Trees at Christmas

Beverley Minster Christmas trees

I thought a lot about seasons during a November visit to Ecuador ago during the spring bulb and rose season a few years ago. Close to the equator, the sun rises and sets at about six in the morning and evening all year round. While driving through a nondescript town of single storey dwellings, our guide informed us that it produced bulbs. I imagined vast factories churning out trillions of light bulbs, but my thoughts were derailed when she added, ‘for the Christmas markets’. I thought of planes taking off packed with bulbs, all seasonally programmed to think the northern hemisphere winter is spring, so they burst into premature life at Christmas in a forced change of season.

Wherever we went there seemed to be vases overflowing with red roses. ‘Why red?’ I asked, and was told they were flown to North America and Europe for Christmas, and red is the Christmas colour. Unfortunately for me, it happens to be a colour I do not particularly like. It is too strident. There is not one red flower in my garden. When poking my head into a flower shop this morning, I quickly retreated, repelled by what seemed like a dark red wall. There were shelves from floor to ceiling of dark red poinsettias. I am fearful that someone might give me one for Christmas!

‘You’re like a bull!’ I’m teased. ‘Red infuriates you.’ I have read that bulls, like most or all animals, are colourblind. They just react to the flapping movement of the flag or whatever is being waved.

When I walk up the road outside my house, I pass a front door with a rickety table outside. On it are plastic flower pots with bulbs just nosing through the compost. They are labelled ‘hyacinth – blue’ and ‘iris – blue’ and are £1 each. I have bought two of them, slipping coins into a small worn money box beside them. I shall return the plastic flower pots when the bulbs have flowered and been planted outside. Somehow I imagine a young girl planting and selling them for pocket money and I plan to find out. She too must prefer blue, like the pale silvery blue wallpaper in the room where I am writing. It is the gentle blue of the clear sky outside, a colour that leaves space for thought.

There is not space enough here to recall the magical tour through Europe this spring shaped round a young scholar’s discovery. While looking through some dusty volumes in Karlsruhe library he was struck by some small sketches, roughly eight square inches in size, that a late 18th-century German architect ,Weinbrenner, pasted into his large travel volumes. The paper came from Karlsruhe so they must have been compiled in his home town. Leading Piranesi scholars were invited to decide whether they were actually by him. How did Weinbrenner pick them up? Did he buy them when visiting Rome from Piranesi’s son, Francesco, who cleared his father’s studio before leaving for Paris to fight in the French revolution? And did he take his father’s autobiography, now lost, with him? I spent two days of sheer delight just observing the interaction of the participants, the rivalries of the older scholars and their inclusion of a new generation of Piranesi scholars, escaping occasionally to explore the streets and park of the city that Weinbrenner had planned himself.

That conference set us on a mini tour, staying with amazingly generous friends, down the Rhine and through Switzerland, where we explored Lausanne, on the way to Tuscany by train. More was to come. At the start of September we were invited to a magical wedding in an Italian olive grove followed by a feast that can only be dreamed of, and at the end of the same month to a magnificent reunion dinner celebrating the 50th wedding anniversary of long-standing friends with children the same age as ours – three generations delighting in another special celebration. Indeed, 2018 has been a very special and unforgettable year.

Christmas tree Beverley market cross

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