Posted by: ktzefr | January 12, 2018

Around the World in a Junk Drawer

 

I went upstairs to get a notepad, planning to come right back to the kitchen to make a grocery list.  I stayed two hours.

The desk drawer is shallow.  The notepads were stacked to the side.  Most of them are freebies that I regularly get in the mail.  I had absolutely no reason to rummage through the other stuff, but then…

I got distracted by a recipe for bread pudding.  It was handwritten on a sheet of note paper from the Hotel La Condesa in Costa Rica where I’d stayed almost eighteen years ago.  Well, that needed to be in the kitchen with the cookbooks.

There were other blank notepads from hotels in Mexico, the Caribbean, Ecuador — places I’ve loved, souvenirs that I’ve kept for years and can’t imagine using to write grocery lists.  I put them back.  

I found a blue envelope with our name and address written in very large, fancy script.  It was empty.  There was no return address.  The post office stamp was faded.  Who?  Where?  Why?  When?  I have no idea.

In this small, shallow drawer I discovered stuff that made me laugh, cry, and/or shake my head.  Ordinary stuff — mystery keys (one set was in a small plastic bag with a note that said “blue suitcase key”; that suitcase was tossed years ago), a tiny stuffed bulldog keychain with the price tag still attached (?), three old cell phones, a bluetooth rarely used, a portable phone charger never used.  

Postcards.  Stacked neatly in the back of the drawer.  We had sent them home years ago when internet didn’t exist and international phone calls were too expensive.  Nowadays it’s difficult to find picture postcards anywhere.  We sent them to my parents and inlaws and they kept them.  Eventually, the cards came full circle back to us.  

 

 

From Pisa I’d written about the expressways in Italy, Rome to Rapallo, how the roads leapt from one mountain to the next, over bridges and through tunnels.  I’d been appalled by the price of cigarettes (75 cents; I didn’t even smoke) and Coke at 35 cents for a bottle that was half the size of our Coke at home and “they don’t even give you ice.”   

In Copenhagen we’d eaten roast duck with cherries.  The air off the North Sea was chilly in August.  A picture of the snow-capped Matterhorn from Switzerland; the Eiffel Tower in Paris; a card from Holland with tulips and windmills and girls in wooden clogs.

On a card from the Vatican I wrote about the amazing ice cream and pastries I’d eaten and stated that all of the floors in our hotel were marble.  “It’s cheaper than wood here,” I wrote.  I have no idea if that was true or not.

I described the “zillions of skyscrapers” in Munich in 1972 and there was mention, too, of a boat ride on the Rhine, the castles and fairytale villages, and the cops driving Volkswagens.  I was excited about seeing the Olympic tower pictured on the front of the card.  Two weeks after we got home eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team were killed by terrorists.  I can’t look at mementos from Germany and not remember.

**********

After awhile, I stuck the postcards back in the drawer and sorted the other odds and ends — pens and stamps and return address labels.  I threw away dozens of labels as the only envelopes I mail these days are bills and I’m glad I don’t have that many to pay.  Ah…two jump drives jumped out at me.  Sometime I’ll see what’s on them.

I found thank-you notes and addresses on slips of paper.  A Spanish saying on a piece of torn notebook paper:  El amor es ciego, pero los vecinos no (Love is blind, but the neighbors aren’t).  And a lovely paragraph from an old church bulletin from Frederick Buechner’s The Magnificient Defeat that ends like this:  “It is not objective proof of God’s existence that we want but the experience of God’s presence.  That is the miracle we are really after, and that is also, I think, the miracle we really get.” I think about everyday miracles.  Like the things you find in drawers.  Memories.  Simple, profound, amazing.  

Finally, I selected one of the generic freebie notepads and took it down to the kitchen to use for my grocery lists.  I started to stick the notepad in one of the compartments of the wicker stand catch-all that was bulging with all matter of paraphernalia, and it struck me…

THIS needs cleaning out!

And so I did.

***********

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: ktzefr | January 9, 2018

Whip-poor-will: Five Facts and a Fiddle Song

We heard them at dusk all summer long.  The voice was different from all of the other night sounds.  It came again and again as if the bird loved hearing its own song more than anything else.  I don’t recall ever seeing one.

My mom used to tell us the bird was saying “I’ll whip you; I will.”  It called from the hillsides around our valley, from up the hollows and above the creeks, from the abandoned coal mine at the end of the dirt road that ran alongside our house.  It never occurred to me to go in search of the elusive whip-poor-will.

Since then, I’ve become an avid birdwatcher, learned to identify a number of birds from their songs, and slipped through the forests of Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean with guides who “talked” to the birds in order to bring them out of hiding.  I recall stepping lightly, searching the trees, whispering, at daybreak one morning in Yucatan as my Mayan guide answered the call of a pygmy owl (almost impossible to spot) again and again until we got a glimpse of him perched high above our heads.   Such moments, surrounded by nature and silence, are extraordinary.

Bird song can tug at the heart.  Perhaps it’s the time of day, the sunset, the quiet of the mountains, but there was something lonely about the whip-poor-will’s call.

Up in the mountains, it’s lonesome all the time, 
(Sof’ win’ slewin’ thu’ the sweet-potato vine.) 
Up in the mountains, it’s lonesome for a child, 
(Whippoorwills a-callin’ when the sap runs wild.) 

~Stephen Vincent Benet, The Mountain Whippoorwill

In William Faulkner’s story Barn Burning, a young boy named Sarty leaves a life of abuse behind and heads into the woods, determined to keep moving.  All around him the whip-poor-wills are calling, drawing him into the “dark woods within which the liquid silver voices of the birds called unceasing — the rapid and urgent beating of the urgent and quiring heart of the late spring night.  He did not look back.”

John Burroughs, a naturalist and nature essayist, once claimed that he’d counted 1,088 consecutive calls of a whip-poor-will in one night.

I have not heard the call of a whip-poor-will in many years and perhaps would not have even thought of the bird had it not been for the hawk that we spotted yesterday.  It was sitting outside the kitchen window in the snowball bush a few feet from the birdfeeder.  My husband rushed out the door to scare it away.  He looked it up in the bird book.  It was a sharp-shinned hawk, he said.  He left the book opened to the hawk page.  I don’t like hawks.  (I know.  The natural world is what it is and my love of the juncos and chickadees and doves doesn’t enter into the equation.)

Still…I flipped pages and landed on the whip-poor-will and remembered summers in Kentucky and the bird song echoing down the hollows.  It was time to find out a little about this unique bird.

*****

Here are a handful of facts:

— The whip-poor-will is a master of camouflage.  Its feathers blend so well with the ground cover that the female doesn’t even bother to conceal her nests.  The birds nest on the ground.

— During the day, the bird sits on the ground or on a tree branch to sleep.  At night, it takes to the air.  They are fast on the wing, darting here and there with mouth extended wide to catch all sorts of flying insects.  It has the speed and dexterity of a bat.  Moths are a delicacy.

— The bird’s reproductive cycle conforms to the rhythm of the waxing and waning of the moon.  Newly-hatched young arrive when the moon is at its brightest as their parents hunt most effectively in full moonlight.

— Whip-poor-wills enjoy the occasional dust bath to rid their feathers of oil and moisture.

— The whip-poor-will’s call sounds lonely for a reason.  The bird is trying to locate a mate.

*****

I don’t know who was the saddest — the lonesome bird that called 1,088 times in one night or the lonesome man who sat and listened and counted.

 

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | December 28, 2017

12 Not-So-Wacky New Year’s Resolutions

San Miguel de Allende fireworks; Photo:KFawcett

2017 was a year of poetry for me.  I read hundreds of poems from tiny individual collections to thick anthologies, Buson to Billy Collins, Rumi to Mary Oliver, Neruda to Charles Wright.  Classic masters to current masters-in-the-making, short and long, sweet, bitter, sad, uplifting.  So my journal is filled with quotes and anecdotes that have inspired this year’s wacky new year’s resolutions which, it turns out, don’t seem so wacky after all.

1.  I opened a library book, a book of poetry (This Time by Gerald Stern), and found a paper fortune from a Chinese fortune cookie.  This is what it said: “You are kind and friendly.”  Two smiley faces.  It was a statement, not a fortune.  But it could be a resolution.  Help make 2018 a kinder, friendlier year.

2.   From David Budbill’s “Winter: Tonight: Sunset”…

“…I say a prayer of gratitude for getting to this evening/a prayer for being here, today, now, alive/in this life, in this evening, under this sky.”  Gratitude.  Express it.   (“…every day is a good day if you have it” ~Naomi Shihab Nye)

3.   “Whoever you are: step out of doors tonight,/out of the room that lets you feel secure./Infinity is open to your sight.”  From Dana Gioia’s “Entrance” these few words  hold a multitude of possibilities.  Take a leap; follow a dream!

4.   June 2017, before the hurricanes.  Everything smells of wet earth and frangipani.  White petals with their lemon-yellow centers…the bush grown into a tree in full bloom, leaves shiny after the night rains.  Birdsong once strange is now familiar.  Over the years, I’ve learned a lot from time spent in the islands, but mostly this: when eyes and ears are free to roam, sometimes they see a new sight; sometimes they hear a new song.  St. John Strong!  

St. John, USVI; Photo:KFawcett

5.   “Like a snake, my heart/has shed its skin./I hold it here in my hand, full of honey and wounds.” (From Federico Garcia Lorca’s “New Heart”) It’s okay to examine the honey and the old wounds, but start the new year with a new heart!

6.   I’ve often heard someone say something like this:  If I climb high enough, run fast enough, swim far enough, I will leave _____ behind.  Fill in the blank.  And no, that doesn’t happen.  Seize the day and solve the problems.

7.   “Look: no one ever promised for sure that we would sing.  We have decided to moan.  In a strange dance that we don’t understand till we do it, we have to carry on.”  (from William Stafford’s Someday, MaybeLet 2018 be a year to dance and sing.  Carry on!

8.   Linda Pastan’s “Fireflies” are likened to “flashes of insight/that flare/for a moment/then flicker out”…  Hold onto the bright and shiny moments.  They make good memories.

9.   In the 60s it was common to hear young people say they were “lost” and needed to “find” themselves.  But precious time can be lost in a useless search.  Identity is there in the beginning — the bloom’s bud, as it were.  Better to expand one’s world with new experiences, places, friends.  It’s about becoming, creating an ever-changing, growing, developing person.  A life-long task.  Paulo Coelo says it like this: “When we don’t know where life is taking us, we are never lost.” 

10.  Winter holds onto its bareness/like the soul laid bare/with all its ugly branches/leafless and silent in the breeze./  It takes a stiff wind to rattle the trees.  Welcome a good rattling every now and then.

11.   October 2017.  Sun-dazzled walls, cobblestone streets, doors painted blue and green and red, waterfalls of bougainvillea, mangoes and zapotes and ripe melons in the mercado.  People eating wild flavors of ice cream in the plaza — avocado, corn, tequila, and watermelon.  Young lovers walking hand-in-hand, stopping to kiss on street corners.  When I remember Guanajuato I want to sit in the plaza all day and just listen to the laughter.  Search for a special place this year, a perfect spot to sit and listen to the laughter.

12.  In “Things Have Ends and Beginnings,” the poet Charles Wright says this: “Grace is the instinct for knowing when to stop.  And where.”  Learning when to stop — a challenge all year, every year.

And so I will…stop, that is.  For now.

**********

 

Posted by: ktzefr | December 20, 2017

The Truth About Santa…

Santa was at the coffee shop today.  He was reading, completely absorbed in the Lifestyle section of the Washington Post.  His red hat with the puff-ball tassel sat upright at the edge of the table.  I don’t know where he had hidden the fake beard; perhaps he stuffed it in a coat pocket.  His real beard was a prickly mix of black and gray, more than a few days old.  He sipped his coffee without looking up.

I learned the truth about Santa late one Christmas Eve night when I was too excited to sleep.  Lying still in the dark, I overheard the grownups discussing when they should put my gifts under the tree.  The next morning I didn’t let on that I knew anything.  Those of us who still counted on Santa seemed to get way more gifts than the older folks who didn’t, so why mention it?

However, I had become suspicious the previous year when perusing the Christmas possibilities at the local dime store and fell in love with a blonde walking doll named Myrna.  I saw my mom whispering to one of the clerks and pointing toward Myrna standing atop a glass showcase.  She was the only one left of her kind.  I pushed this image out of my head when I opened the box before daylight on Christmas morning, convinced that this particular blonde-haired beauty had slipped down our chimney inside a big red sack.

At the coffee shop I waited for my latte.  Santa continued to read and drink.

I remembered the dolls of my past – the tiny pink Freddie who “drank” a bottle of water and “wet” his diaper.  Sometimes I had to shake him hard to expel the last “pee” drops.  And Bonnie…with the glistening blue dress, high heels, and straw hat with flowers (this was before the Barbie craze).  I loved dolls.

And I love children.  One of the miracles of Christmas for adults is being able to see the holidays, again, through the eyes of children – the laughter, wiggly anticipation, and sheer red-faced joy. 

When our son was four we had his picture taken with a very popular department store Santa who was round and jolly and sported a real white beard.  The next year, at the same store, Santa was slender and quiet and his beard was a snap-on.  Our five-year-old was not fooled.  “He’s not the real Santa,” he said.  “Must be just a helper.”  Of course.

My mom always told me that the Santa who brought brown paper bags of candy and apples to our church in the days before Christmas was a helper.  No one could see the real Santa, she said.  “He’s the good spirit of Christmas.”  My mom always found ways to speak creatively.  She never lied.

Santa was unveiled by my brother and sister one year when I was a baby.  They pointed out to my parents that St. Nick was wearing our neighbor’s shoes.

And so it goes.  All who have believed in Santa have a story to tell about THAT day in childhood.

At the coffee shop I grabbed my latte and outsized chocolate chip cookie (lunch on the run) and headed for the door.  Santa’s eyes were still glued to the newspaper.  A young man at the next table was bent over his laptop in deep concentration.  There were only a handful of others, mostly sitting alone at various tables.  If not for “Jingle Bells” in the background, one could have heard a pin drop.

My mind drifted to very different mornings in Mexico, to favorite coffee shops and panaderias, to conchas and rich blackberry buns and all other warm, good things.  Walking along the streets or standing in line with strangers to gather tongs and trays to select buns and breads to take home for breakfast, one never feels alone.  Buenos dias!  Buenos dias!  The smiles and “good mornings” are never in short supply. 

Connecting, the simple act of relating to another person, a stranger…this, too, can feel like a miracle.  We need more of those these holidays.  

I noted as I walked out of the coffee shop that there were no children present and I was glad.  What kid wants to have his image of Santa tainted by seeing the “jolly old elf” beardless, drinking coffee, and reading the newspaper?

*****

 

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | December 15, 2017

10 Reasons to Walk

There are many reasons to walk.  It’s good exercise.  You can do it alone.  You don’t need to buy special equipment or expensive clothes, etc.  But I enjoy walking every day for other reasons (the things I see and hear and smell and feel when I’m on foot) and it’s those other reasons that keep me doing it day after day, year after year.  Here are 10: 

Mistletoe in the trees; Photo:KFawcett

–Mistletoe. In the summer it’s hidden among all those green leaves.  In winter, when the trees are bare, it appears suddenly.  Like magic.  A lot of things in life happen that way.  

–Tiny lives. Plants that grow in cracks in the sidewalk and pavement and the bends of trees limbs.  I marvel at their persistence to thrive and the way they defy the odds.  

–The seasons. The small changes that herald the first hints of spring or fall can be seen better and enjoyed more up close.  Snowflakes look prettier when they’re falling on faces, rather than windshields.

–Irregularities. The car that’s been sitting with a flat tire for days.  The house with the shades always drawn.  The porch light that comes on during the day and goes off at night.  The Volkswagen with Oklahoma tags and small, round dents all along one side – bullet holes?   One can spend a lot of steps imagining other lives.

–Music. In spring when windows are first flung open there is almost always music in the air.  Sometimes it’s music you never expected to hear coming from that house.  It can change perceptions, change lives.  

–Scents. If you were in a car, you would never know the neighbors were having bacon for breakfast.  Not that it matters, but bacon smells really good early in the morning.  It can totally lift one’s mood.  Ditto for evening wood fires in winter.

–Plans. Planning the day, organizing thoughts, coming up with new ideas – all can be done on a long, quiet walk.  A “working walk” is not always a bad idea.

–Making friends. A quick wave from the car is one way to say hello.  Stopping to talk to neighbors is another.  It’s a good way to meet the local mutts, too, as well as the wild animals that call the neighborhood home.

–Weight. Walk enough and you lose it.  Walking also increases dopamine levels in the brain, thus helping to relieve stress and making you feel better in general.  More miles, more smiles.  Not bad.  

–The World. The things that go unnoticed – the slant of sunlight through the trees, the way shadows fall – I follow mine on sunny mornings and it follows me in the afternoon, jet contrails cutting across the sky, the shapes of clouds, the sound of the wind through the trees.  There’s a lot to see when you slow down and look.

When the temps fall into the 30s I walk inside.  Sometimes it’s better to be bored than cold.

 

Posted by: ktzefr | December 14, 2017

10 Women, 10 Countries, 10 Voices

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Thus begins Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.  Of course, all families, happy and unhappy, are alike — and different.  So, too, are women.  In these pieces of poems by women from 10 different countries there are similarities in thought and theme — feeling too small to make a difference, not wanting to look different for fear of losing a friend, worried about safety, feeling at loose ends, letting go of a dream, feeling distant from someone close, failing to speak up and choosing to run away instead, giving up on adults, but seeing love in a child’s face, having a hard time accepting the ups and downs of life, looking forward to a new, better day.  

Photo:KFawcett

 

“You have a long road to travel before you,

and tying your shoe is only the first tying.”

~ Maire Mhac an tSaoi, (The First Shoe) IRELAND

**********

Photo:KFawcett

“When words grow jellylike

on people’s lying lips

I shrink into myself,

I dwindle and recede

avoiding the jellylike trails

on the roads

and all of human sliminess…

But when a little child embraces me…

my heart softens,

my heart grows large…

and the human face

returns from its exile

to dwell inside me.”

~ Fadwa Tuqan, (Between Ebb and Flow) PALESTINE

**********

Photo:KFawcett

“Paper doll got tired

but said nothing,

she went on letting herself

be written on,

got flooded with ink

and just in time was saved

from dying of the last period

because she climbed onto

a paper ship

and disembarked on the sea.

There, paper doll

started swimming,

and the ocean all around

was, for an instant,

a blue soup of tiny letters.”

~ Guadalupe Morfin, (Paper Doll) MEXICO

********

Photo:DFawcett

“When you go away and I can’t

follow you up with a letter,

it is because the distance

between you and me

is shorter than the sound of Oh,

because the words are smaller

than the distance

of my longing.”

~ Fawziyya Abu Khalid, (Distances of Longing) SAUDI ARABIA

**********

Photo:KFawcett

“There is a wordless tomorrow

in which I’ll forget all the chatter

it will be like the sky clearing after a rainstorm

to the washed gray of morning

the distant mountains an ink-black line

sweeping the mists away from here…”

~ Chang Shiang-hua, (Wordless Day) TAIWAN

**********

Pillsbury Sound, USVI; Photo:KFawcett

“I placed my dream in a boat

and the boat into the sea,

then I ripped the sea with my hands

so that my dream would sink…

I’ll cry as much as necessary

to make the sea grow

so that my boat will sink to the bottom

and my dream disappear.

Then everything will be perfect:

the beach smooth, the waters orderly,

my eyes dry like stones

and my two hands–broken.”

~ Cecilia Meireles, (Song)  BRAZIL

******

Photo:KFawcett

“Today I’m a hill,

tomorrow a sea.

Always wandering

like Miriam’s well,

always a bubble

lost in the gorges…”

~ Dahlia Ravikovitch, (Magic)  ISRAEL

********

“My mother played us

Prokofiev’s Peter and Wolf

when I was 3 in Hamilton

she went off to work

leaving him to guard us.

In the morning she made cans.

In the evening she waited on tables

and carried a milk bottle, broken, for

protection…”

~Sharon Stevenson, (Industrial Childhood)  CANADA

*****

I don’t want a new dress, I said.

My mother plucked from her mouth ninety-nine pins.

I suppose there are plenty, she said, girls of ten

Who would be glad to have a new dress.

Snip-snip.  Snip-snip.  The cold scissors

ate quickly as my white rabbit round my arm.

She won’t speak to me if I have a new dress!

My feet rattled on the kitchen floor…

I’d rather have my friend than a new dress!

My mother wouldn’t understand, my grownup mother

whose grasshopper thimble winked at the sun

and whose laughter was made by small waves

rearranging seashells on Australia’s shore.

~ Ruth Dallas, (A New Dress)  NEW ZEALAND

******

“Sometimes she wished

she could do something

for herself and her people

But what could she do?

Nothing but watch and watch

for she is too small

only a sand in the big desert

no power

nothing at all

She is only herself

an ordinary person

carrying a dream

that seems so far, far, far away.”

~ Lan Nguyen, (My Life Story)  VIETNAM

*****

Posted by: ktzefr | December 13, 2017

What book would you choose?

Photo:KFawcett

Latte and Decaf at the next table.  The real-deal beans today are Costa Rican; the decaf is Guatemalan.  I love a coffee house with choices — and conversations that encourage eavesdropping.

 

Latte asks his friend a question…

“If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you choose to have with you?”

“What island?  Where?”

“Any island.”

“Well, in the Caribbean it’s warm, so…”

“Beside the point!  Only the book matters.  What book would you choose?”

“Hmmm.  How long would I be there?”

Sigh.  “Indefinitely.  You don’t know.  You’re stranded.  Period.”

Decaf stares out the window.  “It would have to be something I could read again and again.”

“Of course.” 

 

Across the parking lot, in shop windows, Christmas lights twinkle — bright LED lights in red and blue and green and purple.  A few flakes of the first snow falling…”Winter Wonderland” playing in the background…a man in a red ski cap walks by the window talking to himself or to bluetooth — no way to tell these days…

 

A light bulb goes off in Decaf’s head.  “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”

“THAT’s your answer?  That’s the book you’d take to a deserted island?  Really?”

“Sure.  Why not?”

“For one thing, you could read it in five seconds.”

“Not if you take your time and let it jog your own memories.”

“What memories?  You didn’t grow up in Wales.”

“Beside the point…”

 

“It was snowing.  It was always snowing at Christmas.

December, in my memory, is white as Lapland,

though there were no reindeer…

Looking through my bedroom window, out into

the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow,

I could see the lights in the windows

of all the other houses on our hill and hear

the music rising from them up the long, steadily

falling night.  I turned the gas down, I got

into bed.  I said some words to the close and

holy darkness, and then I slept.”

from A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

**********

If YOU were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you choose to have with you?

Posted by: ktzefr | December 7, 2017

10 Ways to Avoid Talking Politics at Christmas

I confess.  There’s really only one sure-fire way.  Talk about something else.  

So, here are 10 questions to ask at the dinner table to get the conversation started and keep it going in a cheery direction:

 

1 — What is your first — or best — Christmas memory?  What made that particular holiday memorable?

2 — What is the best, and worst, gifts you received as a child?  What was so great about the best and what was so bad about the worst?

3 — What is your favorite Christmas ornament?  Why?  Where did it come from?  When did you first hang it on the tree?

4 — Do you recall having a snowy Christmas as a child?  An unseasonably warm, sunny Christmas?  A Christmas day that was rainy and gray?  How was that year different from others?  How did it make you feel?

5 — If you could relive one Christmas day from the past, which one would it be?

6 — What is the biggest gift (one you would like to have) that could fit in the trunk of your car?  What is the smallest gift you would like that could fit in your palm?

7 — What do you generally do the day after Christmas?

8 — What do you like best about the holidays?  Rate the following from 1 (the favorite) to 5 — the music, decorations, gift giving/receiving, food, festivities (Christmas dinner and the holiday parties).  

9 — Where is the farthest place from your childhood home that you have spent Christmas?

10– What would you like for your children, other relatives, or friends to remember most about their time spent with you at Christmas?

**********

 

Posted by: ktzefr | November 7, 2017

Books, Bolsas, and the Art of Lingering

When I was in Guanajuato a couple of years ago I took a cooking class and I still have this great little bolsa, the market bag we “students” carried with us to the local mercado to purchase the ingredients for la comida.  I love the traditional late lunch in Mexico (2 pm) followed by siesta — or at least a couple of hours for sobremesaSobremesa — a lovely Spanish word that is untranslatable in English.  According to Google, it refers to “dessert” — NO!  It means, literally, “on table” but it really refers to that wonderful period of time folks spend laughing and telling jokes and relating stories after the meal is over.  In Mexico people linger at the table.

Why don’t we have a word for it in English?  Perhaps this is because we don’t spend a lot of time partaking in it.  More often than not, unless it’s a holiday or dinner party or special event where one is required to sit and listen at a meal, we tend to eat and run.  “Time is money” is the way folks put it in the US.

In Mexico a meal with family or friends is about the time spent together.  I learned years ago, on my first trip to some place other than the beach resorts, that I would have to ask a waiter for the check when I was ready to leave.  Otherwise, he would never bring it.  Interrupting sobremesa with a check that has not been requested is rude.   Lingering at the table is acceptable, encouraged, expected.  Waiters never swarm to clear the plates with an eye to the next group who may arrive.  Likewise, if the tables are full when you come to a restaurant, you may choose to wait or leave.  Comida is not all about the money.  No one will be pushed out the door for your sake either.

*****

Back to the little market bag I used to shop for veges in Guanajuato…

I use it now to carry books that I’m currently reading — from one room to the next, the back deck, the front porch.  I usually have four or five books in the bag — poetry, novels, children’s books — and a couple of notebooks for taking notes.  Today I came across a page of notes about an older book I read recently for the first time — Haruki Murakami’s South of the Border, West of the Sun.  Well, of course, this book had practically leaped off the library shelf at me.  My first thought: a famous Japanese author wrote about Mexico?  Well, no.  It’s not at all about Mexico.  Except this: the main character/narrator loved Nat King Cole’s “South of the Border” (down Mexico way…).  I did, too!  I remembered singing that song in my fifth grade class.  The little green hardback song book.  My sweet music teacher who had enormous patience with a room full of kids singing mostly off key.  My classroom teacher took us all on a “virtual” trip to Mexico via a huge world map and a bunch of small plastic cars. (Years later, a fictionalized account of this fun activity crept into my book, To Come and Go Like Magic.)

I love those times when a book title, a song, or a painting brings back memories, especially when said title or song or painting has nothing to do with my Appalachian childhood. 

So I read the book.  It kept me turning pages, brewing another cup of tea, staying on the porch wrapped in a rebozo long after it got too cold to be outside.  One small mystery followed another.  I read for the resolution.  I guessed at what may have caused one character’s pain, why a woman disappeared and reappeared, why her motives were difficult to ascertain.  And why he, the successful main character/narrator, would risk everything to spend a few moments with her.

The sex scenes made sense when I read them.  Ahhh…the story was unfolding, heading someplace.  True romance.  It had a direction, a goal.  But then, in the end, all that loving felt gratuitous.  As the pages-left-to-read grew slimmer and slimmer, I was perched at the edge of my seat.  I held my breath, anticipating the ending, the mysteries finally solved, the riddle complete.  The character’s past, at last, would be revealed.

No, no, no!  No resolution.  When none of these things happened, I felt like setting fire to the tome page by page — but it was a library book.

I like resolutions.  The best part of a mystery is the moment it’s solved.  I don’t mind a story with a fuzzy ending — one of those you kinda think you know what happened.  But there were so many unresolved mysteries in this book with little information to go on, not enough to piece together possible endings. 

Like real life, I suppose.  But then, if I’d wanted to read about real life, I would have gone to Facebook. 🙂

The next time I’m lucky enough to be enjoying sobremesa with friends, perhaps someone in the group will have read South of the Border, West of the Sun and can enlighten me.  For the moment, my reward for picking it up in the first place is the flood of memories that sent me back to classrooms in Appalachia and long lunches in Mexico.

This week, this month, this year consider adding a little Latin to lunch with friends or family…and I’m not talking about tacos.

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Posted by: ktzefr | October 19, 2017

Dia de los Muertos: Facts and Fiction

No.  It’s not Mexican Halloween.  No.  It’s not about mourning death.  It’s about celebrating life.  Despite the macabre imagery — the costumes and make up and scary puppets and candy skulls — Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a joyous holiday.  And no.  The celebration didn’t start with the James Bond movie Spectre, though it’s been said that the over-the-top hoopla at the beginning of that movie may have inspired some of the more extravagant parades that take place nowadays.

Dia de los Muertos in Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

On our first day in Guanajuato City we got a glimpse of some of the prettiest Catrinas…  (La Calavaras Catrina is one of the holiday’s most iconic symbols.  She began as a political cartoon more than 100 years ago.  The Mexican artist, Jose Guadalupe Posada, sketched a female skeleton in an elaborate hat as a way to criticize Mexicans who had adopted European customs at the expense of their own culture.  Diego Riviera picked her up, called her Catrina, and put her in one of his famous paintings [Dream of a Sunday Afternoon Along Central Alameda] and the rest is history.)

Las Catrinas, Dia de los Muertos, Guanajuato City; Photo:KFawcett

She even has a candy store dedicated to her on the Jardin Union, two floors of sweets and treats, including the traditional sugar skulls, elaborate Catrina dolls, and everything caramel…

La Catrina, candies and gifts, Guanajuato; Photo:KFawcett

When we got to San Miguel there were Catrinas everywhere, as well as lots of other interesting folk…

Dancing at Parque Juarez, Dia de los Muertos, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

 

In the Jardin, San Miguel de Allende, Dia de los Muertos; Photo:KFawcett

Dia de los Muertos, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

Everyone gets in on the activities…

Pug celebrating Dia de los Muertos in San Miguel; Photo:KFawcett

 

Dia de los Muertos began as an Aztec harvest celebration, occurring at the end of summer.  When the conquistadors brought the Catholic faith to Latin America, they combined the holiday with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (November 1 and 2) the first being a reminder to folks as to how lives should be lived and the second being a time to ask God’s mercy on all souls.

Today in Mexico, on the first day, families remember children who have died; on the second, they remember the adults.  The central belief is that on those days of the year the spirits of loved ones join them to celebrate life, so people construct altars (ofrendas) to their loved ones with flowers and foods and toys and favorite possessions.  Some are simple; others are elaborate; all are colorful.  They are made with beans and peas and rice and corn.  Millions of marigolds.  Lots of crepe paper.  Crushed chalk.  Paint.  Loving hands and long hours…

 

Creating Ofrendas, Dia de los Muertos, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

Dia de los Muertos is an amazing Mexican celebration of culture and color, music and art, family and friends, the past and the future.  It’s better in Central Mexico — better than a day at the beach! 

If you can’t get south of the border this year, check out the calendar of events for this holiday across the US. 

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