Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ghosts of Christmas Past and Three Kings

When I was celebrating Christmas in Madrid many years ago, a friend (Patricia) asked me why Americans got so depressed and weird about Christmas.  Now, while spending my first complete holiday season in the US after years abroad, I have the answer.  Expectation.  It's in the crazed shopping and the pressure of obligation to get everything right from gifts to treats.  I feel overwhelmed.  The encroaching darkness, the chill to the air and too much sugar, alcohol, and salt don't help.
     Nothing can ever live up to the idealized media image of a holiday celebration.  When I was a child, my sister and I (having learned this in school) waited up for a Santa Claus who never arrived.  My Latvian parents weren't up on that tradition.  Christmas meant a tree, midnight mass, and a big meal.  Gifts we received from relatives were things like fruitcakes that were never quite right.  Gifts were a regular part of my life, just not at Christmas so I was never deprived in that sense.  My father always returned from his visits to Buffalo with books, chocolates (he preferred Swiss) and paper dolls.  My uncles spoiled us with bags of candy. 
     I'm over the hump and starting to relax.  I look out at the neighbor's cloth snowman swinging like a dead body from the porch next to the illuminated reindeer and smile.  My class of adult refugees is practicing "Jingle Bells" for our party.  Shopping is done and I can stop running around.  And, on Saturday I escape to Berkeley where I get to spend the rest of the holidays with my Jewish friends.

Here's a poem about King's Day- a fun holiday in Spain.  I am missing my past visits, the great friends and glorious meals.


The Three Kings are lost
in whirling snows.
Camels sink unsure
in lands
past sands and tropics.
My door has no shoes
Waiting for favors or coal.
My favourite, Balthazar,
for the name
and stately beard
shakes his head no.
Here in white
crusted snow,
ice fills each empty step.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The good life with bicycle

First of all, I don't drive.  I can hear the cries the disbelief- what? No way? It is by choice.  I took driver ed back when I was 17; I was never one of those who drove on their 16th birthday. I never kept it up or even got a license.
 There is a precedent to this behavior-neither my father or mother drove.  In his case, he did drive a tractor but I'm not sure that counts.  My parents came from Latvia to the US in  the '50's when public transport was widespread.  And I spent ages living abroad where a car isn't essential.
That brings me to my bicycle.  When I returned to the US, to Buffalo, NY, one of my first purchases was a bicycle.  For a city with an interminable winter, it's a challenge to see how long into the cold I can ride it.  I usually last until the first snowfall.  This year I may break my own personal record.  It's December 10th and my bike is still locked to a post (covered area) in the backyard waiting for the next ride.

My short story 'Midnight in Barcelona' is in Ride, collection of stories about bicycles!

Monday, December 5, 2011

How connected are you?

    How old are you?  Where do you live (I work with a woman who can only get dial up in her neighborhood)? With this information it's easy to determine how plugged in you are.  My number one electronic device is my laptop.  I panicked this morning when it struggled to start up and the screen went black.  What would I do without it?
    I work on it (job 2 with ETS testing), write daily, watch movies and an occasional TV show, listen to music, and manage my ever expanding virtual social life.  Without it, I'd be lost.  Far less so are the other devices in my life.  I've taken to leaving my phone (gasp!) at home when I go to job 1 (teaching) so I get a break from texts or voicemails.  That and the fact I have an MP3 say a lot about my age.  I only use the MP3 on long bike rides or when I'm travelling and can't get to sleep in a strange room.  I remember the endless loop of music in the hot Miami apartment of a friend's while sleeping on a blow up mattress that even through sheets made me sweat.  AC, like heat, is expensive.
     Then there's my kindle.  I haven't decided yet what role it will have.  So far, I'm revisiting old (free) classics like Moby Dick, Little Women, and for some reason, freebies in  Spanish.

The great divide is greater with the electronic world:

Transit morning traffic,
truck stopped
cars workbound,
a child, coldproof in mittens,
waits with his father.
Inhale, at this moment,
in this tableau
no one escapes.

No cryonics,
no tucks or lifts,
nothing will free
you from what waits.