The Star of Christmas

The star of Christmas shines for all,
No matter great, no matter small,
No matter spotted, brown or white,
It bids us all to share the light.
                        ~ Unknown

Two Rabbits (Kobi). By Kobi (active 19th century) (http://www.hwwilson.com/Databases/artmuseum.htm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Two Rabbits (Kobi) (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By Kobi (active 19th century) (http://www.hwwilson.com/Databases/artmuseum.htm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

*****

In an Atlanta gift shop, on the last road trip my mother and I took together, I bought a packet of Christmas cards designed by a local artist. In the background on the front, there was a star; in the foreground, there were three rabbits–brown, white, and black-and-white. The verse above appeared inside. The design was simple, unsentimental, and touching.

I used all but one of the cards, and kept that one thinking I might be able to find more. But I couldn’t, and sometime over the past twenty-eight years, the last card disappeared. I hope I’ve quoted the verse exactly. The image above doesn’t duplicate the charm of the original, but perhaps it’s close.

I’ve searched the web for the name of the artist-poet but have found nothing. If anyone reading this knows the artist or has seen the card I’ve described, please leave a comment. I would like to give proper attribution. If possible I will contact the author to ask permission to use it; if he wishes, I’ll remove the post. (Note: A friend pointed me to the website of Michael Podesta. I suspect the card might be one of his.)

I don’t usually post anything without getting permission and crediting the author, but I love the card and it seems a shame not to share.

I Kid You Not

On a quick trip to Missouri, staying in the boonies past the outskirts of Kansas City,

in a possibly no-star hotel, adequate except for its lack of

  1. elevator, and
  2. proximity to restaurants without golden arches.

Checked online under Dining.

First thing I saw was the ad at the top of the page: What’s the best cure for toe fungus?

Checked under Bars and Grills.
First establishment listed: Q & R Pest Control.
I kid you not.

Decided the golden arches would do.

*****

Names have been changed or omitted for obvious reasons.

The Star of Christmas

The star of Christmas shines for all,
No matter great, no matter small,
No matter spotted, brown or white,
It bids us all to share the light.
                        ~ Unknown

*****

In an Atlanta gift shop, on the last road trip my mother and I took together, I bought a packet of Christmas cards designed by a local artist. In the background on the front, there was a star; in the foreground, there were three rabbits–brown, white, and black-and-white. The verse above appeared inside. The design was simple, unsentimental, but touching.

I sent all of the cards but one, and I kept that thinking I might be able to locate more. But I didn’t find any, and sometime over the past twenty-seven years, the card I saved disappeared. I don’t remember the artist’s name, but I do remember the verse. The drawing above doesn’t duplicate the charm of the original, but perhaps it’s close enough.

I’ve searched the web trying to find the name of the artist-poet but have found nothing. If anyone reading this knows the author, or has seen the card I’ve described, please leave a comment. I would like to give proper attribution.

I don’t normally post anything without giving credit, but I love the card and it seemed a shame not to share the verse just because I can’t locate the source.

Paris, Day 1: Getting There

Satellite view of the English Channel
“English Channel” via Wikipedia.  NASA. Public domain.

When David and I land at Gatwick in July of 2002, we come armed with goals and objectives: spend two nights in London; pick up a car at Waterloo Station; head north for Oban, Scotland; ferry over to Duarte Castle on the Isle of Mull; drive south to Exeter for a look at Robbers’ Bridge in Lorna Doone country; spend another night in London; return the car to the rental agency; and board the train for Paris.

To ensure we return the car timely, David maps a route that allows us to drive the thirty miles from our bed-and-breakfast in East Grinstead to Waterloo Station without ever turning right. When you’ve spent ten days driving on the wrong side of the road, you learn to think ahead.

Our plan for Paris, however, is not to plan. Paris is for spontaneity. We step off the train carrying luggage, the name and address of our hotel, and the assurance that everything will be fine

Mostly, it is.

#

Hotel Opera Cadet sits on a narrow street only one block long. The exterior is elegant but so understated that we walk back and forth in front of it several times before realizing we’ve reached our destination. We go inside and present our voucher to the concierge.

Standing at the reception desk in the soft light of the oak-paneled lobby, I release my grip on David’s shirttail.

I’ve been latched onto the hem of that blue windbreaker ever since stepping off the Eurostar and going into culture shock. All the signage is in French. I know people in France speak French, but I’ve never considered they also write it. Crossing the English Channel has rendered me functionally illiterate.

Although the station is enormous and we have no idea how to get from here to the hotel, David isn’t concerned. He knows some French, but he’s been told that the natives resent hearing foreigners mangle their language. Many of them, however, will speak Spanish. Since David speaks Spanish fluently, there will be no barrier.

But first we see what we can do on our own.

He picks up his suitcase and strikes off through the crowd. I grasp the handle of my rolling bag and follow him like a barge trailing a tugboat.

#

After completing several laps without finding an information desk, David breaks out the Spanish. With me still attached, he approaches a young woman wearing khaki slacks and a navy blazer.

¿Habla usted espanol?

I first think of the woman as African-American, but when she tells David she speaks neither Spanish nor English, I once again remember where I am.

David takes a breath and resorts to mangling French. The woman mangles some English. They wave their hands in the air. I stand by, detached, congratulating myself on my decision to wear khakis. I’ve heard the French consider Americans in bluejeans gauche. I don’t want to be gauche.

After five minutes of intense effort, the woman gestures for us to follow, leads us to the bureau d’information, explains to the man behind the desk what we want, and smiles. “Au revoir.”

I risk mangling a heartfelt “Merci.”

#

Our second-floor room is small but comfortable. I flop onto the bed. David opens the refrigerator. He’s impressed by our choices: almonds, chocolate bars, and bottled water. He doesn’t intend to eat or drink any—the prices are exorbitant—but he’s impressed.

I’m comforted by the knowledge that in case of emergency, real French chocolate is within reach

From the window I see the shops across the street. “Boulanger Patisserie,” “Atelier 13,” names so much more sophisticated than “Dillards'” and “HEB.” Even “meat market” reads better in French.

In front of a grocery, a fruit stand juts into the street—oranges, cherries, cantaloupes, grapes, peaches, plums, too many fruits to name heaped fat and fresh in cardboard flats. Tomorrow, when I aim for a photo of David flanked by produce, the shopkeeper runs out, waving his arms.

I’m appalled. Have I offended him? Is it gauche to want a picture of apricots?

I’m about to apologize when he takes David’s arm, pulls him behind the stand, then runs back into the street, grinning and gesturing for me to snap the picture. The wide-angle photo shows a young man wearing a short-sleeved gray shirt, dark slacks, and sandals, grinning beside a slice of watermelon. David lurks in shadow under the awning, recognizable only to me.

#

The first afternoon and evening, we concentrate on getting our bearings. We leave the hotel, walk a few blocks, look around. I remember reading that London is a city of gray and scarlet. I see Paris as a city of stone and lace; every building seems to be scalloped and edged with grillwork.

When the effect of our full English breakfast wears off, we order sandwiches at a small café. We’re the only customers. A waiter watches the Tour de France on a wall-mounted television near the back of the room. As we slide into a booth, he turns down the volume. We smile our thanks. He doesn’t seem to object to David’s jeans and red tee-shirt with the black Lab on the front.

The sandwiches appear. They’re made with baguettes. I’m delighted to be eating an authentic French sandwich and wonder whether the diners at the McDonald’s up the street are as pleased with their sesame seed buns.

Leaving the café, we take another stroll, return to the hotel to rest, go out again, come back for our street map, walk some more, return for something else we’ve left upstairs…Our act is not yet together. Each time we leave, we pass our key across the desk to the concierge. Each time we return, he passes it back. By the fifth or sixth exchange, his smile hints at both bemusement and fatigue.

In all our trekking back and forth, we’ve seen no one else in the lobby. David and I might be the only thing standing between the concierge and a quiet evening with a good book. I hope he doesn’t think we’re Ugly Americans. Judging from his smile, I suspect Crazy Americans is more likely.

#

To be continued: Starving, Gaping, More Starving

#

Image [Satellite view of the English Channel] file created by NASA.

Going Over the Fiscal Cliff: Denim or Silk?

Diane Sawyer
Diane Sawyer (Photo credit: asterix611)

Since early November, when the media shifted focus from the presidential election to the next crisis, David’s favorite television show has been the evening news. To him, it’s comedy. Every time Diane Sawyer says “fiscal cliff,” he roars with laughter.

I haven’t laughed. The prospect of going over a cliff is scary. At first, the mere mention of John Boehner’s name gave me the fantods. But after being bombarded–fiscal cliff, fiscal cliff, fiscal cliff— over and over, on local news, network news, PBS News Hour, day after day for nearly two months, I became jaded. While David sat in the living room and guffawed, I muttered, Que sera, sera, and kept on chopping onions.

But two days ago, while rummaging through purpleborough’s blog, I stumbled upon this sentence: Nevertheless, I must decide what I am going to wear going over the fiscal cliff.

And I realized my error. The fiscal cliff isn’t something to dismiss with a chuckle. There’s a lot to be done before midnight. I haven’t decided what I’ll wear either.

At the top of the list is whether I can go with just the clothes on my back, or whether I’ll need a suitcase. What about toiletries? Cosmetics? I will take a lipstick–I always take a lipstick, because I think other people feel better when I wear it–but what about eye shadow? Will I be able to find my manicurist after we’ve gone over? Because he’s all booked up today.

I’ll have to take shampoo, conditioner, brush, dryer, curling iron. Millions of people will be going over that cliff. I’ll take several bars of deodorant soap. I hope everybody does.

Packing would be easier if I knew what’s at the bottom of the fiscal cliff. If a river’s down there, I would wear my bathing suit, but for anything else, denim is more serviceable. My jeans have gotten a little scruffy, so if there’s mud, they’ll do fine. It would be a shame for my good black slacks to get dirty. I want to wear them to dinner later with my with my new red cowl-necked sweater. I hope there’s mud. For that matter, I hope there’s dinner.

What will Diane Sawyer wear going over the fiscal cliff?

The probability of a hard landing means I’ll have to take the travel first-aid kit I picked up at Target last year. Gauze and antibacterial ointment can come in awfully handy. Plus mosquito repellent. Anti-itch cream. Aspirin, ibuprofen. Cough drops. A couple of Ace bandages for wrapping sprained ankles. Ichthyol for mesquite thorns. Moleskin for blisters (I assume we will not be met by a string of limos). Sunscreen, hat.

Books. I don’t go anywhere without books.

Laptop, notebook, pens, index cards. I assume there will be WiFi somewhere in the vicinity of the landing site. Mouse. Camera and USB cable. Flash drive. Printer and paper? I might be able to print at a library. Are there libraries over the fiscal cliff?

Cats. I can’t go without the cats. I won’t go without the cats. Neither will David. But he’ll have to deal with them. They’re so heavy that every time I pick up one of the carriers, I throw my back out.

Insurance cards, passport, driver’s license, birth certificate. Purpleborough thinks we won’t need any form of ID, but I’m going to take what I have. If we get down there and they change their minds, we’ll probably need ID to get back up.

It’s obvious I’m going at this haphazardly. There’s so much to do and so little time in which to do it. If you see anything I’ve missed, please leave a comment. If you’ll do the same thing for Purpleborough, I’m sure she’ll appreciate it.

I have to go now and do a load of laundry. I was going to make peanut butter sandwiches to carry along, but I’ve decided against it. The one thing I’m sure of is this: even at the bottom of the fiscal cliff, we’re bound to find a McDonald’s.

Before I go, let me be clear: I’m not complaining about going over the fiscal cliff–I want to do my part, just like everyone else–but if we go over and then they tell us to turn around and come back, I expect transportation to be provided. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Mules will do. I just don’t think I should have to scale the fiscal cliff under my own steam. There’s too much stuff to carry.

Paris, Day 1: Getting There

Satellite view of the English Channel
Image via Wikipedia

When David and I land at Gatwick in July of 2002, we come armed with goals and objectives: spend two nights in London; pick up a car at Waterloo Station; head north for Oban, Scotland; ferry over to Duarte Castle on the Isle of Mull; drive south to Exeter for a look at Robbers’ Bridge in Lorna Doone country; spend another night in London; return the car to the rental agency; and board the train for Paris.

To ensure we return the car timely, David maps a route that allows us to drive the thirty miles from our bed-and-breakfast in East Grinstead to Waterloo Station without ever turning right. When you’ve spent ten days driving on the wrong side of the road, you learn to think ahead.

Our plan for Paris, however, is not to plan. Paris is for spontaneity. We step off the train carrying luggage, the name and address of our hotel, and the assurance that everything will be fine

Mostly, it is.

#

Hotel Opera Cadet sits on a narrow street only one block long. The exterior is elegant but so understated that we walk back and forth in front of it several times before realizing we’ve reached our destination. We go inside and present our voucher to the concierge.

Standing at the reception desk in the soft light of the oak-paneled lobby, I release my grip on David’s shirttail.

I’ve been latched onto the hem of that blue windbreaker ever since stepping off the Eurostar and going into culture shock. All the signage is in French. I know people in France speak French, but I’ve never considered they also write it. Crossing the English Channel has rendered me functionally illiterate.

Although the station is enormous and we have no idea how to get from here to the hotel, David isn’t concerned. He knows some French, but he’s been told that the natives resent hearing foreigners mangle their language. Many of them, however, will speak Spanish. Since David speaks Spanish fluently, there will be no barrier.

But first we see what we can do on our own.

He picks up his suitcase and strikes off through the crowd. I grasp the handle of my rolling bag and follow him like a barge trailing a tugboat.

#

After completing several laps without finding an information desk, David breaks out the Spanish. With me still attached, he approaches a young woman wearing khaki slacks and a navy blazer.

¿Habla Usted espanol?

I first think of the woman as African-American, but when she tells David she speaks neither Spanish nor English, I once again remember where I am.

David takes a breath and resorts to mangling French. The woman mangles some English. They wave their hands in the air. I stand by, detached, congratulating myself on my decision to wear khakis. I’ve heard the French consider Americans in bluejeans gauche. I don’t want to be gauche.

After five minutes of intense effort, the woman gestures for us to follow, leads us to the bureau d’information, explains to the man behind the desk what we want, and smiles. “Au revoir.”

I risk mangling a heartfelt “Merci.”

#

Our second-floor room is small but comfortable. I flop onto the bed. David opens the refrigerator. He’s impressed by our choices: almonds, chocolate bars, and bottled water. He doesn’t intend to eat or drink any—the prices are exorbitant—but he’s impressed.

I’m comforted by the knowledge that in case of emergency, real French chocolate is within reach

From the window I see the shops across the street. “Boulanger Patisserie,” “Atelier 13,” names so much more sophisticated than “Dillards'” and “HEB.” Even “meat market” reads better in French.

In front of a grocery, a fruit stand juts into the street—oranges, cherries, cantaloupes, grapes, peaches, plums, too many fruits to name heaped fat and fresh in cardboard flats. Tomorrow, when I aim for a photo of David flanked by produce, the shopkeeper runs out, waving his arms.

I’m appalled. Have I offended him? Is it gauche to want a picture of apricots?

I’m about to apologize when he takes David’s arm, pulls him behind the stand, then runs back into the street, grinning and gesturing for me to snap the picture. The wide-angle photo shows a young man wearing a short-sleeved gray shirt, dark slacks, and sandals, grinning beside a slice of watermelon. David lurks in shadow under the awning, recognizable only to me.

#

The first afternoon and evening, we concentrate on getting our bearings. We leave the hotel, walk a few blocks, look around. I remember reading that London is a city of gray and scarlet. I see Paris as a city of stone and lace; every building seems to be scalloped and edged with grillwork.

When the effect of our full English breakfast wears off, we order sandwiches at a small café. We’re the only customers. A waiter watches the Tour de France on a wall-mounted television near the back of the room. As we slide into a booth, he turns down the volume. We smile our thanks. He doesn’t seem to object to David’s jeans and red tee-shirt with the black Lab on the front.

The sandwiches appear. They’re made with baguettes. I’m delighted to be eating an authentic French sandwich and wonder whether the diners at the McDonald’s up the street are as pleased with their sesame seed buns.

Leaving the café, we take another stroll, return to the hotel to rest, go out again, come back for our street map, walk some more, return for something else we’ve left upstairs…Our act is not yet together. Each time we leave, we pass our key across the desk to the concierge. Each time we return, he passes it back. By the fifth or sixth exchange, his smile hints at both bemusement and fatigue.

In all our trekking back and forth, we’ve seen no one else in the lobby. David and I might be the only thing standing between the concierge and a quiet evening with a good book. I hope he doesn’t think we’re Ugly Americans. Judging from his smile, I suspect Crazy Americans is more likely.

#

To be continued: Starving, Gaping, More Starving

#

Image [Satellite view of the English Channel] file is in the public domain because it was created by NASA. NASA copyright policy states that “NASA material is not protected by copyright unless noted.”