Hello from “an airport somewhere” and a very belated Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Mele Kalikemaka, Heri Za Mwaka Mpya and Feliz Ano Prospero to all of you, as it might apply to your particular situation. Oh, and Happy Chinese New Year, too – the Year of the Monkey has always been a personal favorite of mine.
My first resolution of the New Year was to send holiday correspondence and I consider the small fact that the holidays are long over a rather insignificant detail. I don’t usually write holiday letters but I enjoy the ones I receive and feel it would be remiss not to reply eventually. Since much of this past year was lived out of a suitcase, I am behind on returning emails and phone calls and thought I would cover all my bases with a letter and a few photos of life out here on the road. Pardon my late attempt.
Part of my tardiness is due to having spent my first Christmas in forty-two years away from home and out of the country. I traveled to Costa Rica with Mario over the holidays to participate in a family wedding and to spend Christmas with most of his three-hundred-plus Costa Rican-Spanish-Chinese relatives; thus forcing my Spanish to near fluency and expanding my Mandarin from two words to more than a dozen.
The experience was fantastic, despite many encounters of the creepy-crawly kind. Within the traditional twelve days of Christmas I was attacked by flesh eating ants, stung by an Africanized honeybee, removed a scorpion from my shoe and woke up to a ten inch June bug crawling across my face (I refer to it as the June-July-August bug in honor of its size). And just before the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, as we were sitting down for a sumptuous Christmas dinner in the quiet suburbs of Escazu – an earthquake rocked the foundations of the family home, sent us scurrying to the safety of the backyard (how safe can the cover of coconut palm trees be in an earthquake?) and, to the delight of the family dog, removed a good part of the lavish feast to the floor; not your average Oklahoma Christmas.
I am convinced there is some sort of new holiday song somewhere in that experience. I certainly missed my Oklahoma family – but the fact remains any place that has June bugs in December is absolutely perfect for me.
I hope you and yours had a wonderful 2003 and are already underway with an exceptional New Year. I had a great year despite suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. American tourists love to approach me in places like Burma, Italy or East Africa and compliment me on my excellent use of English. “Wow, you speak English with almost no accent” I am often told. At first I thought it was a derogatory reference to the area of the country that I was reared – even though I’m certain my Oklahoma accent disappeared years ago. Let me just say there are travelers and there are tourists and this year alone I have been mistaken by the American form of the later as a Burmese monk, a Thai scuba master, an Italian pastry chef and a sword-carrying member of the Swahili speaking Kikamba tribe while hiking in the Rift Valley of Kenya, just to name a few. Hard to believe, but it happens.
Just last week while climbing the Harbour Bridge in Sydney – an American car dealer approached me at the summit and said, “H-o-w d-o y-o-u s-a-y b-a-t-h-r-o-o-m i-n y-o-u-r l-a-n-g-u-a-g-e”? The question might have been understandable had we not been in Australia where English is the official language, had we not already been conversing all week, and had there been absolutely no chance of a legitimate and legal bathroom stop on top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
Perhaps my experience can be the basis for a new reality television show “American Eye for the Foreign Looking Guy” -- surely I just need an All-American makeover. I can see it now –four burly American males dress me up on live television in khaki shorts below the knee, tennis shoes, tube socks and a tucked-in golf polo shirt complete with logo. They will sit me down in front of a 50 inch television screen and make me watch ESPN for hours until I understand that the removal of rams from Los Angeles years ago was never an environmental issue. I could then be relieved at the possibility that there might be a few cardinals still flying around St. Louis.
In the interest of time and the fact that my next flight departs in minutes – I should not digress. My original intent for this holiday letter was to go on endlessly about my two lovely, wonderful, perfect dogs. I promise to keep it short as I know some of you cannot have dogs and that many of you have made the personal lifestyle choice not to, as well (not that I am one to judge, mind you).
Cimma turned three this year and is absolutely brilliant – unfortunately, as she is adopted, I cannot take any genetic pride in her numerous accomplishments, among them; swimming the length of the Rio Grande from Pilar to Taos and completing her first twelve-thousand foot summit hike. Did I mention that she can now bark in three languages? Cimma was joined this year by a baby brother, Coba (the replacement dog – as sweet Maya went off to that great big hiking trail up there.) Coba’s name was inspired from a message I received channeling one of Shirley Maclaine’s guides while sitting on top of my favorite Mayan ruin in the Yucatan during the Winter Solstice last year and then again while spontaneously singing Puccini’s “O Mio Babino Caro” from the Ponte Vecchio in Florence.
Coba, also being adopted, is quite certain that he was born from a very noble German Shepard/Bernese Mountain dog mix -- the truth of the matter is that his parents were a Chihuahua and a Dachshund. We are not certain how long we are going to let him continue to act as if he were really the former – but since he is less than a foot long and only a few inches high -- we are hopeful he will discover this on his own in good time. Meanwhile, he is quite proficient at protecting his much older and much bigger sister from all the evil dogs on most hiking trails in the southern Rockies.
It turns out those years spent living in a fraternity at OSU in the mid 1980’s has paid off twenty years later. I could never imagine that the extraordinary skill of reciting the Greek alphabet three times before a match burned out, while standing in nothing but my underwear, might actually qualify me for employment in Greece – but it has and I am heading to Athens in February for eight months to work with Alpha Bank, the official Greek Bank sponsor of the 2004 Olympics (as opposed to say the official French deodorant sponsor of the 2004 games. French deodorant – now there’s a good idea).
I will be giving up my much beloved green chiles and blue corn enchiladas for souvlaki, moussaka and spanokopita. Wish me luck and come visit (but bring green chiles!). I have been quite excited about the prospect of many of you taking advantage of the free sleeping arrangements in Athens and its proximity to those beautiful Aegean beaches to pop in for a visit. And since the word got out that I was relocating – the phone has been ringing off the hook; but everyone wants to know when the house in Santa Fe will be available. At this time its available on a “first come basis” February to April and then it is turned over to the Santa Fe Opera from May through August for use as temporary residence by some visiting international soprano. I can only hope those daily scale rehearsals by this portly diva from my second floor windows are sufficient payback for my excessively noisy neighbors!
I wish you, your loved ones, and your special pets, of course, a very special year. Looking over these cards and letters that I’ve just now had time to read reminds me how incredibly lucky and proud I am to have, from all over this wide world, the friends and family I do. And despite the miles and borders and swift passing of time that often separates us – I think of you often and look forward to seeing you somewhere out here, soon. If I could have given you any gift this past holiday season – it would have been the gift of travel. When experienced with eyes and minds wide open, the wonder of getting to know this world can enrich your lives beyond measure. So embrace your inner planetary child and get on a plane, train or automobile, head for the unknown and dive in; the water is safe and you might be surprised and delighted at what you find out here on this big, blue, marvelous planet.
Have a great year!