Oh Holy NIght

The Neset women who should be up in Minnesota baking cookies

The Neset women who should be up in Minnesota baking cookies

December 24, 2012:  Miami Airport. Families headed home for the holidays…or away from home for the holidays—as in my case. Everyone in this airport is leaving for destinations Latino…Sao Paulo flight just announced, San Juan a few minutes ago. Me to Santo Domingo in a few more hours.

I am thinking about home-home. Me and dad and little brother out in the woods cutting down a spruce, a beautiful green needled, sap-redolent spruce. Knock off the snow, bring it in. Mom and me—can’t remember if Robert helped—will  decorate this evening. Small red and blue and green and pink and purple oh-so-fragile ornaments, some the silver and gold wearing off, and the old slightly tarnished tin candleholders on many branches holding REAL chubby white candles. Not so many presents but enough I guess. I don’t ever remember being sad about what I did or didn’t get for Christmas.  Mom’s tired from trying to figure out how to make Christmas Eve—when our family celebrated—perfect in her little household. We will have pyramids of sliced ham, topped with pineapple slices, sweet potatoes and pork sausages,  all sprinkled with brown sugar. And mom will make lefse. Wonderful  wonderful Swedish lefse. No potatoes. Just flour and cream and salt. Rolled out like a flour tortilla, cooked on a large flat cast-iron stove surface just enough for a few brown spots to say it is done. Cooled and spread with butter that has been creamed with more cream (yes I said that) and sugar.

Now they’re calling a flight for Nassau.

I guess my first choice would be a flight to the 1940s-50s just outside of Northome, Minnesota.  However…you really cannot go home again.

But away from this noisy 2012 airport for another moment. The lefse is cooling for later spreading but we’ve eaten supper and some presents have been placed under the tree and the candles are lit and mom reads the ‘Christmas story’ from the bible. The Book of Luke, is that right? IT WAS MAGIC EVERY SINGLE YEAR I LIVED THERE. Nothing has come close since.

The flight to Caracas is boarding.

Christmases since. Boys growing up. Trees. Special meals like the all-fish dinner I once made from a Scandinavian cookbook. Included making stock with a real fish head which kept bobbing to the top of the pot and starring at me. And Janson’s Temptation, a scalloped potato –like dish with anchovies instead of ham. Never made that meal again. Now, in Albuquerque, we make Swedish meatballs to celebrate.

Gate change if you’re headed for Panama City.

My kids and grandchildren are all in San Diego and part of me wants to be there. Grandchildren so grown up, so nice, smart, full of whatever energy it will take to be part of a new world. A family time with laughter and lumpia, fried rice, adobo, pancit and more traditional turkey and/or ham, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, cherry pie and many presents and Christmas Eve mass, a  blending of Filipino and American traditions.

 For several years I spent the eve and day with mom in the Northome Healthcare Center—the nursing home—and in some ways they were the best. We listened to Christmas music, read stories, ate our favorite things like stuffing and sweet potatoes and ignored the rest. Some little presents, nothing much. Surrounded by a snowy landscape. Robert and Marsha come in the afternoon with sweet treats. Max, the best dog in the world, sleeps in the corner.

Christmas sentimentality is acceptable. But enough now.

Last call for Caracas.  Flight to Managua boarding at Gate 49.

December 25, 2012: The night was not one of peace. We discovered from our ideally (NOT) situated hotel on Parque Colon that Dominicans are serious Christmas Eve partiers. Music (‘Silent Night’–NOT) loudly blared from a taxi radio most of night accompanied by shouts of good will and shrieks of joy. A noisy culture this is. VERY NOISY.

We spent our morning moving to a hotel a little more upscale and off the square. Drank Presidente beer with corn soup and avocado salad for lunch. Very little evidence of Christmas around. Just lots of people out strolling visiting eating shopping playing with their kids. It was odd, not exactly unpleasant, just anti-climatic. Seems like Christmas Day on a tropical island should be …more! Walked the unprepossessing Calle del Conde in the evening. My brother picked our dining establishment. Pizza Hut. Expensive and tasted like bad Pizza Hut pizzas everywhere. Not sure he gets to pick again.

If I travel out of country again on Christmas I think it will be a cold snowy holiday kind of place OR an absolutely different culture…maybe Tibet or Sri Lanka.

Amber Arts

Amber Arts

December 26, 2012: So far … walked the Malecon Walkway (also known as George Washington Avenue), long strip of land, sidewalk, roadway fronting the blue Caribbean. Could have been a lovely walk. However the Dominican culture appears to be one that isn’t too troubled by masses of trash along the waterfront. When I began traveling years ago I had ready excuses for poorer countries with massive trash problems…’don’t have proper disposal means,’ ‘ aren’t prepared for the world of plastic throwaways.’ etc. I no longer am so forgiving. NO ONE in any urban society in the world has not been  exposed to the idea that trash isn’t healthy or pretty, and hasn’t seen streets that are clean, beaches that are litter free or parks not buried in plastic bottles or soft drink cans. There are some places in emerging world economies that are dealing with it. Rwanda for example. The Dominican Republic is NOT. The city streets are fairly litter free but at least part of the waterfront is a garbage dump. Shame on you Dominicans.

Nice ordinary lunch of crepes, pasta.


I am bored.

CARIBBEAN 2012-13 077

Latin American/Caribbean places do not hold the same fascination for me as the rest of world. If my plan holds I can complete all Central and Latin America travels in 2014. But I do not know what to do about the rest of the Caribbean. Actually Cuba, Jamaica, Bahamas will be more interesting if I must go because the every-country-in-the-world plan is still on the table!  Maybe I will have given it before then and won’t have to worry about all those other little sunny boring islands scattered about this beautiful blue sea!

Tomorrow Haiti. That should be an impactful experience. Good? Bad?

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