Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Adventures in Glasgow

Entry for 24-27 December 2011

This year we have been exploring unknown territory: Christmas in Glasgow.  Each year at this time, for the past five years, we have gone back to the USA for three weeks beginning around the winter solstice and only returning around the 10th of January, in time for Celtic Connections.  Thanks to the UK Border Agency, this did not happen this year; and so we are here, for a change.  In the meantime, we are savoring the unfamiliar bits, which are many:

1. Last week we discovered cinnamon and fresh parsley in the supermarket, after we had given up on them.  As is so often the case, you just have to know Where To Look.  In this case, these things are kept not in a place but in a time: Christmas.  I'm not sure about the fresh parsley, but a bit a research told us that cinnamon was once a very expensive luxury, so it came to be associated for the extravagance of the holidays and so is excluded from ordinary life the rest of the year.  If one of the three wise men had left behind his gold, frankincense, and myrrh, he might have replaced it with cinnamon! (Probably not parsley, though…)

2. You'd think that Christmas carols here would with minor exceptions be pretty much the same as in the US, given that so many came from the UK and Europe in the first place.  However, this turns out to not be the case.  At St. Mary’s, last Thursday's service of 9 Lessons and Carols turned out to be filled with familiar carols with unfamiliar music, familiar music with unfamiliar words, or just plain unfamiliar words and music.  Very nice... I liked the UK melody for It Came Upon a Midnight Clear better, actually.  But different…

3. It turns out that BBC Radio 3, the main classical music channel in the UK, plays hardly any Christmas music.  On Christmas morning when I turned it on, they were playing a Rachmaninoff orchestral piece.  After the opera on Christmas Eve, this was the last straw, so I tuned into my longtime favorite radio station from San Francisco, using my handy KDFC iPad app.  After that, I listened to a Norwegian Christmas/Solstice program on Music from Hearts of Space, a long-running American public radio new age music program, also produced in San Francisco.  My Dad would have approved!  Actually, I've been mining his extensive library of Christmas music this season, almost a 1000 tracks' worth.  I've particularly enjoyed his country and western, new age, and jazz selections, and have been playing them a lot.

4. Diane and I miss our kids and have been Skyping with them a fair amount, but we've also really been enjoying each other's company in this season. Usually we are distracted by our families of origin and spend much of the holiday season in different elliptical orbits, touching base from time to time.  We miss our families and spent several hours Skyping with various more or less chaotic bunches of them, but we are also enjoying our quiet time together.

5. Over the past few years, as we travelled here and there during the holidays, I've missed the big Christmas services that we had at Trinity in Toledo: O Antiphons, Christmas Eve.  I haven't been to a 4th Sunday of Advent service for years, since we're always travelling then.  This year at St Mary's we got to experience the whole thing: The 4th Sunday in Advent service was devoted almost entirely to Mary, which I loved.  Winter Solstice Goddess Festival!  Then we had a big Nine Lessons & Carols service, as I mentioned, with the Bishop and all, the church packed out.  After that, the Christmas eve service focused on Angels, with Kelvin (the Provost or main priest of the cathedral) asking us to imagine angels hovering over Glasgow.  In most languages, the word for “angel” originally meant “messenger”.  What messages do they have for us?
6. After snow and bitter cold here last year, this year has been very mild, although wet and windy.  We did have some snow and ice a week ago, but it's all gone now, and it's mostly been excellent weather for running.  The wind finished eating my umbrella on Christmas Eve on a short trip to the local market.  But as we walked home at 1am, after the Midnight Christmas Eve service at St. Mary's, the rain had passed and the wind had died down.  The streets were unusually quiet for a Saturday night in Glasgow, most of the traffic consisted of taxis, and a few stars shone through between the clouds.

7. On Christmas day, we had dinner with our Australian friends, Juli & Tony, as well as Beth’s son James, from Brazil.  This turned out to be a brilliant idea, given that all of us were feeling somewhat abandoned by our faraway families.  So we enjoyed a multicultural Christmas dinner, with Australian/British roast turkey/pork/vegetables, American apple pie/cranberry-orange relish, and a Brazilian confections known as brançinos.  But the piece de resistance was Julie’s authentic Christmas pudding, many weeks in the making, and finally wrapped tightly in a cloth, heated in a big pot of boiling water, doused with brandy, and set afire, before being served with custard.

8.  The Roman midwinter festival of Saturnalia went on for many days.  Similarly, in the UK and Scotland, there are the two days of Christmas Eve and Christmas itself, plus New Year’s Even and New Year’s Day,  the latter known as Hogmanay in Scotland.  However, there is also Boxing Day, the 26th of December, and in Scotland Hogmanay extends to the 2nd of January.  Beyond this, lots of things simply close down altogether for the entire week between Christmas and New Years, and this year the University doesn’t even reopen until 5 January, the day before Epiphany.  Most of our local shops are closed.  There is hardly any email.  The result is a large cultural pause, a kind of still point at the turning of the year. This is the time we are living through, this year’s Christmas Adventures.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Indefinite Leave to Remain

5 December 2011:

Out of blue this morning, our visa renewal came in an anonymous-looking envelope, which included our passports with the new visas saying that we have Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK.  Actually, there is nothing indefinite about it: We are "settled", and can stay as long as we want, which in our case is another 4.5 years.   

My first reaction was shock, because I wasn't expecting it this soon and had totally given up on hearing back before Christmas.  For months, we had been mentally preparing ourselves for a longer wait and even to be turned down and deported.  We had given up on travelling to the US for the holidays, and had instead arranged for Kenneth to come visit us here.  I’d started to worry about a February training I am scheduled to run in Belgium.  Suddenly, all the familiar waiting was gone, vanished, leaving a kind of vacuum of missing expectancy.  

It was only after the initial shock had worn off and we had read through all the paperwork that I began to feel an easing in my body, relief from an implicit tension that I’d been carrying for many months, really almost a year, at the uncertainty about our future. 

Surprisingly, I am also left with a sense of being a bit daunted by having my life, all these months in limbo, hanging suspended, suddenly shift into gear and move forward again.  But where?  How?  What’s next?  What first?  What to do with this unexpected Christmas gift of More Time, a reprieve?

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Big Chapter Done: Getting my life back…

Entry for 3 December 2011:

I’ve been working on a huge review chapter on research on experiential psychotherapies for the past 6 months, and finally finished it late last night, three months late.  I don’t know if the editor will take it that late, but for now I’m glad to have my life back.  At times, I despaired we’d ever finish it, but fortunately my co-authors came through with their bits, and that gave me the impetus to push on, if only for the sake of the effort they’d put in. 

Toward the end, as the chapter got more and more overdue, it gradually took over more and more bits of my life, crowding out things like writing blog entries, running, Saturday Adventures, watching television, going to the folk club, doing email, church, taking a reasonable time to eat breakfast in the morning, reading more than a few pages of science fiction a day, grocery shopping, and so on.  At times it felt like having some sort of life-sapping illness.  I rarely cheated on my sleep; and I continued to make adequate space for my clients, and did my teaching.  However, my PhD and MSc students have been neglected (apologies to them!), and at the end Diane had help me check the 300 references.

Yesterday, as the End come into view, I became elated at the prospect of getting my life back.  Finally, about 11pm I sent it off to the editor and my co-authors.  Diane and I celebrated by watching an episode of The Mentalist and, just for good measure, The Big Bang Theory.  Then, this morning I went for a run, we had a leisurely brunch, and then went on our first Saturday Adventure in a month:

We walked over to see the newly installed Antonine Wall exhibit at the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow.  For last 300 years they have been collecting the old Roman mile markers, from the road built by the Roman legions about 140 C.E. just behind the Antonine Wall, which spans central Scotland, from the Firth of Forth to the Firth of Clyde.  In addition to almost all of the mile markers, they’ve got grave stones, altar stones, lots of statues of the Goddesses Fortuna (Fortune or Luck) and Victoria (Winged Victory), and quite a few bas relief cartoon-like depictions of bad things happening to celtic warriors and prisoners.  There are even a couple of statues of Silenus, Bacchus’ drinking companion.  There are also lots of roman household artifacts found in the Glasgow area, some quite fascinating, like a cheese press and accompanying lead weight, or fake tin denarius coins for a wishing well.  Afterwards, we made a quick visit to the nearby Hunterian Art Museum, which I think is underrated due to the proximity of the Kelvingrove, but has its pleasures.  Finally, we walked along Byres Road, and then home again.  Saturday Adventures were back!