Paris is widely acknowledged as a city for lovers, but this September I visited with my mom. She flew in from San Francisco, and I flew down from Oslo for the rendezvous. Experiencing Paris with a gal pal is vastly different from visiting the same city on the arm of your husband/boyfriend/lover anyway, but we had an added bonus. Mom and I are very much alike. (Heredity, you see.) We love architecture and landscape paintings and striped shirts and ice cream and river walks and accordion music, so you might even say we are lovers of a good French time! And when we were at our leisure to choose activities or prioritize the sights, our list immediately took on a rose-colored hue. Here are a few of the delightful things we did in Paris between the usual list of tourist check boxes:
Taking a spin on le carousel de la Tour Eiffel...
When it's hotter than Hades in Paris, you've got to make your own breeze. It didn't take much coaxing to get Mom to ride Le Carousel de la Tour Eiffel with me. I'm sure we looked a little silly, posing for photos and hanging onto our pony-and-zebra combo for dear life, but it did the trick.
Cruising the Seine and sipping vin blanc...
Another ploy to escape the scorching weather in the City of Light, we purchased tickets on one of the many, many, many river cruises and spent an hour on the water. As part of the package, we sipped white wine and listened to the pre-recorded tourist history of each bridge we passed beneath.
Tasting gelato in the Jardin des Tuileries...
Slick with sweat and giddy with delight, we walked through the gardens, trying to stay in the shade. When we saw the gelato cart, we almost broke into a run. The lemon gelato I enjoyed that day, served in the shape of a rose, was only one of the many delicious desserts sampled on our Paris trip. Others included crème brûlée and chocolate éclair.
I delegated the writing of our Christmas card to Crypto this year, and she was full of her customary snark, but hopefully it will give you a giggle, dear friends. That's what this season is all about. Warmth and fun and friendship and making sure we don't forget to cherish auld acquaintance.
Maybe it's because I'm a writer, but I love it when life looks, smells, tastes, sounds, or feels like fiction. When I stumble upon something (or someone) so perfectly proportioned, so quizzical and memorable, that it couldn't be coincidence. Or fate. Or chance. Or anything true. No. When the hair rises on the back of my neck due to the poetry of a place, a name, or even a set of meteorological elements, it's because, had I found the same stuff between the pages of a book, I would be in awe of the craft of it. The intention of a creator. At random, these perfections in an imperfect world make me look up and say thank you.
I'm not making any sense, huh? Here's an example:
Yesterday, I was doing some research. My serendipitous journey began with an essay titled The Lives of Girls and Women: The Writing of Alice Munro. This essay, originally published by The Center for Fiction had been reprinted by the VIDA blog. It caught my eye because Alice Munro won this year's Nobel Prize for Literature, and while I have read and enjoyed one of her short story collections (Runaway), I'm curious to read more from and about this literary heavyweight.
The essay entertained and educated, as good essays are supposed to do. It also forced me to recalibrate my own thinking in a matter of just a few sentences:
"[Munro] is making a political point, one that's radical because it's so enormous and so unsettling. The point is that the lives of girls and women, even of those who lead narrow and constricted lives, those who wield no influence, who have a limited experience in the world, are just as significant and important as the lives of boys and men, those who take drugs, ride across the border, drift down the river or hunt whales."
This recalibration is what prompted me to look up the essay's author, Roxana Robinson. She's a successful novelist, and her most recent book, Sparta, is about a young American veteran returning from war in the Middle East. She is also the author of a Georgia O'Keefe biography. All this made me want to contact Ms. Robinson to request an interview with her for The Postmasters Podcast. Unfortunately, she didn't have any personal contact information listed on her website. What she did have was a small regiment of people set up between herself and me. A publicist, an agent, and someone who coordinates speaking events. I decided the publicist was most relevant to my goal, and that's when the magic happened.
Tonight, I couldn't remember all the words to the famous Christmas poem 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. I tried to recite the thing from memory and failed. When I looked for help from my husband, his answers cracked me up--so far were they from either the truth or, in some cases, common decency. I pulled up the full poem (thank you, Google) and read it aloud, stopping occasionally and allowing him to fill in the blank. The results were too amusing to keep to myself. And so, I present to you now, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas as approximated by Jonathan Camp:
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.
The children were snuggled all snug in their beds,
While visions of Pamela Anderson danced in their heads.
And mamma in her lover, and I in my cap,
Had just settled in for a long winter's nap.
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a bat outta hell,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
Do you wake up, gaze out your window into the cold pre-dawn, and think, Bummer. Not Christmas yet. Just another ho-hum December day? If so, I've got a remedy!
Observe the season of Advent with a calendar crafted to help you count down the mundane days of this long, dark month until you reach Christmas! What better way to celebrate Advent--to build up the anticipation of Christ's humble birth in a manger--than with twenty-four mornings of candy, gifts, and other commercialized paraphernalia?
No, really. It works great. I create an Advent Calendar for Jonathan each year. Always with a theme. In the past, I've opened his days with 24 Things I Love About You, 24 Disneyland Memories, 24 Photos of Us Around the World. That kind of thing. This year, I decided to do 24 Christmas Jokes! And the jokes I found were so funny, I just had to share them here for you, too. (And by "so funny", I mean that every one of these jokes must be followed by a nudge-nudge... do ya get it? Do ya?)
#1 What is red, white and blue at Christmas time?
A sad candy cane.
#2 What do you get when you cross a snowman and a vampire?
#3 Why did Santa call in a workplace psychologist?
Because his workers were suffering from low elf-esteem.
#4 What did the gingerbread man put on his bed?
#5 What does Santa say when he walks backward?
Oh, oh, oh...
In Oklahoma yesterday, a man named Ronald Clinton Lott was executed by lethal injection. He was convicted of raping and killing two elderly women in 1986 and 1987. He bound them, beat them, raped them, and suffocated them. Two old women who each lived alone. Evil exists in this world, and yesterday in Oklahoma, one evil flame was stamped out by our legal system.
Thankfully, they got the right guy. Ultimately. Another man, Robert Lee Miller, Jr., was originally tried and convicted of these exact crimes. By a jury of his peers. And sentenced to death. Miller spent more than ten years of his life on death row in Oklahoma and, had DNA technology not exonerated him in 1998, might have been the one eating Long John Silver's hush puppies dipped in ketchup a few hours before his last, long walk to the death chamber yesterday.
I wonder if capital punishment is only supported by those people who think they understand the value of human life. Their own. Someone else's. Anyone else's. It will never cease to amaze me how many Christians support the practice of capital punishment. They point to the Old Testament. (Just a fraction of it; the full thing is far too hoary and inconvenient.) It's as if Christians forget that their savior was executed. Unjustly.
And that was a good man who died at Calvary that day. Possibly the best man who ever walked the earth. Who among us believes he knows the value of that man? In money. Or in human soul count. Or in the amount of love his earth-bound mother had for him. Who among us believes he knows the value of his own life? Break down the body into pieces and sell it on the black market and you'll get a tally, all right. But you won't get the worth. I say this knowing (in a distant way) that evil exists in the world.
Two and a half years ago, a car bomb exploded less than a mile from my home in Oslo. The man* who set it off in front of the Prime Minister's office building, killing 8 people in the blast, proceeded to a small island north of the city and hunted down children at a summer camp. He used automatic weapons to massacre 69 people. Because the PM's political party was too liberal for his taste, too open and too tolerant. This man, a native Norwegian, hated the influx of Muslim immigrants to Norway so much he wanted to kill them.
At the end of that sad, bloody day, this terrorist allowed himself to be taken under arrest. I remember hearing that news and feeling the battle of emotions within me. What would I have preferred? A suicide? That the responding officers had killed the murderer where he stood?
There was never any way that the Norwegian government would kill this man. He knew that. It's his country. They're his laws. His rights. Norway doesn't use the death penalty. Not even in response to the worst civilian crime in the country's entire history.
Watching that smug, slick-haired, quasi-Nazi bastard sit in the courtroom over the next few months was excruciating. Watching him sentenced to a mere 21 years in a Norwegian prison (in a private, three-room suite of a cell, as the New York Times pointed out), the maximum sentence allowed under Norwegian law, made me physically ill.
Is that it?! Twenty-one years? You've got to be kidding me! The man belongs in hell, and it's time for us to send him there. Without further delay. Shoot him. Stab him. Burn him. Drown him. Hang him by the neck from a fucking yardarm. I don't care. But do it and do it fast. He's as guilty as sin. He admits the whole thing. He looked those children in the eye as murdered them. He wished he could have killed more. If we let him out when he's 53, he WILL do it again. The only way to stop him is to reach into his chest and crush his heart, once and for all.
These were my thoughts on the day of the sentence. These are my thoughts today, too. But I can't ignore a few important facts.