At the tail end of this exhausting year, we all crave a little balm on our aching souls. The recommendations of locally-made gifts on our coup-de-cœur list are exactly that.
It’s been quite the year. As fun-deprived as the upcoming holiday season may seem, it is still a small glimmer of light in the long, dark tunnel we are all scrambling through. At least the stores are back open, for now. But who wants to brave the masses if you can order a thoughtful gift from the convenience of your armchair or beanbag, and support local artists at the same time?
We compiled a list of our favourite things that answer to four criteria: they make your loved one happy, have a local connection, can be ordered online, and are easy on your wallet. (And don’t forget to get a treat or two for yourself…)
Resetting the Mind and Body with Les Soquettes de l’Archiduchesse
The Biot-based boutique Les Soquettes de l’Archiduchesse is a veritable treasure chest of good things. It started out in 2018 as a small arts and craft store and atelier where a group of young local creatives have been exhibiting their work. But it quickly branched out in a wellness centre, offering kinesiology, massages, energy balancing treatments, dietary advice or holistic stress management. If your friend’s mood could use a boost, a gift voucher for a session or three at the hands of qualified professionals is a winner. You can of course order online but with so much gorgeous artisan work on display, from jewelry to woodwork, paintings and anything in between, it is definitely worth the trip… and may be yielding a few more gifts.
Speaking of paintings, one of the Archiduchess’ associates is Caroline Desombre, founder and artist of Deca8. She made a name for herself with her delicate and whimsical water colour work on paper but used this year’s lockdown to be more productive than ever, exploring different new topics, techniques, and materials without ever losing her hallmark style of animals and punchy colours.
Murielle Compère-Demarcy & Khaled Youssef: An Uplifting Journey in Poetry and Photos
“Voyage Grand-Tournesol” – this beautiful poetry-cum-photo book is the closest you’ll get this year, and possibly next, to roaming the world yourself. Two extraordinary writers team up to follow the sun and capture its light and warmth between the front and back cover of a book, on 262 warm, soothing, and joy-filled pages. And they succeed marvelously well.
Murielle Compère-Demarcy and Dr. Khaled Youssef are remarkable poets in their own right but when they add their powerful voices to the likes of Adonis, Rimbaud, Conrad, Kessel, Nietzsche, Artaud, E. Dickinson, Saadi, Hafez, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nizami, Botero, Edgar Allan Poe, Eavan Boland, Leonard Cohen… and then illustrate these works with Khaled’s photography from the four corners of the world – from Tunisia to Columbia, by way of Ethiopia, Zanzibar, Jordan, Iran, Myanmar, Uzbekistan, Lebanon, Georgia, Sardinia, Andalusia, England, Canada, Cuba, and on and on… – you know you have an œuvre at hand that is simply unputdownable.
It would not do the book justice to pick and choose specific texts or photos, they all are paired up to perfection to lift a sombre mood and brighten the darkest day. By all means, do order two from your preferred book retailer, one for the Francophone bookworm in your circle and one for yourself.
Jean-Charles Prini: A Literary Voyage with the Giants of the Oceans
Jean-Charles Prini, or Charlie, as his friends call him, is a retired cop who finally pours his love for writing into books. His new book “Le Chant des Baleines” is an epic tale, the same old and ever-new story of power, love, and humanity. Charlie Prini is a born storyteller, his words paint powerful pictures. He unites tragedy, humour, and life lessons in the most poetic and elegant way. A small gem of a book for the French-speaking librophile in your circle. Order it from your neighbourhood bookstore or online from FNAC or Amazon. Disclaimer: the author of this article was kindly invited to write the preface, and did so with conviction:
The Colorful Universe of Textile Artist Ana Masse
Like seemingly half the continent, we, too, are smitten with Ana Masse’s stunning silk scarves and bandanas. In a sea of textile artists, she stands out head and shoulder for the originality and boldness of her designs. She also somehow manages to make them timeless. This is a gift that the fashionistas in your circle will treasure forever. Ana ships worldwide, and her packaging alone is a piece of art.
Jewelry from the Master Sculpture’s Atelier
Michel Anthony has a problem – a nice one to have admittedly: he is world-famous. His paintings and sculptures are regularly exhibited in prestigious shows and galleries in France and abroad, and he has won multiple awards. That may be why most everyone thinks the Malaysian artist’s work is way out of reach. Well, if you are not a collector who regularly spends five-figure sums on fine art it most probably is, but Michel also makes beautiful miniatures of his signature style. Cast in polished bronze and to be worn as pendants, these are absolutely affordable and every bit as gorgeous as the original sculpture.
Take a peek at his window display of his atelier in Nice (20, rue Droite, across from Palais Lascaris), and it won’t be long until you (or a lucky giftee) owns a Michel Anthony original.
Jean-Laurent Pelissier’s Guilt-Free and Oh So Delicious Treats
The last thing anyone needs this year is a lecture on one’s food intake. To hell with calories, it just has to be yummy, right? Well, what if it were yummy AND scales-friendly?
Nice-based artisan fruit vendor Jean-Laurent Pelissier creates the prettiest baskets from seasonal fruit, and always with a little extra touch, from fine chocolate to exquisite French champagne. If you don’t want to or can’t swing by his brick and mortar store directly, you can place an order by phone or online. The company delivers but we understand that gift vouchers will soon be available as well.
ARTS & CULTURE
The Gift of Memories at the Théâtre de la Cité
Theatres, like you and just about anyone, were especially hard hit during this year 2020. And now it seems that they are finally permitted to reopen, at least for now. It’s now or never to treat the culture vulture in your circle to a night out. There are plenty of local theatres that are doing their best to survive this struggle, and by all means, do peruse their offerings. But one that seems particularly appealing to us is the gift voucher at Theatre de la Cité in Nice, easily purchased online.
At this time there is no telling what the programme has on tap as it keeps being reshuffled according to artists’ availability. But the card is valid for the rest of the 2020/21 season, and your lucky giftee can choose for him- or herself when to use it after consulting the updated programme.
A Deep Dive to the Ocean Floors of this World from the Convenience of your Couch
One of our favourite-favourites this year: a magazine subscription! Now, if you just recoiled at the words “magazine subscription”, read on anyway – we promise our tip has nothing to do with Grandpa’s Bingo Weekly! Instead we have pirates, treasure and shipwreck on tap. Earlier this year the famous British marine archaeologist and maritime historian Dr. Sean Kingsley has launched a brand new quarterly magazine aptly named Wreckwatch, devoted to the sunken past.
This is the perfect gift for any aficionado of adventure, discovery, and exploration. Titanic, yes, but way more… And it gets even better – Dr. Kingsley gives subscriptions away for free for the under-17 year old in your entourage, and to teachers. Details and plans are on his website.
A Digital Trip to the Great Barrier Reef
A gifted trip to the museum usually elicits as much excitement as the above mentioned “magazine subscription”, but here, too, you need to scratch any old ideas: we are not talking about dusty halls filled with Do Not Touch-marked glass cases enshrining boring objects. It’s off to the magnificent and ever-inovative Musée Océanographique in Monaco, and here touching and being part of the scenography is encouraged!
The phenomenal “Immersion” multimedia show, launched in July 2020, was interrupted by the autumn lockdown but the museum has just reopened and is ready to whisk visitors away on a stunning virtual visit to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The fully reconstituted underwater living environment (250 m², 9 metres tall) evolves with each step as you glide alongside humpback whales, carpet sharks, barracudas or fluorescent corals and become one with their mysterious habitat as it unfolds before your eyes. There is no better gift for a family, especially with children, than a ticket Downunder, or, well, at least to the Oceanographic Museum… (and we’re glad you asked: yes, strict sanitary rules have been put in place.)
PLUS ONE GIFT FOR YOUR INNER PHILANTHROPIST
Please don’t forget about us!
December is a time of giving, not just to your loved ones but also those who are completely out of options. It really only costs you a few euros to buy a homeless person a sandwich, a cup of coffee, or a pair of warm socks, and the best way to wrap it in is a friendly bonjour and a warm smile. But while their fate may touch you to the core, there are those who are even worse off:
Animals, and by extension the welfare organizations that take care of the weakest creatures in our society, were among the biggest losers this year. Donations dried up at the same rate that needs exploded. The lockdown meant a significant uptick in unsterilized strays, producing more litters than can be handled. Also, many pet owners simply didn’t have the financial resources anymore to take care of their beloved companions. The result: shelters are at capacity while looking at horrifically depleted coffers, and often face the terrible decision to turn newcomers away or send those who don’t find any adoptants to a premature walk over the Rainbow Bridge.
An annual €20 membership or a modest one-time financial or in-kind donation goes an incredibly long way. Even your old pillows and blankets are welcome. Please consider one or several of the newer local animal welfare associations as they are working hard to establish themselves, like French Riviera Animals (which serves the Anglophone community), École du Chat Riviera, or Pour l’Amour de Nos Poilus, recently created by a couple of veteran animal rescuers that branched out from older associations. (However, if you actually plan on adopting a shelter animal, please be sure you can offer your new companion a loving home for a lifetime.)
THE MOST VALUABLE GIFT IS UNBUYABLE
Any of our budget-friendly suggestions are bound to please, even more so if you wrap them in recyclable paper. But there is more to the holidays than pretty presents. The most precious gift you can give is kindness. There is a lonely neighbour, a distressed colleague, an exhausted single mom, a desperate stranger not far from you. Keep your eyes, ears, and heart open for suffering and difficulties that are not immediately visible. Care about those who remain largely invisible… the ones who fight mental or physical illness, who are in abusive domestic situations, who have lost their livelihood and are barely hanging on… and reach out to them. A sincere question, a genuine smile, or a half hour spent with them can make all the difference between now and future Christmases. Be that one person who sticks in their mind for making this miserable year 2020 a little bit better for them. Happy Holidays!