19 December 2009

You Were Dreaming Of A White Christmas?

The higher the snowdrifts pile, the harder the wind drives the snow. At least, that's how it looks from my bedroom window.

A while ago, I was outside when the snow was beginning to fall. As I remained outside, the wind started to gust and the eddying flakes turned into cold, wet needles against any skin or other surface that wasn't covered.

Some of the stores closed early: something most people wouldn't expect on the last Saturday before Christmas. On the other hand, most people weren't outside unless they had to be, or unless they had gone out earlier in the day and had been out all day.

I stepped into a gift shop that I hadn't been into in a while. The Korean lady who owns it always says, "No see you for long time" when I step in. The truth is, you don't have to go into a place like that very often: In fact, you need to go in only when you want to buy something because she always has more or less the same stuff there: scarves, brooches, designer knock-off purses and tote bags, and other sorts of accessories. I mean, she gets new colors, patterns and designs, but the basic idea of what's in the store doesn't change much.

So why do I--or other people--go into such places to browse? I guess that in a store like that, even if you know what's there, the combination of colors and textures makes for an interesting, and even stimulating, sensory experience. That, as near as I can tell, is the essence of retailing. Then again, if I knew what "the essence of retailing" is, I'd be rich, wouldn't I?

The funny thing about "gift shops" is that people who go into them are more likely to buy things for themselves than for someone else. In my case, I'd say there's something like a 50-50 split: I'm as likely to buy for myself as for someone else. Or, as I did today, I'll buy something--in this case, a pashmina scarf with a particularly attractive pattern and combination of colors--and decide later whether I want to give or keep it. Someone once told me that's a sign of a good gift.

Honestly, I was in that store to get out of the weather that was turning more frightful by the moment as much as I was there for sensorial stimulation or to do any actual shopping. And, because the owner knows me, or at least has seen me before and knows that I won't steal her wares or burn the store down, she lets me hang out there for as long as I like and doesn't pressure me to buy anything. That, of course, is exactly the reason why I buy something whenever I stop in, as I did this evening.

Then, it was back into the snowstorm that was on the verge of becoming a full-blown blizzard, if it hadn't already come to that point. Even the guys from The King of Falafel and Shawarma were calling it a day--but, at least, not before I could get my chicken and rice platter! From there, it's a very short walk, even in tonight's weather, to my place.

People take shelter in stores, or inside or under anything that will stand between them and the weather, in the hope--in contradiction to the evidence before their own eyes and ears--that the weather will improve, however slightly: that the rain or snow won't fall as hard or the wind will let up just long enough for them to go wherever they're going next. Except, of course, that the weather doesn't usually work that way.

Sometimes you have to go back out into the cold, into the night, even if no one else is there. At various times, I've delayed doing that, which meant, naturally, that when I finally did venture out, it seemed even more desolate than I thought it would be.

Some people argue that we always travel alone. In a sense, they're right, because whatever journey we take cannot be undertaken by someone else. Paradoxically, taking our own journey, and experiencing, at times, no one but ourselves, is exactly what we need in order to find the ones we need and want.

What I've learned is that it may be our fate to go into the cold and darkness, and the storms. But it is our job to get through it. That means, of course, that the storm is not permanent. The darkness and the cold needn't be, either.

Now, as to how I went from buying a scarf to a bunch of ruminations that may or may not have worth or meaning...you've got me!

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