Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas, Comrade Teacher!

In the old communist Yugoslavia there was no Christmas, only New Year but in Kosovo strings of light bulbs were twinkling round the balconies of the minarets in mid-December, for Ramazan. It was my first Christmas teaching there and the head of the English department apologized when Christmas day came around because he'd forgotten. Milovan told me to take the day off.

But it was more fun to be in the English department where every day was Christmassy, with its early morning trip to the buffet in the basement for Turkish coffee and brandy. And then there was 'elevenses' when we slid down the snowy slope across Marshal Tito street to The Three Hats opposite the Faculty of Philosphy for more coffee and brandy "to keep out the cold."

Pristina, capital of Kosovo, already looked like a Christmas card, the sky a brilliant blue with the sun shining on the snow. And sometimes it seemed the whole point of being there, ("A missionary!" as my Belgrade friends said,) was that the only sound on Marshall Tito Street, apart from the occasional truck or Party car, was the hissing of sledges gliding over snow and the jingle of harness and sleigh bells as the peasants drove through town.

It was not until after Christmas that the shops started to look festive. For the poorest province of Yugoslavia that meant the arrival of oranges, lemons and bananas and the placing of white cotton wool snow along the tops of the framed portraits of Tito and Lenin that had been moved down in front of the school books, the canned meats and bottles of brandy. Fir trees were dragged home from the market on toboggans, like the pigs, but the small black or pink ones were carried like chickens, by the legs, squealing as they twirled first one way then the other. It ws New Year and anyone with a pig was Serbian, or at least Christian. The raising of pigs was a tactic of survival under Moslem rule: an unclean pig would not be stolen.

There were Catholic Albanians in Kosovo as well as Moslem but Serbians were Orthodox which meant their Christmas would have been in January. With older Yugoslavs the first question was always: "What is your religion?" "Protestant" meant nothing so the second, puzzled question was: "When do you celebrate Christmas?" And then came the triumphant:"But that's the Catholic Christmas!" and I was classified with the Catholics.
It was a little complicated for Oral Exercises in English, even with the fourth year but all the students had fun that first Christmas morning with their greetings and variations on "Merry Christmas, Comrade Miss Mary!" "Merry Christmas, Comrade Teacher!"

Sunday, December 6, 2009

'Tis the Season

Apart from my bit on Motes Orchids and Face Book, it has been twelve days since my last blog... Sounds as if I'm writing this with a quill pen, in my cabin, as the ship drifts becalmed, sails torn, food running low...

In fact, it IS a bit like that, becalmed by such modest thoughts as: Who do I think I am? And buffeted by the question: Isn't this always about me? (Cheering quote from Oscar Wilde, who enjoyed talking about nothing: -"... it's the only thing I know anything about.")

But now is the season for deep thoughts about Giving and Society and Commercialism and Stuff- (as in having too much.)
Once more, I didn't purchase the UNICEF Christmas cards - always leave it too late - but did get two lovely boxes of elegant little cards with colored envelopes, (no less) - 20 for 3.99 at T J Maxx - and have promised myself will donate the extra to a Charity of My Choice.

That would be Oxfam, though there are so many good ones now. Oxfam started as a reaction by a bunch of professors at Oxford, if I remember rightly, incensed that out of every pound sterling raised for charity, about eighty percent was spent raising money for charity.

Now, of course, Oxfam and my other glam charity, Doctors without Borders, in response to my modest contribution, send me enough paper work to feed a goat for a month.

How far away are we from the Victorians? How many generations? In the nineteenth century London was like Calcutta: Oliver Twist and Slumdog Millionaire. A question of skirting the overwhelming poverty and averting the eyes. I wonder if our great grand children will look back and ask How could you? How could you walk past your television screens, on your way to the fridge, or feeding the dog, saying the problem is just too big. And we will answer: it seemed OK and quite normal at the time.

Motes Orchids on Facebook!

Motes Orchids is on Facebook !

By the way, a reviewer in the Times Literary Supplement states that exclamation marks are absolutely OK on the internet, in fact, required! They add emotion and life. This is a great relief as in paper letters exclamation marks come across as hyper teenage tics. So - Who Knew!!!!

Right- so here's a shout out to Motes Orchids on Face book which looks so pretty and bright - pixs of beautiful orchids - many of which are ours - (just saying!) And lively comment. We should have done this years ago!!! But better late than never !!!

Note: Now need justification for the use of the dash - I do love it. !!!