Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Auld Aquaintances

The bare walls act as an amplifier to the sound of my footfalls which echo through the empty house. My hands are full. Slowly I climb the steep wooden stairs to the attic and push gently on the door with my foot. I duck beneath the sloped ceiling and walk to the center of the room. I set my boxes down on the thick wooden floorboards. Dust fills my nose, causing me to sneeze once, twice, three times before I finally get used to it. I set down my parcels and now I breath deep. The smell of ages is prevalent here.
The musty gloom of the dark room is broken by the bright light from my flashlight as it falls on the many cardboard boxes and solid wooden chests that fill the room. Some have been stored here recently while others have thick layers of dust on them. These have lay undisturbed for a long time. The small box that contains my maternal grandfather's Cream of Wheat box shows where my fingertips grazed over it in November after Jenna informed me that she loved the stuff. The envelope containing my papers from my teaching morning at Bryantville Elementary School has been opened and set aside for further reading. For now they sit on my NEU transcript and my interview at Harvard. The box of Mom's Christmas ornaments has been set aside, waiting for the tree to be taken down and for each and every special ornament to be returned to its rightful place.
On the wall I see my "Silver Lake Lakers" pennant that has hung here proudly since 1983 and waved once more during my high school reunion. Beneath it is my yearbook; the physical representation of the shadows that I found in the faces of my aged classmates there.
I turn and bend down to the oversize box that contains Jenna's stuffed animals and the memory of Nana as she gave her great-granddaughter the giant stuffed lion to bring home one day. The lion was bigger than Jenna was at the time. I'm not sure whose eyes shone brighter - Nana's or Jenna's - as Jenna struggled to walk out the front door on Watson Road with her new prize. Next to this box is the glass case that carries within it Nana's stroke and its brutal aftermath. The cracks in it run deep and I usually leave this case alone. This season I gently dusted it off and looked inside for awhile.
On the shelf next to a bookcase I see the car keys to my 1972 Plymouth Belvedere laying there as they have for the last two decades. However, they were moved a bit when Jenna first took my car keys and drove the SAAB for the first time. Next to these car keys is a picture of my friend Nick, who truly became my friend when we attended Drivers Ed together back in 1982.
My gaze automatically wanders to the photos that line the wall. Some are crisp and new, because I view these pictures often. Others are old and faded, a reminder of friends who are now acquaintances at best. Their friendships lay somewhere in these boxes, too.
I look for an empty spot among the many, many boxes, chests and containers that are stacked throughout the room. I find a small spot that is clear of clutter and move my cargo to it. Here I stack the boxes full of seven years together, Sweet Sixteen, nephews and nieces and my new sister-in-law.
Next to these boxes I put a toboggan, river rapids, a syrup container from the Sugar House and moments of quiet majesty; all from Vermont.
On the nearby bookshelf I place my copies of "Desolation Island", "In Cold Blood", "Hornblower and the Hotspur", "Into the Wild", "A Team of Rivals" and "Watership Down".
On the wall I mount a picture of Jenn and Christoph, who came along unexpectedly but were no less welcome for it. I also place a picture of my friend Maura, once lost, now found again. I smile and thank her for reminding me what I was like before I became "me" and for remembering me fondly, anyway.
The setting sunlight falls through the window at the far end of the attic, illuminating the shadow of paw prints from Malcolm and Callie as they chase Doyle through the house. I let my fingers fall upon India's collar and remember my sweet old cranky cat. A tear falls unbidden to the dust that swirls at my feet.
Finally, I place a picture of President-Elect Obama inside a box labeled "Hope".
Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

All is Calm

The congregation was bathed in candlelight as we began to sing "Silent Night." Voices were off-key and at different volumes. Some were loud; others were tentative as everyone tried to wrap their voices around this beautiful Christmas song.
There, among the members of the Thomas Parker Unitarian Church of West Roxbury, I was reminded of the simplicity and the depth of the holiday. Here, among people who were each following their own religious path, I saw the simple truth. We are here together in celebration and the birth of Christ brought us here.
Now, I am not here to debate the religious implications of Jesus Christ. It is enough for the moment that we believe that two thousand years ago a man named Jesus walked the earth and preached peace. This message of hope has resonated down through the centuries as the peal of a great bell that vibrates within us even today. Especially today. For the bell always tolls loudest on this day.
So I stand with my fellow travelers and raise my voice in song, embracing the moment and remembering the first time that I ever fully understood the simple truth of the holiday.
Thank you, Linus.
Merry Christmas to all.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Now Why the Hell are they Blinking?

A very dear friend of mine dropped a bombshell on me last night: She has never - EVER - heard "The Twelve Pains of Christmas."
I was incredulous.
How is this possible?
I asked her to give me the address of the cave she has been living for the past twenty years so I could check out this historical landmark.
Determined to rectify the cosmic injustice of this fact, I told her that I would go on Youtube tomorrow and find the "The Twelve Pains of Christmas" for her listening enjoyment. Youtube did me one better.
I now present "The Twelve Pains of Christmas with Doctor Who!"
It's a Christmas miracle!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Baby, It's Cold Outside

My back protested as I heaved a shovelful of wet snow over my shoulder once more. Not counting the Blizzard of '78 I can't remember the last time that I saw this much continuous snowfall. I, like the rest of New England, had been shoveling for two days, trying to stay ahead of the accumulating mess. I love a good snowstorm but enough is enough. I had decided that if I heard any carolers singing "Let it Snow!Let it Snow!Let it Snow!" then I was going to punch them in the face.
Now the driveway was clear once more. I was cold but I no longer cared. This was a job well done. As I watched the snow fall I was humming my new favorite Christmas song.
I first heard this song as a duet from my co-workers Jessica and Azniv a few years ago. They both have beautiful voices and it was always fun to hear them begin to harmonize together along with this simple tune with difficult lyrics. While neither woman sounds or looks like Dean Martin, they have fun while singing it and that's all that matters.
This year I realized that I really, really like this song.
Now I'm sharing it with you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmastime in Quincy

It's Christmastime in Quincy, Massachusetts. We have all eaten our fill and then some. I have eaten way too many of the cream puffs that Nana has made especially for me. When I was younger I commented on how much I really liked them; now they are a Christmas staple.
The Secret Santa gifts have been distributed. I share a laugh with Uncle Tommy and Aunt Liz, who are still laughing over the gift of hot massage oil that was given to his sister, the nun. I played that up for many laughs.
For years, I have been the Master of Ceremonies for the gift distribution. Apparently my family (and even my Nana) thought that my gift for double-entendre and wild sarcasm made for a good time during the holidays and I never wanted to disappoint them. Hot massage oil and a nun made for a wildly good time.
I have long since graduated from the kids room and now sit out among the adults. The conversation flows freely. I have done this for a long time. I only see some of these relatives once a year and at this party and still I remember them all. I am not the only wit in the room. My Uncle Tom can shoot from the hip with the best of them. Mom's cousin Louie has a biting sense of humor, too. Case in point: He never got along with his in-law, Frank. One Christmas party found us discussing how tall we each were. Louis asked Frank how tall he was, After Frank told us he was six feet tall, Louis replied "Gee, I didn't think it was possible to pile shit that high."
This year my cousin Scott has brought along his keyboard. Between the flowing beverages and the fact that we can both be hams, we have begun a duet of "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." This appalled my Nana, who before one word was even sung declared the song profane. Scott sat in Grampa's old wing back chair and I sat on a dining room chair next to him.
Grandma got run over by a reindeer
Walking home from our house Christmas Eve.
You can say there's no such thing as Santa,
But as for me an' Grandpa, we believe.
Nana is sitting on the sofa, shaking her head. We continued on.
She'd been drinking too much eggnog,
And we begged her not to go.
But she forgot her medication,
And she staggered out the door into the snow.
Laughter comes from the relatives. Nana starts to chuckle then catches herself. Scott and I see that she's wavering so we add even more flourish to this ludicrous song.
When we found her Christmas morning,
At the scene of the attack
She had hoof prints on her forehead,
And incriminating Claus marks on her back.
And so it went.
Nana tried to be righteously indignant about it for a few verses but, finally, she could contain her mirth no longer. Nana laughed until she cried. After the song was over she proclaimed that Scott and I were "rotten kids".
"No they aren't," Uncle Eddie replied."They're rotten adults."
Yes we were.
To this day I remember how hard Nana was laughing at this song.
Christmas parties at Nana's house were always full of good food, laughter and love. There was plenty of each to go around for everyone.
Now, I feast only on the memories of these parties at Nana's house. But, when Christmas bells ring once more, I can taste the cream puffs and hear the laughter and feel the love.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Now, What News on the Rialto?

Venice is underwater. Or, at least it was, for a short time yesterday.
Venice has long had a problem with rising waters. There are two plans in the works to alleviate this problem. The first is to lay a series of 79 inflatable pontoons across the sea bed at the three entrances to the lagoon. When tides are predicted to rise above 43 inches, the pontoons will be filled with air and block the incoming water from the Adriatic sea. This engineering work is due to be completed by 2011. The other idea is to physically lift the city to a greater height above sea level, by pumping water into the soil underneath the city. Neither idea is without controversy, however. The pontoons idea is a temporary measure at best while the raising of the city is a permanent fix. Nevertheless, the debate rages on.
Venice stretches across 118 small islands in the Venetian lagoon along the Adriatic sea in northeast Italy. Once a major maritime power during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Venice's influence in the region waned after the 17th century. At the height of its power there is a painting by Tiepolo that show Venice receiving the gifts of the sea from Neptune.

I am fortunate enough to have an intimate knowledge of Venice and I lament its plight.
The picture above is of St. Mark's Square. Katie and I have walked through this square and stood where this picture was taken from. To the right (out of the shot) is Caffe Florian, which opened on Dec.29th, 1720. It has been known as a meeting place for artists, poets, writers and politicians. It is an expensive place, but as we drank our tea and coffee we were serenaded by a five piece orchestra and served on a silver platter (literally) with a silver tea service and by a waiter in a tuxedo. The people watching here is fantastic.
And the art. Oh, my goodness - the art. You can walk anywhere in the city and see magnificent pieces of art and architecture. Since automobiles are not allowed within the city there is no choice but to walk or take a gondola. Either way, the views are breathtaking.
Venice is a beautiful city, divided into six neighborhoods. They are Cannaregio, San Polo, Dorsoduro (including the Giudecca), Santa Croce, San Marco (including San Giorgio Maggiore), and Castello (including San Pietro di Castello and Sant'Elena). Eminently walkable, it boasts an allure that is unparalleled in the ancient or modern world.
I loved Venice. I am saddened to see the city so threatened and I am hopeful that she will someday permanently rise above the floodwater.
Venice is a treasure; one that should not be given back to Neptune.