Aren’t nativity scenes interesting? I can’t think of another holiday that we commemorate with a diorama. This little one is from Austria, courtesy of Martin, a remarkable finder of cherished objects.
I like the idea of setting up figurines to commemorate an event. Little mannikins that remind us. And there’s the Frankincense.
This one is ceramic. In my homeland, Slovakia, nativity scenes feature figures made of corn husks. The thing I like about nativity scenes is that the maker always incorporates local themes and foods and fashion and animals into the scene. My family has a Peruvian nativity, where all the figures are made of brown clay. There are a lot of animals I expect were not witness to the actual holy birth. Why not add in llamas? All kinds of unexpected things make it in. Like the nativity scenes that use fake snow. Cause there was snow in Bethlehem, right?
Outside Toronto City Hall, the nativity is behind plexiglass, lest someone steal or vandalize the baby Jesus. Hey, it happens; in 2008, hoodlums vandalized a drive through nativity in Georgia, USA.
LAURA: Little articles of it [glass], they’re ornaments mostly! Most of them are little animals made out of glass, the tiniest little animals in the world. Mother calls them a glass menagerie! Here’s an example of one, if you’d like to see it! . . . Oh, be careful — if you breathe, it breaks! . . . Hold him over the light, he loves the light! You see how the light shines through him?
JIM: It sure does shine!
LAURA: I shouldn’t be partial, but he is my favorite one.
JIM: What kind of a thing is this one supposed to be?
LAURA: Haven’t you noticed the single horn on his forehead?
JIM: A unicorn, huh? — aren’t they extinct in the modern world?
LAURA: I know!
JIM: Poor little fellow, he must feel sort of lonesome.
Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie, Scene 7
Still life with bison horn. The North American Plains Bison (Bison bison bison) should not be confused with a Buffalo.
The horn is a tiny cornucopia, spilling over with flower bounty. And coyote jaw. And artichoke.
26 is Jon’s favorite number. He’s a math man. He had a math reason: it’s an integer that’s one more than a square (25) and one less than a cube (27).
It was his birthday, and I bought two of these wooden shapes and sent one to him. Although it doesn’t actually have 26 sides, I felt like since there were 26 letters in the alphabet, the potential for there to be 26 sides between our two shapes was possible. I never bothered to count, it was just a feeling I had. A rhombicuboctahedron feeling.
26 is a magical number: the number of bones in a foot, the number of spacetime dimensions. The sum of the Hebrew characters that spell the name of God add up to 26.
I used to play with this tortoise at my great aunt’s house, whenever we’d go there for lunch.
My great aunt and uncle were collectors, not just of taxidermy (they also had two stuffed caymans), but of small sculpture, paintings, carpets and such. A spear with a horse hair fringe. Hanging blown glass balls. A small ivory vase with incredibly intricate figures carved into it. (What the figures were doing I can’t quite remember, I was always a little afraid of looking too closely; the overall effect was of something celebratory, but slightly sinister). A yak rug, metallic wallpaper, and chandelier with big bevelled glass tear drops hanging from its curved arms. There was something enchanted about the place.
The tortoise is an object I’ve known since I can remember, but I have only a vague memory of our former relationship. Nevertheless, and somewhat mysteriously, I’ve always felt quite deeply for it. A few months ago, to my surprise and delight, my great aunt agreed to give the tortoise to me. When I took him out of the house, I had a sense of the uncanny. This was a whole new adventure for me and the tortoise; a rekindling of our personal bond, a new context. I carried him home on the subway. I frightened a fruit seller.
We named him Captain. I look at him often, dust him tenderly and stroke his flakey shell when I’m feeling sentimental.