Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Still Burning Bright

I am partial to stories of people who triumph over long odds, writers who succeed after decades of rejection, no matter how small the triumph, how secret the success. Then, of course, there are the grand tales of genius unrecognized.

According to one authoritative website, the poet and engraver William Blake worked so hard that, for one two-year interval, he left his home only to "fetch his beer."

Whirlwind of Lovers (Illustration to Dante's Inferno) 
Birmingham Art Gallery

Blake’s work will repay your consideration many times over. Few clear memories remain of my visit to London in 1982, but I do remember reading these words on a page in the British Museum:

“Some say that happiness is not good for mortals, & they ought to be answered that sorrow is not fit for immortals & is utterly useless to any one; a blight never does good to a tree, & if a blight kill not a tree but it still bear fruit, let none say that the fruit was in consequence of the blight.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Christmas in China

If you live in Shanghai, the scent of Christmas comes alloyed with that of diesel exhaust and fermented tofu. You won’t lack for Christmas lights or Christmas sales, and you can buy Christmas decorations exactly like those for sale in any North American discount chain at your local Carrefour.

But if, like our family, you can’t abide an artificial tree, and were disappointed by the peculiar selection of conifers at the flower market in Hongqiao or the landscaping center on Cao’an Lu, then His Royal Highness Prince Joachim of Denmark is your man.

Never mind the environmental impacts of shipping Danish trees to China. At this time of year, you really don’t want to ponder all the thorny issues of globalization.

What you need is the crisp odor of fresh-cut fir, the caress of branches as you hang your new ornaments, a scattering of needles on your living room floor.

Call Maggie at Shanghai Blue Fish Trading (021 5045 4088 or 135 6442 3727). I met her last December and was impressed with her efficiency. She’ll arrange for delivery to your home, and even pick up the weary twig when the season is over. Prices range from 490 to 2360 yuan, depending on size.