Have a Happy Crappy Christmas Catalonia-Style

by Elyn Aviva


Bon Nadal and Feliç Any Nou! That’s Catalan for Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. 

It’s the holiday season in my home town, Girona, Catalonia, and things aren’t quite what you might expect. Yes, there are the familiar ho-ho-ho Santa Claus figures dangling from buildings, and three-foot-high Christmas trees with matching pink and purple ribbon decorations are lined up outside stores on the main shopping streets.

There are brilliant-colored lights strung across the avenues, and a glittering conical abstraction of a Christmas tree pulses on and off in the Plaza de Catalunya. Christmas carols (sometimes in English) echo through the halls, the beauty salons, and the restaurants, and carolers emote as they stroll down the pedestrian Rambla, songbooks in hand. Flame-red poinsettias are for sale in the market, and school-club fundraisers hawk chocolate bars and handmade knickknacks. And there’s the cheery Firanadal (Christmas Fair) offering artisanal goods, felt slippers, jewelry, plastic toys, and boxwood spoons.

Yes, all of this is vaguely familiar, even if gigantes (giant dancing king and queen figures), a marathon Nativity play (Els Pastorets), xuixus (pronounced “choochoos”: sugar dusted, cream-filled pastry rolls), and turrón (a kind of nougat) aren’t usual Christmas fare.

But you really know you’re in a foreign land when you seen the rows of squatting miniature figures—including SpongeBob SquarePants, flamenco dancers, Obama, Barça soccer star Messi, Queen Elizabeth II, and Death—their pants pulled down, a brown plop of poop deposited behind them, for sale for inclusion in Nativity scenes. Correction: the plop of poop behind Death is white, not brown. 

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Use It Or Lose It - A Tea Story

by Jean Kepler Ross


Thirty years ago, I was dazzled by my action-packed month visiting a friend and his family in Japan. They live in Fukui Prefecture near the Sea of Japan, but I gazed in wonder at the Gion Festival and temples in Kyoto, kabuki theater in Tokyo, the deer park in Nara and Himeji castle from shogun days. The most delicate and intimate thing I recall was a tea ceremony performed by a friend of my friend at her home. 


Garbed in a kimono, our host greeted us and led us to her tea area where a small shrine, with incense and blossoms, dedicated to her ancestors, stood in a prominent spot. She went through ritual preparations and whisked the powdered green tea with hot water in special bowls, then presented them to us to admire. We turned the bowls three times to appreciate the decorations inside each bowl before we drank the frothy tea. At the end of the ceremony, our host presented me with a fine tea bowl painted with fall leaves and gold leaf to take home with me. It’s been keeping me company ever since as a treasured objet d’art and memento of my trip. 

Before I left Japan, I purchased a bamboo whisk and a tin of special powdered green tea with the thought of trying my hand at preparing the tea once I got home. I’ve kept them with my kitchen spices above my stove for thirty years, admiring the Japanese letters, waiting for that perfect moment when I would perform my own tea ceremony and savor the tea. Somehow, the moment never arrived. Maybe I was too busy with life and the years somehow passed. I often looked at my whisk and tea and enjoyed the anticipation, the possibility of someday re-creating the tea ceremony.

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Summer at Moon Palace

by Bethany Ball

Most people associate North Michigan with snow, ice and long difficult winters.  But for me, the area is associated with Moon Palace, the summer cottage of my parents' best friends, where we spent nearly every weekend of my childhood. We passed the four-hour Friday-night drive listening to music – show tunes, folk songs, and NPR– until I’d finally drop off to sleep.

To me, coming from the city, it was as remote as the moon itself. First and foremost there were no other children—most parents waiting until real summer when the pool opens—and I am an only child. I spent my days reading Frank Baum's Oz series, which I was obsessed with, or listening to Neil Diamond tapes on my Walkman. This tiny tape deck with black headphones was, to me, probably the greatest invention ever.

When the weather was warm, I would prowl around the dense virgin forests that surrounded the cottage;  I knew every inch of them. I dragged a large section of nailed-together two-by-fours  together into a thicket of bushes and ferns. This was my house. If it rained, I would hide under the overturned canoe that was dragged up from Moon Lake. Once underneath the canoe, I imagined I could live there, though the ground was icy, and I'd have to wear my winter snowmobile boots ( great big ugly boots that I wouldn't be caught dead in if I were in the city but which kept my feet warm and dry in the forest).  I caught frogs and named  them: Fred, Franny, Frank, and Fran. Even though it was summer, ice formed in the night and early morning, before the sun had time to melt it. I walked along the ice’s edge, my feet breaking through to the shallow water below, the snowmobile boots surprisingly effective at keeping my feet dry.

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