Of Goodwill and Instant Love

Here we are, a newborn year. For those who have for whatever reason a big “burden” to carry, fear not. 2009 will be “Year of the Ox”. He’ll carry it all for you!
Maybe because I hope to reach my 80th “turn around the Leo Sun” this year, and become an octogenarian, I reflect on what I call the “Six W’s of our parting. “What will cause it? When? Where do I exit? What is the method of my disposal? When will that be? Where will that be?”
That goes for all of us.
Amazing how quickly people forget just a week ago they were singing all those hymns about Peace and Goodwill and other such heart-warming tunes. I’m not talking about the Middle East (that will be going on until cockroaches rule the Earth!) No, I refer to the ‘here and now’ for example in our quiet neighbourhood of James Bay.
I went back to my daily routine of grocery shopping (being the cook in our household). On the hunt for organic Pinto beans, I couldn’t reach a small tin way at the back of the bottom shelf.
So I asked a young woman who was nearby if she’d be so kind as to reach it for me.
She looked at me with a certain look and “smile” (she did not say a word) as if I was a drunken Santa (because of my beard, I guess?), which conveyed a message ‘Who do you think I am, Buddy?’
Whatever the reason, goodwill and peace notwithstanding, she ignored my request. So I asked a store clerk, and he kindly reached way back and handed me the tin.
“Much obliged, young man”, I said. He just smiled, the right smile. There was someone for whom the ‘hymn messages’ were still working.
With that item added to my small shopping cart I continued collecting the other groceries and went to the check-out counter. It was very busy. I found a spot and waited in line.
A woman ahead of me, without looking, stepped a few paces back, and landed on my foot! She turned around, and Yes! you guessed it, it was the same woman, with that certain “smile” again. But not “I am sorry”. Keeping the festive spirit alive, I didn’t turn my left cheek, but said, “I have two feet, would you like to step on the other one?” (I noticed amongst her groceries was some Instant Pudding, so maybe this was someone who practices Instant Love during Yuletide.)
You see I kept one of my resolutions, which is to be tolerant at all times. Well, almost all the time, at least in this kind of situation. So, one resolution kept, not bad, considering it is already January 3. A la prochaine! Henri


First Steps in the New Year

We’re approaching the first steps of the New Year 2009. Speaking of steps, that reminds me, both our calendar and that of the Maya of Central America has 365 days in a year. On a few expeditions to Mexico, when I was still agile and able, I’d climb the 365 steps of ancient Mayan and Aztec pyramids (the number of steps symbolizing a full calendar year.) By the way, do you know the trick to climbing pyramids?

Mexico is in on our radar screen these days. What I find fascinating whenever we have the opportunity to go there, is not just the architecture and keen intelligence represented by these ancient sites, but today to witness the vibrance of its artists and craftspeople.

On each trip we notice new and different designs have surfaced, often combined with a highly developed sense of colour. It’s evidence of a vast reservoir in the genes of these people, this creative diversity and originality. Mexico is so nearby, yet so far removed from our North American, often vulgar display of goods and colours. During the holidays we went to a major shopping mall, just to look, and once again, this non-presence of aesthetics and harmony made itself seen and known, with a few exceptions.
In the mall we noticed all kinds of sales. What always has my attention is that the price of something hits home and has a common language, but when it comes to talking about an object by colour, it becomes more difficult to describe to someone who has not seen a particular item you’re talking about. For example, on display were several sweaters and dresses. Blue, Green, Red. Say I tell someone, “There is a beautiful blue sweater for sale, but you must decide, for it’ll go quickly”, how is that person going to know which colour of Blue we are referring to?
Unless we’d take a sample of the fabric, or bring the person to whom we reveal the “sale” opportunity, he or she will not know which colour we speak of. Now here comes the next step. “It’s priced at $59”. Now this immediately rings a bell. See what we mean? Colour has to be seen, it cannot be talked about. In our society and culture the monetary value of something is at the front burner, but often the magic and mystery of colour is ignored or unknown.
Yet, from the moment we open our infant eyes to the instant we close them forever, we’re exposed to colour. It is a mistake to think that only fashion designers, interior decorators, chemists or artists need to know about colour. The magic and mystery is there for all to see, study, explore, apply, feel and enjoy. Going back to pyramid-climbing: you do it in zig-zag fashion!
Enjoy your first steps into the young Year! Hasta luego, Henri


Another year - going and coming

Some of us may not know at times if “we’re coming or going”, but not so with our Western calendar, it’s always clear what day, month and year it is. I say “our” because of course there are other cultures and civilizations that have their own calendars. “End of an error”, era and drama; now we’re all (or almost all) waiting for Obama.

Speaking of traditions and beginnings, let me give you a taste of how New Year was celebrated during my boyhood in the Lowlands, before WWII in the 1930’s. First, supervised by our school teachers, we had to design our own “Best Wishes” card for our parents.

Then, we had to compose our own New Year’s message, with some kind of resolution that we would try to behave, whatever that may be. (Just like today when we hear grown-ups making resolutions but rarely live up to them.)

Back to the special card, the idea was on January 1, we children would have to stand in front of our parents and read out loud our promises we wrote in our self-made “Hallmark” cards. How is that for overcoming stage fright or public speaking phobia? All the children, from the age they could read and write, had to go through this ordeal.

Now, the evening before (New Year’s Eve), without fail each year, as many members of the whole family that could be corralled together would come to our home. Aunts, uncles, grannies, grandpas, nieces, cousins - you get the idea. This would be on a rotating basis, for example one year we’d all go to an uncle’s home, then the next year to our grandparents, etc. The youngsters played games on their own, and so too the elders, usually cards.

The masterpiece by Jan Steen comes to mind which depicts a typical hectic household during this festive time, sometimes a bit chaotic. So even today in the Lowlands if someone’s household is in disorder, we call it “the household of Jan Steen”.

Even though some of the adults may have been teetotallers, on this occasion two traditional beverages were present: Advocaat (an egg-yolk and alcohol concoction), and a drink with fermented raisins. 

The raisins had been put into jars months ahead, with alcohol and honey. Both drinks were consumed with a teaspoon! And, let us not forget, hot cocoa! And coffee.

Then there were the Oliebollen. These are ping-pong ball (or sometimes tennis ball) size dough deep-fried in hot oil. Before serving they are coated with sugar powder. They taste like a doughnut. Appelflappen were flatter than the Oliebollen, with apple inside.

During the evening the fragrances from these goodies and beverages wandered through the house and into our nostrils, awakening a constant “We want another one” sort of thing. Long before twelve o’clock we young children were supposed to be in bed, but at the stroke of Midnight (on Grandfather’s clock), the Happy Wishes came out, the embracing, kisses, and a type of “Auld Lang Syne” singing. 

How do I know all this? Because I peeked, that’s how. 

Have a smooth slide into 2009, and easy on the whatever.


On "Intelligent Electricity"

Round One of the holiday feasting is over. Round Two – the changing of one year into another, lurks nearby. “Old 2008” is getting by, just so! New-to-be born 2009 awaits on the horizon. We had an unexpected invitation to a pleasant Yuletide dinner at the friendly home of an astronomer. Since we don’t have a vehicle, we were fetched by his colleague, an astrophysicist no less, who specializes in Black Holes, thank you.
This gave us an opportunity to see all the outdoor holiday decorations with their multitude of designs, imagery and lights, in all colours of the spectrum. Always a magical, fairy-tale like phenomena, even more so on a snowy wintry night, a rarity here in Victoria. Sitting thus in the car, being driven by the astrophysicist, I was looking at these multi-coloured lights and wondered (still do) what is “behind” all this electricity?
You know, we take a lot for granted. We make use of all the frontier gadgets, from cell phone to Jumbo jet, and those “cities of the seas”, called cruise ships. Ever wondered what’s it all about? We flip a switch, push a button, Presto! Abracadabra, the lights and equipment work.
Yes, there are also batteries to provide energy, and of course the more progressive among us have solar panels or windmills, however anything we plug-in, or is plugged-in and needs to function, we switch, push or ‘whisper’ and voila! It works. How come?
“Well, that’s because of electricity, my child.”
“What’s electricity?”
“Well, ahem, ahem, Energy, my child.”
“Does it think and feel, does it know what it’s doing?”
“Ahem, well now, you’ve got me!”
See what I mean? There has to be some kind of intelligence, some consciousness behind it all.
That’s why I call it Intelligent Electricity. In the world of hydro and energy companies, they use the term intelligent electricity to refer to grids and eco-smart systems, but my reference is to the mystery of its consciousness.
Now, all those colours we witnessed, speeding by at an average of 60 km per hour, are they also not a mystery? And magical? Of course. We see the same colour range in the Rainbow, except these Yuletide little lamps and lights are an assortment of that spectrum.

And while our astrophysicist friend drove us back home on that snowy night, wondering and pondering about the mystery of this “Intelligence of Electricity”, my hungry eyes (and mind) harvested all that light and colour on that Christmas night, tapping those images and sights, sending it all to my brain, to understand . . . Being in the presence of an astrophysicist, someone who explores far-away galaxies, I return to my age-old question, “Where does all that Space come from, where the great ballroom dance of the Universe takes place?” ‘Signing off for now, Henri