I Hear Madrid

Post Office as palace

Post Office as palace

Madrid is all grandiosity. Great statues soaring in the sky atop practically every other building you pass. Not just some meek, chaste Madonnas but fabulous sweeping chariots and horses chafing to get underway, towering muscled Hercules posturing to the masses below, winged creatures of vast imagination in frozen animation. If that?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s not enough, the buildings themselves are adorned with further flights of fancy ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú dancing cherubs, leering gargoyles, gilt angels, wrought iron vines just for the hell of it. Even the post office looks like a palace. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Michelangelo gone mad. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a Roccocophile?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s paradise. Compared to Florence, with its glow of ochre and sienna and age-old Renaissance style buildings, Madrid feels more brash and daring. It grabs your attention and demands a response, an interaction. It asks you to dance, and a strong partner it is.

Roccoco everywhere!

Roccoco everywhere!

Statue and all lit up on the Metropolis Building

Statue and all lit up on the Metropolis Building

Dave and I glided into Madrid on a hotel night train from Marseille, France the day before Easter. The streets were quiet in those early morning hours, as the Madrile?ɬ±os were catching some shut-eye from their late night out as usual, no doubt, and week-long festivities of Semana Santa, the week leading into Easter. Our first walk that morning out of our Gran Via hostel took us past the Metropolis building, with a winged statue atop, and through the winding streets of the Centro into the Puerta del Sol. Considered the place to start your exploration of the city, Puerta del Sol is the true center of Madrid, as well as Spain, as it is from this point that all distances are measured. Before travel exhaustion overtook us, we managed to make our way along the Paseo del Prado past the Prado museum itself, the holy grail of artists, just to get a glance at it and breathe in the atmosphere, saving its exploration for later. By the time we trundled back to our room for naps, Madrid had taken claim to our hearts.

Making keys in the Sunday Rastro

Making keys in the Sunday Rastro

Besides the architectural art and world-renowned institutions, Madrid also has its share of quirkiness. One of the most popular spectacles is the Sunday Rastro, a weekly flea market that stretches for blocks on end and attracts locals and tourists alike. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s wall-to-wall people on the order of Taste of Chicago, and not for the faint of heart. You can get every kind of clothing as well as knives, jewelry, Spanish linens, small electrical components, and you-name-it, besides having keys made on the spot. We joined the strollers while keeping a close eye (and hand) on our valuables but took a pass on the merchandise. Another form of entertainment we found was running the gauntlet up our street from the Puerta del Sol to our hostel on Gran Via past the working ladies who positioned themselves along the way both day and night. Juxtapositioned across from them were almost always 3 police cars and 6 municipal police who plied the street as well. Their simultaneous presence would suggest some unspoken truce or understanding. After all, the ladies simply stood, leaning against the buildings or talking among themselves. All those restive women with nothing to do. Which is not to suggest that we selected a less-than-desirable part of town. Granted, besides the shoe shops and cafes there were a number of sex shops as well. But this was no Combat Zone of Boston fame. All of the above rubbed shoulders with four-star hotels and pricey department stores, along with a constant throng of people moving about the whole gamut every night as part of the dance.

A little baudy, a little naughty in Plaza Mayor

A little baudy, a little naughty in Plaza Mayor

One night on our way to find some little place to eat, out and about at the earliest possible hour of 8:00pm for dinner fare, we came across a violin, cello, and viola trio unceremoniously positioned against a department store, adding a classical air to the early evening. The music glided and swept around us, and we stopped to the side along with others to listen. Dave seemed to think the piece was Pacabel. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìWhat does it sound like??¢‚Ǩ¬ù he asked. To my ?¢‚Ǩ?ìear?¢‚Ǩ¬ù it sounded like the wonderful strings of viola and violin with the bass of the cello. But not recognizable as Pacabel, which I know. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìIt sounds like something classical?¢‚Ǩ¬ù, was all I could say. Soon the song ended and they began another. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìVivaldi?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s ?¢‚ǨÀúFour Seasons,?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Dave informed me. I couldn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t recall ?¢‚Ǩ?ìFour Seasons?¢‚Ǩ¬ù though I knew I had heard it many times before. Suddenly there came a little flourish of notes in a marked cadence, the sound of strings in a familiar coupling, and what before had been merely pleasant became a memory released, a lost friend found. Without thinking, the tune sprang from my lips surprising even myself, and Dave and I embraced to share this unexpected poignant moment.

Ah, surprising Madrid. It swept me off my feet.

Flamenco, the grand dance of Spain

Flamenco, the grand dance of Spain

Where Are You From?

The bustling Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

The bustling Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

As we briskly walked through the carpet souk at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul a man stopped Dave to ask us, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìWhere are you from??¢‚Ǩ¬ù The United States, Dave told him. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìWhy don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t more people from your country come here??¢‚Ǩ¬ù he wanted to know. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a hard question to answer and one we?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve heard all too frequently, from Bali onward. We usually give the standard answer that people are afraid. And indeed they are, for a variety of reasons. Recent bombings in Bali and Spain, both places on our itinerary. Imagined reprisals from Muslims. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s easy to get caught up in the fear from recent events. It was even suggested to us by someone before we left that we tell everyone that we are from Canada. That never seemed like a viable, or realistic, solution to any potential problems because of our nationality.

The face of Istanbul

The face of Istanbul

Cool guy sports Stef's sunglasses in hot Bali

Cool guy sports Stef’s sunglasses in hot Bali

Like everyone else our transport driver to Lovina Beach in Bali wanted to know where we were from. His response to our answer was a smile and then something along the lines of, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m not sure I like George Bush.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s our turn to smile and say we don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t care too much for him either, which in this case and other instances becomes an easy opening conversation and an intriguing window into others?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ views of the US government. Another man in Bali assured us that he liked George Bush. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìHe?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s strong,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù he said. Interesting perspective. Going into an antique store on Jonker Street in Malacca, the proprietor came up with a surprising rejoinder after we assured him we didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t vote for Bush or much care for him. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìBut he IS your president,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù he said. Touch?ɬ©. A well-deserved come-uppance, I suppose. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI like Americans,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù the man at the caf?ɬ© in the last Turkish town before the Greek border told us on our way to Athens. But he went on to add, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìGovernment, uh, no!?¢‚Ǩ¬ù It seems to be the common sentiment.

Fruit vendor at Lovina Beach

Fruit vendor at Lovina Beach

At times it feels like we?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re inhabitants of a lost continent whose fellow citizens have long since passed into obscurity. We scan guest books in museums and tourist information centers for nationalities. USA is a rare entry. There?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a look that passes over people?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s faces when we say we?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re from the States, a mixture somewhere between wonder and remembrance of something long forgotten. Those who want to know more specifics and have heard of Chicago invariably say, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìMichael Jordan, basketball.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù At least we?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve moved passed Al Capone. Our travels haven?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t seemed that far off the familiar path of common destinations. Yet there it is. We?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve not encountered many fellow Americans so far or seen evidence of their passing through.

Penang profile

Penang profile

In all of the places we visit during this journey and have been to in the past, the most lasting memories will always be my encounters with people, not the grand vistas or historical buildings spoken of in guide books. Spending the night on the transit lounge floor in Bangkok airport with a group of central Asian pilgrims returning from the Haj, getting a ride to our Singapore hostel door from a pair of sisters when we seemed lost in the metra station, sharing a cup of tea with a carpet merchant in Istanbul, or talking with a young Bangladeshi man selling roses along the promenade at the base of the Acropolis are opportunities to catch a glimpse into another?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s world. Sometimes there?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s little language except for a smile and a shared laugh, but that may be all that?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s needed to bring us a little closer. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI am not like you,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù our desert guide in the Sahara remarked to us during our trip to Morocco in 2000 when we were amazed at his ability to walk the desert with only thin sandals and sometimes barefoot. Indeed, we are not. But our encounters with others along the way help us see the commonalities that bind us together, to see the human despite the differences. In this age of fear, I think that?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s exactly what?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s needed.

New found friend in Penang

New found friend in Penang

Stuck in Singapore

Colorful crowded streets of Chinatown in Singapore

Colorful crowded streets of Chinatown in Singapore

Arriving at the airport last Friday we were congratulating ourselves on our mastery of Singapore?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s bus and subway system, conquered over our 3 day stay. We were especially proud of the fact that we?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d made it to the airport by the recommended 2 hours prior to takeoff for our flight to Mumbai, India. But our smugness soon turned into chagrin when we discovered that India requires a special entrance visa, something we had not thought we needed and something we were sorely without. A torturous bus trip to the India embassy, with a drop-off of our luggage at our guest house, saw us arrive 15 minutes after closing time. And to compound our dilemma, a seemingly knowledgeable person standing in the outer courtyard informed us that it would take 5 working days to process our passports. In an instant Goa had slipped off our map.

Stefanie lost in Mustafa mall

Stefanie lost in Mustafa mall

As travelers on the lean budget plan, it took us exactly 30 seconds to come to the conclusion that an additional week in Singapore was out of the question. Singapore is an infinitely interesting, cosmopolitan, multi-cultured and clean city with an endless supply of air conditioned malls. However, it is also infinitely challenging to stay within our means in such a high-end place. We needed to escape to a more reasonable economy, and soon. Plan B was in formation before we had left the embassy grounds and was on its way to completion by the time we?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d walked the several blocks to Orchard Road for a cheap lunch of curry puffs and fish balls from one of the ubiquitous stands found there amidst the tony shopping centers. While eating our lunch on a bench in the shade of the tree-lined street, we decided upon an alternative destination. When traveling the world, there are plenty of options. Peninsular Malaysia called.

Fugian dancers in graceful pose

Fugian dancers in graceful pose

Back at our guesthouse, we were soon pouring over tourist information booklets on Malaysia and studying the train and bus routes north. Our hostess, April, gave us some tips on bus travel and information on guesthouses in the areas we were most interested in visiting. By late morning the next day we had connected with our travel agent stateside and had confirmed new flights out of Bangkok, to arrive in Istanbul March 8th as originally planned. With a good idea of where we wanted to go and how to get there, and no further reason to remain, we decided to seize the moment and be on our way since it was still early afternoon. We packed our bags once more, settled our bill, and set out hoping to make Malacca, Malaysia, south of Kuala Lumpur, by early evening in time to hunt down reasonable accommodations. Our plan was to catch a local bus to Johor Bahru, just across the border from Singapore, where we could connect with a bus northward to Malacca, a cheaper option than a direct route from Singapore.

Soft hues of lotus blossoms at streetside

Soft hues of lotus blossoms at streetside

Four buses (including a wrong one due to miscommunications) and 2 hours later, we?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d made it just to the far side of the border, a distance no greater than 10 kilometers. Once through customs and headed to what we thought was our connecting bus, Dave was snagged by one of the many taxi guys just outside the building. Dripping with sweat from carrying our bags through the dense humidity and heat, off-loading from 2 buses required to get us through the border, we made a quick decision to go with the information our taxi guy was telling us. That it was 15 kilometers to the bus station and there weren?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t any buses going there. As we climbed into his car ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú a private one ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú the heavens opened and torrents of rain fell from the sky, obliterating our view of what supposedly was Johor Bahru. Welcome to Malaysia. Fifteen minutes later as we began to believe we were driving in circles, the bus station appeared. Unable to drive through the terminal gates to the entry because he was not licensed, our taxi guy stopped at a distant curb where we disembarked for a mad 30-yard dash to the safety of the bus shelter.

A bicycle rickshaw -- not one of our transportations

A bicycle rickshaw — not one of our transportations

Now soaked to the skin, we lugged our baggage into the terminal in search of an express bus going to Malacca. The next one was scheduled to depart in half an hour. But first we needed Malaysian ringgits in exchange for our Singapore dollars, which the money changers at the terminal were happy to oblige, along with changing a few US dollars when 2 different ATMs failed us. Back at the ticket counter we purchased our tickets, then hit the McDonald?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s (yes, McDonald?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s!) for a take-out sack of cheeseburgers, fries, and cokes, and finally made a quick pit stop at the restroom with a little time to spare before boarding our bus.

The dancing lions' message of good fortune

The dancing lions’ message of good fortune

In Malacca, we hit pay dirt when Dave phoned the guesthouse and found a vacancy. We caught the local #17 bus as instructed, only to be let out very prematurely in unknown territory. Happily, it was on a busy street with frequent cabs. We haled one and arrived safely a short time later at our guesthouse some 8 hours after our journey began. Six buses, 2 cab rides and one torrential downpour later, we had finally managed our exit from Singapore.

Life Among the Rice Fields

I sat overlooking the rice fields this evening from an umbrella table in the back of our lodging?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s courtyard. The place feels like something made for the gentry, except that this is a former Dutch colony, not English. There are 5 larger two-story cottages around the perimeter of Sri Ratih?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s inner courtyard and a handful of smaller single cottages leading to the rice field in back. A swimming pool holds center court along with a variety of flowering trees such as hibiscus and frangipani. The buildings are of a pagoda style, and with 2 shrines on the compound for daily offerings there?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s no doubt this is far from the English countryside.

Early Morning Harvest of Elephant Grass

Early Morning Harvest of Elephant Grass

There are farmers in the rice fields tonight using their sicles to cut long grasses from the terrace ridges. This morning Dave and I walked a long, curved path into the rice paddies north of Ubud that wind between the 2 rivers that flow from the north. From our vantage point along the ridge path we watched farmers in coned hats bend in the sun cutting elephant grass and tend their rice crops. Sitting this evening watching our neighboring farmers I wonder what it takes to successfully bring a crop of rice to harvest. I spent much of my growing up years among Midwestern farms so I understand their rhythms and the work involved. But I watch these men trudging the terrace ridges between the fields, cutting grasses, and spending concentrated efforts to perhaps set right the irrigation among the fields, and I am without reference to know what they do.

Tending the Rice Fields

Tending the Rice Fields

The fields swim in a peaceful verdant green with water flowing at their perimeters. North of Ubud along the path this morning the noise of the town fell away and we were left with only the wind and birds as accompaniment. Halfway through our walk we sat on the steps of a yoga studio in a small village and watched several farmers work in their paddies across the road. There was an orderliness to the fields, stretching before us in neat terraced plots, and an graceful efficiency to the men?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s labors. Two small brown and white herons plied the watery fields in search of bugs and fish, in silent partnership with the farmers.

A Lacy Sky

A Lacy Sky

Tonight I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m back in that quiet along our neighboring rice field. The evening sun is slipping below the horizon beyond the palm trees at the far end of the paddy, leaving a hint of pink glowing out through the trees. The sky above is the faintest blue, soft and lacy like a worn handkerchief. Swallows dip and swirl overhead, along with a flotilla of dragonflies that dart above the shrubbery along the field?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s edge. Soon small black bats will be out collecting their evening fare of mosquitoes and gnats. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a different, lesser-known kind of paradise out here among the fields of rice.

A Rainy Season

It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s raining gulley whoppers and the old man is dumping tons of potatoes on his bridge. This booming thunder sounds just that way, like there?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s someone up in the sky dropping loads of potatoes, or maybe bricks, just like my mother used to tell it. I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t know when I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve seen it rain so much ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú certainly not since we?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve been here. It started shortly after noon and has been unrelenting these past 2 hours. But I can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t complain, as it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s finally cool, and we have a fabulous deep porch to hide out on that overlooks Sri Ratih?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s courtyard of frangipani and other tropical flowering trees.

I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve been trying mightily to physically and mentally overcome the heat these past several days. Mostly to little avail. We?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve determined that any activity, even slight, is best accomplished in segments. Planning a walk into town, perhaps a half-mile, is done ever-so-slowly with a couple sit-down rests along the way.

Beyond dehydration and heat exhaustion, walking poses perhaps a more immediate hazard ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú that of getting hit by a motor scooter or jeep as they go hurtling past at a frightening pace. It doesn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t help that they?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re going opposite to my usual sense of traffic orientation so that I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve learned to look behind me if I step off of the sidewalk.

So, the rain today is welcome on several fronts, to cool us, to give us rest, but also as an added incentive to just sit quietly, without heed of what place we should be going. Simply to be in the moment, watching the birds and enjoying the beauty around us.

Observations

Mexican man with black leather vest

Socializing in a plaza

Except for their Spanish, the girls could be any typical group of young adolescents in the U.S., talking and squealing in a tight clique. They’re dressed in school uniforms and gathered along the cramped sidewalk of Quebrada just above the bus stop where I’m waiting. I watch them crowd together, then fall back from one another, laughing. Their conversations seem urgent, their friendships kinetic, like they’ve just run a mile and are out of breath. Whispers and shouts emit from the group, and their eyes collectively watch each other and whoever is around them. Then suddenly it’s time to go. Kisses all around and peels of excited laughter as they pinch each others’ cheeks in fun. The kissing gives them away, as definitely not Norte Americanos.


I was caught in a funeral procession again last week. They’re more solemn here and a curiosity to those used to the sterilized grief of a parade of cars with orange flags marked ?¢‚Ǩ?°”funeral” adorning their hoods. As I stepped onto Quebrado I saw the slow parade of people dressed mostly in black walking through the street ahead, en mass, black umbrellas over head. Theirs was the largest group I’ve seen so far. The first I witnessed many weeks ago came marching down Insurgentes passed the Biblioteca following a flower-laden hearse. There was no question as to what they were. Their tears were enough to tell me what I was watching. Cars went around them, never stopping or hardly slowing. At home, I’d been taught to stop the car as funeral processions went by. So I stood at the curb and removed my hat in their honor. A little huddled knot of people unafraid to show their grief so publicly.


Horses in the campo

Horses in the campo

?¢‚Ǩ?ìHay Ingles/Espan?ɬ?l diccionario??¢‚Ǩ¬ù I asked the clerk at the bookstore. She told me ?¢‚Ǩ?ìSi,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and handed me a copy of the one dictionary they had. Leafing through it I apologized, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìMi Espan?ɬ?l es muy mal.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù I was on my way for a hair cut, and while I once again had looked up ?¢‚Ǩ?ìlength?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (largo) and ?¢‚Ǩ?ìgrow?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (crecer) and ?¢‚Ǩ?ìdeaf?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (sordo) and ?¢‚Ǩ?ìbangs?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (flequillos), I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d neglected to translate ?¢‚Ǩ?ìlayers,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù as in, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI want my bangs layered.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù So, I was on a mission to get the correct phrase. My last hair cut I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d used the word ?¢‚Ǩ?ìestratos?¢‚Ǩ¬ù only to get a look of pure confusion from my stylist. I managed to pantomime what I wanted, but I knew I needed something more definitive this time.

Art sales in the lavenderia

Art sales in the lavenderia

Looking at the clerk at the bookstore, I took off my hat and pointed to my bangs. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìQuiero corte mi flequillos en estratos. Como se dice??¢‚Ǩ¬ù I asked her, pointing to the Spanish translation of ?¢‚Ǩ?ìlayers.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù She wrinkled her brow and got that same look of confusion. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìNo uno largo,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù I said ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú not one length ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú using my fingers as a prop. She said something incomprehensible and then demonstrated different lengths along the side of her head. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìSi,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù I said, realizing she understood what I was after. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìComo se dice??¢‚Ǩ¬ù How do you say it? She repeated but not to where I could understand. Another hearing loss moment. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìEscribe, por favor.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Write it, please. I handed her a pen and she uncovered a scrap of paper. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìEn capas,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù she wrote out. I repeated it to her satisfaction. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìSi,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù she nodded and smiled. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìMuy amable,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù I told her. (You are very kind.) ?¢‚Ǩ?ìMuchas gracias,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù I added as I tripped out the door with my newest magic phrase.

Navidad

As we stood watching, our maid, Chela, spotted us and motioned for us to come and join them. With her second beckoning I knew that I had to go join in. This was an opportunity not to be missed, in spite of my trepidation at not knowing the rituals of the ceremony. I slipped on my jacket and gloves and hurried outside into the cold night, down the steps of the calljon to Raul’s gate. Chela was just inside, and we exchanged greetings and then stood for a moment with arms around each others’ waists. One of Chela’s daughters was near by, but that was the only other familiar face. Eyes turned in my direction, the only gringo present. Chela then moved into the yard amidst the rest of the gathering while I remained at the periphery, content to observe and be a silent part of their tradition. Voices raised in unison, young and old together singing from memory these songs to commemorate the night of the birth of Christ. Songs alternated with chants and spoken verses, and I understood but a few words. Yet it mattered little.

Soon Dave came to join me, and we stood together as the last song was sung into the night. The mood shifted from solemn to festive as bags of fruit and nuts were handed out to everyone. We were ushered inside the yard by a man standing next to me, in spite of our protestations, and given a bag as well. Raul appeared and welcomed us, bringing us glasses of hot fruited punche, quickly followed by a splash of Tequila for additional fortification against the cold. He then invited us inside to meet the rest of his family. Sitting on the couch watching 3 of the small children and trying to determine whether they were siblings, one of teenagers on our other side told us in English that they were cousins. The spell was broken, and one of the women across from us said, “Mama!” and pointed to herself. There followed a part English, part Spanish exchange of introductions and talk of our families.

Away from our own traditions, friends, and families it felt good to be included and welcomed by our neighbors. We watch nightly to see where the Posada will go and listen for the sounds of our neighbors’ voices to fill the night air. They bring a friendly warmth to the cold that has descended.

Feliz Navidad,

— Stef