Here at Art Scatter World Headquarters we’re used to friends and associates grumping about Christmas and the holidays. “Bah,” they say. And again, “Humbug.” A seasonal deficit disorder afflicts our closest circles of civilization, and we’ve learned to grump along with the chorus, just to keep things running smoothly.
But the truth is, we sort of like the holiday season. Yesterday afternoon the Scatter Inner Circle brought home its Christmas tree and got the lights and some of the ornaments artfully arranged before settling in to watch Christmas in the Clouds, an affable, low-key romantic comedy about life at an American Indian-operated resort lodge, with terrific wintry scenery from the grounds of the Sundance Institute in Utah. Graham Greene plays a vegetarian chef who tries to scare all of his customers out of ordering meat, and M. Emmett Walsh plays a foul-tempered drunk who has a change of heart, and the DVD arrived from friends in New Mexico who sent it just because they’d enjoyed it and wanted to share it, and that’s kind of what the holidays are about, isn’t it?
Of course Mr. Scatter is way behind on shopping (and several things need to be sent, which requires the sort of logistical hoop-jumping that often ties Mr. Scatter’s brain, if not his stomach, into knots). And many dozen cookies remain to be baked: The Small Large Smelly Boy insists. Never mind. It’ll all get done. Holiday CDs are pretty much in continual loop here at AS world headquarters (we’ve been listening to 16th and 17th century carols from the Baltimore Consort) and some members of the inner brain trust have been doing serious damage to the national eggnog supply.
The picture of Santa Claus above is a detail from a jigsaw puzzle assembled over Thanksgiving weekend in Port Angeles, Washington, mainly by a junior member of the Scatter clan. The corporate brain trust discovered a shop in downtown P.A. that specializes in mostly used jigsaw puzzles — and actually assembles every puzzle before offering it for sale, to make sure no pieces are missing. It’s apparently an obsession. This particular puzzle comes from a little artisanal outfit in Kansas City called Hallmark. If our records show that you’ve been good, we’ll run a photo of the whole completed puzzle before the season ends.
Among other things, December is a month of beautiful music, and in Portland there is far more of it than a person can hope to take in. We regret, for instance, missing the medieval caroling of the women’s ensemble In Mulieribus, Portland’s answer to the Anonymous 4, and London’s Tallis Scholars, who know how to put the pedal to the pedagogy and make it soar.
On Friday night the Scatter clan braved the threat of ice and trekked to the Aladdin Theatre for Holidays with the Trail Band. It was well worth it. We hadn’t seen the Trail Band in a few years, and it was worth making the reacquaintance. The Trail Band is the baby of Marv and Rindy Ross, who back in the 1980s had a shot of national success as leaders of the pop group Quarterflash, and earlier were the core of the terrific bar band Seafood Mama. Since starting the Trail Band 16 years ago to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Oregon Trail, they’ve been digging deeper and wider into the roots of popular music, and the result is a smart brand of musical eclecticism that is what it is and doesn’t really care what the tastemakers think.
The holiday show featured a great lineup including the highly talented guitarist Cal Scott (who’s also blowing a mean cornet these days); Phil and Gayle Neuman of the Oregon Renaissance Band, who bring the likes of pennywhistles and flageolets to the party; fine fiddler Skip Parente; the subtle and attentive drummer/percusussionist Dan Stueber; and Mick Doherty, who rescues the hammered dulcimer from the yellowing pages of history and revives it as an exciting contemporary instrument. Plus, guest shots from actor/comedian Scott Parker, who gives the nativity story a hilarious spin; flash guitarist Doug Fraser, the Rosses’ old Quarterflash sidekick, who rocks and roars through a funky little ditty called Mustang Santa; and the hugely talented Michele Mariana, whose warm, deeply measured Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas brought pulses in the house to a halt.
Try as we might, we just can’t grump about a show like that.
On Saturday night Mr. Scatter and his younger lad went to Northwest Children’s Theater and School to see the company’s musical play Narnia, based on C.S. Lewis’s children’s fantasy The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. A small review ran in Monday morning’s Oregonian; here’s the link to my much longer online review on Oregon Live, in which I touch lightly on the phenomenon of Christian parable in 20th/21st century kids’ lit, from Tolkien to Lewis to L’Engle to Rowling.
How, you might wonder if you followed the link, did Robert Frost get into the mix of the longer essay? Credit goes to the book group with which I’m loosely associated, an erudite and genial collection of lawyers, writers, classical musicians and even an actor who gather once a month to eat, drink and do lit talk. One member happens to be a noted Morris dancer; a couple have been getting their jollies recently by writing dueling sonnets based on rousing biblical tales.
December in this group is poetry month, and this year’s reading choice was Frost. So the ice man was fresh in my mind when I sat down to write about Lewis’s ice queen, and I discovered that Frost fit the discussion neatly. Fire and ice, baby. You can’t get much more Narnian than that.
And, oh yes: Father Christmas puts in an appearance in Lewis’s tale. He’s very welcome, thank you.