Friday, December 21, 2007

Holiday Greetings from around the world

In the middle of all the craziness of these days, my friends' Holiday greetings are trickling in. I couldn't be happier. Regardless of the fact that this year I am not in a celebrating mood, each of these cards, emails and annual letters makes my day when they arrive.

They are not only coming with news from dear friends and their families, their good and not so good news, but they bring the feel of lands faraway: from Ann in Genoa, Lucy in Paris, Emily in Haarlem (The Netherlands), Irene in Lucca, Eva in Monaco, Terri in Aarhus (Denmark) to Anna Clara in Curacao, from Vicki in New York and Leslie in Missouri to Mary in Cairo and Vera in Malta... and that is not even half of them! Every message gives me a warm feeling. Things that were maybe commonplace or everyday occurrences when they happened, become important, interesting and so welcome by the time they appear in these messages.

In these days when people are so stressed and so busy, it is a wonderful to know that my friends take the time to keep in touch. Some of them keep in touch during the year, but others only touch base at this Joyous time. Never mind, all the news are important, all the messages answered, good news celebrated and sympathy goes out to the ones with not so good news...these are few and far between. Everyone sees the good side of things at this time of the year! and that is as it should be.

Remnants of a previous life, of years spent abroad when your friends are your family and ties are formed that will always be there. The life of an expatriate, never forgotten, comes to life when we get these messages... I am sure each of my friends feels the same.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

New attitude for the Holidays

One week to Christmas Eve and somehow I have managed not to be too involved this year. I did decorate a bit, lots of red candles, a small Norfolk Island pine with new ornaments, a red and gold bow on our front door. It feels so much better because it is all new, no nostalgia attached to any of these things. The boxes marked Christmas are still in the storage cages in the basement!

I don't think I am alone in this. Women tend to get all worked up during the Holidays. We want everything to be perfect for everyone we love. We twist ourselves in knots, bend over backwards and stress ourselves to exhaustion. Forgetting one very important thing: US!! Don't we deserve all those things we wish for our loved ones? and why do the Holidays have to be perfect? why does everything have to be planned with such precision? Why this change you might ask? well, I heard something today on PBS (a source of wisdom, if there ever was one!): LET GO OF PERFECT!! It made so much I am trying.

With the rhythm of the Holidays all around me, Christmas carols, Christmas specials, decorations everywhere I go or visit; I haven't had an emotional moment yet! I think this is something to celebrate. ...or not. My sisters will both be here and after the year we had, I am looking forward to celebrating with them too. Also I am looking forward to visiting Camille! Yes! I decided... why not? Spend Christmas here and New Year's with her. Fear of flying...out the window!

One week before Christmas indeed, I will buy some presents and plan my Christmas Eve with loved ones. All will be well, and New Year's Eve looks like fun. I'll spend time with everyone, sort of compartmentalized Holidays; and sooner than I will be January 5th!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Complicated Holidays!

In this time and age, when everything has become so complicated...the Holidays take the prize! What happened to the simple pleasures of family celebrations? Remember the careful selection of our gifts? the wrapping and the hiding of said gifts? How about the real Christmas tree, the time spent in decorating with the family, the ornaments that had some meaning or history attached to them? Let's not forget the plans to spend the Holidays together. These things were almost as wonderful as the Holidays themselves.

Where has all this gone? Lost in the swirls of massive shopping, theme decorating, outjonesing (my new word of the week!) the Joneses and other stressful endeavours. Have you been out in a mall lately? A veritable stampede of shoppers, lines to end all lines at any register and obnoxious people looking for the latest gadget to give....not the best or the most appropriate mind you, but the must have present!

For my family, spending Christmas and New Year's together has always been priority. Everything else was just icing on the cake. As the children grew up, we had no trouble at all. They lived at home and we bought their presents, we had our family dinner on Christmas Eve, opened our presents and went to bed late. Christmas morning was even nicer.... beach day!

Through the years, this pattern was satisfying and welcome. When they left home to go away to school, the Holidays became even more important. It was the time of the year when they came home, spent time with us, saw their friends, slipped back into their island lives. Parties were added to the routine at some point, but decorations were still the same and their trips home were my best present every year.

With our move to Miami, things continued quite the same, we even managed a trip back to Curaçao last year. Ah, the good old days! I would say....Ah, she is whining friends would think! So be it. This time of the year is sacred, with its traditions and its pleasures. I didn't want that to change, but it has.

Frank is working in North Carolina, so he'll have to travel back and forth for a couple of days at Christmas and then a couple for New Year's. Camille is in London, and traveling back and forth is not a option. Since we got married and had the children, our family has spent the Holidays together....with two exceptions: the year Camille was born on December 28th, I was in the hospital on New Year's Eve and the year we moved to Miami, Frank and Frankie did not make it to celebrate Christmas in Curaçao.

So this year, I am caught in the middle, not knowing what to do. It is amazing, isn't it.? When you have done something for so many years, stopping is difficult. I am caught between decorating (don't feel like it), going to visit Camille since she is the one by herself (feel a bit selfish by leaving the men in the family by themselves) or just ignoring the whole thing! Now, really, is that possible? Maybe not, but I wish it was January 5th!!!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The other side of my trip

I enjoyed my trip so much, but don't want anyone to think all is rose-colored. It is not. As in many places around the world, life in Curaçao has changed, become more dangerous. People have become more cautious and not everyone I spoke to sounded happy. Crime is high, criminals are more daring and everyone sort of look over their shoulder when they go out. I was told of robberies, government corruption and a poor economy.

Some things I noticed, when people approach a street light, they slow down and don't stop next to any car. When coming out of a restaurant, they go out in groups and not too late. Everyone tries to park as close to the place they are going to as possible. If you live far from the city center, you try not to drive back too late, or you ask someone to follow you.

There are guards outside private schools and banks and in many homes. Not too many gated communities yet, but they are a few more than last year. There are bars on windows and security companies are doing very well........Still...

Everyone is out for dinner or drinks, so restaurants and bars are doing very well. There are art exhibitions, school presentations, the movies, celebrations of all sorts. I saw many convertibles carrying Sinterklas and his helpers going from one place to another. Stores are open late for the Holidays and people are visiting at night. Everyone just adapts to new circumstances, like everywhere else in the world; and in Curaçao you still have the laid-back lifestyle, the gorgeous weather, the beaches and the closeness of living in a small community!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

As expected....

I am back from Curaçao, and the trip was wonderful. As expected, I visited friends, drove around, played bridge and went to the beach. There is so much construction going on: hotels, homes, even apartment buildings! Hotels are full, thanks to the exchange rate with the Euro. Retirees are flocking to the island, finally discovering this corner of the Caribbean. There is a new mall.... yes, enclosed and air conditioned with expensive stores, an ice cream parlor and two restaurants. It is located in an old landhuis (plantation house).

Went there on Thursday for drinks with my friend Joan and her daughter, I have missed that! After that, dinner by the beach at a local landmark: a trailer/restaurant featuring the best seafood and fish on the island. You sit outdoors, by the water, so informal, so tropical. The food was excellent, the company as well, Tony and Sandra sharing news of their daughter's wedding in Rosslyn Chapel! I had lunch with Monique and Clark and sat there reminiscing and exchanging news of our children.

The day before was bridge. It was so nice to see my friends, talk about everything, laugh, even the sound of Dutch was welcome! Kitty and Marja B are both becoming grandmothers of twins! We were graced by the visit of one of our friends going through a difficult time: cancer, chemo, a new wig. Nicoline was gracious and so glad to see us, as we were to see her. She looked fragile, but had a golden tan and looked beautiful. She's the one that once described us as a warm blanket.... and she was so right. At night, sushi with our old friends Tony and Valerie, and I know Fred, the restaurant owner, he was part of my theater group.

Tuesday I had time to go out at night to visit friends, to have dinner with Kathy. Loved it! Everywhere you go, you meet someone you know, so in four days, I did get to see most of my friends. On Tuesday and Thursday, I had time to go to the beach for a few hours. Clear waters, white sand and warm sun, perfect! The sea is life, nothing else feels like it. I took naps, read, floated happily and made sure I put my head under water for as long as I could!

On Friday I even had time to chat with Vicki (that had been traveling) on my way to the airport. So never mind that we had to wait for 8 hours at the airport...the plane was having mechanical difficulties... that dreaded phrase. Never mind that we had to wait for a plane to arrive from Miami to pick up us, even there I found friends I haven't seen in years! We had some local delicacies and talked, talked and talked. Yes, it might be true that you cannot go back, but when you visit everything is as expected!

Now I am back home, with recharged batteries and full of energy. I can do this again soon!