Natalia and The Snow Globe…

The following is in every sense a true story…

Until September the 20th, 2013 at around ten to five in afternoon, I disliked, with a passion… snow globes. But that was before I turned the corner of Rue Des Cuisiniers in Bayeux, Normandy and learned all about Natalia.

The epitome of tourist tack is how I have always considered the snow globe. Its existence somehow justified by its outdated ‘use’ as paperweights or even, heaven forbid, objects of art.

The Height of Tack

The Height of Tack

Two categories into which it slips rather uncomfortably. Anyone who knows what I do for a living can imagine how many gift shops I have passed through. The fact that still today, it is a safe bet you can find tucked away on those wooden display shelves, somewhere, a snow globe, has always astounded me. Who buys them? Why?

I once made the mistake to confess to a group, this utter disregard for these champions of kitsch.
Throughout the subsequent days, on each occasion when boarding our coach, an anonymous traveller had left me a small present on my seat; The Eiffel Tower in the snow, Versailles in the snow and so on… The joke never tired. This turned out to serve three purposes; further fuel the flames of my detest (the globes, not the group, for it was quite cute on their part), prove their extremely common occurrence and add a small, but weighty mass to the landfills of France, as I discarded, as fast as I obtained them, one by one, with absolutely zero feeling of remorse.

The year is 1877. One evening, a dark Normandy evening, the smell of wood-fired hearths mixing with the dampness in the air, long after sunset, on a small cobbled street in Bayeux, a twenty-year old glass blower, named George is about to make his final delivery of the day. The address, a posh hotel in the centre of town. George, exhausted by his longs days labour, enters through the door normally reserved for clients. The glare from the receptionist is even colder than the autumn air outside. ‘The glasses you ordered’, George announces, placing his carefully wrapped package on the counter.

The clients, well-to-do people from the Province, look up from their refreshments taken in the drawing room, disturbed. What is this delivery boy doing coming through our door they think and huddle closer to the fire.

Unbeknownst to George his life is about to change forever.

As he turns to leave, he glances into the dim, candlelit room. He notices the beautiful wooden ceiling where blue and red chequers are separated by gold borders, then… ‘She is beautiful’, he can’t help himself and announces out loud. His eyes have fallen on a young blonde girl who sits, absently flicking through the pages of a book, not reading the words, alone, in a corner.

And so it is that George meets Natalia. This young beauty has travelled to Basse Normandie all the way through Russia from Lithuania on a voyage of discovery. Her sejour has been halted here in Bayeux as the first autumn storms blow in, unseasonably early, from the coast. George falls instantly and hopelessly in love.

He speaks to Natalia of his work as a glassblower and she tells him tales of her far away homeland. She is sad and life seems not to harbour much happiness for her. It breaks his heart to see this pretty creature in this state. He tries to make her laugh, to make her forget the small provincial nature of Bayeux and her home. He is inspired, dynamic and as the rains and storms show no signs of easing up, eventually he succeeds in seducing her.

After a week, the rains stop, but only to be replaced by thick, low Bessin skies. Natalia grows increasingly nostalgic, she misses home and more than all else she misses the snows that will now be falling there. George, sensing he may lose what he has dreamed of, rushes to the atelier of his patron and creates, in a ball of glass, the beautiful Bayeux cathedral in miniature, surrounded by water; the very first snow globe in the world. Trembling, butterflies in his stomach, he presents Natalia with his present. She has only to shake the globe, to see snow fall anytime she wishes. Snow right here in Bayeux. Now there is no need to leave. It’s a desperate attempt, but George prays this gift, made of love, will cure her nostalgia.

His hopes are dashed. Natalia soon departs… but a souvenir, and what a souvenir, is born.

The story of George, and indeed the snow globe, does not end there. After all today, millions decorate shelves around the world. How? His patron realises the potential of George’s creation. But how can he profit from it? And above all, how can he spread it beyond small Bayeux? The Universal Exhibition of 1878 is to prove the answer and so, along with the telephone and the completed head of the Statue of Liberty, the snow globe makes its world debut. It causes quite the sensation, travelling through Europe and eventually across the seas to America. Tragically, despite this huge success, George never sees a cent. He owns no rights to his invention.

Still blowing glass in Bayeux George is now nothing but shadow of his former self. His inspiration, his muse, departed, he sees little point in carrying on. Eventually one morning he is gone, departed in one last desperate act, bound through Russia for Lithuania, in the hope to be re-united with his love Natalia… Nothing is known of George for years after that. All traces of him are lost.

When a story from the past strikes a chord or touches something inside us, we connect, we relate. This story of forlorn love has moved me. First impressions are so very important. Snow globes have spent fourteen years creating and reaffirming their terrible first impression on me. Once I learned of the true story behind their birth, it took thirty seconds to utterly and irreversibly… reverse this impression.

I see how snow globes may evoke a melancholy of vacations past and a yearning back to a time in our lives when we were not in charge of the stressful sides of holidays; logistics and booking and so on. This was a time when in gift shops we’d pester our parents for one of a very limited supply of pretty standard souvenirs. The snow globe could always be relied upon. Happier, easier times.

In an age when they say romance is dead, I can relate to this hopeless, yet beautifully romantic gesture of George – it’s fair to say I’ve failed with a few of my own – but his of course, far and away exceeds anything in terms of creativity or sheer thoughtfulness I have ever conjured up.

One of life’s greatest gifts is its ability to positively surprise. Totally out of the blue. Without the slightest hint that such an occurrence awaits just around the corner, suddenly you learn or discover something new. It was in Rue Des Cuisiniers, in Bayeux itself, that I came across Le Radar, a modern art space with an exhibition of snow globes, where I learned the story of George and Natalia and this paradigm shift occurred. When this surprise comes in the form of changing ones opinion about something or someone from one of scant regard, it is even more powerful. Thanks to George and Natalia I will never look at these objects with the same eyes. In fact, when I finally buy my house next year, a snow globe will take pride of place above the fire.

In 1888 George did eventually marry, not Natalia (did he ever find her? did she reject him?), but Julia. He died in Paris, aged 66, leaving five children, but in total ignorance of the legendary nature of his creation.

As for George’s beloved Natalia? Well, she disappeared from the pages of history. I just hope she found what she was looking for – in choosing the real snows of Lithuania over George’s creation, she picked substance over love.

Natalia, Suspended Forever in The Love of George

Natalia, Suspended Forever in The Love of George

Probably it was the sensible decision. For after all, what fool would marry someone so crazy as to leave all and set off hundreds of miles across a continent, for little reason other than a dream?

But come spring Natalia’s snow would have melted, and the romantic in me can’t help but wonder what she might have thought years later when she realised that all she had to do at any time was shake George’s gift and she would always have snow in her life…

~ by 2ndcupoftea on September 21, 2013.

11 Responses to “Natalia and The Snow Globe…”

  1. What wonderful things you discover. Thanks for sharing

    • Thank you. Yes this was a discovery that somehow really moved me. Glad you liked…

      • Ah Thomas, what a delightful piece. I LOVE SNOW DOMES- aways have! They’re so romantic! Are you still in Normandy? We driving back to London tomorrow……,
        Miss you x

      • THANK you ‘Bendy’. Really kind of you to read and comment. I had no clue they were romantic, but am now a total convert… Still in Normandy, Rouen tonight. Train home on Tuesday… hopefully see you back in London. Drive safe both of you… bisous

  2. Wonderful story Thomas. Got my eyes filling up but only for a second.

    • Dearest Colin – why thank you so much. It is I think an extremely moving tale and not entirely dissimilar to my past 12 months – probably why it touched me so… How’s the island? I’m thinking about a visit actually…

  3. Snow domes have a special place in my heart – as a child my daughter loved them and where ever we go we see them and it triggers happy memories. So far I’ve resisted buying one as I am still looking for the most beautiful one to give her – George’s original Cathedral sounds fantastic if only I could find one (looks like a trip to Bayeaux may be needed).

    • Hi Vivien, it certainly looks like I have struck a chord with these globes (or domes as people seem to call them – whoops). I’m so glad they trigger these memories in you – I too will now always be fondly drawn to them. Bayeux is wonderful, but even here you’ll be hard pushed to find even a copy of George’s legacy… tragic, but beautiful story. Thanks for reading.

  4. […] time (like George and Natalia) I was to meet Nada and Relja. This is how we became […]

  5. Wonderful background on snow globes. I had no idea that they originated in Bayeux.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting Karl – that’s the joy of travelling – discovering new things… See you again my friend… 😉

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