Wednesday, December 31, 2008

 

New Year's Eve: Why Must You Disappoint Me So?

I was all ready to go to Kenneth's mansion in Edinburgh and photograph his coupola to prove to friends that it really does exist . . . and then I woke up at 4:30 AM this morning and knew that I was going to vomit. And I did. Five times. Now I am in my unheated room at the B and B, hoping that someone will have received my pathetic text message in which I ask that the owner tell us how to heat this god-forsaken place so I don't have to keep huddling under my down coat, hoping waves of nausea will pass.

New Year's Eve--Hogmanay, whatever--you totally break my heart. You are worse than Christmas. I came home from Scotland two years ago, having contracted the Noro virus on New Year's Eve. I spent my second New Year's in Scotland stuck in a bed like this after having thrown up a round of Mull Island cheddar while Gordon and his mother danced beside my bed sipping champagne, and fireworks went off outside my window. There was the year I spent New Year's Eve in the hospital, because I'd had the mother of all migraines, and I listened to the nurse announce that it was midnight on the PA while a drug addict moaned in the hallway. This was after I faked feeling "fine" to go out to dinner with our friends Laurence and Traci, before finally collapsing out of pain and . . . nausea.

There have been a few good New Year's Eve celebrations. I remember one in Washington DC (though I think I freaked out during that one too because I didn't get a marriage proposal--I knew I wasn't going to--when everyone else was so sure I was going to get one and the pressure was just awful). That was kind of a tortured evening. There was my very first New Year's in Scotland in which I was kissed by men wandering around in kilts at 3 AM, and engaged in the practice of first footing, which meant I couldn't go into our own house until someone else had crossed our threshold first, and finally expired at 6 AM while my husband's parents just kept going (we spent the following day returning abandoned cups to neighbors). There was a crazy New Year's Eve in San Francisco in which I went to see some ska band, then walked home for 2 miles in the pouring rain before a cab finally picked us up. I got sick then too. And there was a lovely New Year's Eve in Japan where I drank sake with gold, ate noodles and . . . threw up the next day after eating sea cucumber intestines (never again. They ask me in Japan what I don't eat, and I say "Sea cucumber intestines" and they all nod. That's right. I am hard core. I draw the line at sea cucumber intestines).

Trying to look at this metaphorically, I would say that my system likes to give me clean intestines in time for the New Year. Well, okay, but does my body have to go to this extreme? What a waste of a good holiday.

I am thinking that next year, I will arrange to be home, with a little bowl of consume, ready to ward off any new year demons intent on exorcising my digestive track.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

 

Oban, Eeusk, Shellfish



The ferry from Craignure, Mull to Oban has bilinual signs--Gealic and English.



After lamenting the lack of shellfish and fresh fish meals available to tourists and locals on the west coast of Scotland, I was so, so happy to find Eeusk, in Oban, which served this extraordinary seafood meal. The ingredients were incredibly fresh, and the meat beautifully cooked--and not drowned in cream, which is so often the case with fish in the west (why, why, why do you people do this?). It was nice, too, that the wine tasted good, that the music was smart and the room stylish. While I don't actually need any of these things to enjoy a great meal, it does indicate to me that perhaps a more sophisticated palate is arriving in Scotland.

Ten years ago, when I was first in Oban, we couldn't find a meal quite like this. About six years ago, we went to the original Eeusk, which had just opened, and was much smaller and seemed a far more daring venture. I'm so pleased that it is thriving now.



I spoke to the owner, Alan McLeod, to congratulate him on all his success. He was a Scot and therefore outwardly modest. The next day I raved about the meal to a local shopkeeper. "Oh. Yes. Alan. Quite successful. We see him driving around in his Bentley." So much information contained in that little exchange. Do we not deserve to be rewarded for doing something well? Should we not strive? Should cultures never change? Something always is lost when people and places change, but this isn't always terrible. Why shouldn't local or travelers to the West Coast of Scotland--where the shellfish comes from in the first place--not enjoy a first rate meal? Why should I have to go to Spain to eat Scottish oysters?


Saturday, December 27, 2008

 

Tobermory



At the Mishnish pub in Tobermory, enjoying a pint of local brew.



By 8:30 in the morning, the sun is creeping up on the horizon . . .




By 9:30, the sun starts to appear. The strange thing is that the sun set not far from the spot where it rises (seemingly). That's how far north we are.



Two boats and their referential names: "The Dawn Treader" and "The Jacobite."



Often called the most picturesque town in Scotland, Tobermory's waterfront buildings are each painted a different color, and light up as the sun beams directly on them.



The majority of shellfish caught in Scotland are shipped off to Spain, which pays the highest price for the bounty. This bothered me. In Maine, for example, lobster is shipped elsewhere, but locals still eat their catch, and tourists can still enjoy shellfish off the boat. It is much more difficult to do this in Scotland, though food is slowly changing in the culture.



 

Glenfinnan to Tobermory



The fog suddenly cleared when we reached Glenfinnan, located on the road to the isles in Scotland, and famous as the landing spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie arrived from France to try to take back the British Crown. Gordon maintains that Bonnie Prince Charlie's story is still the greatest historical episode yet to be made into a major motion picture.



Glenfinnan is also famous these days because it is right by this lovely rail bridge, always featured in Harry Potter films. Frankly, what with the freezing fog and elusive sunshine, I can understand why someone would want to write a fantasy series set in the cold north.



Later in the day, we took our first ferry and crossed over to Tobermory. Supposedly the ferry boat could fit 6 cars, but I don't see how. As it was, we had to back the car onto a little metal gangway to get into the ship, but this was easier than a ferry we took a few years ago, in which I had to line the wheels of the car onto two metal planks. That was scary. The sun set as we sailed for Mull; in this photo, it is probably around 4:30. Sunsets take a long time, as do the sunrises.

 

Loch Ness, Freezing Fog



Morning is lazy in Loch Ness during winter. The sun takes forever to rise. The water is very calm, though with the odd set of ripples and I can understand how, in this strange atmosphere, someone might see a monster. But this is true of so many lochs, I wonder why it is only Loch Ness that is famous for a monster.

The Nessie exhibit finished by asking a wonderful question: is Nessie a mirror or a veil? It's a great question and one that horror writers are constantly exploring.



The weather forecast predicted freezing fog for our drive west. What a beautiful and eerie sight. The sun is mostly hidden, but peeks out every now and then, and the landscape is crystallized, white and still. Everything looks light. I can understand why someone would be afraid of weather like this. It feels as though something large and invisible is breathing all around you.



The sun, with which you already have a kind of tortured relationship this far north, becomes distorted. Sunlight--any sunlight--becomes precious, and imbued with more power than in the lighter months.



Everything is frozen when freezing fog passes through. I loved this perfectly preserved spider web.



The trees made us think of the opening sequence in the Narnia books, when the children go to the land of the snow queen, and find everything encrusted with ice. Does the land have a heart?

Friday, December 26, 2008

 

Christmas, Highlands, A Personal Post for Lurkers



And how would you travel overseas with Christmas presents? There are several ways. You can do what I did, which is to buy your presents ahead of time, wrap them (minus the tape so security can look at your luggage if it really, really wants to), so Christmas Eve at the Drummonds is easy. This means you can enjoy a leisurely glass of Gigondas by the fire.



You can do what my mother did, which is to buy your presents well in advance, bring a list and your own wrapping paper. Or, you could be like Gordon and be happy that the economy is in the free-fall, because it would mean that your last minute Christmas shopping, conducted in New York City a day before you are set to fly overseas, is unencumbered by other shoppers. This would also mean that as you wrap your presents in your parents' living room, you would need to hide behind a sofa, so no one would see what you are doing.



For some reason, Gordon decided to turn all of the women in his life into cats. Since discovering my feline form, my black ears have not left my head. I even put the orange cracker crown on my cat head. The combination of orange and black apparently upset some some of the relatives, as these are the colors worn by a "rival" football team. Fortunately, I don't get all empathetic about sports. Don't those guys get paid enough for sounding thoroughly thuggy in every culture?



My hand-knitted snowflakes hang in the window.



The rental car is a Renault Scenic. You have to be kind of smart to drive it, because it operates via a card and a button. Also, I have to step on the brake to start the ignition. To turn the car off, I have to pull out the card, and hit the "Start/Stop" button three times.



On the way to Nethy Bridge, we passed through a landscape covered in frost. It was beautiful. Until then, the skies had been low and gray, but up in the Highlands, the clouds parted. It was difficult--as usual with my poor photography skills--to capture the effect of every blade of grass, every leaf, covered in white ice like this. Frost isn't heavy, like snow, so the scenery looks light and crystalized.



Gordon's beloved Aunt and Uncle live in Nethy Bridge. I'd always wanted Uncle Dan to meet my father, but this was not to be. At least, I thought, he will meet my mother, and he was excited about the prospect, and had started cooking dinner for us, way back in November, freezing dishes to serve to us when we arrived. I saw him last in October when we attended his daughter's wedding and he stole a line from my father's wedding speech to toast his daughter and new son-in-law. And then, a month later, he was dead. An odd and terribly synchronicity. There's no causal relationship between the two things, but I feel strangely guilty, as though I have set a precedent. It has been odd, tiptoeing around these subjects, watching out for people's feelings and trying to give everyone the room they need to grieve and emote and guard their "safe" space. I'd like for next year to include less loss. Life can be short.



No trip to Nethy Bridge is complete without a visit to my beloved Ralia, home of the whisky wall. I'll be bringing home some presents. And I might even have some whisky of my own to get rid of this nasty cold.



This evening I am relaxing in Drumnadrochit, by Loch Ness. We've had a lovely meal--the food in Scotland continues to get better and better as people discover the goodness of local ingredients. Once upon a time, we would roll into a town, and choose between fish and chips and the only Chinese restaurant for miles (which we were convinced was actually a spy post, disguised as a food joint). Tomorrow it is off for the islands, standing stones and gloomy valleys. More photos to come.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

 

Shortest Day of the Year



Here we all are on the shortest day of the year. My friend Mike likes to send out an email every year on this day, reminding his friends that from now on, the days only get longer, and that December 21st is therefore the start of summer.

I think the pagans had the right idea when they first started dressing up trees with lights. In our apartment, we have a small tree and despite Georgie the cat's avidity for batting, have even risked a few glass ornaments. After a mad scramble, I found the stockings I'd knitted a couple of years ago, and hung them up by our fireplace.



Our coop, founded in 1921, specifies that each building must have a fully lit Christmas tree on its porch at the start of December. It has been nice to come home as late as I have been to see the tree blazing in the dark.

The end of the year has also taken on an unexpectedly emotional tone, no doubt highlighted by the fact that my father is gone. My husband had promised me that this year we would return to California for Christmas, but it is not to be. We are going to Scotland in search of new adventures instead. Nothing like Scottish hospitality and lochs and whiskey to wash away excess nostalgia (or, for that matter, to heighten it). All week I have been saying goodbye to friends--travel has a way of breaking off regular communication. It feels a little like the end of the semester at school. We have finished our finals. We who have had class together for weeks will now not see each other for a while. We are heading home.



Last night my mother arrived, and we all had dinner with Jillian the queen, who tried to get us into the holiday spirit with some crackers. "You'll need to learn how to do this," she said to my mom.

My mother had never used a cracker before, so Gordon showed her how it's done.






Today it was off for one more holiday meeting, this time on the Upper West Side with my agent, Irene. She looked at my mother and said: "You need a haircut." Then she confessed that she needed one too. It was a nice time and we talked and reminisced and I tried to talk about the next book, and the fact that I was wrestling with two ideas.



Later, at Uniqlo, we came across this robot, created by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Though manufactured in Japan, he does not speak Japanese, a fact which disappointed us.





My mother got her hair cut just in time for travel.



Tomorrow we fly. Passports for my little family are ready to go into service. We are heading off for the green isle--nothing like going to an even darker place during the darkest time of the year. Out in the Highlands, encircled by standing stones, one feels on the edge of the world. It's a feeling I love.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

 

Congratulations to Lisa!

I was hurrying to the New York State theater and trying to avoid icy puddles when my phone rang and I saw that my dear friend Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet in San Francisco was on the line. Instantly, I knew why she was calling, and when we spoke a moment later, she confirmed my intuition. This gorgeous, talented, brilliant poet has won the Samuel French Morse Prize for poetry, and her beautiful collection will be published in October of 2009. I am ecstatic for her.

"You know what this means," I said.

"What?"

"We can do readings together."

We're hoping for at least two: one in New York and one in California.

And to think--somehow I was lucky enough to have her in my wedding party--and to convince her to read one of her poems just for us! I've been a huge fan of Lisa and her poetry and her brain power for a long, long time. I remember vividly sitting on the floor of the Green Apple with her, picking through shelf after shelf of poetry books as she built me a pile to "study," while we bonded over our mutual love for Kay Ryan (there's a new book out, by the way and I would just like to brag that I own a copy of Dragon Acts to Dragon Ends), lost track of time, and suffered some kind of metabolic crash when we forgot to eat. Now we check our watches when we go out to play.

Later in the evening, I thought back to how I had met Lisa so many years ago--through the internet. And this evening I was at the ballet with Moonrat, author of the excellent, eponymous and anonymous blog. I told Moonrat that despite my frustration with blogging, and the false intimacy it creates, the internet has really been one of the major ways in which I've connected with writers over the years. If I hadn't been on Poets and Writers, and if I hadn't ever started a blog, there would be a great many talented people I wouldn't know. And this, I suppose, is the wonderful thing about the internet: it can bring people of like mind together.

So. A huge congratulations to Lisa. I'm so pleased for her, and happy too for the unconventional start of our friendship.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

 

On Faith

Last year, I admired the hair of the maitre d' at Blue Ribbon Sushi in Soho. She was mixed--half Asian and White--and had the kind of hair I've always wanted, but have never had because most stylists can't understand what my hair is doing. It's always straighter, stronger and more stubborn than they expect. Products do not help. This round-brush-dry-your-head-upside-down nonsense means nothing to my hair, which continues to hang heavily, elongating my face.

The girl referred me to her stylist, who spent much of our initial visit refusing to speak to me in Japanese, even though he was from Tokyo. "Don't worry," said his assistant. "He forces the Japanese to speak in English too."

My new stylist was six foot two, blond, rail thin and dressed in black leather pants with a heavy silver snake belt cinched around his waist. He did not smile. "He's all rock and roll," the assistant whispered to me. The stylist's portfolio included Christie (Turlington), the Hiltons, Catherine Zeta Jones and Prince. He flies regularly to Los Angeles. As I sat in his chair, perspiring with anxiety, he peered over me and said, "How did you get to me?" I felt very short.

The situation was so ridiculous, I couldn't help but want to try to win him over. And I did. He speaks to me now in Japanese, mostly because I was able to tell him about my favorite Japanese restaurant in New York City (which I'd intuited would be the same as his), while asserting: "It's a little on the salty side."

"You speak Japanese!" he cried. "How weird. And you have taste."

From then on he commandeered my hair, forcing me to grow it out somewhat against my will, because, he said, he could "see" that this was what would work best, and, taking note of my poor writer status, giving me free trims. I don't know why I managed to invoke pity in him, stylist to Christie, but I did, and even though he easily charges 4 times what my previous stylist charged me, I find that at the end of the year, I haven't spent nearly as much on hair cuts as I did the year before. Sometimes, you get what you pay for.

And now, after submitting to his instruction, I suddenly have the hair I've always wanted. It hangs the way I want it to. I can't believe it.

And this gets me to the point I wanted to make. I often stop and look to see if my hair is really still there. I can't quite believe that it is.

I am a person of limited faith.

When I really began making an effort to write, I worried a great deal of the time that I would fail. All writing, after all, is an act of faith. You start with a blank page. You cannot know that what you try to do is going to work. Maybe you should simply give up.

This kind of thinking can affect other areas of your life. Maybe you will not succeed. Maybe you will hurt. Maybe things will never get better. Maybe you should give up. Then, at least, you won't experience hurt and you will not fail.

All this is complicated for me by the fact that I am a generally intuitive person (see above comment about Japanese restaurants) and often rely on my ability to read between the lines. I take security from that. And when I am in a situation where I cannot read between the lines (is this story really ever going to work?), I panic, in a somewhat childish way. And yet, the greatest lessons I've learned have always come from this tension.

I asked a friend of mine today--an artist who works in a different medium--if he ever suffers from the same thing. He didn't tell me about his own creative process. Instead, he said: "You just need to write more. Then you'll know." But I wonder if this is true too. I wonder if some little bit of worry isn't a firm part of my process now. Does anyone ever get to the point that they know that diligence will absolutely pay off?

I do now know that I can work and work and work something until it is complete. Still, I have doubt. But I'm starting to wonder if this isn't part of the problem, if I require a little bit more faith, and then if the answers will come more easily. I wonder about this also because we recently had dinner with a friend who is raising his children in the Jewish faith, though he himself is Christian. "I want my children to grow up with a faith," he said. And I wondered: will they doubt themselves and the world less because they will have been trained from youth in the power of faith? Is that possible? Did I lose out on a kind of cultural indoctrination that would better help me to believe in and trust the future? Have I made it this far in life relying so much on intuition that I've fooled myself into thinking I have greater control than I do? And, if so, then I think the only possible new route to take is to develop faith.

But how to do this without blindly following things that are unrealistic and stupid! It's a quandry.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

 

The Whirl of Gaiety

The Little House books were for me as a child a story about a bookish but spirited young woman who was good at making things and embracing the world and managed to outshine blonde Nellie Olsen to marry Almanzo Wilder. Spirited girls everywhere take note: sometimes you get to win. I loved those books. My father made me a set of hoopskirts in his shop so I could feel as Laura did when she got her first very fashionable dress. I cut up fabric in my mother's drawer to try to make slippers for my father for Christmas, as Laura had done and even now I am knitting socks for special friends for Christmas.

As a child, one chapter from Little Town on the Prairie remained a mystery for me though. It was titled: The Whirl of Gaiety. Laura, now a young woman with hoopskirts and bangs finds herself exhausted after successive Friday nights out on the town. She is told by those wiser that she has simply been caught up in a "whirl of gaiety," and then spends a quiet Friday at home to stabilize herself. How, I wondered, could anyone ever get tired of parties? It was something I couldn't process.

Because, once upon a time I was not invited to parties, and on the rare occasion that I was, I had difficulty enjoying myself, so shy and baffled by people was I. I mean, I thought it might be nice to be the sort of person who was invited everywhere, particularly during the holidays when every advertisement seems to telegraph that no party invites=loser. Then I met my husband, a social creature, and the fun began. After our first Christmas together dating, I, too, had my own whirl of gaiety. I stumbled into January exhausted but feeling oddly cleansed.

I'm sitting here today nursing a small hangover after too much red wine (I know better, I really do) after an evening out. I'm looking ahead at the week where more commitments loom. I have stumbled into my whirl of gaiety. All these years later, and I can still think of no better way to describe what it feels like to be stuck in the eye of the holiday party storm.

Monday, December 15, 2008

 

De-Grinching



When I saw the limos and police stationed outside the Waldorf Astoria, I wondered if perhaps New York was being treated to another visit by the Brangelina clan. Earlier this year I met a teacher at the Lycee Francois who told me what it was like to have young Maddox at school while his parents occupied a large suite in the famed Park Avenue establishment. As it turned out, though, this time the Waldorf was merely occupied by members of the Saudi Royal family (the royal censor, if my sources are to be believed) and later, Governor David Paterson. All this excitement was purely accidental; my annual New York Christmas traditions now include high tea in the lobby of an otherwise unaffordable hotel. Ah, hotels. Transmittors of glamor! This year we happened to choose the Waldorf Astoria which was lovely but, sadly, lacked a competent pianist.



I'm not sure I'll be back to the Waldorf next year, though I did learn that the "champagne tea" option on the menu actually provided free refills; my intrepid husband, fluent in anything pertaining to spirits, of course knew that he could ask for glass after glass and not keep paying for them. I stuck with one flute.



Time flew by far too quickly. Conversation skipped along from politics, to architecture, to books, to fashion. Tea is never long enough.



It's become a tradition, too, to check out some of the 5th avenue holiday lights. I'm not a fan of the Vuitton monogram myself, but I did like the colors in the windows. I sometimes feel that by exposing myself to a bunch of lights like this, I can almost propel myself through the dark time of the year, as if all that color and frenetic activity releases an extra little bit of serotonin in my brain.



My favorite of all the store windows is always Bergdorf Goodman. Every year they come up with something fashionable and festive . . . and slightly disturbing. Where Lord and Taylor waxes nostalgic over classic Christmas tales and Victoriana, and Bloomies tries for something cartoonish and bold, Bergdorf manages to twist reality in a way that I find pleasingly surreal. This year's theme: The Four Seasons. Above is a glimpse of December, the month of "holidays."



If you go, don't forget to look at the little windows too. Once upon a time, I spent hours making miniatures--dollhouse food and figurines--and I still appreciate a small window display like the one above, which is supposed to feature the month "March." See the house which has blow up into the nest? The wind howling in the background? The wiry tree covered with pearls twisting in the gale? I suppose that is March in New York City; unrealistic, uncomfortable and always, always glamorous.

 

Waiting for Barack

Curious, isn't it, that depression is the word for both economic collapse and nervous breakdown. Of the latter, they say that depression is a three-part disease: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's. Our bad luck this year is that the economic and emotional letdowns have arrived together, perfectly timed for an epidemic of the solstice blues, which are sometimes diagnosed as seasonal affective disorder. Poignantly known as SAD, that condition is directly tied to the absence of light, and the provision of light is its treatment. But perhaps darkness is less the source of our anguish than the medium in which it is most painfully felt. Memory and expectation define the days of December - nostalgia for holidays of yore, the letter to Santa - because the past and the future are the unpolluted zones of consciousness. The present is always less than we imagine it could be, and that aspect of awareness most profoundly shapes the human condition.


Or awaiting another king during the dark time of the year. So much expectation.

Friday, December 12, 2008

 

Writing Clothes

My father, the farmer, never outgrew his farming uniform, which consisted of various long-sleeved plaid shirts, and black cotton "Big Boy" pants from Mervyn's. He had a jacket, which he replaced every decade or so, and shoes he would replace only when the heels were so worn down it became difficult to walk.

After we were kicked out of the school car pool for failing to drive a Mercedes, I became convinced that the right clothing was part of the solution to never facing social ostracism again, or at least diminishing it to some degree. I wouldn't ever dress like my father. If he'd only just worn some Chino's and sandals on the weekend, perhaps we would be invited to dinner at the neighbor's more often and they would have over-looked the 14 year old Ford LTD. "I'll never dress like you," I said to him, before realizing, in horror, that I was in a pair of black sweats and one of this old plaid flannel shirts. My writing uniform.

Over the years, I've periodically gone through my closet to try to rid myself of anything that the old carpool drivers--mostly mothers who lunched and got their hair regularly colored--might disapprove of, and yet, like a bad penny, the writing clothes keep coming back. Currently, I have about 2 pairs of black pull-on sweats that I love, and a few tunics I picked up from Uniqlo. I discipline myself to wear sunscreen, but often don't get around to doing much with my hair. I try to wear my own shoes when I go to the basement to do laundry or meet the mailman, but often I end up stomping around in my husband's shoes because they are easy to slide on. No matter how hard I try, I still dress like my father the farmer. When I am out of town, my husband says that the laundry pile essentially remains the same. "You don't have a lot of clothes," he says, in contrast to himself (he wears a new shirt and pants every day).

In the past few weeks, I haven't been writing at all, but have been catching up with friends and engaged with holiday projects. The cats have noticed. Where I once sat here patiently writing and editing so a cat could sit in the chair beside me, I am running around. I have places to go. The cats don't like this. They try to sit on my lap or on the computer to get my attention. Going out every day also means that I am also remembering what I have hoarded in my closet. I'm not accustomed to the daily pressure of needing to come up with something new to wear--that habit died a while back when I stopped working regular jobs.

Next month, though, I have to get back to work and the writing clothes will go back into circulation. I'm sort of looking forward to it. I'll save the dress up clothes for weekends and outings, but it will be nice to just have about 6 things to wear, a number which would have been a luxury once upon a time when people didn't have washing machines, and when so many girls certainly weren't writing books.

 

Everyone is a Grinch This Year

At my husband's company holiday party, I overheard a woman say that everyone is a Grinch this year. Christmas can't get started. The economy is in shambles, stores are now putting new, luxury merchandise straight to 70 percent off rack thereby robbing it of mystique, Thanksgiving came late, there are no presents under the tree. Most of us don't even have our trees yet. Etc.

In fact, we have only one holiday card so far and when I pointed this out at the party, everyone around me agreed. They had only one holiday card apiece as well! It has been difficult to get into the spirit. It's also oppressively dark and when the sun starts to set, I think, "Already?"



And yet, I try. It isn't fashionable to love Christmas, but I do and always have. I like lights and music and making things. The dining room table, where all non-writing related projects live (until it is dinner time, and even then on occasion), looked like this over the weekend; knitting projects, cookies and Christmas cards underway.



I've finished my baking, and managed not to give myself a colossal headache this time; no trips to the ER for strong painkillers (knock on wood). Next week I have a tea-party and I hope that most of the cookies will have disappeared by then. Over the weekend, I have my annual high tea at the Waldorf with a very special group of people. The Nutcracker comes later in the month.



I've been craving the opera lately and tonight went to see the divine Renee Fleming and Thomas Hampson sing in Thais. What a treat. The plot, though predictable, is quite true in a way, with Thomas Hampson unaware that he is in love with Thais until, of course, it is too late. When the subtitles translated Hampson's woeful, "I love you," as Fleming insisted she saw the gates of heaven opening before she slumped dead in a chair erected on some kind of altar, the woman behind me began to tut. "Too late," she murmured. Fortunately, most things in life aren't so do or die, and I was able to take in Fleming's stunning and sensually beautiful voice --and the Christan LaCroix dresses -- in stride. And so, I'm trying to fill up the dark days with busy, happy, bright things.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

 

Blue Equals West, Red Equals East

I found an interesting display of graphic images over at Mountain Runner. These were designed by a Chinese person now residing in Germany and attempt to show, in abbreviated visual language, how the east and west differ. Some are really compelling and some--eh--not so much.



Take, for example this display of anger. In the west (the blue is always the west), it is obvious what someone is feeling; the Asian person may seethe internally, but be disinclined to show you. I am guilty of both. Sometimes it is patently obvious how angry I am, but very often, I keep it to myself.



This one, a representation of travel, made me laugh. Everyone by now knows the stereotype that Japanese like to photograph everything. When I travel with my mother, there generally comes a point where I declare that I am tired of taking photos and want to just enjoy the experience of being where I am. Of course, later, I'm happy to have the photos!



Dealing with problems. In a very, very general way, I think that this is true. There can be a bluntness about life in the west that seems very practical but a little vulgar. And then, there is the "avoidance" tactic of the east that becomes infuriating.



What's trendy. Ain't that the truth!

More graphics, sans commentary, available over here.

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