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!