Thursday, December 10, 2015

Christmas Dream

All the world knows that my child-bride, Diane Louise Zahler, is the blogger supreme of our five month idyll. So, as our remaining days in London dwindle to a precious few, I am grateful for the opportunity to file a curious entry of my own.

Recent readers will recall that on our visits to Christmas fairs in Hampstead and Bath we were nearly crushed in stampedes of agitated revelers wearing plush reindeer antlers and reeking of too much mulled wine. Longing for a festive alternative to these mercantile orgies, we visited a seasonal event familiar only to the cogniscenti—the Druid fair in the tiny neighborhood of Crumb-on-Saucer in a remote corner of London’s East End.
The passionate neo-pagans who hold this gathering each December wait feverishly for the winter solstice, for they are an urban offshoot of the worshippers at Stonehenge. Indeed, they have erected a miniature model of that fabled temple in a courtyard behind the 16th-century Hedgehog Tavern (hard by the oldest Sainsbury Local in Britain). Here blue-faced celebrants of both sexes dance bare-chested, chanting rhymes in a tongue so ancient that some anthropologists have traced its cadences to the mating calls of prehistoric birds.

Our journey to the fair was eventful in itself, a hypnogogic ride. Descending further underground at the Holborn tube stop than ever before, we  took the little-known Nutmeg and Squirrel line (an off-shoot of the Picadilly), and our ride was made unexpectedly festive by a band of Icelandic folk dancers wearing musk-ox horns, which sounded thunderously when they butted heads in a complex reel. The N&S line, which is available for use only between November 28th and January 14, featured complementary cups of rum punch infused with a viscous red elixir
that we were told was the blood of newly slaughtered she-foxes and served by pale young women in buckskin bustiers. It was certainly a potent decoction because I slept through the remainder of the circuitous subterranean ride, and neither Di nor Ben (visiting from New York) could remember arriving at the festival.
When the vulpine head-fog clearer, we found ourselves in a circle of azure-dyed worshippers, dressed in long white gowns, circling about us and bowing in succession to setting sun, just visible above the corner of a long abandoned Pret a Manger. Momentarily, we three realized that we were standing on a small slab altar and that the druidic ceremony unfolding would involve live sacrifice! There was, I’ll admit, a collective moment of panic, loin-girding, and “all that sort of thing” (as the locals like say). To our
relief we soon discovered that were but place holders for the actual victim—a recalcitrant goat who was pulled into the circle, braying in protest. Always sensitive to animal cruelty, Di covered her eyes, but she needn’t have: within minutes the celebrants, using tiny brushes, had painted on the protesting beast, from head to hoof, a map of ur-Druidia, a kingdom that once stretched from southern Greenland to Asia Minor and of which modern day Luxembourg was its sacred capital.
Still more surprising was the ritual insertion of a fir tree in a wood chipper that followed, a rite intended to propitiate the angry sun-god and induce him to lengthen the diminishing days, to rescue true believers from the ever-encroaching kingdom of night. How forcibly these atavistic survivalists put me in mind of the primitive vitalism of that high modernist moment when Eliot published The Waste Land and Lawrence lionized the dying-reviving Mexican god Quetzalcoatl!

Di and Ben exhibited little interest in my literary exhortations because there was so much novelty surrounding us.  There was immolation: a beaver effigy made of puff pastry was set afire; and there was shopping: hand-whittled water-diviners to locate urban restrooms, polished stone amulets for the prevention of baldness, and badger testicles to be worn under one’s tunic for aphrodisial stimulation. Each of us bought one of the items above, and I invite you to speculate on the specific distribution of these purchases. I will say only that afterward, Ben was accosted in an aggressively amorous fashion by a splendid young Amazon whose hair was twisted into a knot rising nearly ten inches from her head. Throughout our unforgettable visit we were made to feel quite at home, embraced by the warm blueness of these modern tribalists.

Our day concluded with one of the strangest and most succulent holiday meals I can recall—a huge platter of local pigeons that had been roasted in a conical oven, accompanied by the flesh of an unidentified ungulate whose carcass we had seen turning on spit and some locally purchased cranberry sauce. Was it all a vision or a waking dream? Did we wake or sleep? Will Christmas ever be the same for us again?     

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