Back in the day, a person would head out purposefully to go Christmas shopping. Sometime at the beginning of December, either alone or with a friend, you would fill up your purse with real paper money and take the bus into town.
A pen-and-paper list would have been prepared, solid items envisaged, and the Geneva department stores, toy shops, and stationers would have been visited. A corncob pipe from Davidoff’s. A Swiss art calendar from Brachard. A box of chocolate pavés from the Bonbonnière. And you would return home foot-sore and arm-weary with bags and boxes, and a true sense of possible future poverty and solid accomplishment.
For exotic items, you could visit the second hand book stores and the Saturday flea market and come up with almost-first editions, ancient engravings, or strange Japanese prints. Music stores had racks of song books and mountains of CD’s. People would help. You would buy piano-key socks.
If you had the stamina to make it all the way to Carouge, there were even more outlandish stores selling Indian ware, and small African sculptures. You could buy a wooden parrot or a bronze cow or hand-made jewelry–articles of great beauty and assured rarity.
Lacquered Chinese cabinets and old rattan baskets and Bohemian glass and Nepalese rabbit-fur shawls have all made their way into my house from the stalls of Geneva merchants.
One of my first adult Christmas-shopping days that I clearly remember was December 9, 1980. John Lennon had been assassinated the day before, and a buzz was in the air.
Since those days, trips away have usually replaced, and then delayed or advanced Christmas festivities. In some far-away corner of the earth you would buy a horse-hair Burmese bowl or a clay Colombian statue or a Chinese paint-brush. These would be gifts for others, and gifts for yourself. Things to take up space, gather dust, and sit still and silent around you. Things that you don’t even see anymore. Things that have become old invisible friends.
And today I’ve been at it again. Sadly no frivolous-frippery shops are open here in Geneva due to partial confinement, so I have had to resort to on-line services. It has been a solitary day of frustration and failure and mediocracy.
My favourite shop in England cannot deliver until mid-January due to having been moved to Tier 3 of covid19 lockdown. They explained that only 3 people can work in their warehouse due to new rules.
I contacted my bookstore in Paris, but it is closed as an international appeal has resulted in a tsunami of orders and they are drowning in success.
And I didn’t even bother seeing what has become of my Florentine art supplies shop. The man there has probably gone home and is hiding under his duvet.
However, I have managed local sourcing of many quite ordinary things and am moderately satisfied. Sadly, there have been no eureka moments.
Imagine no possessions. I wonder if you can.