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xmas me
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My dolls, in theory, were separated into two strict categories: dolls I played with, which consisted of four dolls plus a Raggedy Ann: a doll in rather battered condition, called Big Dolly; a doll that I loved because she had a little pink sleeping bag all of her own, named Tina after someone else's doll; a doll with a gorgeous – to me – yellow dress that, after pressure, I named Amy, in my first and last creative moment with names for stuffed animals or dolls (or, if we are to be honest, fictional characters at all); and, much later, a doll large enough to walk with if you moved her arm properly, a trick I never exactly mastered.

They were the dolls I played with, as distinct from the three dolls I got when I was six, which were looking-at dolls, dolls that went on a shelf, not to be touched for anything except for dusting.

Naturally, the distinction was a little less clear in my mind. After all, Amy couldn't be played much with, since it might spoil her dress and her good looks, and she was very very careful about that. (Come to think of it, maybe I picked something up from Little Women, although I actually read that book for the first time well after Amy entered my life, and I don't recall seeing a movie version until later.) And by that time, Big Dolly was a little too battered to be played with (this happens when Big Dollies are thrown across the room.)

And nothing quite stopped me from "playing with" the three looking-at dolls.

They had come from Scandinavia, cheap tourist souvenirs that Uncle E, a friend of my father's, had picked up someplace or another (knowing E, possibly Scandinavia, but knowing E, quite possibly not.) They were dressed in "traditional" costumes, with little golden tags at the bottom giving their origin – and, more critically for me, their names.

Finlandia had the nicest, widest dress, and the sweetest expression: she was therefore kinda looked down upon by her two sisters – they were clearly sisters – Swerge, who was inclined to be quiet, and Norge, who had a rather severe expression and was inclined to be critical. With these three, I did fairly well until we moved to Italy – and travelled to Florence. Once there, we picked up Firenze, who was by far the cheapest of the cheap dolls (and remained in that category for awhile); she couldn't stand up properly, and Norge was inclined to be, well, actually nasty about it, and I'm afraid that even kindly Finlandia was often dismissive. (I could be cruel and torturous.)

As we travelled throughout Italy and Europe, I picked up more dolls, gradually adding them to the collection – and the story. Slavia (for Yugoslavia, back in the days when Yugoslavia was still around) became the queen, not for historical or economic or political accuracy, but because she had a headpiece that looked vaguely crown-like (not really) and a very firm expression. Hollandia was much younger than everyone else and had a serious problem keeping her shoes on, constantly losing them before court appearances. (At that she did considerably better than poor Firenze who kept falling over and was, I must admit, a Court Disgrace.) Venezia and her lover Venezi brought in some excitement, since Venezi was the first boy, until his hat broke and he became inclined to hide behind Venezia. A little rubber doll named Buhl had to take the rest of the masculine burden for years. Paris, who was quite aristocratic, despite her size, sniffed at everyone and soon became a major rival of Norge, and Espana, who had a fabulous flamenco dress, was Real Nobility from a Rival Line to the Throne, and, besides, Had a Past.

Buying dolls proved problematic: I had to find dolls that would talk to me, and had the right expressions needed for the story, which may sound simple, but is less so when you are looking at a line of very cheap dolls with unsympathetic adults who want to look at other things. Sicilia turned out to be heartbreaking: she was simply the wrong doll (although, actually the first of the actually interesting dolls in my collection – she was woven of colorful straw and was, from aesthetic considerations, a major step up from the cheap plastic dolls) and she could not, would not, participate in the story, only waiting on the edges with a permanent expression of incomprehension. My Russian nesting dolls – clearly a family all of their own, never really entered the story either, although they had one of their own, and every once in a while would enjoy a court visit. They never felt quite comfortable there, though, and eventually I moved them to their own shelf and story, which went nowhere and got dropped. (Hmm. Another relationship with some of my current fiction.)

As the collection grew, however, my parents began taking it more seriously, and the epic – and the characters – became enhanced with slightly to considerably better dolls (although Aloha, who triumphantly refused to follow any court dictates whatsoever and managed to bring Paris and Norge into a temporary if fierce agreement, rather retreated to the cheap plastic model, as did Cherokee). This only enhanced the rivalries: the older dolls (particularly poor Firenze and San Marina, who by now really weren't looking too good) were fiercely jealous of the wealthy Korea's swing and the lovely accessories of the Japanese dolls. Poisonings became rampant, as did knifings, although China One turned out to have some unexpected resources.

They are all in storage now, the later, more beautiful dolls, and the cheap plastic ones that began the epic, their stories brought to a temporary, perhaps permanent, halt. I don't miss them the way I do some of my other things in storage (books! fondue pot! kronos quartet CDs that yes, yes, I should have copied onto the hard drive instead of packing away! But I digress). They had, after all, been resting in boxes for some time. And even before that, their epic tales had been fading, little by little. Many of the later, more beautiful dolls were not ones I chose, not ones who promised, while stuffed amongst cheap tourist trap items, to talk to me and become members of the doll court, and so their voices were quieter, and in turn, that brought some silence to the doll court.

But at some point, I mean to unpack them, and place the particularly beautiful dolls in a display with space to add a few more, and place the other dolls – the dolls of the original tales – someplace where I can imagine their court adventures continuing, in the shadows.

(Which is all a long, long, way of saying, er, thanks d_aulnoy for adding yet more items to my I Want list.)

Edit: And Google comes to the rescue again, with a picture of someone else's Finlandia. Do not be deceived! MY Finlandia has a much kinder expression.

Edit Two: I also had two Barbies, a Ken, and a Skipper Growing Up (which was by any standards a deeply disturbing toy) but I always thought of those as "Barbies" not as dolls, which says something about Mattel, I'm sure.)


xmas me
Mari Ness

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November 2014


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