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Some last-minute gift ideas…

Obviously it’s Thursday, and Christmas is Sunday, so this isn’t even last-minute but last-second. Last-millisecond, even. Nonetheless, here are some suggestions for those of you foolish enough to think that my taste might be the slightest bit relevant:

Consider giving a gift to International Orthodox Christian Charities. Their mission: “IOCC, in the spirit of Christ’s love, offers emergency relief and development programs to those in need worldwide, without discrimination, and strengthens the capacity of the Orthodox Church to so respond.” They do a lot of wonderful work throughout the world like Palestine, Syria, Romania, Ethiopia, and more — including the United States.
A Tom Bihn Checkpoint Flyer. My Samsonite leather satchel fell apart on me over the summer, and I contemplated whether or not I could swing a Saddleback classic briefcase (my godson Lucas has one and it is a thing of beauty), but then Larry Anderson suggested I check out the options from Tom Bihn. I got a great traveling laptop briefcase for about a third of what the Saddleback bag I was considering would have cost, it’s got a lifetime guarantee, and it’s been perfect for when I’ve needed to travel with my 15″ MacBook Pro. Of course, the day after the bag arrived I bought an iPad 2 (yeah, yeah, earlier than I said I would, but no regrets, let me tell you), so I have tended to need to transport the laptop less (short version: to the extent that laptops have become desktop replacements, iPads are laptop replacements), but it’s stil been exactly right for what I need. It’s very elegantly designed, and it’s very good at making sure there is a place for everything. The one caveat I might add is that while the bag is plenty sturdy, the stretchy shoulder strap may feel like it’s more stressed than it actually is if you overload it. Not an issue if you don’t, well, overload it, and the bounce the shoulder stap provides makes the bag a lot easier to carry once you get used to it (it basically seems to function as a shock absorber).

Cappella Romana’s new disc Mt. Sinai: Frontier of Byzantium. A full review of this is forthcoming, but for right now suffice it to say that it’s a beautifully-sung account of medieval Byzantine chant manuscripts from St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai. Repertoire includes material for Vespers of the Feast of St. Catherine, as well as from the Service of the Three Youths in the Fiery Furnace, which used to be served on the Sunday before Nativity. Some of this has been recorded before by Lycourgos Angelopoulos and the Greek Byzantine Choir for a disc called “Byzantine Hymns” (and one can find the audio on YouTube but I can’t find out anything about the disc, so if anybody knows anything about it, please let me know), but Cappella Romana is a very different ensemble from GBC in a number of ways, and their rendering of the material is very much worth hearing. Like I said, full review coming, but this is a great stocking stuffer. For that matter, so is the reissue of the Epiphany disc under their own label. And, of course, their recording of Richard Toensing’s Kontakion on the Nativity of Christ is a must-have. One can also make a gift to Cappella Romana, either to their general operating fund or to support one of their several in-the-works recordings.

If you’re an iPad user who thinks that the soft-tipped styli that you’re likely to find at Best Buy don’t really do what you need them to do, I highly recommend the Jot-Pro. It makes handwriting and drawing much easier.

For another music suggestion, Marcel Peres/Ensemble Organum’s recording of Christmas music from the Old Roman Chant repertory, Chant de l’Eglise de Rome: VIe-XIIIe Siècles, is a fascinating and beautiful reconstruction of a time when East and West had a lot more in common, culturally and spiritually, than we’re used to now. “Reconstruction” is often a euphemism in early music circles for “making nonsense up”, but as I’ve noted before, I think Peres (collaborating with Lycourgos Angelopoulos) makes a pretty compelling case.

If you’re a Mac user and a writer who needs to manage a decent amount of research, notes, ideas, dates, etc., Scrivener and Tinderbox are a pretty powerful one-two punch. If you’re already a Scrivener user, there’s also deal on Tinderbox. I’m new to Tinderbox myself, but I’ve been using Scrivener for several years now, and I find it to be fantastically helpful in terms of its set of writing tools. I’ve written (and am still revising) a children’s book and several academic papers with it. The only thing I wish it had was cleaner EndNote integration, and I also have to make sure I remember to not send compiled *.rtf documents as finished drafts (must save as a Word doc or a *.pdf), lest the person on the other end simply open it in a text editor by default and think I’ve made the rookie mistake of not including any footnotes. (Yes, this has happened. Recently.)

Horrified as I am by the K-Cup craze, I’m going to suggest the paleocafephile route (I think I just invented a word) — the briki/ibrik, with which one makes Greek/Turkish/Arabic coffee. You don’t have little plastic containers that keep you from ever handling grounds; nonononono. Heh. No. Instead, you grind the beans to powder, boil the grounds directly (no filter), pour it into a cup, add sugar (and maybe cardamom if you’re Cypriot), and then you deal with the sludge at the bottom of the cup. It’s the only way to fly in a word that wants to make your coffee experience as safe and plastic and single-serving-sized as possible.

Michael Uslan is, without doubt, the comic book geek made good to end all comic book geeks made good. His memoir, The Boy Who Loved Batman, is tremendously inspiring, and is a must-read for anybody, whether they’ve read a comic book or not, who has ever been told, “Kid, you can’t get there from here.”

All right — may the last few days of the fast treat everybody well!

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8 Responses to “Some last-minute gift ideas…”


  1. 1 Samn! 22 December 2011 at 5:59 pm

    Palestinians also put cardamom in their coffee… it’s really one of the best ideas ever.

    Do you think the Capella Romana disc might be a faint echo of how the Syriac stuff we’ve been looking at might’ve been sung?

  2. 2 Richard Barrett 23 December 2011 at 12:14 am

    I think it’s possible, yes.

  3. 3 Owen White 23 December 2011 at 12:29 am

    I love Ensemble Organum, particularly their more “earthy” and eastern things. I think my favorite cd ever might be Chant Corse. But I cannot get into Capella Romana, at least what I have heard from them. I just listened to their When Augustus Reigned cd on spotify, trying to like it, but I couldn’t. Speaking as a music novice (though a choir member in years past) they sound almost shrill to me, and there is a quality to their music that feels forced, maybe a bit like the Robert Shaw Festival Singers signing Rachmaninoff. It sounds extremely “formal” and distant and reserved. That works perfectly with medieval polyphony. I’m not sure it does with Orthodox music, particularly Byzantine music. But I admit I may have these intuitions because of my own experiences, which may well be idiosyncratic.

    Then again, it may just be the recording. I heard a mind blowing Russian choir from San Fran at a ROCOR event in St. Louis once, and when they put out a cd with music they had done at that event (but recorded back in San Fran) I was very disappointed. It didn’t seem to have any of the earth and synergistic spontaneity and life that I heard in their “live performance.”

    Does Mt. Sinai: Frontier of Byzantium sound different from their other Byzantine efforts?

    • 4 Richard Barrett 23 December 2011 at 8:01 am

      I’m pretty sure that even the membership of Cappella Romana would say that there has been a progression of what their recordings sound like. Once they started working with Ioannis Arvanitis (I believe the Epiphany disc was the first collaboration with him), I think their own internal understanding as an ensemble started to shift a bit. I’d say that Epiphany, The Fall of Constantinople, Byzantium in Rome, The Divine Liturgy in English, and Sinai form a group, with there being very real growth from disc to disc. They just performed in Greece for the first time and were well-received with the Byz repertoire, and I think that in and of itself says something.

      • 5 Owen White 23 December 2011 at 11:33 am

        I just listened to the clips from Fall of Const on Amazon. Sounds much “better” than the other stuff I had listened to. I’ll definitely get the Sinai cd. Thanks!

  4. 6 Owen White 3 January 2012 at 7:52 pm

    Just listened to the Mt. Sinai: Frontier of Byzantium cd for the first time since it arrived in the mail yesterday. Definitely worth the money. Superb. Thanks.


  1. 1 This year’s gift ideas | Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist Trackback on 17 December 2014 at 7:00 pm

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