Go West, ye seekers of gifts. To be precise, go to San Pablo Avenue, to Fourth Street, and to venues nearby and in between. Here are some choice possibilities that turned up on a recent random tour of shops on the west side of town.
Ethnic Arts (1314 10th St., just south of Gilman and west of San Pablo) has a basket full of beguiling hand-knitted finger puppets. There’s a veritable Noah’s ark’s range of 2”-high creatures: a ram, a pileated woodpecker, a lamb with knobby knitted fleece, a pink French poodle with a lolling tongue and a smile. Made in Peru by a women’s knitting collective, the puppets could charm a child or decorate a gift package. I wanted one of each. ($3 apiece)
Also at Ethnic Arts, a tableful of unusual Christmas ornaments from around the world: Indonesian fabric creatures (fish are particularly fetching) and palm leaf rice goddesses, ceramic mermaids from Peru, fine wire mesh shirts and pants from Africa, Guatemalan beaded ornaments (fauna, sea horses, lady bugs, shrimps), knitted ornaments from the same Peruvian collective that makes the finger puppets, Javanese puppets and more. ($3.50-$9)
Another table displays a fabulous variety of nativities from around the globe, including a tiny (smaller than a small matchbox) mini-retablo nativity from Peru to others in many sizes from Kenya, Mexico, India and Peru in wood, metal, ceramic, palm leaf, or cloth. ($3.50-$56)
Next door, at Zia (1310 10th St.), you can find angels and Christmas trees made from salvaged wood by artisans in Georgia. The Christmas trees are three feet high; the angels measure 40” through their halos. The angels’ arms are spindles taken from old chair backs, their wings fashioned out of old ceiling tin, their halos are wire. Subtle, weathered colors and strong rustic designs. (Angels, $185; Christmas trees, $100)
Shifting gears, literally, Zia is selling candlestick holders made from auto parts welded by an artist in Davis to dramatic, sculptural effect. (singles, $140; pair, $120). And, in yet another very different vein, there are wonderful life-size wooden crows carved of wood and painted black. Various poses, startlingly lifelike. ($150)
For the dancer-cum-cook in your life, check out the flamenco dancer aprons at The Spanish Table (1814 San Pablo Ave.). The aprons are made from scraps by a Seattle seamstress who makes flamenco dresses. Cotton and other fabrics, some with the characteristic big white polka dots on brightly colored backgrounds. ($24)
At the Spanish Table, you can also choose from among a vast array of paella pans ranging from 10 to 130 centimeters (the latter serves 200—recipe available: start with 18 kgs. of rice) in carbon steel, copper, non-stick surfaces, stainless steel, and enamel. ($6-200) To get a would-be paella maker started, give a kit that comes with paella rice, Spanish olive oil, smoked Spanish paprika, saffron and a paella pan for six ($57). The Spanish Table stocks matching fire and gas-powered rings.
Terra cotta cookware from Spain is pretty and versatile—it goes on top of the stove and into the oven. Plates, casseroles (some with covers, some without), bean pots, little bakers ($2.49-$49)
Looking for a sure-to-please toy for a cat or dog? Animal Farm Discount Pet Food & Supplies (1531 San Pablo Ave.) is selling a laser pet toy that shines a bright dot that dogs and cats love to chase ($9.99). Touted as “the best cat-specific toy” is Da Bird, a wand with a propeller of chicken feathers on the end ($7.99). Your favorite dog would love an eminently chewable dental ball. This hard rubber toy has grooves that are filled with a liver-flavored, enzyme-spiked doggy toothpaste. There’s a kit that includes toy and toothpaste ($14.99).
Down the street, Lucky Dog Pet Store (2154 San Pablo Ave.) has an item that’s sure to please the cat or small-to-medium-sized canine that has everything: his or her own appropriately sized chaise lounge or club chair, covered in fuschia, yellow, purple, black or zebra print velveteen ($89-119). Also at Lucky Dog, a selection of carry-on pet carriers for cats or small dogs, in a variety of materials. ($35-79)
Omega Too (2204 San Pablo Ave.) has one-of-a-kind Moroccan side tables made of wood and hand-painted in rich colors. Four styles, some with ceramic tops. ($195-$350) Also at Omega Too: sturdy and beautiful iron doormats in graceful designs. ($50) Known for its exceptional collection of old-fashioned lighting fixtures, both new and vintage, Omega Too is offering 3-legged, antiqued brass Italianate candlestick lamps from Italy in three sizes. Each lamp takes a 60-watt bulb and a clip-on shade (Omega Too has a great assortment of clip-on shades). ($75-115)
The inimitable Good Vibrations (2504 San Pablo Ave.) is filled with inimitable gift possibilities, such as its own customized kits specially priced and packaged for the season. Consider Foot Fetish Holiday, which includes foot scrub, a tongue-2-toe tingler, foot soak, foot lotion and pumice stone ($42) and/or the Power Positions Kit, which holds Bump ‘n’ Grind (“a custom accessory for the itty bitty vibe”), GV Slip Inside (cream lubricant) and the Pocket Kama Sutra ($29).
Just a few doors south, the Ecology Center Store (2530 San Pablo Ave.) has a large selection of glassware made from re-used (even less energy-intensive than recycling) bottles that have been cut in half and fashioned into tumblers and goblets. In green, blue, and yellow. Pretty, virtuous and affordable (tumblers, $5.50; goblets, $8.50). For kids, consider the store’s trains, wagons and trucks made of sustainably harvested wooden blocks painted with non-toxic paint ($14.75). You could pack these or other gifts in one of the Ecology Center’s reuseable gift bags, made of sustainably harvested fibers (romblon or abaca), colored with eco-friendly dyes, woven by a women’s cooperative in the Philippines and marketed under fair trade terms (wow). A variety of sizes, including wine-bottle sized, and colors. ($2.50-$40).
Down on Fourth Street, Zinc Details (1842 Fourth St.) has a wide assortment of rare vintage lacquerware that was originally imported to the United States in the Sixties, got caught up in a customs dispute, and then sat in a warehouse for over 40 years. Now liberated, the bowls, salad mizing spoons, salt and pepper shakers, graceful little teapots, teardrop containers, trays and round boxes include examples of both lacquered wood and lacquered plastic in vivid colors—orange, blue, turqouise, avocado and red, as well as cream and black. Retro and hip. ($12-220)
Stained Glass Garden (1842 Fourth St.), behind Sur la Table, is selling lovely bowls, serving dishes, glasses, goblets, even a cake stand made from recycled glass by Fire & Light in Arcata. Soft, jewel-like hues of yellow lilac, green, aqua, red, blue and taupe ($12-83). Give the birds in your garden a one-stop bath/exceptional aesthetic experience by giving a birdlover one of the pretty and whimsical mosaic birdbaths made by Tina Amidor, who also teaches mosiac birdbath glasses at the Stained Glass Garden. They’re all knockouts, but my favorite was one that featured pieces of old-fashioned china teacups decorated with floral motifs. ($250-650).
Looking for a nice way to present photographs and other mementos? Miki’s Papers (1842 Fourth St.) has beautiful handcrafted photo albums covered with exquisite Japanese, European and domestic papers by a Kensington artisan. The pages inside are acid-free ($20-60). Do you have a small gift that needs a special box? Miki’s has charming paper-covered boxes custom-made in Japan in unusual geometric shapes ($20 and up). Any gift would be enhanced by being wrapped in one of the store’s exquisite Thai and Japanese papers that are almost like cloth. One standout is printed with gingko leaves on a background of either red, olive, cream or silver. Other designs are abstract. 2 x 3 feet. ($5).
I first walked into Hydra (1716 Fourth St.) in a mood of delight, curiosity and concern. My consumer self was delighted by the big fake rubber ducky floating outside the store and curious to see what lay inside. What I found was an amazing variety of real rubber ducks—zebra ducks, devil ducks, Statue of Liberty ducks, wedding ducks, to name only a few—and a marvelous array of bath products in over 200 flavors/scents. But my local land-use activist self was also curious to find out if the items for sale were made on the premises, as they should have been, given that the property lies in the Mixed Use-Light Industry zone. Here, I feared, was yet another example of creeping commercialization of Berkeley’s light manufacturing district. So I was further delighted to learn that the all natural soaps—most vegan, a few milk and honey—bubble baths, shower gels, shampoos and bath salts are manufactured right in back. The soaps and the salts are sold by ounce (65 cents-$1.50/oz.) I was particularly taken by the description of a soap colored to resemble an American flag and called “Old Glory”: “With air and citrus notes, no matter how you slice it, it smells like freedom.” Believe it. (Old Glory is $1.50/oz.)
If the artisanal spirit is stirring in a deserving acquaintance, consider giving that person a gift certificate for a class or classes at West Berkeley’s Building Education Center (812 Page St., 525-7610). Since 1992, the Building Education Center has been offering hands-on classes in carpentry, ceramic tile, plumbing, electrical wiring, landscaping, owner contracting, apartment building management and other home construction, remodelling and maintenance subjects. Classes range from one-day or weekend- intensives to courses running one night a week for a month. Fees run from $50 to $495. Parking is easy and free.