22 December, 2006

heavenly voices and... foie gras

Oh my. Can I just say that last night's concert was quite the most beautiful, touching and festive events of our holiday season? And as you know quite well, it's been packed with good things. But if you ever get a chance to hear The Choir of St George's Chapel, Windsor, run, don't walk. They were simply breathtakingly marvelous.

Call me ignorant, but it never occurred to me that, when you listen to a CD of Christmas music, the high piping voices belong to... little boys! Not to sopranos at all, dumb me. I actually felt a pang of worry that Avery would be bored, since all the singers looked to be boys. What was I thinking? Now, I imagine adult choirs have to run to actual females, but if you don't have to, don't. And THIS from a card-carrying feminist! No, truly there is nothing sweeter than little boys singing, and I don't think I ever have done, before, actually live. They sang all the wonderful bits I love, like "Joy to the World," and my all-time favorite, "In the Bleak Midwinter," although to a completely different tune than I am used to. Of course in blogworld I cannot sing this tune to you. But has anyone else heard two different versions? Anyway, it was lovely. And "The Holly and the Ivy," and to Avery's delight, "Ding Dong Merrily on High," since she played the violin for it at the school festival. Just wonderful. When the interval came, we had the awful thought that it was over! But no, there was more. John turned to me and said, "I don't think I have ever shed a tear listening to music, since we listened to 'Concert for New York,' after the World Trade Center." It was terribly moving. And then after the interval came what the conductor called wryly, "The loneliest solo in the business," the beginning verse of "Once in royal David's city," which our little friend Lindsay sang at the school festival. All alone, out there on the stage in front of everyone, a little chap called Oliver sang his heart out last night, their "senior chorister," looking as if he should be in the dusty stacks of the British Library, looking up some arcane bit of pre-Raphaelite intelligence. A dear little fellow, and a simply magical voice. Then, also mysteriously, there was a carol called "Angels from the realms of glory," but I'm sorry, it was "Angels we have heard on high." Who knows from what arcane distinctions these variations arise.

Then they trotted out a female opera singer as, one supposes, a sop to those who want to hear a lady sing, and she was a yawn. Unfortunately I happened to mention to Avery that she looked like "The Opera Camel," a reference to a joke I had with a friend in college, when we could make all sorts of camel faces. There was the "Scholarly Camel," the "Supercilious Camel," the "Astonished Camel," and the "Pathologically Shy Camel." But the "Opera Camel" comes with a dark, dark history. Years ago, during our first sojourn in London in the early 1990s, my dear family came to visit us at Christmastime, to mark the end of my sister's dreaded semester at Essex University, or "Gotham City," as she referred to it (suffice to say she spent a lot of time at our flat in London). As a special holiday treat, we all went to hear Handel's "Messiah." Which would have been lovely except that as an ignorant idiot, I thought there was the "Hallelujah Chorus," and that was it, and we'd all go have a lovely dinner. Oh ho. It lasted for HOURS. And my sister and I began to get squirrelly. I made one, just ONE "Opera Camel" face at her, and after that, all bets were off. No amount of stern looks from our mother (who sadly began to do camel faces too after a bit), or angry glances from other occupants of our pew (shaking with laughter) could dispel. Then John got it. One by one, we had to leave the chapel, to try to stop laughing, but it was no good. We snickered and shook the pew and giggled until finally it was the bleeping "Hallelujah Chorus" and we could just shout and get it out of our systems.

Well, I'm ashamed to say that Avery took the "Opera Camel" face in much the same spirit. She is, however, considerably more mature than I was at, say, 26 years of age, and came to her senses. Whew.

We emerged from the concert into the glow of St. Paul's cathedral, and came home in a fog of appreciation. Plus Avery was wearing my favorite grey coat that makes her look so cozy, and a very fancy dress from Morgane le Fay that her Iowa grandparents bought for her at least three years ago and which has seen her through every festivity in her life since. Dark blue woollen knit, swirly about the hems, with a dark-blue silk lining. And a cream-colored silk blouse with a ruffled collar. With this fetching ensemble she wore a grey felt beret with a felt rabbit on it. Both John and I were quite silly with admiration for her, in the tube.

This morning she tripped off to her eye doctor appointment with John while I slept in like a lazy slob. What on EARTH am I going to do when he eventually gets a job? I have got sinfully accustomed to having a second parent in the house. And I must say that late last night, after Avery had gone to sleep and we were having a restorative shared scrambled egg in the kitchen, we discussed the incredible luxury of a two-parent household at all. We're looking to buy a house in North Kensington, currently lived in by a lovely Irish lady called Sally and her little boy William. And that's all. How incredibly brave of her to manage on her own, without the adult to talk to at the end of the day, to share errands, handle half (or more, in the case of my husband) the moral dilemmas and behavioral concerns. I wanted to take the two of them in to live with us! Hey, if we are able to buy her house, you never know! Seriously, though. A thing to be grateful for at any season, but especially now: a second parent. And we realized: this is the first Christmas ever that John has been able to do anything about the holiday. Which was always fine, because I love anything to do with Christmas preparations, and historically he has been very Scroogey. But now I wonder how much was Scrooge and how much was just sheer exhaustion. I remember the childhood feeling of my dad being able to relax. It was always like an extra Christmas present, having him be the self he probably always would have been without the pressure of being head of household. At Christmastime he got to have fun, and be funny, and play jokes and have me sit on his lap in the firelight (which, dear readers, I did throughout college). What old fashioned lives we still lead, some of us, at-home mothers with working husbands. And what a treat to get out from under the mantle, this one Christmas, and play a different role.

Anyway, Avery needs glasses, it turns out! Never one to be conventional, her left eye is near-sighted, her right eye far-sighted. Not to worry, modern technology will figure this out. From her eye exam she went to her classmate Kimia's for a playdate, and I? I swanned off to a Thai grocery store with my friend Vincent, since I never really been to such a thing. Vincent specializes in three things: one, knowing all the cool things to do, two, introducing them to his friends, and three, sitting back and loving watching his friends like what he likes. It goes for Thai groceries, favorite restaurants, other friends. It's one of the nicest things about him, his generosity about what he loves. We had FUN. And I bought lots of exotic things like kaffir lime leaves, Thai basil, three different kinds of pickled cabbage for John to try (having a childhood friend from Vietnam who instilled in him a lifelong love of kimchi). Noodles, green curry paste, lemon grass, you name it. Tomorrow night is, I'm thinking, Thai night.

From there, we ended up having a totally unexpected lunch out (at least, unexpected for me, but Vincent had of course booked) at The Providores in the Marylebone High Street. Second direction for you to run, not walk, should have the opportunity: a lunch to die for. First, "can I take all those packages for you?" meaning, "can I stop you from entering my uber-cool restaurant with all those tacky Thai grocery bags?" Although to be fair, she also took our bags from Skandium, the sublime Swedish design store, and Brora, the Scottish cashmere shop (I cannot divulge, for obvious reasons, anything that was acquired anywhere).

The food sounds indescribably pretentious when I think how to describe it, when what it really is is imaginative New Zealand fare. Which includes... kangaroo. Don't fret! I did not indulge. Too... pouchy for me. Or something. But I did have a wonderful bowl of something called laksa, which is an Indian-ish soup with a coconut milk base. This particular bowl happened to be filled with crab, black cardamom, and galangal root, with a fried crab dumpling (to die for), lime-leaf-marinated squid (never did like eating rubber bands, so Vincent got mine) and green tea noodles. Sounds ridiculous? Perfect, Some noodles and the crab to eat with chopsticks, and a nice sterling spoon to get the coconut milk, unbelievably rich and creamy. To follow I had... foie gras, pan-fried with roasted pineapple and, I have to say, an oily coriander pikelet (a sort of potato rosti, a non-Jewish latke). Tell the truth, I always say! What was great was great, but the pikelet was oily. There you have it.

Vincent's friend Pete joined us later on, and we lingered, oh did we linger. How wonderful to abandon any idea of what you thought you would do between sort of 1 and 3, and just sit, and eat and chat. Total luxury. Presents were exchanged, and I came home to see if John was still among the living, and I must say, even with the glorious restaurant lunch, the lingering aroma of homemade chicken soup was pretty amazing. Last bits of present wrapping, now, and so the clock to Christmas winds down.

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