“My girlfriend,” said the boy typing away on his phone, “She’s in Canada.” I snuck a peek at the screen and could see he was sending a video of the impressive piano rendition we were all listening to. “When are you seeing her next?” I asked. “In ten days.” And his face beamed.
“I’m a citizen of the world” is a laughable cliché. Yet when a friend used it in all seriousness the other day I wasn’t able to respond with anything but a nod of agreement. She’s a German-born Iranian whose family lives in Zurich and she told me that at a bar atop a tall building in London, where we both live. Then she said she felt Germany was her home but almost in the same breath mentioned a possible work assignment in Australia in the coming months.
Fitting in != being similar
London is like that. I used to stand out with my Bulgarian passport and tenure in Argentina and the United States, and here that’s the norm. But I’m starting to think that the reasons are not simply geo-economic but rather generational. Few of my peers are living close to where they were born, few speak one language only and still fewer are planning as their next step “settling down” in the place they are from or even the one where they are currently residing.
Food is the cornerstone of Bulgarian holidays. Most celebrations happen around the dinner table, family and close friends gathered together for hours. And it’s not just a table, it’s a trapeza, a word not found in the English language that means much more than furniture. Trapeza describes a table laid for a feast; it means a tablecloth, dishes arranged in attractive containers, wine poured in carafes, a loaf of bread regally placed in the middle, a candle. It means taking a moment to appreciate a blessing, in ways religious or not.
Christmas eve and Christmas day are two occasions that offer especially glamorous views into the Bulgarian holiday trapeza. Of course, every home has different ways and traditions may change over time, but for the sake of example I will draw on my family’s tradition, which, I recently learned, hasn’t changed much since the time of my grandmother’s grandmother. Today my mom and sister prepare the same dishes that my grandmother and her grandmother created years ago.
Persis Newman lays a sugar-glazed donut on a paper plate, licks her thumb and index finger, and sits down to close the circle. She looks at the faces of the women around her and immediately feels the presence of what she calls the spirits. This gathering of women might be an AA meeting or a ladies’ poker club, or even a Sunday morning Bible study class, for these women come week after week, bearing their confessions to a strange sort of priestess.
They drive to the corner of Foothill and Mountain Avenue and ring the bell that signals that a new visitor has entered Kindred Spirits. Jillian, a former alcoholic with a loud voice and an aggressive sense of humor is among the first to arrive. She is the veteran of the group and it is her task to keep some of the more fickle members on track by driving to their homes and, sometimes forcefully, bringing them to the meetings. Jane, another one of the “usuals,” arrives a shortly after. She has been coming to these meetings for so long that it has become part of her routine, but she says it is helpful, even when she does not need it. Continue reading →