap candles. An aftershave, or a hairspray, or something...but my eyes began to water. I wear contact lenses, this is not an unusual occurrence. My nose running was an expected side effect. It was my shortness of breath and shakes that bothered me.

After around two minutes of this, I realized that I was either having a fairly epic allergic reaction to something, or I had become spawn of Satan and Christ and all his Saint buddies were throwing me out of a Baptist church. C'mon. Bill Clinton remains a member in good standing, so I really don't think some kind of spiritual excommunication was taking place.


I finally tapped my father on the shoulder and said "I'm sick" and shuffled past him, disappearing into the church basement where I found a large group of choir members getting ready for their big entrance. I knew one of them from early high school - I hadn't Sarah, a perfectly nice person, for what felt like a long time - and wanted to strangle her after 5 minutes simply because she was being nice rather than listening to me.

"Michael, are you okay?"

(overcome with coughing, sneezing, eyes watering) "Hi Sawah. Sowwy, I'm sick fwom..."

"I understand, Michael. It's a very emotional season for everyone..."

"Sawah, I'm not cwying. I'm sick, I'm awlergic."

"Is your dad here? Are you fighting?"

"Sawah! I'm awlergic to the candwles or somebody's perwfume!"

"I love my dad, but sometimes we disagree and..."

"Sawah, I'm not fighting with..."

"Do you need a hug?"

"Uh..sure. And do you have a kweenex?"

Why did everyone assume we were fighting? I never fought with my father.

The symptoms faded after 10 minutes or so minutes, but I sat out the service and only wandered back in at the end (dodging a group of 6 year olds who were sure that their timeless rendition of 'Away in a Manger' would be their 15 minutes of fame), and promptly got hit with another wave of whatever it was.

My father, always one to stay for coffee and brownies, skipped the usual festivities and led me to the car and, weirdly enough, my sense memory hit me in another fashion. Hard soled shoes on an icy parking lot and the weird orange glow that the skin in a city gets on a snowy night remind me of Christmas, of Baptist Sunday School services in winter in particular. I had marched over that parking lot in that context from the age of six onwards. The slippery pavement, the cold, the sky, the waft of (potentially poisonous) candles flooded together. It was a crystallizing moment, that year.

Folded memories

So let's stem the flow of nostalgia and chat about one of those Christmases that veer into secondary- the events around it become the memory and the holiday itself melts into little more than a series of dates. And it never happens when you want it to- if Christmas is bookend to a year, sometimes that bookend slips and that year pours from the shelf onto the floor.

Or something. The short story is this- I was sharing a house with 2 other people and still dating a woman from University, although things had not been going particularily well. Case in point: We were going to go to a party together. A winter solstice affair, something for a group of quasi-practicing pagans (quasi as in 'when it makes for a party') had thrown. She was late meeting me at my house and told me to go alone, she might make it later. So I went to the party alone to meet her there. In fact, I waited 2 hours or so before she arrived, watching her apologizing profusely to the hosts that she was late.

I think I said something that was meant to be faceitious, like "You notice she doesn't apologize to me for being late." And she looked at me and said, perhaps also trying to be facetious, "But it's you! You're not people! It's you!"

This was probably supposed to be funny, however it seemed to sum her attitude towards me at the time. To be fair, she apologized to ME at that point in fairly great detail. But she had said something a few months before, something about how she wanted to love me and need me but not to 'date' me, not to be tied to the rigors of 'dating' such as always going to parties together and always being on time. Or being late and apologizing.

My birthday is a week and a half before Christmas, and due to her schedule she wasn't going to make it to a birthday dinner with me and my family. That was ok. Then she could make it, but only at short notice, and during a blizzard. So I had to pick her up, take her to the restaurant, in a blizzard. Which made us both late, reducing the time she could spend with me that evening. She also had a birthday card for me, kept safely at her office (she had keys), which she didn't want to pick up despite my offer of a drive. After the late dinner.

This is all admittedly petty. And one sided. I can't report it in any other way, it's what came across at the time. Her side is probably just as petty as mine by this point (if thought of at all). What it does is illustrate my state of mind for that Christmas, and my response to her.

The last straw was that she had arranged to work on New Year's Eve. I had planned to spend the evening alone with her, or at a party, but had it announced that she was taking part in a function and if I wanted to, I could watch her there, maybe spend a few minutes at midnight, before she had to go home. Alone.

On the day after Christmas, I would ususally travel north to visit family, and she was invited to come. She vascillated a few times but, again, to be fair, decided to come along for the trip. By this point I was of two minds- I appreciated the fact she was taking the time to see me. For that matter, I realized that everything could change at a moment's notice and that my so-called girlfriend was more than willing to make plans for New Year's Eve without me. Part of the not 'dating' ritual, I suspected.

She came north with my family and I, but by that time I was barely speaking to her. The year before, she had come willingly and at a moment's notice, actually looking happy to be here. The next year, I still saw something back there- let's call it concern- but if there was romance I was either too furious to recognize it or was too numbed by everything around it to notice. We spent a pinched few hours together- we wandered upstairs in my uncle's house to watch the snow and it was only a meterological effect. The year previous it had been poetry.

The resulting memory is not a scar upon the season, just a footnote. I can't remember the rest of the day in any detail, but I can still shiver from time to time at the frozen feeling of being trapped in a gift-wrapped holiday, more than willing to claw my way out of it or to set fire to the next card that was handed to me.

I wanted to find something quiet in the holiday, either with my girlfriend for some kind of reconciliation, or simply to sound the depths of why things had stopped working. I received instead a few bars of "Jingle Bell Rock" which is ridiculous now and was insult to injury at the time.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Earth and mercy mild


I run across stickers such internet banners, stickers, (ususally on the back of Christmas cards) and occasionally lapel buttons that read the above, which always make me roll my eyes and whip out a similarily pithy rhyming message about Satan.

Very few words rhyme with Satan however, and I can't think of anything more self defeating than the Satanic bible and movement, and not only on Theological terms, but on common sense. Most Satanists claim that they're not 'evil' in the Judeo-Christian sense, since they eschew the ethic entirely.

Therefore, the whole good/evil can't be held against them since they don't recognize the context and besides, they don't actually do all that stuff that they're supposed to do based on movies of the week. Of course the whole black-mass thing is a direct perversion of Catholic mass, but that is part of the non-acknowledgement, somehow...

Where was I? Ah. Reason for the Season. Hate to be a Grinch (actually, I REALLY hate to be a Grinch...let's say Scrooge)and all but the label/banner/button/pin always pisses me off. Ususally faster than somebody telling me to pray...somebody saying that they will pray for me, I've always found quite touching- being told to pray however is rather like somebody saying 'Appreciate this sunset!' or 'Enjoy yourself! Immediately!- its one of those things that can't be told- suggested, at best.

It could also just be a kneejerk reaction to the button (the wearer is stating the obvious and calling it clever), or maybe just in the rhyme. "Reason for the Season" is inches away from "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit" or the jingle of your choice. In any case, I've been seing the buttons worn by an apparently wide range of the Christian sort this Christmas, which is probably good for the cause of ecumanicalism but irritating to see.

I'm trying to drag myself past this- at least make a nod to some Spiritus, ok? Drop the rhyming lapel pins and mutter some Latin with a grin:

O Jesu dulcis!
O Jesu pie!
O Jesu Fili Mariae. Amen!
The party line, mine included. The details and the corners are a little more dusty, however. I peered out a window recently and saw this-


A matchstick blind obscuring a rainy day and a few Christmas lights strung against the grey. It summed up my feelings towards the season, this time around at least. Not what I will settle on, or have associated from the past but the here, the now.

I must wear it on my face- the above photo was taken at a shutter speed in 10ths of a second. The thought process of "The bright colour is sort of pretty, the sky is sort of depressing, wow, Christmas lights against the grim, sums up my state of mind, maybe I should take a picture at least the lights are pretty, mess around with it in PhotoShop" and click and move on to the day. But my wife this evening said
"What are you looking at?"

"Nothing. The lights. It just looks interesting."

"Is it taking you back somewhere?"

"No. It's lights. It looks interesting. Sort of. I took a picture, let me..."

"You look unhappy."
It's enough to make one self-concious, looking unhappy out a window in the time it takes a shutter to drop in a digital camera. It doesn't take me anywhere- not really- that's reserved for weirder stuff. Sense memories. Most of them fleeting, but not attractive, not happy.

Or particularily logical. I drove my wife and sister up to visit my mother a few weeks ago- my mother had been working all day, my sister and wife were hungry, so I drove to a drive through window to grab some food. This is a rare occurance- I rarely drive, and rarely anywhere with a drive through window. And a burger is a burger, without subtext.

But I had visited that particular window in the last days of my father- I had forgotten how many. Shouldn't matter. A burger is a burger. It was between the pay-our-hands window and the here-the-sodium window that it felt unchanged from the frantic gotta-eat-or-fall-down runs in his last days and my skin crawled. All at once. I dug my nails into the steering wheel and tried to be invisible because it's ridiculous- one should not suffer over dinner (venue notwithstanding). My wife noticed, as always, at once relieving me and making me become more invisible. Who wants to admit, to bring it all back up? And (even weeks ago) feeling so close to Christmas?

All that said...not all associations are whiplashed into longing or whistfulness. Again, no logic to it. I drove along Queen St. tonight, west of Ossington, seeing old store-fronts, some with bright Christmas lights glowing admanatly against the grey sky, sidewalk, walls. A hardware store with a plastic wreath of holly glowing a strange blue under a cold white flourescent, with a trim of tiny red lights beneath. It could be 1942. Or 1992. Or now.

Very now, I saw it and thought 'This is how it starts- somethng it happening again' with every one of those words meant well. Just a few lights and they didn't look like an impression of Christmas, but a harbinger, a few glowing moments of something coming, not unwelcome.

"Then why," somebody asks, "are you writing, so late?"

Writing over a flood of seconds that, if spoken, might flow out of my brain rather than simply onto themselves. My apartment with slender twisted wire starshapes suspended by invisible black thread against a mantlepiece. A fat, tophatted snowman with a transluscent belly for a tealight. Bells on red and green ribbon at the doorknob, for the cat or for whoever enters and leaves with a jingle. Debate over a real or fake bough of green to drape over a framed picture and Tom Lerher, spicing all of it quietly liberated via Mp3 as I type:
"Christmas time is here, by golly
Disapproval would be folly
Deck the halls with hunks of holly
Fill the cup and don't say 'when'
Kill the turkeys, ducks and chickens
Mix the punch, drag out the Dickens
Even though the prospect sickens
Brother, here we go again.

On Christmas Day you can't get sore
Your fellow man you must adore
There's time to rob him all the more
The other three hundred and sixty-four..."


And a different flood, first black and white in the silver sheen glamour of the 40's Photographs of drifts and Navy uniforms, my grandfather and grandmother in and around Niagara where people went to country clubs and wore cuffs and studs and double breasted suits. Leap forward to streaky, too-new colour and the other side of the family is the deeper snow of the farming belt north of Ontario and the too-coloured images are primarily deep yellow drifing into gold shortly before bleeding into sepia, those pictures lack the glamour but do have a warmth, the kind that makes you long to be on the electric-lit, radiator drive side of snow-frosted windows driving through a small town.

I'm not thinking about printing photographs before my father's death. It hangs over my shoulder but I'm not thinking about it, per ce. I'm thinking about most other things, for the same reason that my heart lept at snippets of a short story found in the back of a magazine in the laundry room today- a woman writing about trading recipes for roast chicken with her mother, while waiting for the call from the hospital about her father. Discuss the chicken- it beats the alternative. I wrote an absurdly long letter to my father about the merits of a multi-standard DVD player one afternoon shortly after his chemotherapy started and it must have surprised both of us for different reasons- why am I writing this and why is he writing this and it isn't a chat about chemotherapy, that is something.


Something that is not Christmas, and I am trying. I am sliding and I am trying. I am between wanting to stock up on little, deep green and faux pine and shiny, star-derived things to hang or prop or keep on shelves, and wanting to hide. Another Christmas someplace neutral. I've spent one or two in hotels, sort of like floating over and across a holiday rather than finding yourself in it.

But it won't do. The compromise is to stream it all out and find sense memory being enough- the scent of paraffin. The taste of ginger and icing sugar after grabbing a cookie at work - Pfefferneuse- always Christmas. I have a friend who said he weeps at Emmylou Harris singing Angel Band not because he likes the song but the delivery- I am that way, this year, about this season, except for the weeping. I like the trappings, the sentiment, the (hidden behind all previously stated problems) intent.

Thursday, December 02, 2004


I would buy my father CDs of Christmas carols. For both of my parents, really, but primarily for my father since I thought, somehow, he might appreciate them more. Or, perhaps more aptly, he would be less likely to buy such things for himself. My mother might find a recording somewhere and grab it, my sister would do no such thing but might smile faintly if she heard something that appealed.

One such disc was George Winston. A few decades of piano experience have given me a grudging (and underline the word grudging) respect for Winston and for his label Windham Hill. The bad news is that they're frequently dead boring. The good news is that they're consistent.

I have to explain how this is at all positive...imagine a label with vaguely new-age leanings (in the firmly mid-80's sense of the term where a drum or a whistle made you vaguely exotic), and some strange jazz instrumentation (string quartets playing Gershwin, a cello impersonating a saxophone). Windham Hill artists belong to this very mellow, very 'let the instrument do the talking' school of music. Seniors won't like it because they won't play songs, more musical noodlings. Music students consider it absolutely uncool. It's too supposedly high-brow for easy listening stations (who have grown to love Phil Collins) and far too lowbrow for the Classical 97 crowd.

And all that said- the Windham Hill artists have never wavered. If they were dull or muted or real subtle in the beginning, they remain so today. Nothing about them is watered down- every note is deliberate. Thus, George Winston, who noodles away on a piano in a way that verges on cloying or haunting or simply noodling. I can deal with noodles- can push them away with a shrug. And the 'verges' part of cloying means that his tune is over simplistic, but not overproduced- 101 strings would make it trash. There are no strings. It's just what Winston wants to do.

So that all said- he released an album called 'December' 20 years ago, I found it around 7 years ago and gave it to my father. Interesting disclaimer on the CD, a note that says something along the lines of 'This CD is a celebration of holiday music styles and does not represent any religious beliefs on my part', which I also kinda respected, musically. Sort of saying I like the tunes, I recorded them, buy it or not, I'm not suddenly becoming Christian simply to cash in on the season, ok? Buy it or not for the music.

So, as a reluctant Christmas album, he gets my grudging respect. It's a weird one- his Carol of the Bells is downright creepy. There's a slightly over stylized but downright joyous version of Ode to Joy, and one genuine curiosity- a few soft notes that I watched my father listen to for the first time...when? '96? '97? An old Radio Shack CD player connected to an older amp, dusty carpet, my mother and neighbours trimming the tree- it had become their custom, being a nice Jewish family they didn't have much Christmas tree experience and, as known, it only comes but once a year- I was sitting just outside of the chaos when I heard my father quietly singing

Jesus, Jesus, rest your head.
Soft upon your manger bed.
All the wicked folk on earth
Sleep in feathers at their birth

I had never heard it before. My mother thought it was vaguely Celtic, although most sources peg it as Appalachian. My father mentioned that he had sung it as a child, which pegs it as Methodist/Baptist, which would fit with Appalachia. But the idea of it flooded me - an old carol. Sung on snowy nights somewhere that had all other sound erased by the snow. Leave the city and end up in a small town on a snowy night (and I recommend Mount Forest or Neustadt, middle of the snowbelt, a cozy small pub in each) and the cars a few feet away will turn into nothing as the drifts climb.

Back to Winston. The CD is dusty, my mother won't touch the carols this year, thus far at least. Its just as possible she'll decide to hell with it and crack them all in an afternoon. Carpe Christmas. Or there will be a supply of Oscar Peterson and Diana Krall and Noel Coward (I know the third name doesn't fit- I'm describing her collection, not reciting a best-of list). It won't be the Winston. I own the CD - somewhere - and it sounds like a mix of mid-80's new age and late '97 amusement.

It sounds (or, more precisely) feels like this to me...

....a pressed-tin ceiling of a general store in a small town. The ceiling was taken down long before I was born, but there have been pictures. Stories. Or maybe just an impression of the way I would like to think of it, in the days where a small church would sing Jesus, Jesus, Rest your Head. Sort of, at least.

And for reasons that are complicated to explain, the only impression I have of the face of God is a snowy night illuminated against a black sky. Or so many stars, descending.

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