Train supposed to leave ten minutes ago but no platform announced. Got a bad feeling about this.
Crap. Train cancelled. No explanation.
Reactions around me: 1. Zero surprise (=island residents used to rail/boat fails).
2. Panic (=tourists used to actually going when/where their tickets say).
3. Invisibility (=Railway Agents with a clue about what’s happening).
4. Panic: (=Guy with nice shoes and leather overnight bag) “I’ve GOT to get to the island! Want to split a taxi?”
5. ME: “Um…no. Taxi would be at least £100. Don’t worry. They usually sort out a bus.”
6. Leather Bag Guy, Part 2: “NO, it can’t be that much.” He goes off to find (cheap) taxi, and (perhaps) Santa Claus. I go off to find bus.
7. ScotRail Agent (briefly not-invisible): “You can’t take the dog on the bus unless the driver agrees.”
8. Bus Driver: “Of course you can take the dog. I’ve never yet had a dog get drunk, sing, or pick a fight.” [He gives my dog a biscuit and assures her she’s a fine wee doggie.] Gotta ♥ Scotland!
9. My dog: *indicates her appreciation of his insight and superior class of dog biscuits, and that she’d be happy to go home with him.*
10. Leather Bag Guy, Part 3. (indignant) gets on bus and sees me: “That taxi wanted £125 to go to the station. You said it would be £100.” Me: “My bad.”
On bus now. Bus with LOUD sound system. Loud BROKEN sound system, with much skips and repeats. Blaring baaaad Christmas torture.
Bus: *“This Christmas, I’ll give it to someone special. Oh oh ohohohohohohoh uhuhuhuhuhuhuhuhuh…”* (I think the singer paused to untie her partner and share a cigarette.)
Bus, Part 2: *”Grandma got run over by a reindeer.”* People in back of bus are singing along. My dog is scared.
Me: Shoot me now. It would be a mercy killing.
The rest of the ride was like being trapped in the worst crowded mall ever, only with no Starbucks, just endlessly horrific seasonal playlists. Christmas hell.
It’s not that I don’t like holiday music. I sing along in the shower like everyone else (sounding damn good actually), and I tear up when the carolers come around. But by the third time I’ve heard Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer, followed by the Chipmunks, I was seriously wondering if maybe Vincent Van Gogh’s ear-ectomy was related to too much time as an innocent victim of Christmas playlists.
After WAY too much time thinking about it (it was a long bus ride), I’ve realized Christmas playlists are in fact an endless compilation of three basic evils on endless loop:
- Songs that involve animal noises of any sort. For some reason, this is an irresistible combination that attracts new entries every year, from the venerable Dominick the Donkey to the Jingle Cats to dogs barking Jingle Bells. There simply isn’t a good explanation for any of this.
- Rock stars singing what they really, really shouldn’t. And yes, before you get started, I’m the first to admit there are some awesome rocker covers of Christmas classics. But it only takes Bob Dylan’s version of Must Be Santa (which sounds like a police bulletin about a particularly creepy holiday stalker), or Twisted Sister singing I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus to make you realize how some poor kids are now scarred for life.
- Just plain disturbing. All you can do is moan “Whyyyyy?” Did someone wake up one morning and say, “What Christmas needs is more songs about pathetic little children who go out alone at night, talk to strange men, and ask them for money so they can buy Christmas shoes for their soon to be dead mother?” Or John Denver’s plea to Please Daddy Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas? Or the even more terminally creepy date rape anthem, Baby it’s Cold Outside?
I know what you’re going to say. For each bad song category, there is always a Christmas song (or many) that are perfectly awesome. Like The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl’s collaboration, Fairytale of New York (possibly the finest Punk Celtic Christmas song ever).
And you’re right. There are lovely, fabulous Christmas songs out there, too many to mention. The fact that none of them appear on retail store’s playlists just proves my point that someone is out to get us. I’m not alone in this theory, by the way. Recent studies confirm that retail holiday music can drive you crazy.
What can you do about it? Fight back with a playlist of your favorites, and a great new book on your Kindle. I’d recommend The First Noël at the Villa des Violettes, Patricia Sands’ lovely Christmas gift to her readers, an addition to her Love in Provence series.
What is your most annoying Christmas song? How about your very favorite one?
BLURB: The First Noël at the Villa des Violettes by Patricia SandsTHE LOVE IN PROVENCE CHARACTERS ARE BACK …
Everything was going so well in Kat and Philippe’s life together. Then suddenly it wasn’t.
Roman ruins delayed the work on the Villa des Violettes. The Russian drug gang might be back in the neighbourhood. On top of that, Kat had worked herself into what Molly classified as a full blown “Christmas conundrum.” Kat wanted the holidays to work perfectly as she blended a Canadian Christmas with a Provençal Fête de Noêl for the first time in their new home. Now she’d lost her confidence and, with it, the holiday spirit.
Philippe hoped a weekend trip to the famous Christmas markets of Strasbourg would solve everything.
As it happened, things were about to get worse.
My Review: 5 out of 5 stars for The First Noël at the Villa des Violettes by Patricia Sands
Here’s the problem. If I was reviewing this charming contemporary romance as a standalone, I might not give it five stars. But I now know the backstory—how Kat’s husband cruelly choose her birthday to announce that he was leaving her for a much younger woman. Shortly after that her beloved mother died, leaving Kat adrift, uncertain of her future and even her identity. Trying to recapture her own individuality, Kat remembers an earlier dream of returning to France and—in a brave leap of faith—decides to follow the dream of the young woman she had been before all the compromises her marriage demanded.
Like every series that goes from very good to excellent, in this one it’s the ever-developing connections between Kat and her new love Philippe, as well as the people around her that turns these stories from a charming tale of mature romance to an addicting chance to visit with old friends and meet new ones. And even more, it’s the presence of another character that frames and defines Kat’s growth. Provence itself is both the setting and a plot-driving character. Through Kat, we experience the sights, sounds, smells, and pace of her life as an expat in love with her new world.
But to her own shock, Kat finds herself stumbling as Christmas approaches, unsure about how to embrace the customs of her new home without turning her back on the family traditions and celebrations her parents shared with her back in Canada. Themselves refugees from a world war and holocaust, they had combined their Hungarian customs with those of their neighbors when they arrived in Canada. Now Kat wonders how to honor those family traditions as she prepares to celebrate with her new husband and friends in France.
These concerns are overshadowed as worries resurface about the drug gang that had threatened Kat and Philippe the year before, only to come into sharp focus as frightening events unfold.
What makes Kat’s story so compelling for me is that she’s a mature adult who moves to another country to find her own identity as a passionate, loving, and strong woman. But as an expat myself, I recognize all the little, involuntary thoughts about “back home”. You may love your new home, be completely committed to your new relationships, even be a culture snob who resents seeing any outside influences encroaching on your adopted language and customs—as Kat does when she resentfully wonders, “Why are they playing English Christmas songs in France?” But whether we’ve moved across town or across the world, there are still those buried echoes of our childhood, waiting to ambush us just as we think we’ve fully committed to our new life.
If you like a beautiful love story in a gorgeous setting, with grownup characters who are all too flawed, human, and weighed down by emotional baggage…do yourself a favor. Don’t read this gorgeous book until you’ve treated yourself to the whole Love in Provence series. There is a world of new friends waiting for you, and some adorable puppies as well. What a wonderful Christmas present from Patricia Sands!