Christmas cards

img_1709-4The photo attached to this blog post isn’t the best photo I’ve ever taken, but it is one of the ones that’s had the most impact on me. It’s a very special Christmas card.

Now, I have a long history with Christmas cards. My mom always sent Christmas cards. I remember in earlier, more affluent years going with her to the printer’s shop to select a card from the options pasted onto big, stiff pages in the sample card books. After she’d picked her favorite, she’d instruct the staff person what greeting to print inside. Weeks later, a box of printed cards would arrive at our house, and the dining room table became Christmas card central. Before my handwriting was deemed acceptable for purposes of addressing cards, I was the chief licker and sticker of stamps and return address labels. Yes, younger generation, we had to lick stamps to affix them to envelopes. Plus, you had to lick glue on the the envelope flap to get a proper seal. And we did this while walking uphill both ways in the snow, because life was harder then.

The first Christmas card that ever came in the mail addressed to me alone showed up in 1965. It came from a girl in my first grade class who clearly was light years ahead of the rest of us in terms of sophistication. Not only did she send her own Christmas cards – carefully addressed to so-and-so at X address, CITY, because she was worldly enough to know that you didn’t have to write out “Beaumont” on each envelope if the addressee was in the same city as the sender – but she also had lived in New Jersey and owned a pair of go-go boots. To top it all off, in the third grade she decided that the spelling her name, Linda, was boring, so she changed it to a much more cosmopolitan Lynda. I doubt whether a more with-it chick has ever graced the halls of Sallie Curtis Elementary.

Later, Mark and I (by which I mean I) used to send lots of Christmas cards. Ours always went out early. Before the children were born, that was because I took pride in being so organized that I could get my cards done early. After Jane and Mary arrived, life was super busy during the holidays, and the choice on mailing cards was between early or never. In those years, I occasionally realized that I was accomplishing Christmas instead of celebrating it, but that’s another blog post altogether. In any event, the number of cards we send has dwindled over the years, and this year this post and Facebook are about all the greetings we’re likely to send. But they are greeting nonetheless, and we carry in our hearts loved ones past and present even if we don’t – or can’t – communicate with them.

All of this leads me to the picture. It’s not great art; The perspective on Mary’s face is a tiny bit off, so she looks a little flat, and I’ve never been a fan of the School of Radioactive Jesus. But this card means a lot to me, because it was drawn by a prisoner in the Stutthof  concentration camp in Poland. Over 115,000 people were sent to that camp; 65,000 of them died. Prisoners were forbidden to make art, but they did anyway, in secret. This card was one of those secret pieces. It now resides in a glass case along with other small drawings in the Stutthof barracks. These drawings survived; I have no idea whether the maker of this card or its recipient did.

Imagine the nightmare of spending your Christmas in a concentration camp. Death, hunger, and cruelty are your daily lot in life. Illness is everywhere, and you’re always cold. But in the midst of this misery, where despair seems logical and hope ridiculous, someone draws this picture. Look at the drawing. It’s the incarnation of God literally juxtaposed with the barbed wire of the camp’s fence. “Glory to God in the highest” is written underneath. The praise song that the angels sang to the shepherds defies the cold and the hunger and the pain and the aching knowledge that chances are you won’t leave the camp alive. Want to know what faith is? It’s right here, on a hand-drawn, anonymous, unlikely Christmas card.

So open your mailboxes and your emails and enjoy the Christmas cards you’ve received. From beautiful artistry to beglittered renderings of Santa and Frosty the Snowman, they surely were sent with love and goodwill. As for me, I offer you greetings of the season from Stutthof. Glory to God in the highest. Peace to all on Earth. And let the people say amen.

 

On tapa the world

img_2301Last Saturday night, two friends joined us for an evening on the Ruta Tapa. This is a three-day event that involves many of our local restaurants. Each participating restaurant makes one tapa solely from local ingredients and one tapa of its choice. During the Ruta Tapa – literally, the Tapa Route – each delicious tapa plus a small drink costs €2,50 (that’s two and a half Euros, just in case the comma threw you). Three or four tapas make an excellent meal, and you get to try new restaurants. and restaurants get a bump in business during the low season. The tapa pictured above is a local fish dish, and trust me, it tasted even better than it looks.

But did I start in the middle of this story for some people? I’d never heard of tapas until a few years ago, so let me offer a quick explanation. Tapas are small portions served on small plates. It’s Spanish dim sum. Tapas offer you an opportunity to sample new dishes without the risk of ordering a new entree in a conventional restaurant and hating your dinner. Mark, for example, has become a real fan of sausages in cider. I order cod croquettes whenever I can. And we both adore patatas bravas (think home fries with a spicy tomato-based sauce) and patatas alioli (think home fries with garlic mayonnaise). Yum.

Of course the best way to eat tapas is at a tapas bar. In a place like that, you sit on a stool or stand at the scarred wooden bar and order from among the tapas in the glass case in front of you. The best places like this are tiny holes in the wall, about the size of a college dorm room. Two or three kinds of beer might be available, along with a house red and a house white. Sometimes you can get a soda, and water sin or con gas is always at hand. Choosing a tapa can be a bit of a crapshoot, as not much English tends to be on offer. But everyone knows how to point, so you don’t leave hungry.  Typically a jersey or pennant from a beloved fùtbol (that’s soccer to us Americans) team hangs on a wall, along with signs for various cervezas the bar may or may not serve and a few rather bedraggled attempts at decorating, such as giant ceramic flowers painted in color not found in nature (at least on this planet) or a bad painting of a female flamenco dancer swishing the skirt of her red dress. A place like that is an experience.

The best thing about tapas, though, is that they are small. You can get a big portion; that’s called a ración. But a tapa is a few bites, a sample, a suggestion. It’s a caress on the cheek, not a full-body hug. It’s a few notes hummed in remembrance of a long-ago dance. It’s a wink, a glance, a Mona Lisa smile of food on a little white plate. In a world that chants “bigger and better” and “grow or die,” a tapa is a tiny food rebellion, an homage to the small and perfect.

We loved the Ruta Tapa and will participate again the the Spring version. And in the meantime, we will eat our tapas at the little bars with the garish flowers on the wall. We’ll enjoy our time with the small treasures they serve.

 

 

 

 

 

Ms. Frizzle’s pumpkin pie

img_2253One of the many joys of parenting is the ability to enjoy the books that come from your children’s generation. A favorite at our house was The Magic School Bus series, which we enjoyed on TV and in book form – shout outs to Lily Tomlin and the Westbank Community Library, respectively. The protagonist of this series was the wild-haired Ms. Frizzle, a science teacher who regularly urged her students to “Take chances! Make mistakes! Get dirty!” Apparently the message sank with me, because this week Ms. Frizzle and I made a pumpkin pie.

This was a trial run pumpkin pie, in anticipation of celebrating Thanksgiving with two other American couples. Mark and I are providing the turkey and dressing, which we’ve been doing for years back in the USA. Others have volunteered to bring sweet potatoes, green beans, jello salad, and wine. We ordered cranberry sauce from an online vendor and are now the proud owners of the world’s most expensive Ocean Spray offering. Then it dawned on me that stores here, unlike those in the USA, don’t sell pumpkin pies. It sounded like a good idea to farm this problem out to more talented pals. To my horror, I got no takers on making the pumpkin pie. “I’m a cook, not a baker,” explained one friend. As a last ditch alternative and despite the fact that I’m not a cook or a baker, I decided that I’d give this pie-making business a whirl.

Let me clarify here that I’ve never made a pumpkin pie before. In fact, I’ve never made a pie. In further fact, I haven’t even bought a pie for several years, because my sister has done that bit for our November celebration. So to decide to make one is kind of like saying that I’ll be happy to drive a big rig from Boston to San Francisco. My experience with big trucks is pretty much limited to nearly getting killed by them on Interstate 35. But what the heck, you never know until you try.

Figuring I’d start at the bottom, I went to look for prepared pie crusts. Surprise! At least where we live, stores don’t have those. Spain, apparently, is not much on pies. When I asked at the biggest store around for a borde de la tarta, all I got was a blank look from a woman stocking the freezer case. “I don’t know what that is,” she responded, piling bags of frozen Kung Pao chicken onto a shelf. Uh oh. This meant I was going to have to make a pie crust.

In case you’re not a female who grew up in the South before, say, 1975, you probably have no idea what it means to make a good pie crust. This is one of the pinnacles of womanly achievement. To say “She sure makes a light, flaky pie crust” translates as “She can cook, sew, apply perfect makeup, and keep her husband (whom she secured partly by dint of said pie crust) happy, and she’ll never wear white shoes before Memorial Day or afternoon Labor Day.” Other than the husband part, none of these is my aspiration or my reality, although I do cringe if I wear white shoes out of  season. And I mentally apologize to my grandmother, who’s been dead since 1967.

Girding my baker’s loins, I found a recipe and began cooking. It soon became clear to me that Houston, we have a few problems. For starters, we don’t own a pie pan. After briefly considering the paella pan as an option, I recalled that we possess a baking dish for vegetables, so that’s what got used. Then came the thorny question of the fact that all the recipes call for electric mixers, which we also don’t own. I decided that pies predate mixers and got out a spoon. Last but not least, Spanish stores do not appear to stock shortening. Who knew I would ever long for Crisco? My plans for personal use importation are underway. In the meantime, Google says that you can substitute more butter than it seemed one dish could possibly take for shortening, so I got another tub of butter and proceeded. In hindsight, it would have been more economical and, possibly, efficient to rent a cow and a churn, but there you are. To make a long paragraph not quite as long as it could be, an acceptable pie crust appeared some time later. It wasn’t light and flaky, but it was adequate. Perhaps I should re-try makeup one of these days.

Anyway, now it was on to the pie filling. Naturally, no convenient cans of pumpkin were to be had. We did find pumpkin pieces; this obviated the need to purchase a pumpkin, disembowel it, and cut my fingers to ribbons trying to get the meat off the shell. Score one for the home team! Evaporated milk was also available. So now we’re just looking for spices, which Google Translate and I figured out in only three trips to the grocery store. Now it’s assembly time.

And now it’s roadblock time as well. All of the recipes for pie filling that I found assumed one of those nice, convenient cans I didn’t have. So I need to liquefy the pumpkin. Just trust me when I tell you that a food processor doesn’t cut it here, literally or figuratively. Rejecting the notion of premiering the world’s first pumpkin bits pie, I decided to stew the results of my efforts with the food processor. But that requires liquid, so I added a smidge of apple juice to my bits and stirred the whole shebang in a pot. Apples and pumpkins are sort of alike, right? They’re both roundish Autumn fruits. Besides, the other other liquid choices I considered were chicken broth (yuck), orange juice (too tart), and Scotch (best saved for the cook in case of emergency). I was so unnerved by this process that the option of adding water never occurred to me. Criminy.

That crisis averted, I added the evaporated milk and spices, per the recipe. This was going to be the easy part, right? Wrong. To my dismay, the consistency of my pie filling was that of a cream soup. Baking will firm the filling up, of course, but firming this mess up would take a blast furnace, not my funky Spanish oven. What on earth was I going to do?

I did, of course, what any red blooded American would do. I reverted to middle school behaviors and chewed on my fingernails. One of them promptly broke, which turned out to be the best possible thing that could have happened. Here was a problem I could solve. I sat down on a chair on the balcony, filed my nail, and contemplated the Mediterranean. And the peace of God, which passeth understanding and bringeth creative ideas, settled on me and brought to mind the sieve. So I returned to the kitchen with a renewed heart and sieved my filling into the merely wet ingredients and the basically liquid ingredients. The merely wet I poured into the pie shell, and the super liquidy part I finished cooking and put into a leftover dish in the fridge. Pumpkin oatmeal is delicious!

Aside from burning the crud out of the top of the pie and peeling it off before taking the attached picture, the pie turned out okay. We’ll see whether pumpkin pie 2.0 works out, but at least I followed Ms. Frizzle’s advice. I took a chance on a new baking process, made my share of mistakes (and somebody else’s), and definitely got very dirty. (Hint: My version of mise en place is mise all over the place, and I had to take a shower while the pie was baking.) And then there was pie. May all your risk-taking turn out as sweetly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aunt Harriet’s ghost

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Like a lot of people in my generation, I had an Aunt Harriet. Actually, as the sister of my maternal grandmother, she was my great-aunt, but that slight attenuation of the blood tie did not diminish her impact on our lives.

Aunt Harriet was the classiest lady I knew in my childhood. Admittedly, the bar may have been kind of low, since I grew up in deep East Texas, where one of the major events of my childhood was the opening of a McDonald’s. But it was clear that Harriet Smith was special. She lived in San Antonio, which sounded exotic, was married to a bank president, which sounded important, and had traveled to Europe, which sounded adventurous. She corresponded with my mother on monogrammed blue stationery and signed all of her letters “Devotedly, Aunt Harriet.” Most importantly, though, Aunt Harriet was a visitor. She came to see us.

When Aunt Harriet announced a visit, things got done at our house. We cleaned like crazy, waxing furniture and pulling out the sofa to dust behind it and pick up all of the small items our cats had scooted under it and failed to retrieve. (Did someone expect Aunt Harriet to get down hands and knees when we left the living room and peek underneath to make sure we weren’t living in squalor? This never occurred to me as a child, and my mom has passed away, so I can’t ask her.) We even got crazy once and bought a new tablecloth. Woohoo! But mostly, my mother and grandmother prepared for Operation Harriet by fretting. Would the food be okay? Would the Holiday Inn have scratchy towels? Would she notice the fact that my grandmother’s pier-and-beam listed to port like a slightly inebriated sailor? Worrying was an important part of our pre-visit ritual.

And then it would be the day of The Arrival. Aunt Harriet would drive up in her washed and waxed car, which sported tinted windows and a radio. These miracles would have been enough to impress me, but the figure of A.H. also left an indelible mark. Harriet Smith was tall, dressed in smart suits, and smelled of Chanel Number 9. (Chanel Number 5 was common.) Her handbag (don’t say purse, that’s vulgar) matched her pumps, and her hair didn’t dare move, no matter how much the wind blew. This was class on the hoof.

Ah, and she brought gifts! Once she brought me a small version of a train case she’d gotten on a cruise. I still have it. It would be a decade or so before I’d step on a train, and more than that before I boarded a cruise ship, but here was a taste of glamorous travel. Once she brought our family a Harry and David selection of Gala apples, which got my mother hooked on them for the rest of her life. Her best gift of all was a compendium of Ogden Nash’s poetry. I don’t know if you know Ogden Nash, but he wrote divinely silly poetry that amuses me to this day. Mom wasn’t much of a reader and therefore didn’t get a lot out of the book, but I pounced on it and laughed till I cried over Nash’s wit. Here’s an example I still remember: “The song of canaries never varies/And when they’re molting, they’re pretty revolting.” Magnifique!

 

Alas, our visitors these days are treated with a bit less pomp than Aunt Harriet enjoyed. In fact, we’ve had several visitors here in Spain- two sets last Spring, our daughter and son-in-law this Summer, and four sets this Fall – and a more delightful group of people you couldn’t meet. Our preparations look rather meager in comparison to Mom’s, though. The sheets are fresh, and everyone gets a fresh set of towels. The End. If I’m feeling particularly energetic, we might all troop to the grocery store to buy food that the visitors like. Otherwise, we talk, eat, hang out, and sightsee. We should hang a sign outside our apartment, I guess. “Darwin’s Nest,” it would read. “Only the strong survive.”

Our visitor/survivors come from a long line of folks who come to stay. Spanish has a couple of words that we would translate as “visitor.” A visitante is a friendly, familiar person whom you welcome into your home. This word shares its Latin roots with our words visit and vista; in other words, it’s all about coming to see. The other Spanish word, huésped, is used for paying guests. Interestingly, its roots lie in words meaning strangers (possibly even threatening ones) to whom a duty of care is owed. This root gives us huésped in Spanish and, in English, hospital, hospice, hospitality, and the like.

We’ve definitely been having visitantes, and it’s been a ball having folks from the USA, Ireland, New Zealand, and Canada with us. And remarkably, just like Aunt Harriet, they bring us gifts! Some are tangible, like the Mountie thermos and Guinness coffee mug pictured here. Our kids brought us a fabulous coffee pot. (Perhaps we look dehydrated, as people keep bringing us items facilitating the intake of liquids.) But far greater are the gifts of fun and laughter and deepening of friendships. Being with our kids, of course, is always joyous. With one of our non-family guests, it was the revelation that she and I both collect souvenir spoons when we travel . She’s the only other person I know who does that. We now address each other as “Spoon Sister.” One couple arranged an amazing hotel stay in Granada, where we were huéspedes, and we all toured the Alhambra together. Another guest cooked for us and left me easy recipes; she also showed me how to clip my bangs. Yet another visitante shared her adventures walking the Camino de Santiago; her husband shared his love of the ancient world as we toured archaeological sites in Cartagena. And our Texas visitors brought us news of our home state and beloved Austin, the kind of news you can only get from someone who lives there. What glorious gifts these all are!

So the ghost of Aunt Harriet, my paradigmatic visitor from childhood, may or may not approve of our rather casual handling of those who come to us. But Mark and I feel warmed by each of our visitors and are grateful for their presence and their presents. So here’s the question: who’s next? As long as you don’t intend to look under the sofa, you’re all more than welcome here.

 

Iceland, my tomato

Mark, Mary, and I spent the last few days in Iceland. All three of us really loved this place.

Admittedly, Iceland has its drawbacks. For one thing, it’s expensive. A thousand kroner equals about $8.00, and a typical menu item in a restaurant starts at about 3,000. Ouch. At least the food is good! And for another thing, Iceland is cold. Duh. At least there’s no false advertising in the name – take that, Greenland. But do bring your warm clothes if you come. Of course the local merchants would be thrilled to sell you cozy togs here, but paying the ensuing credit card bill might require taking out a second mortgage on the hacienda at home. I did flirt with the idea of buying a knitted wool stocking cap that had knitted Viking horns on it, but I managed to resist. Literally, cooler heads prevailed. (And yes, I know that Vikings didn’t actually have horns on their helmets.) We also skipped visiting the Icelandic Phallological Museum, which is exactly what you think it is. FYI, they advertise a section featuring trolls and elves. We may have to go next time we’re there.

Even with these drawbacks, Iceland is still a great place. You know why? Because it’s funny. This is the quirkiest, funniest country I’ve visited. Consider the airport serving Reykjavik. It’s called Keflavik, which to my untutored ear sounds like either body armor or something a powerful expectorant brings up. Keflavik is a nice Scandinavian airport; it’s clean and efficient and has lovely blonde wood floors. But it’s also a funny airport. The night we arrived, I made my way to the snyrtingar (the toilet, to the uninitiated) while Mark waited for the bags to come down the belt. When I walked out of the door, I was startled to see that a giant puffin head (bigger than I am) was hanging upside down from the ceiling. (How did I miss this vision on the way in? All I can figure is that I was very motivated at the time.) Since I was getting over a cold and had downed a bunch of cough medicine before the flight, I figured I was hallucinating. But Mark saw it, too, along with the crash marks that had been painted into the ceiling around the bird. Okay, here’s a clue that this is not your average airport. Looking around seemed like a good move at this juncture. No more wildlife met my eye, but I did see a sign that caught my attention. “Where are the locals who were on your flight? They’re in the Duty Free Shop, buying booze. SHOP LIKE A LOCAL!” Sure enough, lines of people in parkas had filled shopping carts with beer, wine, and spirits and were waiting in lines to check out. It’s the first time in decades I’ve been tempted to shop in Duty Free.

Tired and amused, Mark and I boarded the bus to Reykjavik. Mary had arrived earlier, and she guided us to the apartment we had rented. The apartment was unusual in one respect: the light fixture in the living room was a life-sized plastic horse. The lamp emerged from the horse’s head, and the switch was a balky step-on button on the floor. To say this was random and not a little startling understates the case. The light also made for some interesting conversations. You don’t often say “Dammit, I can’t get the horse to turn on” in this lifetime.

Next day’s wander turned up even more evidence of Icelandic humor. One restaurant offered a 10% discount on food to anyone who meowed 10 times while they ordered. The password to another restaurant’s WiFi was whatisyourpassword. The ATM we used proclaimed “Hi! I’ll be your tomato today.” And even the anti-littering signs had some snark to them. One such sign stood at the amazing geyser field, which included Geysir, after which all other geysers are named, and hot pots of bubbly, steaming sulphuric water. The sign enjoined visitors not to throw coins into the geysers. “The geyser doesn’t need your money. It’s not good luck, and it’s littering. If you want to get rid of your money, give it to someone else.”

What causes this humor to bubble up like the Earth’s offerings from the cleft between the tectonic plates that run through the country? Perhaps it’s the fact that the population is small (about 360,000 in the whole nation, which is roughly the number of Icelandic horses in the world – fun fact) and confined to an island. Everyone seems to know everyone, and you’re stuck indoors with them through a long, cold winter, so you’d better find a way to cope. Or maybe it’s because the original settlers were not toe-the-line folks. In fact, Iceland’s first permanent settler was a fellow who was banished from mainland Scandinavia because he killed someone. He packed up two boats with assorted household goods, family members, and livestock, made a quick run by Ireland to pick up extra slaves, and settled in on Iceland’s shore to make a home. In fact, most present-day Icelanders are descended from this family and the other original few who joined them. Dating is made less complicated by an app where you can check out a potential sweetie to see how closely related you are. Apparently if you make it to a second date, which traditionally is to go soak in a hot spring together, you’ve decided that the connection is sufficiently remote to be acceptable.

In fact, for a people descended from a murderer and other assorted Vikings, Icelandic folks seem to have been pretty laid back for a long time. Take the example of the transition from worship of Odin, Thor, and company, to Christianity. About 1,000 years ago, the question arose whether the islanders should bow to the will of the Norwegian king and convert to Christianity. At the annual assembly of the Althing – the world’s oldest representative assembly, which still meets today – the chieftains opted to entrust the conversion question to Thorgeir Ljosvetningagodi Thorkelsson, then the Lawspeaker. (The Lawspeaker was the fellow who stood on a rock at each Althing and recited a third of the laws each year. In comparison, I used to know a few of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure by heart and mumble “lives in being plus 21” when anyone mentions future interests, which thank God isn’t very frequently. If you’re not a lawyer, don’t worry about that last bit.) Thorgeir retreated under an animal hide for a day and came out to proclaim that Iceland should be Christian, but that people could practice the old religion in private if they wished. No wasteful war of religion for these folks! The one exception was a brief war between Catholic and Lutheran forces around the time of the Reformation. The fighting Lutherans prevailed, in case you’re interested.

Other than that, Iceland has operated pretty much without an army, except when current events dictate otherwise. In the early 1800s, for example, the British threatened to invade Iceland. The target country mustered a few hundred men armed with weapons, including halberds, scrounged up from the Middle Ages. When the Brits finally showed up, Iceland’s supply of gunpowder was so low that the island pretty much bagged its self-defense. Likewise, in 1855, the king tried to organize an army and even gave 280 rixdollars to buy guns (I’m guessing that’s about what we spent on lunch at the mineral springs at the Blue Lagoon), but the army disbanded within a few years due to lack of interest. Before the Brits invaded in WWII, the country almost managed to finish training 60 officers but pretty much failed to put together enlisted men for them to lead. Everyone went home, except the British, and pictures suggest that it was quite a jolly occupation. The only shooting war in Iceland’s recent history was the Cod Wars, which were fought against (who else?) the British in the 1970s. These wars lasted for a total of about 20 months between 1958 and 1976 and focused on fishing rights in waters claimed by Iceland. Apparently a few boats rammed each other, and the occasional potshot rang through the air. Honestly, I’ve see worse at fraternity parties, but I’m sure it was traumatic for all involved.

One catchup note is appropriate here. I earlier referred to the Althing, or the parliament. Interestingly, it used to meet outdoors, in the area where the North American tectonic plate is pulling away from the Eurasian tectonic plate. It’s since moved inside, which seems like a good idea, but I like the imagery of trying to keep a people together in a world that is literally coming apart under your feet. In Icelandic, the assembly is the Alþingi. The letter that looks like a p that could play in the NBA is a thorn. Along with the eth, or ð, it’s a letter pretty much only found in Iceland these days. It all has something to do with Old English and voiced dental fricatives, whatever they may be. I have grim suspicions that it’s related to lives in being plus 21. Suffice it to say that there are lots of ways to write the th sound in Icelandic. My personal favorite is ð, because to me it looks like a 6 that had too much Viking beer, a brand I recommend, and has put its cap on at a tipsy angle and is now headed for home but in the wrong direction. At least it’s not singing “Nights in White Satin,” like a fellow we passed in the street at 7am last Friday. We were going to breakfast; he wasn’t.

Eventually, like our singer and my friend ð, we had to head home. Mary left early on Friday, and we left late. And at the same airport with the puffin head in baggage claim, we took the picture attached to this blog post. In it, I’m roasting in the pot of the trolls Leppalúði and Grýla. (There’s a sign inviting you to do this, I swear!) This duo roasts naughty children. In what is perhaps the first instance of fashion police, their cat eats people who have not received new clothing on Christmas Eve. Their baker’s dozen of sons are known as the 13 Yule Lads. They run around the countryside stealing food, but they make up for it by leaving presents at Christmastime for good children who’ve put shoes on the windowsills. Naughty children get potatoes instead of presents, which is not much to write home about but beats getting roasted by Mom. Just saying!

So now you’ve had a brief introduction to Icelandic humor. It may not be unique to this country; we read in one restaurant that Norway’s first airplane hijacking was settled when the hijacker traded his weapon for more beer. But this country is great, and I hope you now understand why Iceland really is my tomato.

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Irreverent thoughts in Portugal

The original title of this post was going to be “Inappropriate thoughts in Portugal,” But on reflection I decided that some of you might take that places that neither of us wants you to go. Hence, “irreverent.”

As you may know from Facebook, Mark and I recently returned from a short trip to Santiago de Compostela (which, I concede, is in Spain) and Porto, Portugal. We went  because we were invited by two Austin friends, Janice Hazeldine and Mack Brewer. We’d met on a cruise last spring, and reuniting in Porto was a joy. We all landed in Porto at about the same time, grabbed a rental car, and spent one night in an apartment with a lovely view of both the Atlantic and pilgrims walking along the Portuguese leg of the Camino de Santiago.

Our drive the next day to Santiago was scenic and uneventful. I appreciated the happiness of the footsore pilgrims who’d finished their walk. They lounged (and in some cases, napped) in the main square next to the Cathedral, packs turning into pillows and flip flops emerging for what must be the first time in days. My irreverence problem, however, soon manifested itself as we toured the Cathedral. It’s undergoing renovations, so you have to use your imagination to understand what it looks like without the scaffolding and Saran-wrapped incense vessels. There was a line for some attraction, though, which we gamely joined. As we shuffled forward towards some small marble stairs, we were met with a sign telling us what lay ahead. “Embrace the Saint,” it said.

This simple statement sent me off with the fairies, as they say. My first reaction was that this was a Cathedral slogan, an exhortation like Nike’s “Just do it.” But why were we climbing stairs, then? My next thought was that St. James’s body waited at the top, mummified and ready for a hug. Shades of all those Scooby-Doo episodes where the mummy chased the kids around! The crowd behind me prevented any possibility of escape, so forward I went, creepy music filling my head. When I got to the top, I almost laughed when I saw a bust of the saint, facing away from us but apparently open to front-to-back hugs from strangers shuffling by. Mark was standing there a little awkwardly, trying to figure out what to do; his Baptist/Methodist background did not prepare him for this situation. He finally gave the statue a little squeeze on the shoulders and moved on. For a fleeting moment I thought James might be offended by the lack of enthusiasm, so I put my head on his, patted his back, and said, “There, there, everybody likes you,” and turned to leave so that the next, hopefully better-instructed hugger, could get into position.

Once my inner imp was released, there was no putting it back. For example, after we’d returned to Porto and were visiting the very ornate Church of St. Francis, the irreverent thoughts part of my brain went into overdrive. I hasten to add that the church is in overdrive, too. Every surface in this church except the floor is covered in elaborate carvings, gilt and paint, and extremely bedecked statues of everybody and his brother who had anything to do with Porto, the church, St. Francis, and all the other usual suspects. The Virgin Mary was stylin’, as always, in blue robes decorated with jewels. The only three figures who looked kind of underdressed were Jesus, John the Baptist, and, ironically, St. Francis. It occurred to me that I’m not on speaking terms with this saint, since I’m a Protestant, but my overwhelming impression was that Francis would be appalled by this.

My inability to control my irreverence also manifested itself at our next two stops. At the stunning Palacio Bolsa, the old stock exchange building, the poor guide leading our tour was my next target. The problem here was having too much time to think. Because the Palacio only lets you visit with a guide, and the only tour that fit with our tight timetable was completely in Portuguese. I understood roughly three words of the entire spiel. In fact, it’s not clear to me that anyone on our tour spoke Portuguese except the guide. That observation set me to wondering what she was actually saying. Had she twigged to the fact that no one understood her? If so, was her irreverent imp prodding her to include bits like “All of you look like chickens” or “I’m thinking of getting my hair highlighted, but I’m scared that it might turn out like the job on the lady in the yellow shirt who keeps farting.” Really, who would know? And then later at the Cathedral, we beheld a nook containing a Madonna who was holding, of all things, six knives. So what pops into my head? “It’s Our Lady of Cutco!”I actually shared the last indignity I conjured with Mark, although I kept most of the ones discussed above to myself until now.

The next day we took a tour of the Douro River Valley, which has blue, winding rivers, terraced hillsides with grapevines strung in rows, and vistas to knock your socks off. The picture attached to this post may give you some idea. People should honeymoon here at the boutique hotels attached to the wineries.

All in all, it was a terrific day. But we did have a little transportation hiccup, as our minibus overheated as we pulled up in front of the restaurant where we were to have lunch. The timing was excellent, of course, as such things go. We had restrooms, food, and apparently unlimited supplies of local wines. Since lunch lasted longer than scheduled while we waited for minivans to come to our rescue, the consumption of said unlimited supply was truly breathtaking. In fairness, most people just drank to the point where they really didn’t care whether the minivans showed up. This probably helped our poor tour guide, whose schedule had gone to hell, not in a hand basket, but in a radiator. But there were four British young women who finished their wine and then, when everyone else left the lunch tables and ambled outside to rest in the sunshine, decided to finish everybody else’s. Out of the bottles. By the time the minivans arrived to take us to boat tour, our girls were feeling no pain and in the mood for love. They therefore spent the entire boat cruise flirting madly with the only two single guys in their age range, which would have been fine except it was pretty clear that this was a gay couple on a romantic trip of their own. It seemed like a waste of energy to tell our female compatriots that they were barking up the wrong trees, so I decided it was probably good practice for them  – sort of like fencing with covers on the tips of the epees – and let them be.

We did actually make it back to Porto, even though our minivan got lost; I didn’t know you could do that in the day and age of the GPS, but never say never. At first I sort of wondered whether we were being kidnapped by our minivan driver and began furiously making contingency plans about how to escape. Then it occurred to me that one young couple in our van was Israeli, and they’d been talking about how they’d recently completed their mandatory military service. Deciding that they could probably take one slightly bewildered-looking Spanish driver, I relaxed, and we did actually get home. Dinner was at the Majestic Cafe, a 1920s eatery festooned with ornate carvings, chandeliers, and lots of cherubs peeking at you from the ceiling. The food was underwhelming and overpriced, but if you tacked on a service charge of half a Euro per cherub, the valuation came out just about right. And that’s my irreverence for that evening.

In my defense of all these wayward thoughts, I must tell you that the most irreverent moment of this trip was supplied by the tale of a wannabe saint. Cristof – I’m guessing on the spelling – was a long-ago guy who decided to make a pilgrimage from his home in northern Portugal to Jerusalem. He actually made it there and back, but in he’d changed so much in the 14 years he was gone that nobody in the home place recognized him. Duly miffed, or driven out, he betook himself to the picturesque village of Amarante. He did all sorts of good works there, particularly focusing on acting as a Portuguese yenta and finding good husbands for the local girls. (Perhaps the British young women on our tour should take note.) He died, as people do, and his statue was placed in the local church. Cue the single ladies, who decided that rubbing his statue would work as well in the matchmaking department as having a chat with the actual Cristof. Apparently that rubbing worked really well as far as the gone but not forgotten Cristof was concerned, because his statue miraculously, shall we say, displayed his approbation of their touches. This caused no end of grief among the members of the order in charge of the church, who elected to dispatch said statue to an undisclosed location. The story does not record the fate of his anatomical alteration to the statue, but it does have what is a happy ending if you like pastries. The townspeople were not pleased with the statue’s disappearance and took revenge by starting a tradition of baking cookies shaped like male genitalia and selling them next to the church. Our guide told us that nowadays giving one of these cookies to a woman expresses the giver’s love for her, and that for once size matters: the bigger the cookie, the more love shown. Of course I bought a cookie, and I also took a picture. Since this is a family-friendly blog that picture isn’t attached to the post, but I’ll send it to you privately if you want. Just contemplate for a moment that this is all occurring in a village whose name translates as “Before Love” and you’ll get that picture, too.

Oh, the joys of traveling with an in-house imp!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Island girl

One fun thing we are doing here in Spain is learning about the places around us. It’s a truism that you rarely explore the place where you live, but we’re trying to be the exception to the rule.

Some information we’re learning is about specific places in Torrevieja. A longtime resident whom we met last week told us that the local casino (that’s a social club here, not a gambling establishment) was the hangout for the Facist elite during the days of Franco. Apparently the Republicans hung out a few hundred feet away at Bar La Marina. Presumably these opponents made rude gestures at each other across the busy street that separates the two structures. That must have been interesting, but I’m okay with having missed that.

A more genial focus for local lore is Tabarca Island, which we visited last Saturday. The island now has an official population of 68 people, but its terrific beaches, good restaurants, and big bay where boats of all descriptions anchor draw lots of visitors. Parts of the old city wall and gates remain, as well as a tower from the fortifications that Spain’s King Charles III had built in 1760.

Tabarca Island has a twin with the same name near Tunisia, which seems fitting. Our Tabarca was held at different points by Rome, the Kingdom of Genoa, the Bey (ruler) of Tunis, and, finally, Spain. Legend has it that St. Paul visited Tabarca. More unwelcome visitors were pirates from Tunisia, who used the island as a base for raiding shipping in the Mediterranean. These would be pirates of the ilk that the nascent US Marines fought in Tunisia during the Jefferson administration. That campaign, of course, is remembered in the first verse of the Marine Hymn: “From the Halls of Montezuma/To the shores of Tripoli,/We fight our country’s battles/In the air, on land, and sea….”

Tabarca is a peaceful place now, except for the tourists scrambling down rocky paths to the beaches and crowding into the souvenir shops to buy one last T-shirt before boarding the ferry back to the mainland. And it has a few small neighbor islands that are uninhabited by people but which form parts of a large marine (little m this time) reserve. But mostly Tabarca has its beaches and small town with narrow streets and overhangs of bougainvillea. It’s lovely.

And while we’re on the subject of islands, it’s worth noting that we now live on what used to be an island. Mark and I found a map of our area in Roman times, and the coastline extended much further inland than it does now. Torrevieja was an island on the edge of a shallow bay. So I guess I really am an Island Girl!

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Flowers without roots

img_2068People often ask what Mark and I do with our days here in Torrevieja. It’s a fair question; in an earlier incarnation, both of us would have been madly busy, practicing law and taking care of our then four-person, multi-feline household. Lawyering days are behind us now, and our household is smaller and quieter. Sometimes, subtly or not, the question is really whether we’re bored yet. The short answer is no. So if that’s all you wanted to know, you are liberated from reading further. If you want an executive summary, here goes: we do the usual stuff that people do to stay alive, and then we have fun (except when we have fun beforehand). If you want the EP version, as well as an explanation of the title, keep going.

Of course, we are often not in Torrevieja. You may have read some of the posts here about our encounters with planes, trains, and automobiles, so a recap of where we’ve been seems unnecessary. I’ve learned a lot by and about traveling this year, including the ubiquity of Circle K stores and how lovely it would be if people walking in airports came with brake lights. So few people use turn signals on highways that I won’t even bother wishing for them.

But what do we do when we’re not traveling, getting ready to travel, or recuperating from travel, i.e., washing suitcasefuls of clothes. The answer, I’m afraid, is terribly pedestrian.

We live much as we did in Austin, although with a different cast of characters and some Spanish twists. Consider, for example, grocery shopping. On Fridays, we do go to a market with hundreds of stalls where we buy a lot of produce for the upcoming week. That’s different. But we for most items we go to a local grocery store. I don’t shop every day, but a couple of times a week I grab my trolley (the kind that’s like a shopping bag on wheels, not the Mr. Rodgers variety) and walk the few blocks to Manper. Admittedly, the tortillas I buy are frittatas, although you can purchase Mexican tortillas there as well if you’re hungry for tacos. But normally the Manper list includes exotica like bread, eggs, milk, and cereal. I pay with my credit card, which I tap on the screen of the handheld payment device, and murmur my thanks to the checker. My path runs along the seaside promenade, so the Mediterranean keeps me company while I pull my trolley home.

So we shop and clean and cook and run errands, just like everyone we know here and in the USA. But we also have a lot of fun. We’re attending a lovely Church of England congregation, and we see friends from there at Sunday services and Tuesday morning Bible study. I’ve talked about the expat organization, the U3A, which hosts lots of enjoyable activities. We go to its Thursday coffee at a local bar, and I belong to a monthly book group. Mark has joined a local choir. We see friends for coffee, drinks, or meals. We’re going to the symphony in October with another couple- Mendelssohn and Beethoven, how great is that? – and we’ve joined a Thursday night Spanish/English language exchange group that also gets together for dinners and weekend events. We did go to a meet up at a local bar last Saturday, although the fact that everyone else in the group smoked and that a woman dropped dead in the bar about halfway through the evening made that experience less than optimal (especially for the poor woman, God rest her soul).

So groups are fun and provide a good way to meet people. But Mark and I have individual hobbies as well. Mark plays the guitar, for example. I am the happy beneficiary of many lovely serenades. For me, reading is a lifelong passion. My first book love was and is detective fiction, but lately historical fiction has loomed large on my to-be-read list (which is roughly the length of Santa’s naughty-and-nice list). Some of these books are ones we shipped, but many are checked out electronically  from libraries in the USA. So I’m current on Maisie Dobbs, Sebastian St. Cyr, Lady Sherlock, and Guido Brunetti. I’m reading the new Brooklyn Wainwright and am in the queue for Armand Gamache. Life is good!

One other thing I like to do, though, has been a little more challenging here. In the USA, tending to plants has been a hobby since college. It all started with little smudges of greenery in tiny pots propped precariously on my half of the dorm room windowsill at the University of Texas at Austin. As my living spaces grew bigger, my plant collection did, too, until in our big family house in Austin I had a miniature jungle in our living room and more on the back deck. But now I’m back to a select few in painted pots on the balcony. I bought a rosemary, which is blooming happy purple flowers at me, and a Sansevieria trifasciata, aka mother in law’s tongue. But I also picked up a couple of bits of a succulent that grows along the edges of the beach, rooted them in water, and planted them; they seem happy with the arrangement, and I admit to a special fondness for plants that just show up in my life.

That brings me (finally, some may be saying) to the title of this post. I found a couple of orphan cuttings on the street about a week ago and tucked them into the grocery trolley described above. It’s a variety of spiderwort called purple heart. Like us, it’s a long way from home, being native to the Gulf Coast region of eastern Mexico. I’ve given it the benefit of my vast horticultural expertise, which is to say I put the stems in a glass of water. They seem happy and make these lovely little pinkish flowers that open in the morning and shut themselves up for sleep overnight. Tiny white threads are poking up delicately from the leaves and stretching towards the sunshine. But no roots are appearing at the bottoms of the stems. So here’s the question: how can you have flowers without roots?

I don’t know how, and yet obviously it’s possible. This situation reminds me of Mark Twain’s reply to the woman who asked him whether he believed in infant baptism; he’s reported to have responded, “Believe in it? Madam, I’ve seen it!” Maybe, in fact, my Mark and I are doing precisely the same thing. Our roots are in the USA, in Texas.  Being American is in our DNA. But right now we’re here, in the water, and we’re living a great life. Our happiness and contentment are our flowers, and our rest at night is peaceful. Maybe roots will come later. I don’t know that, either. But for now, our life in our glass, in Torrevieja, is a very happy one.

So come visit us! 😉

 

 

Granada and grace

The Alhambra, in Granada, is one of my favorite places in the world. In fact, I’m sufficiently crazy about it that selecting one picture to accompany this post was quite frustrating. Should it be a long shot of the impressive stone walls? After all, Moorish poets called this hilltop complex of fort, castle, and garden “a pearl amid emeralds” because of the walls rising out of the surrounding forest. Or should it be a shot of the Generalife, or main garden, with its roses and honeysuckle in their sweet-smelling September bloom? Or how about a close-up of some of the elaborate tracery with designs intertwining geometric shapes, stylized stalactites (recalling the cave where Muslims believe the Angel Gabriel dictated the Koran to Mohammed), and the repeated injunction in swooping Arabic letters that God alone is victorious? What a tough decision!

Ultimately, as you see, I opted for a shot of one of the many interior courtyard gardens. Although the Moors constructed a small fortress on top of Roman ruins in 889 CE, rulers from the Nasrid dynasty in the 12th and 13th centuries added palaces such as the one you see in the background, interspersed with the sort of walled garden in the picture. Each garden mirrors the Islamic vision of Paradise, with both sunny and shady areas, water that creates a steady, soothing, trickling sound, and flowers and trees to delight the eye and the nose. The Arabs were very aware of the importance of smells. Niches near royal presence chambers in the Alhambra used to hold fine jars of water and perfume for guests to use before approaching the rulers seated inside. And in fact, the Arabs brought the ubiquitous orange trees to Spain for their fragrance, not their fruit. We have a reminder of this fact in the contrast between the bitter taste and the sweet smell of the orange trees that line many Spanish streets.

But beyond the beauty of architecture and flora is the romance of the Alhambra. Even when you’re jostling (or being jostled by) interminable Asian tour groups or are stuck behind large German tourists who can’t figure out their cameras and therefore take forever to get a picture, very little imagination is required to see the romance in the Alhambra. Can’t you see it? Delicate fingers of bored wives or concubines trailed through the waters of the fountains. Small, energetic children of those women played long-ago versions of chase and tag among the columns and shadows, with indulgent but watchful nannies sitting nearby in a knot, gossiping. Surely as you turn around to snap a quick 21st century picture of an especially lovely archway, the sun glints off the brocaded tail of a colorful, gilt-threaded robe which disappears beyond a piece of tracery, and the back of a soft slipper on the pavement is momentarily visible as you hit the button, too late, on your iPhone. And the gentle breezes must carry the remains of the last sigh uttered by Boabdil, the Muslim ruler whose cession of the Alhambra to Their Most Catholic Majesties Ferdinand and Isabella completed the Reconquista of Spain. A turn of his head to see one final time the home of his ancestors, now fallen into infidel hands, and a small breath of sadness and remembrance – surely those still waft in this air across the centuries.

So, as I told Mark after last week’s tour of this magical place, we’re incredibly lucky to have the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see this. We’d come with our old and dear friends, Holly and Ward Cooper, who kindly included us in their itinerary during their trip to Spain. Our amazing travel agent and even more amazing friend, Sally Watkins, had arranged a wonderful tour guide to take us through the Alhambra. Mark mostly agreed with me, but did have one question about my burst of gratitude. “Is it a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he queried, “since this is the second time we’ve been here? We were here in 2012, after all.”

That’s a fair question. And an even better question is, how on earth did we get so lucky to see the Alhambra (twice), to live in the USA and in Spain, to live the life we have? We just celebrated 34 years of incredibly happy marriage and have the two best daughters and the best son-in-law on the planet. Friends abound, here in Spain and in the USA. Books, music, travel, food, and wine are at our fingertips. As I’m writing this post, Mark and I are sitting on our balcony, sipping red wine, chatting, and watching the pinks of sunset soften the achingly blue sky over the Mediterranean. I repeat: How on earth did we get so lucky?

Friends, a trigger warning is appropriate here. Please don’t say we deserve it, because this kind of talk drives me crazy and is clearly not true. Nothing I’ve done, or Mark’s done (and he’s a pretty swell guy), or we’ve done together merits this much good fortune. Please also don’t say God has chosen to bless us. The God I know loves each child with absolute tenderness, ferocity, and generosity. If we deserve this, so does everyone. And yet such a meager few get even a fraction of what we live each day.

The only glimmer of an answer that I have relates to a conversation Mark and I had last night on this selfsame balcony, drinking wine just as we do most evenings. Ingrates that we are, we were noting that our life is, in fact, not perfect. The complaint du jour involved the perception, shared by us both, that our spiritual journeys seem to have stalled. In Austin, our beloved First United Methodist Church provides an abundance of opportunities to grow in spirit. Study groups have challenged us to see the shortcomings in our society and in ourselves. Volunteer opportunities have opened our eyes to injustice in God’s world. Preaching has moved us to take action, to organize, to march. But here, although we’ve found a dear Church of England congregation that has provided a lovely worship experience and much-needed friendships, we’ve not found spiritual challenges of the type we knew in Austin.

So we were talking about this yesterday evening, watching the sunset and being awed by the beauty around us. And I told Mark that the only thing I can see in spiritual growth so far here is that we’re being asked to accept more than we deserve. Both of us were the bright kids in the classroom and in the law firm, and we’ve lived and breathed meritocracy since we were precocious babies that our mothers bragged about. So even though we have paid lip service to the idea of grace for lo these many years, maybe we deep down suspected that we did, in fact, earn what was coming our way. But even I can’t delude myself into thinking that I’ve earned the truly excessive wonderfulness – if that wasn’t a word before, I declare that is now – of our present life. So perhaps the growth that is asked of us is to learn about the ridiculously excessive and abundant and overflowing grace that God gives us. It is preparation for paradise, which I sincerely hope is completely lousy with gardens and fountains and courtyards where we all hang out together through eternity. Talk about wanting more than you deserve! And yet here it is – in the words of Methodist liturgy, “more than we can dare hope or imagine.”

And all I can say to that is, amen and amen. And pass the wine.

 

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Banksy, my grandmother, and St. Mary’s Redcliffe

I’m writing this post in Bristol, the last stop on our three-week, 14-country marathon vacation. Bristol is a nice city; we saw John Wesley’s chapel here, took a harbor cruise, and saw a recreation of the unbelievably tiny boat that took Giovanni Caboto (who was called John Cabot by his British crew that just couldn’t get their heads or tongues around Italian) from here to Newfoundland in 1497. We’ve also had some really good beer and a dressy version of a grilled cheese sandwich and chutney that makes my tummy rumble happily in remembrance.

Another sort of remembrance is available here as well. We’ve seen a more contemporary side of Bristol, with its street art by Banksy. The artist is from here, and although some cities have painted over his work, Bristol displays them with pride. The city thus honors and recalls a person who literally made a mark on it.

It’s funny how we remember people, and those memories are very powerful. For example, take my relationship with money. I grew up in a family that was always extremely tight-fisted. This attitude may have come from my parents’ living through the Depression, or perhaps because my father’s parents, who were very present in our lives, grew up dirt poor. In any event, we begrudged even the most essential of expenditures and lived in fear that there would not be enough. Two things in my childhood started me on the road to a different relationship with money. One was when I discovered that you could actually BUY the books you wanted but that the library didn’t have. It quickly became clear that, faced with a choice between books and saving for a rainy day, I was choosing Door Number 2 most of the time.

The second reason for my deviation from the family money path was a conversation I overheard when my paternal grandmother died. We were at my grandparents’ apartment, sitting with my grandfather as he received guests stopping by to tender their condolences. I was at their big dining table, eating turnip casserole that someone had brought (bleah, – really, who sends turnips as a balm for grief?!) and listening to ladies from her circle at the Methodist church reminiscing about their departed friend. “She was always so sensible,” one lady with the blue hair so popular with the clients frequenting Lucille’s Coiffures in Beaumont. “Someone would suggest a new program at the church, and she would say, ‘Heavens, no, we can’t afford that!’” Even at the tender age of eight, I thought that this was about the most miserable epitaph ever and resolved to be different.

This idea of miserable remembrances puts me in mind of the pictured church, St. Mary’s Redcliffe. It’s one of many lovely churches we’ve seen this trip. The others include the Church in the Rock in Helsinki, which was hewn literally down into a rock and feels womb like and peaceful. Then there was the ornate Russian Orthodox Church of the Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg, built to commemorate the assassination of Czar Alexander and serving now as the resting place of his ill-fated successor, Czar Nicholas, and Nicholas’s family. We’ve seen Lutheran cathedrals, which I didn’t know existed, and the cathedral in Rouen associated with the equally unlucky Joan of Arc. On a happier note, we admired Bath Abbey, its two stone ladders on the facade being employed by angels busy on errands between Heaven and Earth. (Why angels with wings need a ladder remains a mystery to me.)

St. Mary’s Redcliffe here in Bristol (pictured) is different, though. On some level, it’s just another old English church with an elaborate facade in what was once the neighborhood of wealthy merchants so common in port cities. But what’s different is that these merchants made much of the fortunes that built this church and its prosperous neighborhood from the slave trade. Cargoes of human misery poured into Bristol harbor and were sold into God knows what dreadful fates for God knows how much glittering gold. Today the commentaries on St. Mary’s note that one of the church’s most memorable moments came when William Wilberforce’s anti-slavery legislation in Parliament was defeated. The church bells rang for joy, celebrating the status quo of lucre and lost lives. What a way to be remembered.

So as our trip draws to a close, I’m remembering our great happiness over the course of this holiday and thinking of how I’d like to be remembered. People will say I was smart, of course. That’s always been my schtick; in elementary school, I routinely got Valentines labelled “For my teacher,” because those boxes of flimsy paper valentines always had two teacher ones, and if you had a big class you had to pick a classmate to give one of them to. But I hope that I will be remembered as having been, at least on occasion, kind and generous and fierce and loyal. I hope I will be remembered as hungry for knowledge, for love, and for justice. This IS NOT a bid for kind friends to post sweet comments about yours truly; my ego’s fine, thanks. It’s a reminder to me – and maybe to you – that what we do each day creates the memories we leave behind. May they be the ones we want.

 

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