The Paris Review’s offices are close to a small square of green space called Clement Clarke Moore Park, at West Twenty-Second and Tenth Avenue. Moore, a scholar and theologian, owned the piece of land—he donated a large part to the General Theological Seminary, which still stands there—and indeed, his forebears had owned the estate simply known as Chelsea. And of course, Moore’s poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” is essentially responsible for our contemporary notion of Santa Claus: “a right jolly old elf,” drawn by reindeer, who arrives on Christmas Eve to swoop down your chimney. Moore is said to have been inspired by a local Dutch handyman—this 1926 New York Times piece explores the creation legend. Read More
- Hemingway sent this postcard to Gertrude Stein from Spain in 1924.
- A new version of “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” has removed all references to Santa’s pipe.
- Just when you think you are too jaded to enjoy any more book arts and crafts … this.
- Happy Saint Crispin’s Day.
- Jonathan Franzen’s essay “House for Sale” has been adapted into a play and opened off-Broadway this week.
- Marilyn Monroe’s bookshelf.
Paul Murray, author of Skippy Dies and An Evening of Long Goodbyes, wrote “That’s My Bike!,” a short story published in the Winter issue of The Paris Review. The story opens with a group of friends gathered at a none-too-salubrious pub in Dublin’s Northside on Christmas Eve. Murray spoke to me from his office at the Oscar Wilde Center for writing at Trinity College in Dublin, where he is a writing fellow.
The last time I was in Dublin for Christmas was in 2007, right before the crash. The Christmas displays along Grafton Street and in all the shopping areas were absolutely ghastly. Everything had blinking lights and moving parts. Is this still the case?
There’s this shop called Brown Thomas, which is the oldest department store in Dublin and it’s very swanky and expensive. Historically, when it used to be called Switzer’s, they had these famous windows with Santa Claus and mice making ballet shoes and so forth, and it was all mechanized, and the kids would go into Dublin and look at the windows. That was something your parents would bring you to do. Then, when the boom came, they stopped having child-oriented windows and started having these really nasty Helmut Lang soft-cyber-porn-type windows with a bunch of emaciated blue mannequins wearing just a giant watch and staring bleakly out of the windows. Everything was about excess and consumption. The idea that children had any part of Christmas was shunted to one side because the store just wanted to get the adults in there to spend money.
And would the adults make pilgrimages to gaze at the watches?
They wouldn’t even stop at the windows, they would just pile into the store. I remember being in there and hearing a couple next to me saying, “I just don’t know what to get her.” And the woman said, “Pearls, you can’t really go wrong with pearls.” And I remember thinking, “Who are you people?” It was beyond parody. And these were people who worked in normal sorts of jobs. Read More
I spent a recent morning at a brightly painted, high-ceilinged coffee shop that serves a modest variety of salads and panini, nursing a pot of white tea and reading a book by the founder of the American Newspaper Repository which featured, in its opening chapters, a severed arm stimulating a college student’s vagina to the point of orgasm, a large Filipino masseuse squeezing fruit juice into an art critic’s anus, an amiable topless woman aggressively sniffing a golfer’s scrotum, and the Russian composers Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin ejaculating onto the feet of a soup-kitchen volunteer. At the table to my left, a man and a woman were holding a conversation in broken French about deep-sea fishing. Most of the people in the coffee shop had MacBooks. “He wanted them all to be on their knees on couches and chairs with their asses up and ready,” I read, “and their slippy sloppy fuckfountains on display. He’d walk in front of them holding his generous kindly forgiving dick, saying, ‘Do you want this ham steak of a Dr. Dick that’s so stuffed with spunk that I’m ready to blow this swollen sackload all over you?’ And they’d all say, ‘Yes Mr. Fuckwizard, we want that fully spunkloaded meatloaf of a ham steak of a dick.’” I was hoping to meet a girl. Read More
My family’s annual Christmas Eve tradition of ogling holiday lights was cemented as soon as my younger sister and I were big enough to peep out of the windows of our family’s Dodge Caravan. Sucking down hot chocolate and munching sugar cookies in the backseat as our parents navigated every last suburban enclave of Chattanooga, Tennessee, we oohed and aahed indiscriminately at any structure draped with flickering bulbs on strings.
We’re pickier now. We avoid the subdivisions with obvious neighborhood association–enforced strictures of white lights, red ribbons, and evergreen boughs. We like gawking at failure: poorly draped, overly bright LED strands, inflatable Santas gone flaccid, blown-over flocks of animated wooden reindeer. But what we crave most is the audacious triumph of a place bold and bright and strange enough to be called a Christmas House.
This is an unofficial title, of course, and there were certainly other worthy contenders around Chattanooga, but for my family’s gas mileage, the best bet was Ron and Judy McGill’s. For years running, we’d cap off our Christmas Eve tour of lights with a pilgrimage across town, turning down the inconspicuous side street and joining the line of cars slowly snaking down to the end of the block. The house was inconspicuous most of the year, but shortly after Thanksgiving it would become obscured by a front and side yard densely packed with what functioned as a discombobulated catalogue of every kind of Christmas decoration made available for purchase over the past thirty years. If Christmas Homes have one thing in common, it is probably their disdain for the whole “one true God” concept as it relates to their yuletide décor. Multiple nativity scenes abounded. Electric trains zipped around inflatable Homer Simpsons and Grinches dressed in Santa suits. Gingerbread men with shit-eating grins plastered the rails of a gazebo, from under which life-size statues of Santa and Mrs. Claus peered out over the madness, flanked by two giant, pensive snowmen. Miniature blow-mold Santas, impaled Vladlike on fence posts, stood sentinel between the yard and the endless procession of passersby. Even over the grumble of idling car engines and the McGill’s looping soundtrack of Christmas with the Chipmunks we could hear the whirring, the clattering, the humming of all the tiny mechanized parts and pumps and thousands of electric bulbs burning away. They emitted a palpable heat.
Ron and Judy McGill, whose proprietorship was announced on a lit-up wooden sign staked into the ditch out front, watched the reverse-parade from lawn chairs under their carport, the only bare spot on the lot. Sometimes one of them would step out to the street and hand out peppermints and humbly accept the few bucks we’d pass back to offset the power bill incurred for our pleasure. But that’s as close as we ever got to them.