Monday, December 23, 2013

Mulled Wine, Crêpes, Ice-Skating, Etc.

Vito getting the hang of it.
Saturday evening, driving back from Alberobello with friends after mulled wine, crêpes and ice-skating, I realized that I didn’t know what day it was. As we were driving through town and noticing all of the people on the streets, I said I wanted a beer, and we stopped at Bar Central where I picked up a couple Franzishkaner’s to take home. I had lost track of how many days we’d been in Putignano. I’m relying on Angela for all of that. Italy is her domain. With no phone or regular internet access, it’s nice to feel so removed.

We’re on vacation, staying with Angela’s mother and celebrating through New Year’s Day. It’s cold outside, but nice in the sun when it’s out. It hasn’t rained or snowed. Still, even though we aren't traveling—we aren't moving around the country—our days have been full. We’ve been busy: we ate pizza one night at our favorite pizza parlor, Premiata Pizzeria; watched one nephew participate in his soccer practice; attended classic ballet and modern dance performances by two of our nieces; went to church for the Novena one evening to watch my sister-in-law's family bring the offering up to the altar; wandered the streets of the centro storico, the old part of town, to look at the many different nativity scenes that were on display, many of them taking up entire rooms; and we went to see Angela's old elementary school's "live" nativity in which the entire school was decorated and, in each classroom, children depicted life as it used to be in olden times. We even found time to do a little shopping.

The whole family came over for lunch yesterday. That is a sure sign that it's Sunday. I know there’s a birthday party in our near future, and Christmas and New Year's Eve meals are coming up soon, but I’ll check with Angela to make sure everything’s on schedule for Santa and whatnot. Anyway, when all's said and done, she’ll get us on a plane back to Doha when the time is right.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Chapbook: Blowing Smoke Through Screens

Last year, I found this old chapbook that I had designed when I was living in Beijing, China. I wanted to post it before the Winter holiday, but the task escaped me. Anyway, for posterity...

This format is a little different than my other e-books, and I think I will convert all of them to a similar format in time.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Christmas Carols in the Compound

When living abroad, the holidays make for some awkward occasions. We look for people who celebrate like us and activities that remind us of our home cultures. I'm sure other expatriates have similar desires. Our Thanksgiving celebration last month struck me in a peculiar manner this year when I was looking around and observing that most of our guests were not American; however, it didn't feel tainted. We had turkey! It is just not easy to recreate the traditions that we grew up with in our home countries, but we try. I suppose we're making new traditions, as well.

A few years ago, when we were first cutting our teeth in Doha, a German family that had befriended us and was leaving unexpectedly gave us their Christmas tree. We hadn't planned on purchasing one, especially as we were leaving almost two weeks before the holiday, but Vito and I were excited about it. Angela less so. She viewed it as another mess in the making. Bah, humbug! Still, after putting together the tree, stringing colored lights on the branches and adorning it with ornaments, it brightened up the apartment considerably and brought a little festive cheer into what was then an otherwise drab abode.

Now, approaching our third Christmas in the Q, decorating the tree has become a ritual to instill a bit of Christmas spirit. I like to immerse myself in it, too, by playing Christmas music in both the car and apartment. My mom always used to play Christmas music, and I suppose that I have adopted that tradition. Vito enjoys the Christmas music, also, perhaps, taking after his father, and, this year, he is particulary fond of "Jingle Bells" by Fats Domino.

I don't think Mr. Domino would be too pleased about the representation in the video, but that is a topic for another discussion...

But getting back to carols, singing echoed in the stairwell of our building tonight. While we were getting ready for bed, Vito asked me about the music that we could hear from his bedroom. One of our neighbors is a pianist, and he had, apparently, invited his friends over for a round of carolling. I was happy to explain to Vito that people in America would sometimes get together during the holidays, and sing Christmas carols to their neighbors. That may never happen here, but it was a nice surprise and it reminded me of home.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Reflecting the End of the Semester

It was exciting to arrive at work this morning, the second day of final exams, to see groups of my students taking their last-minute looks at the material before our literature final: books open, notes in hand, conversing with one another. After a semester of hard work, the hallway was still intimate with scholarly buzz and bustle ahead of the last push.

"Wow!" I began. "It's nice to see everyone cramming for their finals at the last minute."

"Good morning, Mr. Bob," called a particularly social student as I passed. A group of familiar faces were seated around a couple of sunny tables in the hallway. "Look at my best friend," the student said, pointing in the direction I was walking. I noticed the student immediately. He was wearing neither the ghotra nor the thobe that he had worn the entire semester, and he looked different in Western clothes.

"Hi, best friend," I said, grinning, and everyone broke into laughter. "You look skinnier." The student smiled broadly and squirmed a little uncomfortably on his cushion, and then everyone seemed to be talking at once. "See you guys later."

Their chatter faded as I continued down the hallway. I turned left, and found another student at a table all alone, but obviously reviewing the same material. "You found a nice quiet place here."

"I'm ready," the student commented with a smile, "but I'm just checking a few things."

"Good luck!"

I didn't stop and continued up the stairs to my office. I had to read e-mail and get all of my materials together for the final at 8:30AM. There seemed to be a comparable amount of activity among my colleagues who, now that we were on the same schedule to accomodate our final exams, were all getting ready at the same time. There was a minor complexity when I noticed that I did not have enough copies, but that was rectified without any further delay and no one missed a beat.

That's the extent of it. I just noticed the laughter and the sense of accomplishment. Do I need to write something more profound?