Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hannah in Bulgaria

My sister Hannah had a birthday on April 7th. The week prior, she came to visit me! She's the only other Ray to set foot in Bulgaria. It meant a lot to be able to show her around and go exploring at places I've been putting off just to share with her!

Hannah has always been a strange cross between younger and older sister. Maybe a twin is close to it. We are opposites in every way, see so many issues differently, deal with stress and failure and friendships differently: and we're tight. I don't have anyone I fight with more and I have no one who has my back the way she does.

Our trip included some awesome and not so awesome times. Here are the top ten memorable moments:

Mt Vitosha
This mountain overlooks Sofia. I'd always wanted to go up near the summit. So we took a gondola and went! Best moment: getting off the gondola at the WRONG TIME and having to get back on.

Alexander Nevsky
 See previous post

Dinner at Made in Home Restaurant. Food Glorious Food. We talked about it for days.

Narnia in Bulgaria (aka Veliko Tarnovo, fortress)
Cair Paravel, anyone? Just without the sea nearby.
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Long talks, Long walks
We spent a lot of our free time walking around the various towns we were in. Lots of conversations, memories, stories.

Buzludzha / Birthday Present
Birthday present trip to the coolest abandoned building in the world? Yes.

The hole we climbed through

Grey's Anatomy
 What is sister time without some trashy tv? I'd never seen this TV classic so we launched into season 1. I spent most of the time with my head under the blankets. Scared of blood. How am I a nurse's daughter?

Bus ride from Hell
 What's life without a little story? Our 6 hour trip in a minibus from Gabrovo to Varna was the worst. A kid threw up 9 times. The driver chain smoked. We were not happy.

The last picture we thought we'd take for posterity

Clear labels that say not to smoke
Being together when we heard about G-Dad
It meant a lot to have her there when we heard about G-Dad's death. Having family there was the best.

Knowing Good Bye Isn't Forever
But it's still really, really, sad.

Miss you, Hannah! Thank you for coming all this way!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Acceptance pt 2

Thank you to Hannah Ingram who found the missing Hirschfield poem!

An excerpt from: Between the Material World and the World of Feeling
But I long for the calm acceptance of a bentwood chair and envy the
                    blue-green curve of a vase’s shoulder, which holds whatever is placed
                    within it—the living flower or the dead—with an equally tender balance,
                    and knows no difference between them.
                    —Jane Hirshfield, from After: Poems (Harper Perennial, 2006)


Candle lit from "Jerusalem Fire"
Христос воскресе! Воистину воскресе! (Hristos voskrese! Voistinu voskrese!)

He is Risen! He is risen indeed!

A year ago, I prepared a pot roast to go with an extravagant potluck meal for the "misfits": anyone without a place to go for Easter. It was a surprising crew: some students from Elements, lots of ballroom friends, unexpected Easter church shows, friends who didn't show for church but wanted food, my dad who drove up to be with me and Hannah. It's hard to believe that was a year ago. It's hard to believe how far away it feels.

Easter Feasting in my living room
This past weekend, I had several Fulbright guests come and join me for the holiday. We read from Scripture, went to a midnight Orthodox service, went to a protestant morning service, sang on the train tracks, drank rakia, and ate more food than we could really hold.

It was so good to have company. It was even better to have company that wanted to celebrate the holiday and remember each piece of it with me.

Singing on the tracks.
It was a reminder of new life. So many pieces of the weekend were about reviewing the things we hold dear, that have made us who we are. The Bulgarian context made us remember all the differences we knew growing up.

Do you know this song? Did you sing this in Sunday school? What did you do for Easter dinner? How do you make deviled eggs? How are the accounts of the resurrection different from each other?

We also drew in new traditions from our Bulgarian home. козунак, a sweet bread with orange peel and turkish delight. Egg smashing (a fight where you see whose egg cracks first). Stroll through town after church. Bulgarian greetings.

Being far away from home makes you realize the important things to you. What will you keep? What will you not keep? Some things I don't miss. Mom said growing up that Easter was her favorite (after Thanksgiving). I couldn't get why. Now I do. I'm keeping Easter.

Train Track picnic before Easter Dinner. This was right before the drunk man tried to get us to go drink with him and we packed up and went inside.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

My sister visited me last month. On an evening walk through downtown Sofia, we stopped at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. This space has been closed each time I've gone past. On this particular night, the building was open. Saturday evening Vespers. Pictures are forbidden inside. I snuck an audio clip and a picture of the sunset from the foyer on my way out.

This is may be the most moving 15 minutes of This Bulgarian Life.

On the Saturday Between The Greats (the Easter Saturday between Death and Resurrection), please enjoy this moment of worship and beauty from the Bulgarian Orthodox tradition.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday in Dobrich

It's been raining since I woke up this morning, groggy and heavy headed. Sarah (American colleague in Dimitrovgrad) arrived late last evening. We ate a late dinner and had even later conversations. We've been preparing for Easter: heavy laden trips to the grocery store, fish shop, corner market, Old Town bakery. We have salmon, broccoli, potatoes, eggs, kazonlook (sweet bread), white wine. There is a feast in the making. We are waiting for Sunday.

Every few hours, we read another section of the story, tracking with the times of the day.

It's been good to have a friend to observe the weekend with me. I feel the shallow places in me filling up, relieved to have another voice to talk to about life, students, ideas, creative work

We went to the Old Town and visited my favorite ceramics shop, the one where the owner smashes her dishes to show they are unbreakable and feeds me apricot rakia with each visit. Having a friend helps remind me to delight in the lovely artisan work hidden around the quiet corners of this town I live in.

After, we waited in line with 15 others for the special sweet bread, full of raisons and turkish delight. The smell of the fresh bread drifted with us as we walked home through the rain.

Good Friday. A day to remember a death.

We finished our day with a Good Friday service at the small Methodist church I attend. One of the girls translated for us. We sang, heard a sermon about remembering gratitude and communication with God in response to Jesus death. Then we stopped at the Orthodox church in the center, lit candles amid the hub bub of many older people chanting the service (no choir).

It was a good day. A day of reading the accounts and taking stock, charting the course of our spirits and memories for the next few days. It also recounted where we have walked in the last year and what we have learned. Remembering and remembering well.

So close to Easter.

Monday, April 14, 2014

In Favor of Mornings

Wednesdays and Thursdays, I am at school by 7:30. The other days, I try to get up as if I were going to be at school then, just so I can be okay on the mornings I have to be. My students have started to say that I'm remarkably awake at 7:30am. I am faking it. If they looked closely, they would see that my left leg warmer was on inside out and that my hair is in a pony tail because I didn't wash it yesterday. Or the day before. Or this morning. That I depend on my morning tea and sometimes skip brushing my teeth in favor of the slow warm mug (don't worry, I fix it all with a piece of orbit mint gum).

I've been finding that the old sayings of the morning people are true. There is a freshness to the early start that I've never known before, groggy with late hours and work completed late. My brain does work better--scattered, spastic, but better. It jumps and creeks like a train picking up speed but at least its moving, hissing along, findings its pace.

And the light. I didn't know the light was so glorious in the early morning. The dark winter mornings are the hardest, like walking through midnight to teach. But the mornings where I head towards the kitchen for tea and think, "Did I leave the light on last night?" but no, it is the morning sun bursting through my 7th floor east facing kitchen window. The whole room is on fire. I pull my mat into the kitchen for stretches and music before I eat. When the blood has to move right away, I move and wake up with it.

Then, I'm able to walk to school with a happiness I never expect. It's okay. It's morning. It's okay.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Poetry month, Sarah Kay

Poetry Month is a beautiful month. April. Spring. Words. I've been reading some each day and finding it helps with every morning. Poetry is full of details, tangible, physical, visceral. Surprises, sounds, suggestions, connotations, denotations. Even the technical words to describe the magic have its own good taste. I've listened to a lot of Sarah Kay this year. I've shared her with my students. I hope you find her as delightful as I have.

Monday, April 07, 2014

G-Dad: In Memory

  Al Jenkins married my grandmother, Christine, when my mom was in junior high. I don’t remember the story of how they met or how it all happened. But they got married. He’s been part of my family since that time. I grew up knowing him as my grandfather. He and my grandmother carry the names my oldest cousin J gave to them: G-Dad and G-Mom. It was easier for us younger kids to say. The names stuck.

 This past week, G-Dad concluded his life. The funeral was yesterday afternoon.

 In Orhan Pamuk’s novel “The Museum of Innocence” he structures his chapters by bringing forward objects that remind him of a certain time in his life, of certain people, and explains the stories through these objects. His story telling has a very different goal than mine, but I will use his tool. I will share with you the objects that fill the memories I have of him.

Christmas Tree Train
There was a burnt, metallic smell of the batteries and wires that hung around the Christmas tree each year, emanating from those small and fragile wheels around the small and fragile tracks. Each Christmas, we’d lay on our stomachs to watch the train move, its magic laying primarily in the ways it would switch tracks, somehow knowing which loop it was supposed to take under the tree. 

I don’t know what year he stopped setting it up for us. Perhaps as we got older. Perhaps after my family moved away, the family with the youngest kids. There wasn’t anyone left to enchant with its recorded “choo-choo” sound and mechanical wheels. Or maybe it just got too difficult to set up. There was less room anyway once they moved houses.

He gave the train to us at some point, hoping Isaac would set it up and be interested in the mechanics. It’s still in our basement. None of us have the skill to figure out the set up.

Work Shed
It was a room we weren’t allowed to enter because of the tools. We might hurt ourselves. He kept it closed but on some visits, when I was playing outside, I’d see him in there tinkering. I don’t know what he made in there. I know he liked to know how things were made and try his hand at making and tinkering. Perhaps it was mostly fixing things that needed to be fixed around the house. I do remember that he had an Atlanta Braves pennant hung on the wall.

Tan Car
Perhaps it was an Oldsmobile. Perhaps not. The seats were soft and sunk under even my slight weight. The smell was the same as the love seat: a distant cologne, age, dust of use. Any time I saw a gold or tan car, I thought it belonged to him. It would be parked outside of our house when they came to visit on Christmas morning or it would be the one we would look for in the Beech Haven Baptist Church parking lot on the weekends I would stay with them. The click ting click of the turning signal was unlike any other.

I thought he was the one driving any gold or tan car that we passed on the road.

China Cabinet
The romping that took place in G-Mom and G-Dad’s living room floor were the sign that we had all gathered for some holiday. It never really decreased through the years, perhaps only in the last five or so. My earliest memories of being told to be careful playing were when the games with the cousins got too close to the “china cabinet”. I can only hear those words in a strong North Georgia accent and usually in my aunt’s voice. Her taking my arm in her hand, leaning down near my head and talking quietly to explain to us that this china cabinet belonged to G-Dad and was from his family in Wales. I didn’t know where Wales was but it was the first time I realized that G-Dad had existed before he married G-Mom, that he came from somewhere else, had a history, another family that I never saw. Stacy made it very clear that the china cabinet was special and important, that we needed to take care of it and not break anything. I learned to walk lightly past it and steer my younger siblings away from it and listen for the faint “ting ting” as the glasses rattled if we walked or ran too close.

I never saw any dish break. A miracle.

The Orange Love Seat
No picture of G-Dad is as true to his loves as the Orange Love Seat. It was purchased sometime in my early childhood and still sits in their living room. It was his spot. When the chaos of our large and loud family would get too much, he could be found on the love seat, leaned back. There would be some baseball game on, year round it seemed. Mostly the Atlanta Braves.

But he let us little ones interrupt him too. We’d climb on the seat next to him or on him, asking him questions, sticking our stuffed animals in his face. He’d take the babies, when there were babies, and let them sit quietly with him as he watched his games.

When I remember him telling stories about his life, he is also sitting on this love seat. Sometimes, when he was in a talkative mood, he’d tell us that he was in the navy during World War II and stationed in Hawaii. He was a cook for some platoon. Or he’d tell a story from Wales. These stories came infrequently. I listened up when they did.

The Love Seat is also where he would sit with G-Mom. They’d hold hands in their love seat, G-Mom talking to anyone and everyone. He’s smile and chuckle, occasionally putting in a witty word or two, but letting her construct the drama. He was always there for her, beside her in church, beside her after open heart surgery, waiting in the hangar after she decided to go skydiving.

When I think of him, it is most often in this chair that I find him. Restful. Happy. Content.

Thank you, G-Dad for your life and your care for us.