Holiday Windows, a (Sort of) Love Story

In one tableau a figure is a “nose” smelling a rose, in order to make perfume. In another, the two designers are employees in a beauty salon, holding hair dryer and manicure tools aloft. Here they are cobblers; there they are hand-painting floral designs onto purses.

Further along they take curtain calls with divas on stage at La Scala, or they are tailors wielding measuring tapes, or chefs in hats, or watchmakers in a workshop in waistcoats, the cogs and innards of a clock spilling out before them; or disco dancers, in sequins, on a multicolored flashing floor. What does it all mean? Is it Christmassy? Is it fabulous? Does it denote a midlife crisis? Who can say.

As I gazed at this elaborate tomfoolery I conjured the holiday windows of my dreams. First I’d like the mysterious intensity of the midnight feast Porphyro lays out for Madeleine in Keats’s “The Eve of St. Agnes.” It is a meal so literary that it scarcely contains any foodstuffs; it is all texture and atmosphere and thread count:

“And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep,

In blanched linen, smooth, and lavender’d,

While he forth from the closet brought a heap

Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd;

With jellies soother than the creamy curd,

And lucent syrups, tinct with cinnamon …”

Then, with a seasonal nod to order and plenty, I’d recreate the Christmas dinner in “The Dead” by James Joyce. I’d set a goose at one end of a table and at the other end a great ham, with “a neat paper frill round its shin.” Symmetrical side dishes and celery vases would be stationed at intervals with cut glass decanters standing sentry to the fruit stand. I’d like this framed by Joyce’s snowflakes, silver and dark, falling against the windowpane, after the late-night confession of lost love.

Finally I’d bottle and spritz (or simply screen) the moment before Judy Garland’s character Esther Smith sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in “Meet Me in St Louis,” when she makes a strange emotional gesture, in the direction of her little sister — a half kiss crossed with a sudden expression of sympathy. It is as if, in that movement, she thinks better of saying something not quite right to her small relation, deciding to swallow her fears about the future, leaving the scene shimmering with the notion that no matter what your age, you are never quite as light and carefree as you wish to be at Christmas. That life (and Christmas) are serious things.

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