Monday, December 28, 2009

God Rest ye, Merry Gentlemen. Actually, scrap the God bit.

My favourite illustration of secular, liberal, anything-you-want-is-valid Seattle has to be Christmas Eve 2004. Dave and I, along with friends, attended a fantastic nighttime carol service in the ecumenical cathedral up on Capitol Hill , where (carol lyrics aside) there was absolutely no mention of, you know, God. We had dinner first in one of our favourite places and then toddled up the hill for the singing.

At a minute to midnight, the choir struck up "O Come, All Ye Faithful" and those non-believers amongst the carolers filed out as the more-worshipful congregation filed in, everyone singing and wishing each other well. It was a brilliant phenomenon and one of those Only In America moments: celebrate Christmas in a cathedral without acknowledging the birth of Christ.

The carol service was full of ceremony and anticipation. There were no mutters of "damn tourist Christians" from the true-believers because they weren't there whilst we were belting out the carols; and then those of us who were primarily there for the singing were safely out of the way for the "proper" religious bits.

Spending this Christmas in Ireland, where you opt out of religion rather than opting in, it struck me again how cool that cathedral service had been. All the sense of community with nobody pretending.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Like drinking mojitos in Cuba, but more festive, and with way more swearing

One of the random benefits of all this accidental expat living is that, from time to time, you get to experience the kind of thing that seems like it must have been made up for tourists, except that no tourists are within a 15-mile radius. At a trade fair in Anchorage one February (ever want to see the ocean frozen over? Alaska in February's a decent bet for that), I became entranced by an old man in a coat made from a bear he'd shot and killed himself. The man wasn't that entrancing, nor is the fact that he'd shot the bear, per se. It was more that, you know, how often in your life are you ever going to meet a bear hunter, let alone one dressed for the sub-zero temperatures in a little number he'd skinned himself? I couldn't stop stroking it (the COAT, you filthy people), much to the appalled amusement of lovely Austin, my coworker and beloved pal.

Last Friday I had a similar experience. It didn't involve culturally-appropriate clothing - no cloaks of finest peat for the Irish - but it was one of those things that had extra significance for happening in Ireland. As I put it on Twitter, I discovered that the actual Irish national anthem is, in fact, this song:

I was in a cheesy club with some of my favourite people on this tiny island. It was the early hours and, as they say here in a gloriously euphemistic manner, there had been drink taken. In other words, the entire place was full of rat-arsed Irishfolk holding each other up as they brought the place down. Right towards the end of the night, on came the Pogues (not literally, though that would have been an even better story). Every. Single. Person. in the room suddenly pulled themselves together, stood upright as if at Mass, and burst into pitch-perfect, declamatory, Shane-McGowan-style-swaying song. It made me beam, and beam, and beam some more. OK, so most people know some part of this song, but to be in an entire room of locals all belting it out as though Christmas depended on it; that was something I had no idea would happen.

It gives me goosebumps and makes me giggle every time I think about it, and we've had the song on permanent repeat at home this week to make sure our resident Irish toddler is word-perfect before he's found out as an imposter.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas

A picture today. I popped out yesterday afternoon to the hairdresser, and when I walked home, dusk was settling in. I came through the gate to our driveway and saw Christmas waiting for me. Dave and the boys had put our tree up in the bay window. It wasn't decorated yet; they were waiting for me to return; but it was there, standing sentry, telling me "hurry, hurry" (I just mistyped that twice as "hurray, hurray", which is about right too).

As I drew closer, I could see Dave at the piano, playing Christmas carols. Jonah was standing next to him singing his little heart out - that's how I knew they were carols. Lucas was dancing in the middle of the room, spinning around. Every now and again he toppled over, giggling, then bounced back up. During one of these bounces he spotted me at the window and barged into the tree to get closer and wave. His little face lit up just like the tree would be a few minutes later and I could hear "Mama! Mama!" over the top of the carols and the caterwauling.

It was one of those moments of total happiness, and it felt utterly timeless, too. Families are the best.


Jonah topped off the full sentiment of the season by flinging the door open, assessing my coiffure, and saying "Mummy! I LOVE your Santa hair!". Ho bloody ho.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Far better than a kick in the two front teeth

I'm borrowing (huh! copying) this one from Emma at Belgian Waffling, who got it from Katyboo. Both their lists are glorious. I started to comment chez Emma and then figured I'd better just bring it over here and give the damn thing some space.

So here, in no particular order, is my fantasy Christmas list:

1. For someone to invent chocolate that works along the same lines as celery. No, not stringy and tasteless, that would be awful. What I'm after is chocolate that causes you to lose weight, in the way that celery does (allegedly) if you eat enough of it. I'm never, ever, going to try with celery but chocolate? I'd be right there.

2. A switch (probably just under my right ear) that would deactivate the "faff" mode in my brain. Sweet Jesus, I would be a millionaire, a Pullitzer-winning author and a prize athlete by June if that switch just existed. Thing is, it doesn't.

3. Perspective. I'd kill for the ability to stand back from my life and see that everything makes sense, even when it doesn't, rather than living with my nose pressed up to the glass the whole time.
There's a quote by Jose Ortega y Gasset which basically points out that looking into the distance and looking at what's in front of you are mutually exclusive, to which I say: bollocks. Surely Santa, if not Jim, can fix it for me?
This seems to be a perennial end-of-decade wish for me - even at 8, I was such a nerdy kid I probably wanted perspective. Really I think it's about being nosy and wanting to know how things turn out, as well as needing reassurance.

4. Bravery. Not the saving-babies-from-burning-buildings kind, but the common-or-garden, stop-being-careful-about-what-you-wish-for-and-go-out-and-there-and-do-it-dammit, kind. I'm so pathetically risk-averse that I can't even steal a teaspoon without replacing it with one from home (true story). There's an awful lot of room between "A teaspoon will land me in jail" and "I will rescue this child..." etc, and next year, I intend to inch my way along the gap. As long as we're not perched up in the air.

We'll see. Some of them, at least, I ought to be able to find. And they won't require wrapping, which is great because I bloody hate wrapping (it requires the same genes as baking; the patience and order genes, and I possess neither).