This year I'm aiming for gift-giving purity. It's my small way of preserving the spirit of Christmas among all the noise, the buying of love with expensive gifts, the inevitable comparisons between who was cheap and who was extravagant. You might as well know that I am applying for sainthood directly after Christmas is over: I am eschewing the idea of evaluating the worth of each of my friends and family, and will be purchasing accordingly. This year everyone is getting, with slight variations, the same gift: a bar of soap.
Do I hear laughter?
You should never laugh at a saint-to-be!
I can see it now, Christmas Day—my arms will be full of tightly wrapped tiny bricks. No one will feel slighted. My feelings of goodwill toward all, equally, will flood the room. For what, after all, is more pure than soap?
Let me follow up by saying that although everyone will receive a bar of soap, not everyone will receive the same bar of soap. Let me also tell you that this idea came to me all of a moment while I was taking my daily constitutional in Fremont, which we might as well go ahead and rename Soapmont. Or Soap Street. In turning my eyes from the heavens (it was a nice day) to the shop windows, I noticed an amazing thing: Soap was everywhere. In clothing stores. In gift shops. And then there is the Lourdes of soap, Essenza (615 N 35th, 547-4895), which is privately known among the cognoscenti as the Soap Temple. Why, you cannot avoid it; the fragrances fairly permeate the street.
Drawn to the Soap Temple, then, I began to formulate my plan. I found every conceivable flavor of soap, and even some inconceivable ones (prices range from $4-$14). Some of the soaps seemed almost edible, such as a series of chocolate-scented soaps made with shea butter: banana chocolate, orange chocolate, Darjeeling chocolate (for the tea devotee), pear chocolate. I thought these soaps would appropriate for people on diets, the appetizing perfumes filling the void created by stringent eating restrictions. Or would it drive a body right out of the shower and into the kitchen?
There is a lot to learn in the Soap Temple. Perhaps too much. Such as all the varieties of rose available in soap form—there is Spanish Rose, Turkish Rose, and Bulgarian Rose. I learned that "hesperides" is another name for grapefruit. I learned that no member of the flora family is too humble to be made into soap, to wit: soy soap, tobacco flower (for a smoker? for someone quitting smoking?), olive, lychee. Some fragrances were so overpowering I feared that the recipients might pass out in the shower. There were soaps scented with Crystal and Leaf; I admired the abstract nature of their scents. Soaps with manly smells for men; soaps for children, plastic toys embedded within. Soap! Soap! The very word became strange.
I stumbled out of the Soap Temple. A few doors down I looked in the window of a clothing store called Dream (3427 Fremont Pl N, 547-1211). Multicolored soaps were piled high like ziggurats. I hadn't the heart to go in. Perhaps my gift-giving plan was not as easy, or as lovely in its simplicity, as I had thought. How could I presume to match personality to soap? Why even try?
I walked a bit to clear my head. Perhaps, I thought, I should go to Walgreens and simply buy economy packs of Ivory. I admired the message of it, almost entirely pure, but not quite. It was like striving for perfection, but still being human. Also, it was democratic, if not terribly glamorous.
Then, I confess, the devil got hold of me. I recalled a gentleman by the name of Matthew Landkammer, a Seattle artist who last year created his own brand of soap for the Soil Artist Collective's "Goods" exhibit at Bumbershoot. "Pre-Haired" soap, I believe it was. And, yes, each bar came with its own hair. I would be remembered, if not pleasantly, by each and every friend I bestowed it upon. Nastiness oozed from my soul. A dog barked. I came to, and found myself near the canal.
There I was, at the door of a gift shop called Burnt Sugar (602 N 34th, 545-0699). The barking dog lured me in, and once past this gentle Cerberus, I found a mine of conceptual soaps, a veritable novel of ideas sculpted in soap. "Dirty Girl" soap, "Voodoo," and "Queen." "Tough Guy" and " Virgin/Slut." Did one match these soaps to the personalities of the recipients? Did one give them in hope of transformation? I confess I hadn't any idea what to do. But then I spotted it: "Wash Away Your Sins" soap! Imagine the transmutation of a shower, real cleanliness just a handful of suds away. Soap to clean the soul; I wanted to give nothing less.
Emily Hall is a freelance writer in Seattle.