On the crest

Christmas Eve provides a rare chance to indulge oneself. It is assured that retailers will have anxiously abandoned their duties by noon. During this pandemic most people are content to go directly home; travel is unadvised. Whatever preparation is being made for social gathering, it will no doubt be confined to a predominantly narrow scope, perhaps even a welcome one (with the exception of grandparents who quite naturally pine relentlessly for their grandchildren).

I have begun the day by listening to a 1997 recording of Handel’s Messiah by Paul McCreesh, Gabrieli Consort & Players.

Paul McCreesh is renowned for the energy and passion of his musicianship, and the interpretive insight he brings to repertoire of the widest stylistic and historical breadth. His authoritative performances are founded on uncompromising drive and vision, alongside a hunger for new challenges. First established as the founder and artistic director of the Gabrieli Consort & Players, he now conducts such orchestras as the Leipzig Gewandhaus, Bergen Philharmonic, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Sydney Symphony, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Verbier Festival Orchestra. He is a former Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor at the Gulbenkian Orchestra, Lisbon and served for six seasons as Artistic Director of the International Festival Wratislavia Cantans in Wrocław, Poland.

What is significant for me about the McCreesh performance is its noticeable difference from the 1959 delivery of the Philadelphia Orchestra directed by Eugene Ormandy and sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir which was for years my favourite. I first heard Ormandy’s concert on a large 33 rpm stereo when my parents, my sister and I lived in Washington DC.  Now I’m listening to the music piped from my iPhone to a tiny Sony portable speaker connected by Bluetooth. Otherwise the appearance of our digs is much the same as always though with moderated decorations. And no fireplace (but a moment ago we smelled wood smoke wafting through the open windows).

Our agenda no longer includes a midnight mass but uniquely we’ve planned to collect our take-out Christmas Eve dinner from Loom Bistro at one o’clock this afternoon. Though I anticipate the prepared meal will be succulent, it will be hard to follow last night’s gastronomic initiative – homemade Vietnamese Pho, spinach salad and a small flatbread pizza with Québec brie, cranberry, leak and grainy mustard.

As we approach the New Year I have joined the ranks of those who chronically contemplate the past. My opening objective was to capture reminiscences of select people I’ve known in the area and to include those modest reflections in my collection of what I have favourably entitled “The Brighter Lights of Almonte“. Earlier I made an attempt to enlarge the aggregation but with little more than limited success. Apparently my declining memory has constrained my ability to contribute further to the writings on that particular subject.  Since I last wrote in that vernacular we have distanced ourselves from the general topic.  Living in Florida half the year and having reduced community involvement following my retirement – plus having relocated to a new side of town to a building inhabited primarily by new community arrivals – my legitimacy regarding the subject of local historic personalities has suffered a commensurate reduction. This diminution was ironically compensated by the unanticipated visit from two new friends outfitted in Christmas apparel, bearing a Christmas card with a touching note and an offer of colourfully decorated chocolates. We briefly interrupted their wassail to chat and laugh together. It was a wholesome fortuity and instantly propelled the delectation of Christmas Eve to its traditional apex.

My afternoon diversion in the Aviator was by design limited to fulfillment of the necessities without expansion of the compass. Christmas Eve is after all a moment of familial conviviality, not metaphorical sailing or flying across the countryside as I am normally wont to do in order to exhaust my incoherent thoughts. I did however employ the occasion to listen for what will likely be the last time this season to whatever Christmas music I liked.

Meanwhile the pleasing aroma of Christmas Eve dinner has begun to infuse the air of the apartment. I likewise rejoice that my erstwhile absorption in the achievement of others has dissolved into my current inadequacy. The allure is nothing more imaginative than mere resolve to accept and to enjoy. The treadmill of the past is now but a decaying relic in the pasture. I am not about to remember my Creator (virgin birth or otherwise). Rather I am more inclined to the suggestive choral of Frank Sinatra about his vintage wine from fine old kegs, from the brim to the dregs poured sweet and clear.

Merry Christmas!