Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas Confessions

This blog's stuck in Cambodia, and confused friends keep asking where we are and what we are doing. Well, a confession: we arrived in Colombia at the end of October. After a trip through Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina. I've been putting off updating the blog for a variety of reasons, but mainly from sloth. And the longer away we got from the last blog post, in terms of time, distance and memory, the more it seemed like an irrelevance to anyone else to recount the events of the diminishing past. But I never intended to abandon the blog, and I don't intend to let the happenings of the last legs of our journey to Colombia fall by the wayside as my inadequate memory continues to disintegrate. So, a proposal for a protocol.

A proposal: I'll adopt a parallel time line on the blog, where some posts will be from the present, while others will carry on from that frozen moment of leaving the beach in Cambodia, and struggle to catch up with the receding present. Protocol? Flashback blogs articles shall go by the name of “Memory Hole” (with abject apologies to Orwell), where I try to retrieve a modicum of significance from the little I can remember of what happened before now. Your common or garden blog posts inspired by events of the immediate present will continue to get funky titles that carry sly allusions to the world of rock and roll. If at all possible.

As we are now in the land of my wife's birth, Patricia's urge to blog about events for the benefit of her immediate family has more or less disappeared. Given that she sees most of them now on a weekly basis. Therefore there is a strong chance that this blog will henceforth exclusively carry my rantings, which will mostly be about the perceived insanity of life in Colombia as seen through the eyes of a bewildered Irishman. Such as Christmas. It has been the subject of heated annual marital disagreement – when should it be celebrated? I think it is fairly well accepted that Christ was born nowhere near the date of 25th December, but for reasons of bureaucratic expediency, combined with the fact that the Romans lost his birth certificate during the successful public sector strike for improved pensions in 213 AD, this day has been decreed as the day to celebrate his birth. All across the civilized world people observe this day by gathering round an over-cooked turkey, paper crowns skew-whiff on their heads, to stand at 3pm GMT and listen to the meaningless mouthings of a historical aberration incarnate in the bones of an octogenarian monarch whose wealth and opulence stand in equal measure to the smiling contempt of her listeners. Colombians, on the other hand, sit up to midnight on the 24th December, and get the party started at the stroke of midnight in order that no one else in the world beats them to it. Here, in Tunja, a huge feast was laid on in the middle of the night, and plentiful shots of sugarcane liqour were passed round, before being followed up by a whiskey of indeterminate origin. Pati's uncle arrived, driving a car that contained, at the least, ten speakers and an amplifier of considerable power output. Once the boot was opened there was enough volume to shake your fillings loose. This was in the middle of the night! And the neighbours didn't even blink - no, I think the looks we were getting were sneaking admiration mixed with envy.

Although I'd been warned that presents would be opened in the wee small hours, the liquor took its toll and eventually people slipped away to bed sometime after 2am. This wasn't a good idea for those of us who have a small child who wakes up with the daylight about 6.30am. Four hours sleep isn't enough to make you look even passably enthusiastic about Santa's visit. At least we had the parental decency to put the presents that his Nana had sent from Belfast into the stocking before we went to bed. Bless him, the day before he got out of bed like a shot and ran downstairs, before returning disconsolate to our room, loudly berating the fact that Santa hadn't been. Once we had finished laughing, we explained to him that there was still one sleep to go before Santa's visit.

Santa really doesn't have a huge presence in Colombian culture (they ascribe the anonymous delivery of xmas presents to the Child of God, which at least has the virtue of theological coherence). In a moment of subversion, I put a 1cm high plaster figure of Santa right next to the crib in the Nativity Scene that was set up beside the xmas tree in my in-laws front room. By the next day he'd been removed to the kitchen. One-nil to the atheists there, I reckon. Having decided that for the purposes of cultural acclimatisation Oisin needs to kick the Santa habit, I'd been telling him that as there was no chimney in his grandmother's house, Santa wouldn't be visiting this year at all. Everyone else seemed to think this was unreasonably cruel. He was ecstatic, of course, this morning, stocking in hand. This Santa habit might be a hard one to kick. Cultural hybridity, here we come!

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