Monday, December 22, 2008

Extreme Christmas

I think it would be safe to say that this is a pretty weird Christmas.

At a time when our friends and family at home are experiencing the most extreme winter since 1968, we're here sweating like Robert Downey at a bail hearing. On the one hand, its great to be removed completely from the festival of consumerism that this holiday has evolved into, but every once in a while, you just want to be reminded that it's Christmas. You want to smell a freshly cut tree . Woodsmoke from a cozy fire. Baking cookies. Mulled wine. Any kind of a reminder at all of any good memory from childhood Christmases past.

Instead, we see 60 ft grotesquely undernourished Santa Claus effigies in front of the "posh" stores. Flatbed trucks, the decks of which are populated by cobbled together vintage PA systems blasting tinny carols and men in thin fake white beards and dirty red hats, desperately trying to keep their palm-beer impaired balance as the truck careens through traffic. Gangs of vaguely menacing young men in Santa hats roving down the back lane and rattling our gate at 11:30 PM, singing incomprehensible Malayalam lyrics to the tune of Jingle Bells. A store that specializes in crudely contstructed model wooden mangers and little else. Obviously, Christmas matters to a lot of people here. It's just very different, and different in strange and interesting ways.

There is an open air church about a kilometre from our house, a temple to St. Anthony, whom I believe was the patron saint of quality footwear. It's interesting how in India the Christian iconography morphs into the Hindu tradition, or should I say, the Hindu tradition is inclusive enough to include Christian iconography. We've all seen the many armed statues of blue Shiva. In front of this church, there is a statue of Jesus, but the style of the carving is very Shiva-like. There's even a sacred fire that burns ghee in front. There's a ton of Christian history here in Kerala. The Christian movement here was founded by St. Thomas in 58 AD. That's about as Original Gangsta as Christianity gets, as Thomas was one of the 12 disciples of Jesus. There's actually more unbroken history of Christianity here than there is in the west. So does that make the European tradition more like "Christianity Lite"? All the redemption and half the calories....

But I digress. Again. Right now, we're trying to plan a menu for Chritmas dinner that we can execute on a two burner propane stove. Laurel and I picked up a nice cookbook today that had some great traditional Syrian Christian (the prevalent strain in Kerala) dishes. We're leaning towards a black pepper fried fish with curry leaves, and maybe a long braised duck dish, providing we can find a pot large enough to do that in. Duck is a traditional Kerala Christmas thing. Add in some spicy potato, okra masala, dal, rice, and chappati and I think we might be on to something. Turkey is just not done here, and no one has an oven that I've seen yet.

The boys have been amazingly adaptable. They don't bat an eye when the power goes out, as it does at least once a day for about an hour or so. That means that the fans and AC stop working... The picture in this post of Miles at his laptop during a power out. They are totally used to eating without cutlery of any kind, and just using their right hands. Walking for two hours in the midday sun doesn't even seem to faze them much anymore, especially if there is an ice cream bar somewhere in the mix. So far, there's been no complaints about the lack of Christmas tree even. The decorating committee did manage to hang a few stars from the lighting fixtures last night, but that's about as Christmas-like as its getting around here.

We've been invited to our landlord's (Landlord Stanley?) house for a special Christmas lunch. Stanley invited us over yesterday for Sunday breakfast, and his lovely wife GeeGee (sp?) made a fantastic breakfast of appam (a kind of fermented dough pancake) and a coconut milk vegetable curry that was absolutely wonderful. We're going to ask if we can film her making it, because its a great dish, yet very simple. Gotta learn that one!

So here we are, 15,000 miles from home. Sweltering while our friends are snowbound, and trying to bridge the gap between two radically different cultures. An Extreme Christmas.

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