Underneath the Tinsel or Making My Own Christmas Traditions – Part Two

Note: I wrote and first published this lengthy 3-part post in December 2015. I was in Madrid – as so many other times that year – and contemplating December frenzy in Spain was (much like that entire year) a special experience I will never forget. So much has changed since then… in more ways than one, I have changed too… But my core values are the same and so are my Christmas related beliefs – because many things are still the same. So this is why I chose to repost it and hopefully you’ll enjoy it. Have a decent December, everyone!

1

Part One – The Illusion

Part Two – The Reality

The choir started singing all those beautiful carols we loved. That was the best part of it and I didn’t want her to miss any of it. I’d go get her, I told my grandmother. I was handed my coat and scarf, and in a low voice I was warned there would be trouble if I caught a cold, thus ruining everybody’s holidays. I snuck out as discretely as possible, but disgruntled looks from some of the older ladies could not be avoided.

There she was, on the bench in front of the church, just where I expected to find her, smoking a cigarette. Her face was cold, sad and pale, and her fingers trembled slightly as they moved the cigarette back and forth. We could hear the choir from the bench outside the church and that’s where we stayed and listened to the carols that year. Pieces were falling into place – even if I was still very young, even if I couldn’t quite explain it, I was starting to understand why my mother didn’t want to be there in the first place and why my grandfather kept his distance, refusing to take part in that charade every Christmas. Continue reading “Underneath the Tinsel or Making My Own Christmas Traditions – Part Two”

Underneath the Tinsel or Making My Own Christmas Traditions – Part One

Note: I wrote and first published this lengthy 3-part post in December 2015. I was in Madrid – as so many other times that year – and contemplating December frenzy in Spain was (much like that entire year) a special experience I will never forget. So much has changed since then… in more ways than one, I have changed too… But my core values are the same and so are my Christmas related beliefs – because many things are still the same. So this is why I chose to repost it and hopefully you’ll enjoy it. Have a decent December, everyone!

1

Part One – The Illusion

The house was filled with that delicious smell of baked goodies. Vanilla and a variety of other aromas I was too young to know or recognize conspired with my grandmother in creating that warm, heavy, divine, mouth-watering smell that could mean only one thing: Christmas was only a few days away.

It was the final element in that trilogy of olfactory sensations that I have associated with the winter holidays from a very early age. The oranges were the first harbinger of the impending festivities and as I stood by the big fruit bowl, scratching at one of them with my little nails so I could carry its perfume with me, I knew there wasn’t long to go ‘till the much expected moment.

Then came the tree. My grandfather was never too involved in all the preparations, but getting the tree was always his job and I was his trusty sidekick. It was our little tradition: we would scour all the Christmas tree markets until we found the perfect one, I would choose it and he would carry it home. I don’t know about him, but that intoxicating fir tree smell would make me completely forget about the freezing cold wind, about the icy patches on which I really needed to watch my step and about the snow, which somehow managed to find its way into my boots each and every time. The serious, respectable, stern man became a child again, analysing fir trees, laughing more than I would see him laugh during the entire year and always indulging me, all the while knowing that the one I chose would inevitably be too tall. He’d be the one severely reprimanded as soon as we got home, but little did he care. Continue reading “Underneath the Tinsel or Making My Own Christmas Traditions – Part One”

No Trendy Christmas Tree For Me, Santa (Part 2)

Part 1

Now I have my own ornaments and stories to go with them. I somehow managed to hold on to a box of four glass baubles I got at some point in middle school, while shopping for Christmas presents with my best friend at the time. I can just see the store and how we went in looking for something entirely different. I spent a hefty part of my savings on these ornaments and a similar set that I offered my grandmother that Christmas (one of the very few presents she actually liked). They’ve miraculously survived the years and journeys and they went on every tree I’ve had ever since, even when they didn’t match the general colour scheme. Continue reading “No Trendy Christmas Tree For Me, Santa (Part 2)”

No Trendy Christmas Tree For Me, Santa

Note – I wrote this piece a year ago, so that is why some of you might get a slight déjà vu feeling. But I want to share it again; I usually get somewhat nostalgic in December, and this is a small part of my personal story and the way I perceive the holiday season and it’s trappings. 

She frowned and immediately dismissed the idea of a Christmas tree.

“I’ll get one when I can afford to decorate it properly,” she concluded, “not with all that cheap tacky stuff.”

Oh… I couldn’t help feeling my friend’s not at all veiled dig at me. So my Christmas tree was cheap… and tacky. Well, I could certainly give her “cheap”. Continue reading “No Trendy Christmas Tree For Me, Santa”

Grey (Fragment 1)

Note – Grey is the story closest to my heart from Albatross…. because Grey is a part of me. While all the other short stories are pure fiction, this one is based on some of my childhood memories. It’s a personal touch, a glimpse of nostalgia, a part of me that I wanted to share with my readers. It’s also the story that sparked this book, the one I was referring to when sharing what started this particular writing project.

***

It wasn’t bad. It was happy. It was life. We were children and we were never told grey was supposed to be bad. Grey was childhood. Grey was us in our purest form. We never denied it and we never minded it, because we never knew it.

We became grey those lazy, endless summer afternoons. Continue reading “Grey (Fragment 1)”

“When We See A Tree, We Celebrate It!”

I’m not sure what exactly in our conversation prompted her statement. I do remember we were both in primary school at the time, so she no longer lived in our building, even if she was visiting her grandmother a lot. I had a vague idea about the part of town where she and her parents lived – it was the kind of area you went through on your way to somewhere else. To me, she was the same girl I knew for as long as I could remember. We were the same age and as close as children who start developing memories and ideas while growing together can be, and that was the only reason why I was still allowed to play with her. Continue reading ““When We See A Tree, We Celebrate It!””

Will I Be Pretty, Will I Be Rich… Will I Be A Smoker?

Some little girls fantasize about finding Prince Charming and having that perfect wedding day. I couldn’t wait for the moment I was old enough to have my first cigarette. The future may have been an unclear notion, but one thing I knew for sure – when I grew up, I was going to be a smoker.

I don’t know what my first spoken word was, but the first one I learnt how to write was “mother” and the first one I could read was “cigarette”. I learnt how to read and write by myself one summer, before going to school, and I couldn’t wait for my mother to come home so I could show her my new skills. Funny, she wasn’t as pleased as I expected, especially when I pointed at the cigarette image in my book, mentioning it made me think of her. Continue reading “Will I Be Pretty, Will I Be Rich… Will I Be A Smoker?”

Nature


I didn’t know I knew nature. I was just a child and I had this distorted idea that nature was supposed to be something so extraordinary, that mere mortals had no access to it. Well… I did get the “extraordinary” part right, as it turns out; but I had yet to learn about understated beauty and about patiently waiting to reveal itself. Nature’s beauty can often be striking, but that’s not the rule…

Continue reading “Nature”

Grey (Fragment 1)

Note – Grey is the story closest to my heart from Albatross…. because Grey is a part of me. While all the other short stories are pure fiction, this one is based on some of my childhood memories. It’s a personal touch, a glimpse of nostalgia, a part of me that I wanted to share with my readers. It’s also the story that sparked this book, the one I was referring to when sharing what started this particular writing project.

***

It wasn’t bad. It was happy. It was life. We were children and we were never told grey was supposed to be bad. Grey was childhood. Grey was us in our purest form. We never denied it and we never minded it, because we never knew it.

We became grey those lazy, endless summer afternoons. Continue reading “Grey (Fragment 1)”

Instant Happy Place

?

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Happy Place

Buy your dream home, the sign read… the same sign that went up before the building itself was errected. As months went by, I got to see how the place where one can buy one’s dream home became reality. Nothing special, really… Just an average apartment building, not too big, not too small. I had high hopes – after all, it’s not every day that one can see that Eldorado of homes growing right in front of them, right? Once the building was coated in an awful colour, the eyesore dream finally became reality. Only one question remains – whose dreadful dream was that to begin with?

Silly me… I keep forgetting, I’m getting old. I must be getting old, or at least older, since I still hold on to this demented idea that a home is something you make, not something you buy off the shelf, identical in every respect to many others, its price and its location in the trendiest areas making it a dream come true. Complete with the same furniture and fittings filing all the other ideal homes in the building, those cold, depersonalized walls practically surpass one’s wildest expectations. Why bother having a personality when you can buy one for the right price? There’s even a small array of choices available to fit a choice of budgets. Don’t worry though, that’s the only painful choice you apparently have to make – and even that one is actually made by circumstance, not by you. All that’s left to do is move into your ‘perfect home’ – who cares what happens between those trendy four walls, now that you’re there, your life is perfect.

It’s not a case of sour grapes. I’m not a hypocrite, I like pretty things as much as any other woman (perhaps a lot more than some) and pretty things do not come cheap. But above that, I appreciate beauty, and that is often free and unexpected. I appreciate it just as much as I value character, and that is not something that can be bought. I’ve said it before, my home is my safe haven. I wouldn’t call it my happy place, I find happiness to be a brief experience, deep yet often fleeting, residing in the most unexpected of places and moments; contentment however is more stable.

‘Home’, no matter where that happened to be, has entangled a lot of emotions for me over the years, from fear to bliss, from loneliness to fulfilment, from hatred to love, from rejection to acceptance, from despair to happiness. It finally means peace, shelter, a place to regroup and find solace, a place where I grow and fail, a place where I find the strength to be get up and move on, a place entirely of my own, a place who is me, not only mine.

I lived here for years before this place actually became home. I had to accept that I needed to grow roots. Then I made it belong to me; then I made it mine – slowly, piece by piece, the same way I built myself over the years. Slowly, the same way I managed to accept that having a home is not necessarily a bad thing, loaded with resentment and hatred. You see, I grew up in a different town – oh, but it was in the best part of town, in one of the apartment buildings envied by most. My room had an exquisite view of vineyards and sunrises; the other rooms overlooked parks bathed in romantic sunsets. That apartment was and still is the apple of my grandmother’s eye, no person ever came close to the place it held in her stone cold heart. As a teenager, I would often sneak on top of the tall building at night and watch the stars with my friends, all of us hoping to escape that life as soon as possible. I felt more at home in the parks in the area or on top of the building under the starry sky than between the four walls that harboured mainly hatred, lies and resentment.

That’s how I know you cannot buy your dream home… you can’t even buy a home, all you can do is hope to be able to make the place you live in become your home, whatever that might mean to you. From that point of view, the teenager I used to be managed to see her dream come true – far away from the hatred-filled building with the great view and in a cosy, warm place by the sea, all of her own, where failure and success are acceptable, where she can be happy, where she can fall apart, where she can be herself; where she can grow roots, where she can always come back, no matter how far away she travels. A happy place, a sad place, her personal space…

?

Vividly Coloured Early Summer Delights

The theme for this week’s photo challenge is “Vivid.” Perhaps it’s your favorite flower in full bloom, a beautiful sunset or the color of your ice cream. Vivid is limited only by your imagination.

 

I’m a seaside person. I’m a summer person. There’s something about those early summer days that makes me feel alive and empowered. No matter how sad and depressed I might occasionally be or how unsuccessful some endeavours might turn out to be, the end of May and beginning of June always bring back that childish feeling that everything is possible. It’s that time of year which makes me feel restless, it makes me want to try everything and anything, because I couldn’t possibly fail; and if the improbable were to happen, I wouldn’t even care, because I know I can survive it. Yes… it’s a good time to be and feel alive.

I suppose a small part of me is entirely incapable and unwilling to grow up – the same way Christmas is a time of miracles, summer is a time of possibilities, as it used to be when those early June days of my childhood made me almost smell the salty air of the summer holiday. The first strawberries and cherries were delicious treats, sweet emissaries of the lazy, happy days to come. They still are – the real ones, the local, imperfect, amazingly tasty ones, not the properly fertilized, plastic looking ones we can find all year long.

That’s the taste of childhood, even if I no longer even think about how it would be like to pick them myself, somewhere in a remote garden in the countryside. My heels would certainly not agree with that sort of activity anymore… We didn’t spend too much time thinking about our shoes when we were children, did we? I didn’t grow up in the country or in a small town, but fortunately my childhood wasn’t controlled by technology either. Books, real people, real friends and spending as much time outside as possible were amongst my main concerns. And I remember this one thing – early summer meant the first cherries, which meant the first scraped knees. They also meant the nurses from the nearby clinic would have fresh, new reasons for aggravation and somewhat hysterical fits. Ironically enough, it wasn’t because we were their impatient patients, but because we were little, bratty perpetrators of a very unusual type of theft. The two cherry trees growing in the clinic’s backyard would always become an irresistible temptation as soon as we could spot the red dots amongst the leaves. They were fair game, we thought; after all, many of their branches were hanging over the clinic’s decorative fence, right above our playground. The nurses coming out for a smoke would inevitably catch us each and every time we climbed the trees in what we thought to be sneaky attempts to pick as many of the little red treats as we could. We always managed to get away before they could get their angry hands on us, but we certainly got to learn quite a few curse words that way; and few things make you appreciate life and freedom as running away from a nurse chasing after you on with a broomstick…

Our pursuer eluded, we’d calm down and divide the spoils of our escapade. There was not one of us who didn’t have a ball full of nice, cold cherries waiting in the fridge, we could have just gone home to have some of the fruit our parents were struggling to get us to eat; but what was the fun in that? No fruit ever tasted as good as the cherries we’d steal from the trees behind the clinic, even when some of them were still green. Thinking back, I can’t even tell what we enjoyed more, stealing cherries or annoying the nurses… It was that mix of the two that provided us with just the right amount of adrenaline, I suppose. While we never stole any actual thing, we had very sticky hands when it came to fruit and flowers (lots of the older ladies enjoyed planting flowers in the small gardens in front of our apartment buildings, and we enjoyed triggering reactions similar to those the nurses had). We eventually understood the nurses’ anger – they simply wanted to pick the cherries themselves and take them home once their shift was over. That only made us more adamant in our attempts to steal as many as possible before the nurses could get their hands on them… and us.

It was during such an incursion that we finally started differentiating between doctors and nurses. Just as we were getting ready to flee after noticing the authority figures coming out and lighting their cigarettes, we experienced the shock of our lives – not only were the two doctors dressed differently than the nurses, but they started laughing and told us to take our time, have as many cherries as we wanted, and be careful not to hurt ourselves in the process. Just try not to break too many branches, you do want to have cherries next year too, right? Well, we certainly were not prepared for that, we had no idea what to do with ourselves anymore. An angry nurse immediately started yelling at us from a first floor window, but few children felt a similar affection for doctors as we did, when the two replied, ‘They’re just kids, let them be…’ Yes, we were just kids, therefore everyone involved in the medical profession was the devil as far as we were concerned; but that was the moment we started doubting the veracity of our conviction. Like I said, summer was the time for new experiences and discovering hidden meanings of everyday life.

I am not naïve, I’ve had plenty of years to learn that the mirage of summer is often just that – an unfilled promise of happiness; enthusiasm dies out sooner or later and exhaustion takes over; dreams often become nightmares. This is why I try to enjoy and make the best of that early summer empowering feeling that I get with the smell and taste of the first strawberries and cherries. While life is certainly no ball of perfect genetically engineered, fertilized cherries, displayed in optimal light, it might actually be a handful of cherries grabbed in a hurry from a not particularly cared for tree in a remote village. You open your hand and see what you managed to make away with – there are some pits in there too, a few green cherries, some rotten ones, even a couple of leaves in between, and you can only hope that those deliciously ripe ones, the ones that are naturally perfect and delightful, are enough to make it worth it and keep you going.