Monday, December 26, 2016

Mystery gifts

Virginia Woolf, dressed in mid-20th century style, returns to her Sussex home and a very happy dog. My sister Betty sent me this print for Christmas. 

A telling detail from the print.

My nephew Etienne and his wife Aya brought us this box of mysterious goodies and told us to keep it refrigerated. 
My sister Betty was so concerned about the gift she'd sent me for Christmas that she was semi-panicking on Christmas Eve. "I'm not sure you'll understand it," she said over the phone from her home in Quebec. "Maybe you should open it now so I can explain." I'd had the brown-paper parcel, light as a feather, for a month, so I was having none of that early-unwrapping stuff. "A mystery might be fun," I said. "We can all stand around and chip in on what we think it might be."

The gift, properly opened on Christmas morning, wasn't nearly the head-scratcher she'd feared. What do you give a sister whose every conversation for months has touched on -- well, sometimes obsessed upon -- To the Lighthouse and other works by Virginia Woolf? A print depicting Monk's House in Rodmell, Sussex, of course -- given that Woolf wrote most of her novels there. The print is from the Writers' Houses series by Amanda White, and fittingly, considering that we are in deep snow (once again) in Vancouver, it's Monk's House in the snow.

I admit that at first I wasn't sure what I was looking at: a piece of naive art depicting a house, a woman and a dog in winter. But the title "Monk's House Welcome Home" rang bells, and the clincher was the tiny sign by the open gate: "Mr. & Mrs. Woolf."

The print will live in my downstairs office, along with a stack of Woolf's books, her biography, and the two essays I have just finished on her work. When I look at it, I will always be pleased that my sister -- who is not particularly enamoured of Woolf herself -- took enough note of my own immersion to think of such a gift. A surprise, and an acknowledgement of what the recipient is really interested in: the best kind of gift, and no mystery at all.

A second unusual gift came from my nephew Etienne and his wife Aya, when they came over for Christmas dinner. Aya, who is of Japanese descent, handed me a small box, and said: "This needs to be refrigerated." In the throes of last-minute dinner preparations, we left it at that. But later we learned the gift is Japanese-style chocolates, which include cream, and so must be kept cold and eaten within two weeks. They're made locally by Coconama Chocolate Co. in North Vancouver, and have rave reviews on the Internet.

The chocolates look like pretty little blocks for a board game, and have a slightly different texture than the chocolate we're used to. The taste? With flavours ranging from red bean to Earl Grey to lemon basil and mango, let's just say there won't be any problem meeting the two-week deadline!

A little more on Monk's House, from Quentin Bell's biography of his aunt Virginia Woolf. The  Woolfs bought the house in 1919. It was near the River Ouse, where Virginia drowned herself in 1941. 

 "It was a modest brick and flint dwelling, weather-boarded on the street side, two storeys high with a high-pitched slate roof; inside, many low small rooms opened one from another; the ground floors were paved with brick, the stairs were narrow with worn treads; there was of course neither bath nor hot water nor W.C. Rising behind the house was a profuse and untidy garden, with flint walls and many outhouses, and beyond the garden was an orchard and beyond the orchard the walled churchyard. The more Leonard and Virginia looked at the place, the more they liked it. They tried their best to find faults, but only succeeded in liking it better." 

1 comment:

  1. Love the perfect!'re just like my friend, Elaine, who is a stickler for opening gifts at the appropriate time...