Tuesday, December 26, 2006

blogging from birmingham

Five years. That's how long it's been since I was last home for Christmas. Hard to know what to expect outside of my Richmond Christmas routine.

Scout and I got into Birmingham late Friday night after a drive of nearly 11 hours. Leslie showed up Saturday morning delerious from three hours of sleep and an early-morning flight. And, as she is wont to do, she immediately slips into her terribly un-PC imitation of an Indian immigrant, announcing a Merry Christmas to all with the holiday promise of "Uncle Ghandi's goat ball stew." We decide to give our parents a break and make a trip to the nearest mall with every intention of picking up last-minute gifts to round out our Christmas shopping. We actually waltz into Parisian and buy one of the first bracelets we see, a perfect Grandmother gift. Christmas shopping never felt so easy or so smooth.

But then we get sucked in by the sale at Banana Republic. Not so much for other people - mostly for ourselves.

Chris: Hey. I need your opinion. Do you like this sweater?
Leslie: Yeah. Is it on sale?
Chris: Used to be $70, on sale for $45.
Leslie: Sweet. Give it to me - I still need to get you a present. Merry Christmas. Act surprised when you open it.
After shopping, a leisurely mid-afternoon catch-up lunch with my friend Charles (of Jamaican wedding fame) turns into a delightful two hour affair involving as much drinking as eating. Fun though it is, this puts me and Leslie in the precarious position of having polished off two bottles of wine before dropping by to visit our grandmother. We find this situation strangely hilarious, and we call to tell Grandmother we'll be by to see her momentarily. In the retirement home parking lot, Leslie can't stop laughing - she gets out of the car red-eyed, dancing like a monkey, snorting uncontrollably. This is not abnormal behavior for my sister, though perhaps it is not the ideal time for such antics. In a move to stall for time and gain some semblence of decorum and composure, I open the trunk and stand there staring into it, trying to stop laughing myself. "What are you doing?" Les asks. "We're not taking any presents inside." "I know," I answer, "I'm trying to kill a little time so that woman by the front door will walk away...I don't want her to see us and think we're crazy." Needless to say, this only exacerbates Leslie's behavior.

Saturday night we go to a party thrown by a high school friend of ours. Some drinks are had. We decide it's time to go home when Les glances in the mirror and is faced with the result of too little sleep and too much wine: deep-seated black circles under her eyes that look like smeared mascara. The ensuing hangover on Sunday morning - Christmas Eve morning - goes something like this:

[7:30 A.M. on Sunday. Leslie and I are sleeping on the twin beds in the guest room.]
Leslie: Ow.
Chris: What's up?
Leslie: My head. I need Alka Seltzer.
Chris: Why not Advil?
Leslie: Do you have Advil?
Chris: No.
Leslie: Alka Seltzer. Headache, stomach, all in one. I'm calling Mom.
Chris: What?
Leslie [picking up her cell phone]: I'm calling Mom.
Chris: I'm sorry, what? Upstairs? That's ridiculous. Just walk upstairs and find some.
[15 seconds of silence. A phone starts ringing upstairs.]
Chris: Dude, tell me you're NOT calling Mom.
[silence, followed by a second ring upstairs]
Leslie [into the phone]: Hi. Merry Christmas! [pause] I know, but it IS Chrismas Eve. [pause] Um...do you have any Alka Seltzer? I have a headache the size of Montana.
Leslie eventually goes back to sleep. Dad slips out to Walgreens and leaves a box of extra strength Alka Seltzer on the bedside table so Les will see it when she wakes up. Sure enough, she opens her eyes and acts as if someone has left her a small fortune, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. She drops two tablets into her water and says, "Plop plop fizz fizz...it's like a snowstorm in my glass." She smiles and waves at the glass the way an awe-struck kid at Disney World stares and waves at Mickey Mouse. "Hi Alka Seltzer."

I spend Christmas Eve afternoon catching up with a few friends. A long-overdue, much-needed lunch with Baldwin (who always maintains great perspective), an afternoon beer with Ashley, Jay, and James. Mom makes a great Christmas Eve dinner, a sequel to Thanksgiving every bit as good as the original (think The Godfather and The Godfather II). My grandmother stays in our guest bedroom on Christmas Eve and is terrified that we will wake up before her in the morning and open our stockings without her. She stays behind as we leave for midnight mass around 10:00 p.m. I try to explain to her that she is going to bed now, and we will be roughly four hours behind her - there's no way we're waking up before she does. But this does little to assuage her fear of missing out on the Christmas morning party.

Christmas Day is a whirlwind. Sure enough, my grandmother is awake, showered, dressed, and packed by the time we get up about 8:30...and she's surprised we haven't been up for hours already. Apparently she has temporarily forgotten that we're not 7 and thus don't wake up at 6:00 a.m. on Christmas anymore. But all is well as we unpack our stockings and open presents and eat our traditional Christmas brunch late in the morning. It's stress-free and everyone is happy.

I crash out about 12:30 in the afternoon and sleep for an hour or so. It gives me just enough energy to make the evening rounds catching up with folks: the Abele/Hall's, then the Smith's party (a 29-year Christmas Night tradition!), followed by dinner at the Moore's before Leslie and I go back to the Smith's and on to the Abele/Hall's again. We get home at 1:00-something in the morning to a very enthusiastic Scout, who has eaten most of the ham bone I gave her before we left earlier in the night. As we start turning off lights and locking up the house, Leslie says, "Your dog was manic when we got in. Should I give her a Lexapro?"

I tell her I can only think that's a bad idea.

Here's the thing: It's not the same Christmas I've grown accustomed to over the past five years. It's not even the same Christmas that I knew as a kid - my parents live in a townhouse now; there's no Christmas Eve party at my aunt and uncle's house; there are fewer of us on Christmas morning (a mere 5-person gathering). But it's Christmas nonetheless. Not quite like any other one that's come before it...but Christmas nonetheless. And, in some ways, maybe even better than the old ones.

Wherever you are, I hope your Christmas has been a happy one....or, at the very least, eventful and memorable.

Merry Christmas!
(And happy Boxing Day/St. Stephen's Day.)

Friday, December 15, 2006

the anomaly of drinking pina coladas in december

I am under no illusion that the "resort" Jamaica I experienced last weekend is the real Jamaica. I know that much of rural Jamaica is poor and not tourist-friendly (though the topography seems to be stunning no matter where you are). For what it was, though - a three night stay in a 5-star Jamaican resort - the trip was phenomenal. A tropical vacation in December makes it hard to remember that Christmas is only a couple of weeks away.

Half Moon Resort in Rose Hall (just outside of Montego Bay) sprawls over 400 acres along the Jamaican coast. The amazing thing is that this land spreads out horizontally to give the resort two miles of beachfront property. The occasion for the trip was a destination wedding of a good friend of mine from high school. He and his fiance booked a room in the main resort building on the beach. The rest of us stayed in villas near the east end of the property a couple of hundred yards up the road from the beach.

In my mind, a tropical "villa" conjures images of quaint hut-like structures with beach decor. Roomy, but humble. Maybe a grass thatched roof. Not so. The villas are 5, 6, or 7 bedroom white colonial manor houses, each with a private pool and two golf carts for driving around the resort. The only photo I have of our villa is below. Despite the darkness, I think it's still apparent that these were pretty posh accommodations.

As if this weren't enough, each villa is staffed with a cook, a butler, and a housekeeper. We took our butler shopping with us to help us get food on the first afternoon. Our cook, Paula, prepared and served meals that we requested at times appointed by us. We would leave little notes on the stove top at night that read something like this:
We would love to have breakfast around 9 a.m. - eggs, bacon, sausage, and french toast.
Thanks - see you in the morning!"
How is one supposed to feel about such an opulent luxury? Grateful? Guilty? It seems presumptuous, but at the same time it feels perfectly natural given the setting. In reality, is it over-the-top? Decadent? Oh yeah. But did we love it? Absolutely. I thought of my own squalid kitchen, still messy when I left it at 5:00 a.m. last Friday...and I laughed when I imagined transposing this waitstaff scenario to my own house in Richmond, leaving a note for my roommate:
I have to be at work at 9:00. Eggs and bacon would be nice, perhaps with a side of cereal. Save the buttermilk pancakes for later in the week.
8:15 would be perfect.

The wedding itself was beautiful, despite a rain shower two hours before the ceremony that threatened to dampen more than just wedding-day spirits. With about 50 people in attendance and the sun falling toward the horizon at 4:30, it was everything a destination wedding is supposed to be.

The only unfortunate piece to the whole trip was that I didn't bring my camera. Or, more accurately, I thought I had lost it before we left. At 5:00 in the morning, I couldn't find it at my house, and Erin and I even stopped by my office on the way to the airport thinking it might be there. It turns out it was in the mud room off of my back porch (NO idea how it got there), so I'm having to rely on pictures from others. I am really bummed to have missed such an incredible photo opportunity...but at the same time, not having a camera in my hands all the time really allowed me to enjoy the experience fully.

A few pictures are included below, and perhaps I can post a few more when/if I get them...

Friday, December 08, 2006

on the road again

It is currently 4:30 in the morning.

By mid-afternoon, I will be here:

Half Moon Resort. Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Pictures, stories, and the long-overdue catch-up after I get back on Monday...