travel


Estamos in Chile.

We have arrived in Santiago, Chile, and I think I may know a bit of what it feels like to be a political wife. I´ve been doing a lot of smiling, nodding, kissing of cheeks and eating way more than I actually want to … as people celebrate the triumpant return of my husband.

Ned and I have been galavanting around S. America for the past ten days as part of a two-week vacation that has taken us to Buenos Aires, the snowy mountains of southern Argentina, the rainy mountains of southern Chile and Santiago. We´ll throw in a day trip to Valpairiso before we go and then stop over ever-so-briefly Lima, Peru on our way home (it was the cheapest way to get the flight).

The real heart of our trip is Santiago. Ned lived here for a while in college, working with an organization that helped abused women, living with a family, speaking Spanish and dancing the cueca. He formed quite a bond with the family and Chile while here, so I have been longing to visit his adopted pais.

We knew we would take some sort of vacation in August, as my office closes for a week. We weren´t sure where it would be (we´re facing lots of self-imposed pressure to front-load our marriage with fantastic trips before the ninos come along). But about a month ago we found some good airfare to S. America (thanks, LAN!), and it all came together. 

We wanted to come to Santiago to see his familia, of course. But Santiago is not exactly the most beautiful city in the world –my apologies to the good people of this town … but it just isn´t. So,  we added Argentina for the vacation appeal. Buenos Aires is like Europe on sale. The dollar may be weak right now, but the Argentine peso is even weaker, so it´s a pretty fanastic place to visit (especially if you, like me, really wanted to go to Italy but realized there is no way you could afford it). We´re talking espresso for a dollar, huge steaks for five bucks (or less) and really good wine for two dollars. Delicious. It´s silly, but I have to admit … I cried the first day we arrived in Chile. I was sad to leave Argentina.

But after spending several gray, rainy days in southern Chile, we came to Santiago. And the moment we pulled up to the family´s casa, I knew why we were here. I could hear Mama Luz´s shouts of joy from inside the house, as she realized her Prestito was back to visit. I cried again, this time tears of joy.

The familia Rivieros is wonderful. Mama Luz is the matriarch, with six adult children, a ton of grandchildren (ranging from about 10 years old to 20-something) and two great-grandchildren. They all live in Santiago. The family is exuberant and loving… meals seem to frequently break out in songs, chants, screams of laughter. It´s all in Spanish, so I can only understand half of what is going on (make that less than half). But even without language, I can feel the love. I see why Ned is so attached.

Even outside the family, my husband is a minor celebrity in this barrio. This is not a neighborhood that sees any tourists, and I think he is probably the only gringo in history to learn the national dance and compete in the local annual dance contest for the Fiestas Patrias, the national holiday. 

So my famous husband was asked to speak to the congregation at church yesterday, and then we made the rounds — hugging, kissing, admiring babies, and the like.

Ned is fluent in Spanish — in fact, Spanish-speakers often ask where he is from, because they don´t think an American could speak so well. I, on the other hand, am just learning the language. So I speak Espanol at about a toddler level. I can point and declare things proudly –hombres! los ninos beben leche! perro! perrito! gato! etc. But that´s about it so far. So, while Preston chatted it up with his gente, as the congregation rejoiced at the return of The Gringo Who Danced … I just smiled a lot.  Soy la political wife. (Succesful political wives do not point and shout like toddlers, alas.)

But really smiling wasn´t too hard. Mi esposa was with his hombres. And it was mui hermosa.

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It seems that a bunch of crazy kids did the Thriller zombie dance on the London tube today. It’s fantastic.

It would have been pretty much the best moment of my life if they had done this while I was in London last week. Except … perhaps not, because I would have been so conflicted over my desire to jump up and join them.

I have memories of standing in my parents’ living room in front of the television, trying desperately to dance along with Michael Jackson and those Thriller zombies.

I applaud the London tube dancers for their mad dance skillz and incredible subway-lurching balance. Please bring the show to the X bus!

It surprises me as much as it may surprise you that I am headed to London this weekend. The trip was not long in the planning, and we have been so busy (and so barely at home) since then, that I have not really had time to think about it. I don’t think it will hit me until I am there, with those beautiful pounds sterling in my hand, making my first purchase of a Cadbury’s Double Decker bar from someone with a fabulous dialect.

This is how it came about: Ned needs to go to London to meet with some business partners. I am tagging along because I love England, and I would be dying of jealousy if he went without me. Plus, there was an airfare sale (since January is such a delightful time to visit the U.K.), a federal holiday and a kind offer from a friend to host us for the weekend. We figured even if now is not the best or easiest or most available time, it won’t really ever be *easier* to go, so better do it while we can, even if it is a short stay.

So, we bought our tickets over the Christmas holiday, and if all goes according to plan, I will be stuffing my face with flapjacks, Cadburys and tea just three days from now. We are scheduled to arrive in London in all of our jetlagged, red-eye glory on Friday morning, and then we will return home again on Tuesday afternoon.

I spent 1996-1997 in England on foreign study at Leeds University. During that time, I spent several weekends in London, and I returned again a few years later, but I am certainly no expert on the city. (Nor have I been there in the past ten years — now I feel old.) So if any of you readers out there have any “must see,””must eat,” “must go to Evensong at” recommendations, please pass them along!

When we were in Puerto Rico in November, one of our cab drivers bragged to us that P.R. has one of the longest Christmas seasons around. They start to put up decorations around Thanksgiving (although the Puerto Ricans aren’t so much into Thanksgiving itself) and carry on until they celebrate the beginning of Christmas on Dec. 25th. The party only gets bigger after that, and they have big celebrations and parades and gifts and such for Three Kings Day on Jan. 6th (Epiphany). Three Kings Day is the pinnacle of the season, but the celebrations and decorations and such last until Jan. 15th. I asked, “Why the 15th?” He replied that it was just 3 Kings Day plus another week (an octave, really), because who wants to stop Christmas on Three Kings Day? Makes sense to me.

I am no authority on Christmas in Puerto Rico. I have this from one friendly cab driver, plus the interweb informs me that the P.R. Christmas is long and hearty. Any Puerto Rican readers out there — and I am sure I have thousands, of course — please tell me about the length and intensity of your Christmas celebrations!

What we observed in Puerto Rico was: awesome decorations that started in mid-November and lots of wise men. We saw many decorations, ornaments and iconography with the 3 kings (sometimes the Holy Family was nowhere in sight, just the three wise guys).

I am all about celebrating until Jan. 15th. I love Christmas, and I don’t really start celebrating it in earnest until Christmas Day, so extending the holiday cheer sounds good to me. And since marriage makes it harder for me to be with all of my relatives at once, it seems all the better to extend Christmas now that I have multiple family members all over the country.

So, this year my family is celebrating Christmas Puerto Rico style. We had Christmas with Ned’s family in Colorado on Christmas Day. More gifts during the 12 days of Christmas in California with Ned’s grandparents, his aunt and uncle and his brother and his wife. On 12th Night we had a party and gift exchange with some friends in D.C. Then this past Saturday, Jan. 12th, we had a tardy Christmas with my sisters, brother-in-law and tiny, oblivious nephew (who spent Christmas day in the hospital, but now is doing fine).

Our tree is still up at home, mostly because I was in Iowa and New Jersey since Epiphany. Ned and I will probably have the last round of gifts tonight, then say goodbye to Maria the Tree … just in time for the end of the Christmas in Puerto Rico…

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Is about its organic farms, right? Well, that’s what I am here to report. I’m in Woodbury County, Iowa, learning about their local food purchasing policy and the tax credit to help farmers convert to organic. This is what I can say about Iowa right now: everyone I have met here is totally awesome. Go Iowa!

Whoever is in charge of planes appears to be angry with me. We’re back in D.C., but only after a very delayed flight. We’re just glad we did not have to spend the night at LAX.
We arrived at LAX at 3 pm yesterday (west coast time) and watched as our flight time became later and later on the computer screen. No one ever explained the delay. We left three to four hours late (I stopped paying attention) and finally rolled into Dulles at 3:15 am (EST). One people-mover driver was there. He drove us across the spooky nighttime Dulles terrain to the main terminal. We all shuffled over to the baggage claim, where nothing happened for a long time. Eventually, the one or two baggage guys who had to stay the night finally got our stuff on the belt. Sorry Dulles employees, I know it was just as bad for you as it was for us.

Some time after 4 am, we finally got out of the airport. An acquaintance who is a bit of a high-roller in the travel department ( first-class on the plane, sedan service to his home in Virginia), mostly because he flies to Europe all the time for his job, was on our flight and offered us seats in his sedan ferry. There aren’t really buses or taxis rolling through Dulles at 4 am, so we were grateful for the help. The sedan took him to Alexandria first, then drove to our house. $85 later, we finally stumbled into our house at 5:15 am. I prefered the bus-metro-bus $4 trip we took to the airport a week ago to start our travels, but that was not really an option this morning.

When I crawled into bed for a short nap at 5:30 am, I could hear my neighbor’s alarm clock already ringing. I am grateful for the holiday blend coffee we bought at my favorite coffee chain, Peet’s, in Manhattan Beach, Calif., and enjoyed this morning. (Peets appears to be finally making its way to the East coast in some grocery stores in New England. Oh Mr. Peet, please to open a store in D.C.). It is bringing me some holiday cheer today.

This was one of three flights we took this holiday season, all of them hours behind schedule. I will be flying to Iowa and London later this month — may those trips not follow this same pattern.

 

I am currently in Breckenridge, Colorado, with Ned’s family for what will be my first white Christmas. Growing up in South Carolina, shorts at Christmas were more common than snow (though shorts weren’t exactly common — but they did happen, unlike the snow, which did not. ever.).

We took the bus-metro-bus to Dulles after work on Friday. The journey there was fine and the security lines the shortest I remember them being just before Christmas. But we still faced flight delays, slow luggage and a slow drive up the snowy mountain, which put us here at the house and finally snug in our beds at the delightful hour of 4am –which is nearly 6 am DC time.

I was exhausted, but it was hard to convince my body it was time to sleep. We woke up again at 9, still tired. Saturday was spent gasping for more oxygen, trying to fight off a killer high-altitude headache, being  shocked at just how cold 7 degrees plus some crazy mountain windchill feels, and buying a new hat. Preston skied in the afternoon, and I took a nap.

Today I feel much better. We went to bed last night at 9:30 pm (Colorado time) and awoke at 6:30 ish, with only a very mild headache. My lungs and brain are getting used to the thinner air.

Ned and I went to a fourth Sunday of Advent service this morning at the charming mountain church, St John the Baptist. We then ate a tasty doughnut at the famous Daylight Donuts in town and joined his family for a service at Breckenridge Christian Ministries.

The people, sermon, music and Christ-in-a-mountain-lodge feel at BCM were wonderful, enriching and I loved our time there. But during Advent, I long for the traditions of the church. So when they lit the pink candle on the Advent wreath for the fourth Sunday of Advent at BCM and talked about the “joy of Christmas,” I was glad we had double dipped at church this morning and already had a healthy dose of Anglicanism. (editor’s note: the pink candle is for week three, gaudete Sunday. And the wreath is for Advent, which is NOT pre-Christmas.)  When we entered St. Johns, I was SO HAPPY to find the Mary and Joseph figurines hanging out on a windowsill, journeying toward the animals set up in a creche in the front. Jesus was appropriately hiding somewhere — I hope in the sacristy.

It is funny how when you grow up in a church that is rich in symbolism, these things become really important.  Because they are not just empty symbols, but point to something beyond. Mary and Joseph are still on their journey and so are we, and I need to be looking at myself and asking if I am ready to celebrate the anniversary of God’s coming to the world as the incarnate God of love or His final coming as judge. Instead I am thinking about wrapping Christmas presents — sigh. Lord, have mercy.

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