Northern Lights in Kiruna, Lapland
Welcome to our “Holiday Chatterbulletin” – Season’s Greetings everyone, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanza, Celebrate Ye Olde Winter Solstice and a Happy New Year and all that – except that December 31st is not really “New Year” – it is simply the end of the “Calendar Year” … what can I say? Think about it, there’s not exactly a lot of “new life” or change that goes on during the Winter months, instead it is the time when nature “shuts down” and everything is resting, sleeping, or hibernating in preparation for the “real” New Year, which is when we reach the Vernal or Spring Equinox. But back to right now, and since our last bulletin, we have moved from the legally oriented sign of Libra into the medically driven sign of Scorpio, and we find ourselves in the “philosophical” sign of Sagittarius. And to illustrate our Holiday-themed bulletin, we figured, who needs a Christmas tree, or a Menorah (Hanukkah is also known as The Festival of Lights, by the way!) when we have the Northern Lights? The Northern Lights or “Aurora Borealis,” are best viewed closer to the arctic territories, due to the longer periods of darkness and the magnetic field. And, the “Polar” opposite and Southern counterpart is known as the “Aurora Australis,” or the Southern Lights, (gee, I wonder what well-known continent is nearby? hint, hint…) God Almighty and the Higher Powers provide us with a Technicolor myriad of mysterious and magical illuminations, far better than any man-made lightshow could ever deliver.
There are a few themes that I could have chosen for this month, and as with all signs of the zodiac there is both a good and a not-so-good side to Sagittarius. I could have talked about the higher realms and their connection to religion and philosophical thinking, or I could have talked about the lower end, and the potential for excess, hypocrisy, or a tendency to indulge in the “do as I say, not as I do” syndrome. But in the end, I decided to go with a trait that all Sagittarians share, and that is their love of Travel. And while a Gemini may prefer shorter trips, the Sagittarius loves to engage in longer-term travel. One of my neighbors is a Sagittarius, and she is always talking about her travel calendar and when and where she’ll be heading to next. Traveling is a constant thread that is woven into her life and work! And of course, with two of the biggest holidays of the year – Thanksgiving followed by Christmas – there are many people traveling all over to visit family and friends for the holidays.
Traveling nowadays is very different compared to when I was growing up. It all seemed a lot easier back then… you could walk through security with most of your clothing and accessories still on, you could take your own sandwiches and water onto the plane, and you didn’t have to put all your toiletries into a Ziploc plastic bag. And even though we were used to the frequent bomb-threats in London and the constant stirrings between England and Northern Ireland since the early seventies, there was not the same talk of Al Qaeda and suicide bombers flying planes into the World Trade Center. Until 9/11 America had no real clue what it was like to have ongoing bomb threats and explosions on your own home turf. I will always remember a cartoon from years ago in an English daily newspaper following a bomb explosion in one of the larger London railway stations (Waterloo, I think it was?) and it was a “Sandwich Board” of a drawing of a couple of survivors who had luckily hidden behind some of those “British Rail sandwiches” – stiff and sturdy enough to shield anyone from anything, apparently!
When we were younger, we did not necessarily travel that much, instead we stayed home and enjoyed our large garden and the surrounding English countryside, but when our parents’ close friends, John & Elizabeth Greenwood, went to live in the South of Spain for a few years, we were lucky enough to go out there and spend a few holidays with them. In fact, my sister just recently had lunch with Elizabeth and they spoke fondly of those years and of the local characters such as the charming Christobal, who would entertain us kids by riding up and down the mountain with all four of us on his scooter – Simon & Joanna (John & Elizabeth’s two children) plus my sister Charlotte & myself – all four of us, hanging on for dear life! On another occasion, he took us to the local marble quarry and we rode in his big old truck that transported the large blocks of stone up and down the mountain. Years after her husband had died, Elizabeth returned to visit where they had once lived but alas, like so many beautiful spots, the tourists had moved in and ruined it all. Now a grey-haired man, Christobal however, had gone on to become a veritable “pillar of the community” and was married with several children and grandchildren. I also went back to the same area when I was 18 and saw similar changes. What had once been a dirt mountain road up to the quaint village of Mijas was now a dual carriageway, and where once the beautiful Mediterranean coast had been full of local markets and restaurants, was now a never-ending row of towering beachfront skyscraper hotels. Now, here’s an interesting little tidbit for you – the small mountain village of Mijas also boasts the only non-circular Bullring in Spain! It is oval, almost rectangular in fact, and, I also just happened to see it on the TV recently being used as a location in an old episode of the British mystery duo “Rosemary & Thyme”!
Here is an old photo of me outside our little holiday villa in Spain with our temporarily “adopted” dog “Chica” taken in 1964!
Those holidays in Spain were great adventures for us because back then, unlike today, you didn’t necessarily go abroad every single summer. Two out of the three times that we did go to the South of Spain, our father decided it would be better to drive all the way there and back, instead of flying and then renting a hire car, which must have been pretty expensive back then! So we drove twice, and the third time, we flew. Driving all the way through France and then down to the south of Spain in 2, maybe 3 days was quite something. First of all we were in an English car, driving on European roads where they drive on the other side of the road. So my father was essentially driving “blind” a lot of the time and relying on whoever was in the front passenger seat to be his eyes for him, in particular when he wanted to overtake some slow-traveling vehicle – which was quite often. He wanted to get us there as quickly as possible so we would have more time on the beach and less on the road. So the person in the front passenger seat definitely had the pressure. It was crazy! If I was in the front seat and said it wasn’t clear for him to overtake, he wouldn’t believe me and still pulled out to overtake anyway – it’s a wonder we didn’t all get killed really. And I also recall my father driving so fast up and down and over those wretched Pyranees mountains that my sister and I both became carsick and kept asking him to stop the car so we could throw up, which must have been infuriating for someone who was in such a hurry to get to his destination!
Another classic family joke from back then was my sister’s inability to understand why hairpin bends are called hairpin bends. Everyone has one of those things that they just cannot grasp – for me it was why the numbers on a camera got bigger when the Aperture size got smaller – made no sense to me. And so it was with my sister and the hairpin bends. And God knows, we drove around and up and down enough of them, and still she didn’t get it. I’m not sure if she gets it to this day, to be honest? (Just kidding!) Ah the joys of those family vacations, eh? I was a little goody two-shoes while my sister was being defiantly adolescent, refusing to wear a hat, and inevitably ending up with sunstroke, at which point she became even more bad-tempered than she already was! I remember after one long day’s drive, we were looking for a hotel for the night, and everywhere was completely full, and we had to take one room for all four of us. So now you have my tired and cranky parents, my sun-stroked sister who was busy throwing a teenage strop and refusing to sleep in the same room as us, (mind you, she had a point) and little old me. In the end the hotel manager found my sister a tiny cupboard-sized room next to the hot water boiler so she baked all night, but at least she got to be on her own!
On another occasion, we were staying in San Sebastian, a lovely old town on the Northwest coast of Spain just across the border from France. It was a beautiful old hotel and as luck would have it, there was an incredible firework display over the water the night we were staying there and we had watched it from our window and tiny balcony. The next morning, our mother decided to proudly practice her Spanish and ordered breakfast for us all in the room. Shortly thereafter, breakfast arrived on a fancy tray covered in crisp white linens, and consisting of fragrant fresh coffee, huge buttery croissants and 4 very large glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice – which in Spain, land of oranges, was always quite naturally delicious (I can taste the tang and the fruitiness in my mouth, even now) – and, as usual, these particular orange juices lived up to their reputation – they were so yummy that I believe my mother even ordered 4 more! Well, they were yummy until my father saw the bill and completely hit the roof! I think they were about $10 each, or certainly something totally outrageous and way beyond our normal breakfast budget! Another hilarious memory from that same hotel occurred shortly after we had arrived while my sister and I were examining the room and all of its fancy décor. We discovered a miscellaneous button on the wall, and being the curious young girls that we were, went ahead and pushed it, but nothing happened. Some minutes later, there was an unexpected knock on the door. Our father, who had just emerged from the bathroom, was so surprised that without stopping to think, rushed and opened up the door only to find a rather alarmed and flustered housemaid staring right at his completely naked body! Ooops!
And here is another photo I found of my sister and I (unfortunately almost all of our older family photos are still packed away in England) but it has to be in Spain, judging by the name of the Hotel, and was perhaps taken in or near Madrid after our father’s car had died on the way back home one year (another reason not to drive all the way through France & Spain and back again!) Anyway, we had broken down in the middle of nowhere and had to be towed for some distance across endless dusty plains to the bustling Capital city of Madrid, which also happened to be in the middle of a heat wave that Summer (even the Spaniards were feeling it!) My sister and I had to ride in the tow truck with the driver, while our parents sat perched at a strange angle in the front seats of the car being towed behind us. Being a couple of “scaredy cats” my sister naturally pulled her “I’m the eldest” card, so I was forced to sit in the middle of the tow truck’s cab, squeezed between my sister and a strange Spaniard who smelled of rusty old metal and motor oil. After the long ride, our adventures in Madrid continued for a few more days before we then flew home. Our father’s car was eventually shipped back and arrived minus all 4 tires and the battery! Maybe that’s why we flew to Spain the next time?
In closing, I wanted to give a mention to Bill Bryson
, one of my favorite writers, and who also happens to be a “travel” writer, so it was hardly a surprise when I found out that he is a Sagittarius himself, born on December 8th! If you have never read a Bill Bryson book, then I encourage you to put one on your list to Santa this year. He is brilliantly funny and clever with words, and although many of his books are about his travels, he has also written numerous other titles such as, “A Short History of Nearly Everything” and “The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way” that deal with the topics of science and language respectively. Personally, I still prefer some of his earlier books, including naturally, “Notes From a Small Island” where he, as an outside observer, manages to describe the English people and their peculiarities so perfectly, it has you weeping with laughter. He is one of those laugh-out-loud authors, where all of a sudden, without realizing it, and before you know what you’re doing, you simply explode into a loud burst of laughter… which can be quite embarrassing really, especially if you are in a public place, such as an airport or on a train. His books are ideal to take with you when you are traveling though, because they are so funny and entertaining. http://www.booksattransworld.co.uk/billbryson/
. So whether you are traveling this holiday season or not, stay warm and safe, read a good book and we’ll see you all in 2011!