“Tradition(s) is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” - Gustav Mahler
Growing up in a small coastal town on the shores of Adriatic, ancient stony walls and meandering narrow streets still proudly bear the mark of St. Mark’s winged lion (official emblem of Venetian Republic). Here, one is birthed in a culture where traditions have been intricately amalgamated into a rich tapestry, woven and enriched through centuries. Thus, in the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve, there are numerous celebrations imported from faraway lands from St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors, to Krampus, a dark-haired creature bearing horns and fangs, carrying a bundle of birch sticks used to swat naughty children to Santa Lucia, the saint that gifted her eyes to a rejected suitor before she devoted her life to serving Christ, which all include some form of not only celebration, but also gifting.
In the nights leading up to the 'festa' when a penetrating damp chill coming from the still, oil-like charcoal-colored water that encircled our city, under the watchful eye of the gargantuan angel statue that towers over the roofs of a sleepy town, children would impatiently shine their shoes and leave them where they could most easily be found in hopes of waking up to something other than the gilded branch used for spanking. Times have evolved but in the time of my childhood we received small tokens like a warm pair of brightly colored Benetton gloves, a hat or varied socks from mamma’s clumsy experiment to nonna’s overly intricate outdated designs one would conveniently misplace after a single outing—a box of Baci chocolates with hidden tiny messages and splendid silver wrap paper with navy colored ‘stelline’ (little stars) we kept for crafting ornaments and lining 'presepio' (nativity), oranges wrapped in colorful paper, a box of exquisitely wrapped fruit jelly bombones or my favourite, 'cotognata' (quince jelly candy). I fondly remember looking through the foggy windows onto the mist-enveloped dark streets where cloaked dark figures, in a conspiratory manner, skulked across the piazzas and along the water line in search of last-minute favors.
Precious scenes that forever stay etched in one's memory.
However, for me, it is one particular tradition or gift that has ignited a passion that lasts a lifetime. It is a tradition that originated in Iceland 'Jolabokaflod' and it includes gifting each other books on Christmas Eve and reading them together. There has never been anything more glorious than the memories of our family comfortably scattered around our salotto, each reading in their favourite chair, listening to the sounds of crackling fire interthread with soothing notes of Pellegrini's melody while reflecting lights glimmer on the still water through our balcony windows—being together in stillness, occasionally sliding colorful marbleized paper boxes full of chocolate across the floor and passing around thick slices of sugar-dusted Panettone. Not long ago we visited an old harbor bookshop in a small coastal town of Main. At the entry, we were greeted by a stack of neatly organized books that each had a handwritten note from each of the staffers explaining what they loved most about their chosen book. We were so touched and inspired by this simple yet profound gesture that we decided to do the same in hopes of gifting some of our most cherished experiences with you as we enter into this magical season. May we all make this gifting season a little more intentional as we share meaningful messages, ideas and memorable experiences with our loved ones and just perhaps we could adopt a new tradition of book gift-giving.
War and Peace by Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy - My favorite book, profoundly relevant for the current turbulent times. Do not be intimidated by its size. It is a beautiful account of human's ability to transform, the absurdity of war, the power of compassion and forgiveness and love, the resilience of the human spirit, the importance of brotherly love, the significance of finding joy and contentment in the simplest of moments, the beauty of having an open mind, the importance of facing hardship with levity and patience, and the message that the peace of mind and peace of soul are the ultimate wealth and cause of happiness.
The Lion Tracker's Guide to Life by Boyd Varty - An amazing book highlighting the wisdom found in nature to help guide us on our path through life.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari - It’s an excellent if not speculative study on the history of human evolution. It resonated with me his argument for Sapiens rise is our distinctive capacity for fiction.
City of girls by Elizabeth Gilbert - A fictional novel based in 1940s New York City full of glamour, lust, and adventure. Why? Cause I’m a dreamer.
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom - It highlights the importance of human relationships and the reflections on topics such as love, work, family, and death are filled with insights. I am constantly encouraged to reflect on my own life and reevaluate my priorities every time I pick up this book or even think about this book. Oh and “love always wins”! Period.
I concur about Sapiens, Brian. It's a fascinating read. Another one I recommend is Peter Zeihan's "the end of the world is just the beginning" which lays out the chronology of globalization, predicts it's fate and what's next.
Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut - It was the first Vonnegut book I read. It's hilarious, scary, weird, and timely. The characters are odd and absurd, but could also be people you've met. Themes of madness, destiny, and environmental stress feel current although the book was written in the early 1970s. If you can face the darkness and laugh a little, this book is for you.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt - A captivating story that ultimately reflects on how our love for objects and beautiful things can connect us to something bigger and change the way we engage with the world. It’s an odyssey, but worth sticking to until the end.
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer - A Beautiful insight into our relationship and connection with nature, from an indigenous and scientific perspective. That sounds like a book review quote I googled... but that actually just came out of me.
Anam Cara by John O'Donohue - As a gift is perfect because it brings us back to the earth and the magic of being human. What better present than a reminder of how special it is to be alive. And in these bodies. Part of nature and this world.
The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard - It has been the most quoted resource for me over the years. As a lover of homes and environments, as well as poetry, philosophy and mysticism, this book is a classic for anyone who loves space as much as we do.