15 Apr 2011

What does luxury mean for you?

Given the blatant commercial abuse and overplay of the term "luxury" these days, with an incessant avalanche of increasingly vulgar advertising for so-called "luxury" goods and services of all kinds, I sometimes feel just a little sympathetic even with the Chinese authorities, who appear to want to ban the use of the "l" word altogether.

One evening this week, while passing through my local street market, I suddenly had a small flash of inspiration. I was not aiming to buy anything, but the desire for some kalamata olives (you know, those juicy purple ones that are quite big but not huge) suddenly came over me. Buying them was not that easy, and ended up costing me more than I anticipated. It was not that I got carried away in my purchase by taking on tons of the things, or that I veered off the straight and narrow of my inintial inspiration by trying all kinds of other goods. No, the stall-holder simply did not have any change for the 20 euro note that I handed him. So I offered to go and find some change and plunged rather shamedly into my local book shop which is conveniently situated just 20 yards from the changeless olive merchant. I say shamedly since I usually stride in there with a distinct purpose and a specific book or list thereof in mind. Not this time. I just wanted to find a book priced at 15 euros so that I could pay for my kalamata olives with the left-over from my 20 euros note. After a bit of wandering around the shelves, a sudden inspiration hit me. (Again, you say? That makes twice in one day. Take it easy or you will blow a fuse!). I read, some time ago, a short book by Julian Gracq and found his writing quite wonderful, and it had occurred to me within the last month that it was time that I explored his work further. So I found a small tome of his whose price fitted my initial aspiration towards purple olives and bought it. 15 euros for his first novel, called au Chateau d'Argol (182 pages which you have to separate with a knife or other blade-like object as in former times, from the publisher José Corti).

Back I went to the olive stall and happily collected my olives. I then proceeded to finger my way into the plastic bag that contained them and start eating them on my walk home, enjoying their softly textured saltiness and experiencing a ripple of happiness through, I assumed, having indulged myself in an absolute luxury: ie something that I didn't really need, that I hadn't at all planned, and which nevertheless gave me considerable pleasure.

Here are the olives that survived, back in my kitchen. Doubtless they will give me additional bursts of pleasure in the hours and days to come, forming a salty version of the proustien madeleine. 

So what is the point of all this? Well I suppose it is just to say that luxury in not necessarily big, or costly, or hard to get, or glitzy, or far away, or a piece of bagage with silly letters written all over it. Luxury is, for example, an unexpected moment, a crack in time, a turn of the head to find something or someone that makes you smile. And, in this case, I will look forward to reading Julian Gracq this weekend whilst eating olives. Double time!


  1. Mmh ! Love that post ! This is it ! I had the same feeling on Wednesday. I was taping on my computer when suddenly I decided to get my running shoes… Once arrived at the top of Avize I started to run. Yes ! A huge feeling of freedom, no noise, some birds, Spring was there too. A perfect moment !
    With some hindsight I guess Luxury is a kind of freedom for getting some pleasure from simple things of Life.
    Cheers David

  2. David, I like your little adventure with olives and I feel the same about luxury
    i understand luxury as those small things and moments that give me la joi de vivre!!!
    i hope that you had enjoyed Lulian Gracq and your olives.


  3. I enjoyed your story about the olives and I do agree with you that "luxury" is not necessarily something gawdy and expensive, but anyhting that makes you feel really good and provides you with a feeling of joy and well-being. Julien Gracq is one of me favourite writer. I hope you enjoyed his book. My favourite is "La Presqu'île".

  4. Tnank you for your comment. I have only read 2 of Gracq's books so far. The first was "La forme d'une ville" which I loved and found incisive and powerful about his past. When I wrote this article I was starting "Le Château d'Argol" which I was unable to finish since I found it boring and pretentious. I understand it was his first novel and I will try others, since I am convinced that he is a very fine writer.