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Along the Amstel River, people line up, the tips of their long Sinterklaas hats bobbing as they wave. The largest bridge pops red and white as we pass underneath. The boat is low in the river, all glass and tiny white bulbs. The water’s surface ripples with laughter, winks with light. Inside the boat I place my wineglass by the candle, feeling sorry for it – the small flicker so outmatched. A chorus sings energetically from another boat, the voices carried in on the cold air that cuts through. It’s nice to float away, but the energy in the crowd …
At the Bruxelles Christmas market his mother wraps a hand around the short, steaming cup of
fine crystal flakes catching in her unbrushed hair. She leans against the booth, looking to the crowd. Her left arm is pulled by her son.
He wants only to ride the
a large white crown swirled with fat, red ribbon. Overhead the thin filament glow of small, white bulbs. A purple octopus. A towering hot air balloon. An ocean liner with lit portholes. The only one he cares about: the bleached white skeleton of a pterodactyl, massive wings outstretched.
The thin man at the stand pulls out a long, thin stick, quickly rolls each dough ball in its well in the hot iron pan. In another minute the
is on my tongue — a sweet crunch, the powdered sugar encrusting my lips. Then a quick skate around the ring, staying close to the rail as bright blond plaits whiz by, whipped with a carol of laughter. At the end of the night, to Hviids Vinstue: the earthy smell of the evergreen garland, and the
! Elixir of mulled red wine, dark rum, cognac. The shine of the copper kettle.
In Düsseldorf, the Christmas market opens. The stalls look like houses. Their front panels flip up; the wares are revealed: overflowing jars of candy, large chocolate hearts, twirling mobiles. Down the road, the line for
snakes on. The thick scoops of grated potato, onion, egg ladled into a flat pan of bubbling oil, served golden hot with a rich, dark, spicy applesauce. But I am here for the huge
its large red blades spinning at the top; carved figures of shepherds, sheep, angels spin; the lights punctuate the gloss of the new paint.
Ich wünschte du wärst hier.
At Princes Street the amusements change night to day. She hates these rides, but she promised she’d join him, just to see that smile. The Edinburgh Wheel pulsates red and green, lifts them a hundred feet in the air, high enough to see the beautiful castle, and for that and his warm hand both she is glad. Then the coaster called Christmas Pudding, which is how her stomach feels when they’re done. After, he’s hungry: he always is. Roasted chestnuts, £2. Venison burger, £4. Grouse whisky toddy, £7. She sips
nibbles small gingerbread stars, the icing thick and white.
The cool white sheets are wrapped around their legs and hips like soft ribbon, twisting them together, skin and fine linen. The glass doors to their balcony are ajar, and a stream of air comes off the Arno River. She floats, happy and exhausted, glistening like the wet cobblestone street outside the gelato shop. He had chocolate, and she tasted it on his tongue, under the white holiday lights strung across the plaza. Now, as she turns to kiss him, the overlapping chimes! Across all of Florence, church bells ring out, clappers touching lips. She catches her breath. It’s Christmas.
The snow had been falling heavily, and she feared the market would be canceled. Yet that morning the sky cleared, and men of Gdańsk opened the way lazily so a narrow, winding path revealed the stone street. Large prints of century-old lithographs rose above the snowbanks: rosy-cheeked children sledding, smiling angels watching Santa deliver toys. Young girls huddled in the bread booths, head scarves too lightweight to repel the cold. Finally she found the small gazebo, its white lights blinking, covered in large paper hearts that read, “Here lovers may kiss, and some protest.” And she waited there all night.
Up on the top deck of Nikolai II. Helsinki Harbor rippling back the small red lights. We’ll head north soon, after this vodka, he said. Come along. Come on. They’re fantastic lights, swirling green. Better when you’re drunk. No, no. She’ll be there, I said. Should finish this gin, head over to Stockmann, watch people, catch Santa. He huffed, breath in the air. Watch people. You’re sentimental. Watch people. Eat
! Come with us. You want the real Santa? He lives up there somewhere. He laughed, tilted, spilled his drink. I gave a weak grin.
then, my friend.
A white horse at a trot brought her into Old Town. She sat low in the blue carriage, gold tinsel fluttering. The clopping stopped, and she alighted, then walked slowly, surveying the market. She almost didn’t recognize him. Or it may have been the bundling: his heavy ski jacket, the knit hat. He bought her
and they listened to the band on the Golden Roof balcony. After a few songs he was antsy. “They’re still running shuttles up Nordkette,” he offered. She looked at her watch. “Do we have time?” He said, “We have time for everything, I believe.”
It seems strange, doesn’t it, to be somewhere so tropical for the holidays, but we’d never been before and it was a place on my list and so we ended up there, driving across the Key bridges, going to the inn, and then the local bar, and grabbing fruity drinks and then watching the parade, and what a parade: the Old Town Trolley decked out with blue lights, an SUV pulling a trailer with a lit Christmas tree and people dressed up as wrapped gift boxes, a pickup with palm trees and a bunch of thin Santas sitting in the bed.
Merry Christmas! Are you enjoying the holidays? It’s not the same here without you.
Juneau’s had clear, sunny days all week. Did I tell you that Jackson is visiting? I’ve made him into a real musher. I let him loose with a sled, hooked up the malamutes, set him off down Three Rivers trail, and followed. He did well at first, feet apart on the rails, leaning, calling out to the dogs. But when we hit that curve after Silvertree Pass, the sled went over, he rolled down, our dogs got all tangled, I rolled onto him ...
Yeah. Luxembourg City. No, I’d never been. He wanted to show me the typical Christmas stuff. I wanted to see the castle, but he was insistent on the parade. Well, food first. Really good
Then we stood on the sidewalk, watched the bands and floats go by. Then at one point this car comes with a guy all in black: black long hair over his face, black spooky clothes, waving a switch. He said that’s Schmutzli, a companion of Santa’s who catches children in a sack and takes them to the woods. Great! He knows I get terrible nightmares!
A man dressed as Ded Moroz goes into Kruzhka Bar, and she follows. Her friends are already there, and they hand her the nesting dolls. “He was here,” they tell her. Once open, the first doll reveals a thin slip of paper, directs her to Bosco Bar. So she puts on her scarf again and goes out. At Bosco she opens the next doll: To the Princess Turandot fountain. At the fountain, she opens the next: Outside St. Basil’s. She can barely read the next: Gorky Park. In the snowy gardens he’s shifting, last doll in his pocket.
She promised to take him to Belle & Jerome after, get him the Christmas pudding with brandy butter. Only if I get the Niepoort Port, he barked, and so she agreed, even though he had had too much to drink as it was. Nottingham Playhouse was full, and they had to sit near the back. He acted pretty sober during the first half, but she still resented having to divide her time between assessing him and watching the handsome Robin actor. At the interval he ran out for a smoke, and stayed outside, the cold air making his red face redder.
My cousin Judy came for the holidays. From America. No, we took her to
She was in love with the reindeer, like she’d never seen one before! She wouldn’t try the moose burger, so I thought she just didn’t like moose, but then she wouldn’t try the glazed apples, either. A group of us went to Karl Johans Gate at night, showed her the decorations. We stopped to get
and finally she agreed to eat something! And what do you know, she got the almond, and the staff brings her the marzipan pig prize, and she starts bawling!
Christmas List: Paris
• At the market on the Champs-Elysees, a vendor uses a long, thick blade and all his strength to slice straight down through an immense, white block of nougat, revealing innumerable almond ovals.
• She unwraps the heavy loaf of spice bread as we wait to cross the street to get the Metro. I break off a corner and quickly pop it in my mouth. She smacks my hand and laughs.
• Giant rings over the Champs-Elysees trees: turquoise. La Grande Roue: brilliant white. Eiffel Tower: glowing gold, shimmering. Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant: tiny crystal blue.
Hey there, foodies! Another blog post from Sugary-Sweet Suzie! This year I took a long-desired trip to Québec City to sample the wondrous winter offerings. And I wasn’t disappointed. I battled the thick snow to taste some treasures. The buckwheat crepes were outstanding, and the caribou (their mulled wine) warm and comforting. I highly recommend the
queues de castor,
or beaver tails—warm, flat pastry covered with sugar or chocolate. The most fun was the
cabane à sucre,
or maple taffy: pour golden maple sugar over pure white snow; mix with a wide, wooden stick; and happily eat the sticky result.
She was the only one left on the floor; the lights by the elevators were on, but most of the overheads in the department were off. The little white string lights outlining her cube flashed above her latest graft sketch, a better design than Stan could come up with on his best day. A paper plate of Christmas cookie crumbs teetered on the edge of her desk; the party was the one break Humacyte allowed during this busy season. Her phone jingled: a text.
Be at RTP in 10. On your desk this time?
She texted back:
U know it.
He left her at the Swiss-Grand spa while he took a meeting. On Christmas Eve! she thought as the young Australian guy worked her back muscles. At least he’d set her up: massage, brunch, then an attendant for the beach. He forgot a mani-pedi, but she’d forgive him if tomorrow she got that Tiffany necklace she wanted. He tried to culture her up, told her to go check out the Aboriginal carvings at the northern end of the beach. Seriously. All she cared about was that the shark net was up, the sun was out, and the drinks were cold.
At Caretta Shiodome, scenes play on the façade of the building: gingerbread houses, waterfalls, a couple dancing romantically in a castle, turtles swimming underwater, bubbles rising, then “Happiness to Everyone” in script. Omotesando stores are decorated with wreaths, garland, lights – trying to make shoppers happier, spend more. The Starlight Garden Illumination is a field of blue LED lights that ripple and move as they blink, turning Midtown into a bright and beautiful display. White lights flash over the blue, quick streaks of shooting stars. Large triangles made to look like trees shine on every corner. Toyko Christmas is all bulbs.
She was the oldest in her family, the oldest of all the cousins, and so every St. Lucia Day she was here, in her cold room, in front of her peeling mirror, pulling down the sleeves of the ever-smaller white dress, loosening the droopy red sash, propping the heavy crown of rough Lingonberry branches on her head, then practicing her proper walk in her old flat shoes so that the burning candles to come would stay straight. At 17 she wanted to climb out the window, get to Arvid’s party, but her little cousins were waiting, giggling by the stairs.
At Vostok Station they hung the ornaments they’d brought, nothing more for the holiday than that. She was surprised they’d gotten away with bringing them; every millimeter of luggage space was carefully monitored. Now she mindlessly flicked a red shiny ball, watching it swing, waiting for the analysis to finish running. She knew she had microbes in that lake sample, but she had to be sure. Pieter was double-checking her results down the hall; they always checked her, and it pissed her off. Today she’d get the results first, quickly alert the media, get her name attached to it all.
— Hey, Craig
How’s it going, mate? Glad you could come.
— Yeah, thanks. I’ve never been to a Christmas barbeque.
Really? I throw great holiday parties. You’re lucky you’re here this year.
— Oh, I made this Pavlova.
You made this? Cheers! I see you put ...
— Yeah, kiwi.
... kiwifruit on it! Very New Zealand! My ma used to make this.
— Ah. Well, it seemed festive.
Right. So, grab some shandy, mill about ...
— I just can’t get used to this, the warm weather in December.
Well, I can’t see a bundled-up Santa! He much prefers arriving in a fizz boat!
Where the hell are we?
> Here. Where I’m pointing.
> Xenia! Lord.
There’s a city starts with X?
> There’s a city with every letter. Xenia means hospitality.
Don’t sit up all straight like that. You just read that outta that guidebook.
So what are we gonna do about being stuck in the snow this late, Sherlock?
> If their name means “hospitality,” their police’ll be happy to help.
They wouldn’t have to help if’n you’d stuck to I-70 like I said. And what tires you got on? I know you don’t have them all-weathers.
> And a Merry Christmas to you.
Our work reviewing the Snap Lake resources issues wrapped up a day early, and HQ told us to keep the flight plans we’d already made, so I had a free night — went down to the hotel bar and found a quiet corner. But Liam found me, made me put on the warmest clothes I had brought, and drove us to a snowmobile place. He wouldn’t tell me how he’d planned it all, just had me sit behind him and hold on tight. We wound up in a clearing with other snowmobilers watching sheets of brilliant green light twist and swirl.
I wanted chocolate first. Lots of it. Switzerland is great chocolate, is it not? So we hit up Sprüngli Confiserie. Then, as promised, we took Julia down in her red knit cap and her long red scarf and red gloves and her too-long forest green poncho and got her in line for the Singing Christmas Tree. Rows of children stand in a triangle structure covered in evergreen branches, and then end up looking like red balls on a tree, and they sing. And sing. And sing. Not well, mind you. But they’re cute, in their own way. As kids are.
As she guided her kayak into the inlet mouth, a canoe caught her attention. Men struggled to lift a dark object, then dropped the shadow form over the boat edge. She maneuvered quietly behind them, back against the shore under low branches. They left, and she moved out. Ripples spread from the drop point, and then an oily stream. Slowly the object began to surface. By the time she pushed her kayak back with one paddle sweep, the carcass was bobbing. The headless fawn was small and bloody. She believed it was a fawn. She had to believe it was.
Hey, I had to park in the street. What are the vans for? Hey! Hellooo?
- Oh, honey, hi. How was class?
Mom? Where are you?
- Back here. Behind these pepper lights.
Pepper ... what are those cameras?
- Well, I didn't want to worry you, but we're having an intervention today. For Carrie.
An intervention? What for? Oh, hi, Grandma.
- It's about the chocolate, honey. She's out of control.
The ... Since when?
- Almost a year now. At first I noticed the acne. Then I found bars under her bed. Now wrappers in the car. She's driving!
Is that ... is that Dr. Phil?
That’s it, right there.
> Wow, I didn’t realize that you lived on such expansive property.
The lot had many trees then. It was hard to see the house from the road. The new couple, they cut them all down.
> Oh. Well, the house is lovely. Very majestic, with the turret …
Yeah, they added that.
> You didn’t have a turret.
>That’s too bad. Um, the circular drive, then. Nice to play basketball over there.
Ah, no. No, we had gravel.
A crunchy strip. You know the stuff.
> Yeah. So, basically …
Basically, nothing left of me here.
Ms. Campbell, could I speak with you before your next class?
– Certainly. Is it about …
It’s your Steinbeck dissertation draft.
– Oh, I’d hoped you’d read it.
Yes. Now, in your section on his correspondence ...
– I just added that. To complete my research on his attitude toward love.
Yes, but to write, and I quote, “His assertion ‘Nothing good gets away’ is complete crap.”
That’s not a scholarly statement, you see.
– But it is.
– No, complete crap. And it’s misleading. He misled his own son.
And why would he do that?
– I don’t know, but I know it happens.
Where's Dick Clark, he asked.
Where is Dick Clark? ["Six feet under!" from D. in the kitchen.] You're serious, I said.
Oh, yeah. Who is this, Seacrest?
Ryan Seacrest. Jesus. Where have you been?
Working, he said.
Is that the Gangnam guy? I asked.
Never saw that video, I admitted.
It only has millions of hits. Go watch it. Watch it. Here. [He holds up his phone.]
Okay, what is
Is that a Galaxy?
You were an Apple guy! Wait, can you really hold it up and transfer info to another phone?
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