Christmas roundup

· culture ·

We were on our own for Christmas and Boxing Day this year, so we had a couple of quiet days. After a hectic time at the tail end of this year, it was great to just stop and do very little. On Christmas Day itself, we cooked a crackingly good dinner (salmon en croute, in case you were wondering, with stir-fried carrots and sprouts and roast potatoes and parsnips), opened some presents and watched Doctor Who.

While we were eating dinner, and for a while afterwards, we listened to a World Routes which Mr. Bsag had recorded from Radio 3 earlier in the month, in which the presenter Lucy Duran travels to Georgia to listen to the traditional polyphonic choral music. I've been a fan of Georgian music for a long time, but the live recordings (if you'll forgive the tautology) in the programme were incredibly good. While we were eating, we heard a couple of hymns by the St. Panteleimon Chanters (their name gloriously close to Lyra's daemon, you notice) recorded at a funeral. That might sound an oddly depressing soundtrack to Christmas, but it was beautiful, ethereal, peaceful music, and far from depressing. In fact, it almost made me want to convert to Orthodox Christianity and move to Georgia, just to have the St. Panteleimon Chanters sing at my funeral. The only slight flaw in that cunning plan is, of course, that I wouldn't get to hear the music at my own funeral.

They moved on to the traditional 'table songs' of the Tusheti region, which is my favourite Georgian style. This included some live recordings of the Tsinandali choir which blew me away. While I listened to their music with a huge lump in my throat, I tried to think what their music reminded me of. It was on the edge of my mind, but when it popped to the forefront, I was rather surprised: their music is like a wolf pack howling. That sounds like an insult, but actually I mean it as the highest praise. Like a wolf howl, there are shifting pitches, voices supporting and intertwining with one another. And like a wolf howl, it speaks to you of joy, longing, sorrow, exultation, fear, power and a wildness that immediately raises the hairs on your neck, and fills the night with electricity. It was a very special experience to hear the recording, so I can't imagine how powerful it must have been like to be there and hear it live.

On Boxing Day, we did the traditional Boxing Day walk. I'm a big fan of this tradition: apart from anything else, it gets you off your backside after a day of being cloistered inside with loads of food and warmth, and that contrast between almost suffocating cosiness, and a bitingly cold, energetic, bright walk is rather pleasant. It was a lovely, bright day, and we had a great walk starting at the Lickey Hills. The sun was low and bright, and lit up the foliage, striking sparkles off the remains of the rain on the leaves, and making even the mud look glossy. There was rather a lot of mud, so our boots needed hosing off when we got home, but it was great fun. I took a few photos, and put a couple up on Wings Open Wide, here and here.

Tomorrow I'm off to visit my parents for a couple of days, while Mr. Bsag looks after Cleo, so wish me luck with the rail system!