1) I'm reading Thanksgiving recipes off the Web with my mom. There's a dish from each state listed in a charming little section of the NYtimes and I've been glancing at it for the last couple weeks. The first holiday practice I let myself begin.
We don't have too many rituals in the house anymore. Kids gather other places, kids have kids of their own, those kids could have kids if they felt like it. Mom doesn't automatically make cookies, the sparse but inevitable trails of xmas lights and ornaments that found their ways to doorknobs or shelves or the dining room table live elsewhere now.
Persimmon pie. From Indiana. I know what a persimmon is but I didn't know Indiana had them. I read the recipe again this time along with my mother and "Bowing down trees and gathering the sunset in their skins." I don't remember having read that at all. Such a gorgeous sentence. Granting a little beauty to a state I otherwise sequester among my files on white supremacy and college basketball. I remember that Deena had entered her first pie contest as an 18 year old bride and over the ensuing four decades won many times and now serves as a judge. That stayed with me but not……"….gathering the sunset among them.." Why?
I pulled a book off my shelves to read last week. "In Siberia" by and English guy who basically threw himself into the towns of deep Russia and waited for someone to take him in. 240 pages and in the final chapter I realized I knew it almost scene by scene. Id read it before. I read the entire book and didn't know it till the end. Should I be happy? Imagine reading Romeo and Juliet or Brideshead Revisited or Atonement all over again without a clue.
Or should I be pissed my memory is such shit?
2) And away went Thanksgiving and on came Christmas and now it's done and Im in Spain watching hordes of people walk past these things called Belen - nativity displays put up by every church, chapel and town hall- and I can't imagine what moves them to do so.
Very odd arriving in a foreign country the day after xmas and beside the shopping not being able to discern what's a holiday decoration and what's not, is that an xmas song in Spanish or is it just some folk tune. The sun's shining, it's 55 degrees, there's not a lot of red and green- xmas got turned off with an international switch.
And I felt like I'd been so ahead of the game, so prescient - stopping myself in early December and taking some xmas time to check out a display or two- trying to let it happen so I wouldn't be slammed by all the nostalgia I had to fit in later. Sitting casually in a bar or a cafe and watching other people do their holiday rounds- having a drink before 4 or eating a piece of cake to "indulge" now that my tastebuds are going thru menopause. Went to see the trees in the Carnegie. Went to the Nationality rooms at Pitt, opened my advent windows slowly, pulled out some decor in the apt and played some music. Had half my presents already lined up, had wrapping paper and stamps and even some stupid little return address stickers with Rudolph characters on them ready to roll, donned a red and white scarf that's from a soccer team in Bilbao but reads xmas in the states- I really felt like I was beating the wave to the shore.
And then here I am washed up in Andalusia listening to a young Jewish girl tell me about the Sephardim of Granada and how she's one of 30 families - the only new or returned Jews in a city of quarter million.
Ho ho ho.
What of xmas 2014 will I remember? What of the walk I took today thru the hills and Venetian alleys of Granada? I watched the last of the sunset wash up onto the peaks of the Sierra Nevada. The snow above the trees above the Alhambra above the house in front of me- 50 miles of perspective layered into a pink glow. And is there anyone looking back the other way? Some last climber, some skier peaking around the corner of a porch bar at the city two valleys away?
What of that will I remember ...and things like it that happened today and took my breath away? At one point I stopped and said the same to myself - "How amazing is this thing before me, this day. Will I recall it?" and I thought and I think now, that it doesn't matter. I was there, I was that guy that day's "me" seeing it happen, feeling it, having it pass thru me and if I can replay it or if I cannot, it does not matter.
What's the other end of that urge? That all that we experience "adds up"? That we should record that process in a ledger of memory, collate it and call it growth? Write a diary for more hours than we live and play?
Maybe the best thing that happens to me when I travel is I get depressed. I get despondent. Im alone, I can't speak the language, I hate that I didn't work on it enough to do so, Im lost, Im hungry, Im nervous about being an illiterate american ordering food, Im searching and I don't know what the Hell for.
And then it lifts. And for no reason whatsoever. I'm still hungry, I might still be lost but I know where I am, Im surrounded by the soft little miracle of normality elsewhere, I can't get enough of listening to people chatter in the glorious varieties of Spanish, I laugh at my own pidgin, and I find pretty much every couple of streets something I must have been looking for.
And whats really weird is, when I go home sometimes….sometimes …the same thing happens…smack in the middle of the city I know as well as anyone alive, right among my many demons and habits and conditioned responses I find a clear space Ive never felt or seen before.
And back to the contrary- I find myself up on a terrazzo staring out at a Moorish castle with no equal on earth in front of mountains so striking they make me laugh and somebody greets someone beside me and although they're doing so in a language where the word for "left" still makes me whisper it in wonder, I know they're just two guys saying hi like two dudes in the states would on any average day.
And for that I'd cross an ocean.
If travel doesn't change you then maybe re-examine what "change" means. To you.
The traveler changes his skies but never his condition?
What's it suppose to do? Only let you down? Re affirm returning?
Hell the more I go the more I forget what I own or what Ive bought thats sitting back at home. If I get depressed out here it's simply in the face of what I can't run from. Pleased to meet me.
Breathe in the mt air rushing down the Sierra Nevada into the heart of this little city and ramble on.