How to Keep Christ in Christmas: A Parable

A couple of weeks ago, during Advent, I decided to do something ostensibly “nice” for myself. I decided that it was time, despite my newly-found vocation as a perpetually depressed and isolated widower, to get out and do something enjoyable for a change. Music is something I enjoy, and so, I reasoned, I ought to get out and see a musical performance. In grad school at Notre Dame, I made it a habit each week on Sunday afternoons to watch a classical performance that took place right by the library where I did my studies. “Right by the library” literally meant a few paces from the library, so while the concert took place in the middle of the afternoon–premium study time–I couldn’t easily appeal to transit costs as an excuse for not going.

Well, that was then, and this is now, I was tempted to think. Times have changed, and a lot of water has gone under the bridge since grad school–almost three decades’ worth, in fact. There’s no going back, I thought, to the sweet idylls of the past. And no point in trying.

Or maybe there is? As it happened, I saw an announcement for an Advent concert in the university chapel right here in Princeton, where I now live–on a Sunday afternoon, no less, just a few paces from the university library. Just like old times. So I decided, partly in a spirit of nostalgia, and partly to turn over a new leaf, to go. The concert was devoted to the so-called “O Antiphons,” religious music dating to the Middle Ages, mostly sung in Latin, heralding the Christmas season. That Sunday, I showed up at the university’s lovely and spacious neo-Gothic chapel, a place I hadn’t been in ages, sat in the back, and waited for the music to begin. 

I’m tempted to say I had an “unexpected reaction” to the music, but maybe it wasn’t so unexpected, or shouldn’t have been. As the choir’s ethereal, angelic voices filled the chapel–music that seemed too beautiful for this world–I was suddenly reminded, not of anything mentioned in the music, but of my late wife, Alison. This isn’t because Alison was in any sense ethereal or angelic; she definitely wasn’t. Nor is it because the beauty of the music reminded me of hers. Alison was beautiful in her own way, but not in the fashion of the Magnificat. It was, instead, a deeply painful memory. I remembered us in Prague, four years ago.

Alison had visited central Europe before we married, and loved it more than any place on Earth. She rhapsodized constantly about it, and spoke incessantly (but without much logistical thought) of leaving the United States and making a new home there. Her best friend Milota lived in the little town of Dudince, in Slovakia, a few hours from Prague; Slovakia itself had its charms, and both Prague and Budapest beckoned as places of promise and adventure, places where it might somehow be possible to start anew, and partake of the rise of the New Europe. It therefore became imperative, in her mind, to travel there for an initial reconnaissance, a kind of prelude to the Great Migration that was somehow to happen, sometime in the imminent (or was it indefinite?) future. 

And so, mostly without my input, Alison planned a Christmas-time trip to central Europe for late 2018–Slovakia, Czechia, and Hungary. Our itinerary began on Christmas Day with Milota in Dudince, proceeded from there to Prague (mostly) by train, then by air to Budapest, and eventually home, alas, to Newark. I forget all the different plane rides, but vividly remember the train ride to Prague. We had to drive out of Dudince, Milota’s town, to the train station at Sturovo,* and then northwest by train via Bratislava and Brno, to Prague. Eager to have the Full Tourist Experience, I made sure to read John LeCarre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy on the train, turning to the pivotal Brno scenes in the novel just as our train actually passed through Brno in real life. The ghost of George Smiley no doubt smiled over it all. 

brno

The real-life Brno, from the train

We stayed at the Questenberk Hotel in the Hradcany district of Prague, just around the bend along Lorentanska Street from Prague Castle. At the suggestion of the hotel’s concierge, we got tickets for a “Christmas concert” to take place at St George’s Basilica in the Castle, meaning “Christmas” in the broad sense that encompasses all of the days before Twelfth Night. I don’t exactly remember the program. It was short, whatever it was–Bach for sure, probably some Vivaldi, maybe something else of a Christmassy sort. 

I remember the evening in fits and starts of vivid clarity and nostalgic haze. It was cold and windy, too cold to do much outside, so we mostly spent the daylight hours in the hotel. Sometime in the late afternoon, we walked around the corner to a crowded little restaurant along the Loretanska–I wish I could remember the name–and had an early dinner. Then we walked down the street to Prague Castle, and waited awhile in the courtyard to enter the basilica. I have a vague memory of the twilight stroll there–the cold, the wind, the smell of meat cooking on charcoal, the fire-lit lanterns, the crowds, the puffy coats, the pervasive spirit of Christmas joy. Eventually, after (an admittedly cheerful) hour in the cold, they let us in. We’d paid for VIP seats, and sat, if I remember, in the first row, itself a good fifty yards from the performers, who were seated up high on a distant balcony behind a wrought-iron balustrade.

I just went back into the all-knowing archives of Internet Past to refresh my memory of the concert itself, but found only a mean-spirited and angry review on TripAdvisor by one “sfmma” of Peterborough, New Hampshire: “Christmas Concert at Prague Castle Was a Holiday Nightmare.” Like us, sfmma had VIP seats, so they had to have been seated nearby us. 

The string ensemble was okay, but lacked energy. The soprano was flat and could not hit her high notes. We left before the last piece because between the rude staff and the so-so music, we had had enough.

Damn. Well, that’s not the way I remember it–not that I can really vouch for my memories. In my version of the past, the Bach was beautiful, the Vivaldi enthralling, and Alison, no fan of classical music and often a finicky consumer, was filled with a preternatural joy. I also remember that it was so cold in the basilica that everyone kept their coats on, including the performers. Maybe that’s why I cut them some slack? 

Not that our evening went entirely smoothly, either. One of the things that divided Alison from me was our sense of propriety or decorum in public settings. I like to keep a low profile; she was loud and conspicuous. I like, when in Rome, to do as the Romans are doing (or in Europe, not to pass as an American); she insisted on marching to the beat of her own drummer wherever the hell she was. I was the one to turn my cell phone off, or maybe leave it at home altogether; she was the one to have it out, have the ringer on, and film everything.

It could get mortifying at times. We once attended a burlesque show in midtown Manhattan: I mean an explicit, X-rated one, where the performers performed entirely nude and without inhibition. (This was, naturally, Alison’s idea, not mine.) We managed, at her insistence, to sit in the front row, right up at the edge of the stage, practically a part of the performance ourselves. Every eye in the house, on stage and in the audience, was riveted directly on us. Unsatisfied with this degree of attention, Alison insisted on filming the whole damn thing, in all of its burlesque glory, sending out cat-calls when someone went above and beyond the call of duty in a given performance. Alcohol was involved.

Alison’s behavior, over-the-top even by Manhattan burlesque show standards, was (I saw) duly noted by the mistress of ceremonies, who, presumably in an attempt to pacify Alison’s insatiable desire for attention, eventually called her up on stage to participate in one of the performances. (She kept her clothes on. It was a guessing game of some sort, if I remember.) Blushing but pleased, Alison handed me the phone and asked me to film her, which I unquestioningly did. I no longer have the film, but don’t really need it: the unapologetic look of pleasure and triumph she wore when she won whatever prize they were handing out is still etched on my mind, and forever will be.  

Filming a Manhattan burlesque show is, I suppose, one thing, but filming a Christmas performance in St George’s Basilica in Prague Castle, with Europeans watching, is another. I really did not want her to do it, and I was pretty uptight about it. I wanted her to behave like a nice, civilized member of the Classical Music Community (like, e.g., me): properly dressed, sitting still and upright, clapping only when the piece was finished (not between movements, dammit), breathing only if and when necessary, tray tables in their upright and locked positions, cell phones off and fucking stowed away.  

alison dudince

Alison in Dudince, supposedly having breakfast with me on Christmas Day, 2018. But actually on her phone.

But that was not Alison. Alison was not a nice, civilized member of anything. She was a loud, crass Canadian girl who’d lived half her life in LA, and the other half in New York, and it bloody well showed. Quiet civility was just not her thing. Boots are made for walking. Phones are made for filming. She had a phone in her hand, it had a camera in it for filming things, and that’s just what she was going to do–Bach, Vivaldi, Palestrina, whatever. Not that she was alone in doing it; we sat next to a bunch of tourists who were doing the same thing. Still, it seemed like an Ugly American thing to do, and though I said nothing–I was never one to say anything–I was unhappy with her, and found myself fixated not on the music but on her behavior. I ended up so assiduously and judgmentally fixated on it that I now remember the fixation much more vividly than the concert. 

There’s a strange irony here, of course. She filmed the concert so that we would have the film as a keepsake of Prague, something by which to remember the night forever. But filming it was precisely what made it unmemorable. She was too fixated on filming the concert to experience it in the moment. I was irritated at her precisely because she didn’t realize this. But in my fixation on her transgressions against propriety, I forgot it myself. I was too fixated on her failure to experience the concert in the moment…to experience the concert in the moment myself. So despite our intentions, neither of us did. Two years later, in March 2021, she committed suicide in circumstances far removed from our trip to Prague. And here we confront another irony. Given the circumstances of her death, the film is now lost to both of us. After she committed suicide, the police did a sweep of her room and confiscated her phone as evidence for their inquest. So what was supposed to be a private keepsake of Prague is now sitting in an evidence locker in Toronto, unless it’s sitting in a garbage dump somewhere else. 

All of that is what hit me like the emotional equivalent of an anvil as the Princeton singers made their way through the “O Antiphons.” What I heard were not the “O Antiphons” being sung before me in the Princeton University Chapel, but the echoes of Bach and Vivaldi that I’d heard or half-heard with Alison four years earlier in St George’s Basilica in Prague. Or maybe it’d be more accurate to say that what I heard were the echoes of my own guilt and regret at the small-mindedness of my reactions to her, the belated reverberations of my failures as a husband and a partner.

Magnanimity is the virtue of ignoring trivial offenses to take in and appreciate the noble and the sublime. Tolerance is the more garden-variety virtue of putting up with small inconveniences to get the benefits of greater things. What I heard in the harmonies of the “O Antiphons” were my offenses against both virtues. Every note voiced the same message: tolerance and magnanimity are what I lacked, and lacked most notably when the opportunity for their expression was most imperative. Alison was a difficult person. But I lacked the character to respond to her as I should have. 

In heralding the approach of Christmas, the “O Antiphons” function as musical heralds of Christ himself. Granted, magnanimity and tolerance are less Christian virtues than pagan ones, but they’re not entirely inappropriate to the character of Jesus Christ. Christians don’t, I realize, worship Christ because he shows magnanimity or tolerance, but pagans like me, not bound to worship him, are free to describe him that way, admire him for it, and hope to emulate him. What struck me in hearing the “O Antiphons” in that chapel was a paganized version of a Christian thought: I’m the sinner; Jesus, the saint. He’s the paradigm; I fall short. Jesus had what I lack. I lack what he had. I’ve spent a lifetime aspiring to an ideal higher than adherence to the letter of the law, but when push comes to shove, the letter of the law is really all that matters to me. Propriety trumps everything, including love.  

The contrast here doesn’t just involve a mere consciousness of defect or error. It’s a cause for mourning–mourning on top of the mourning I’ve already done out of sheer grief for my loss. The grief one feels at one’s deepest moral failings run deeper than the griefs one feels at one’s losses, however profound. It’s a realization harder to grasp in full awareness than to put in print for public consumption: I lacked what it took to rise above my irritation at Alison, to see past her flaws and quirks and appreciate the human, loving impulses behind them. I lacked what it took to set propriety aside, even momentarily, and surrender to love. I’m not literally about to take up a Cross over my failings, much less to convert to Christianity over them. But the confrontation with moral failure is worth a tear or two on my emotional Via Dolorosa. And while it doesn’t betoken a conversion to Christianity, it’s undeniably a response to the message of Jesus Christ. 

Americans often argue over whether we ought or ought not to put Christ back into Christmas. It’s probably incongruous for me to enter the fray. I’m not a Christian, and don’t celebrate Christmas, at least not in any conventional or recognizable way. The truth is, Satanic as this sounds, I actually find Christmas a mournful, not a joyous day. Most people, for instance, feel joy or cheer when they hear Christmas carols. I don’t: Christmas carols either bore me or make me want to cry. The “O Antiphons” remind me of my late wife, and how I failed her.  “O Come All Ye Faithful” reminds me not of joy or triumph, but of the many lives lived without either, including those of my Palestinian friends and comrades living under Israeli occupation in Bethlehem itself. “O Come Emmanuel” reminds me of the fact that no one, much less Emmanuel, is coming to free captive Israel or any other captive. Those bound in captivity and driven to exile are ultimately on their own. If Emmanuel was going to do something about it, he would have done so by now, and he obviously hasn’t. 

basilica

St George’s Basilica, Prague Castle

This is what happens when your moral universe is shaped less by St Nicholas than by Jean-Paul Sartre. But somehow, despite all that, or maybe because of it, I sympathize more with the “Put Christ Back in Christmas” brigade than with its secular antagonists. Don’t get me wrong: I worry as much as anyone about the prospect of living in a Christian-American theocracy. But you can fear theocracy while also loathing the trivialization and commercialization of Christmas. And I do. Call me a Scrooge or a Grinch, but the hard fact is that Christmas isn’t actually about online commerce, gift returns, or days off from work. It isn’t even about football, Santa Claus, or Charlie Brown. It’s about Jesus Christ, and the moral-theological world he brought into existence. The rest of it is by comparison pointless, superfluous fluff. There is no more egregious act of “cultural appropriation” than the commercialized trivialization of Christmas. 

Not that we’re obliged to leave Christmas to the Christians. I was startled once when a Palestinian Muslim friend of mine told me that he celebrated Christmas–not in some bullshit spend-your-ass-off/eat-your-ass-back way, but as a genuine religious holiday. “Christ belongs to all of us,” he said, evenly, “not just those who worship him.” It took me awhile to grow into that thought, but eventually I did. “Hereby know that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.” 

And so, sinner, pagan, pseudo-Jew and fictional Muslim that I am, I intend to celebrate Christmas this year in my own admittedly weird-ass way. Christmas is my personal Yom Kippur, the day on which I remember my sins and repent of them, reckon my losses and mourn them.  Unusual, I realize. Well, “In my Father’s house are many mansions,” as they say. 

And with that thought, I can re-visit these lines, even if I can’t quite take them all in:

Oh come all ye faithful
Joyful and triumphant
O come ye, o come to Bethlehem
O come and behold him, born the King of Angels

I love the song, but little of it applies to me. I can’t come in faith; I don’t have any.  I can’t come in joy or in triumph; I don’t feel it. I hold no brief for kings, and don’t believe in angels, so that’s out, too. With a valid American passport and $1,000 in plane fare, I can go to Bethlehem anytime I want; the problem is that my friends there live in an open-air prison they can’t leave. So the references to Bethlehem are a little grating. 

But “come and behold him” seems just right. That I can do. And should. There’s something wrong with celebrations of Christmas that treat Christ as somehow irrelevant to the day that bears his name. It’s Christmas, not Salesmas, or Spendmas, or even Giftmas. So that’s what I intend to do this Christmas, and for better or worse, to call it a celebration: I intend to take a good, hard look at the man that Christmas is both nominally and substantively about, and ask myself what his teaching and example mean for me. I can’t say I accept it all. I can’t say I worship him. But it seems rude, if nothing else, to ignore him. So “come and behold him” it is. It seems the least one can do on the man’s birthday, and by implication, the most obvious way to keep Christ in Christmas. 

Merry Christmas, by the way. Or not-so-merry. Take your pick.


*In an earlier version of this post, I’d mistakenly written “Nove Zamky,” but it was definitely Sturovo. How could I have forgotten?

Thanks to Monica Vilhauer for the conversations that inspired this essay.

23 thoughts on “How to Keep Christ in Christmas: A Parable

  1. That was beautiful and powerful. Thank you.

    What I have to say is trivial in comparison, but I also have a deep love for Prague. I used to get there semi-regularly for a libertarian conference that, alas, is probably not going to happen again for a while, if ever (the guy who organised it and the institution that hosted it parted ways unexpectedly a year ago) and I’ve walked past your hotel many times. And I also passed through Brno when I took the train from Prague to Vienna, though instead of Le Carré I was reading Čapek.

    “But filming it was precisely what made it unmemorable. She was too fixated on filming the concert to experience it in the moment.”

    Have you seen the tv series Selfie, with Karen Gillan and John Cho? This is one of the main themes of it.

    “we walked around the corner to a crowded little restaurant along the Loretanska–I wish I could remember the name”

    Have you tried looking for it on Google Street View?
    https://www.google.com/maps/@50.0876813,14.3904148,3a,75y,91.32h,96.35t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sIKKgDn4Z1Z33093N1Wf1yA!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

    Liked by 3 people

    • Re the film: my phone automatically backs up my photos to a website, so it’s possible that your wife’s phone did also. Though if you don’t have a password to the website this may still not be of any use to you.

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      • I don’t think her phone did back up her photos, but I’d hesitate to open her email accounts anyway, not knowing the legal ramifications. Her death certificate still (falsely) lists her as divorced, and I still haven’t managed (almost two years after the fact) to get it corrected. Every time I send a new, amended application to the Canadian authorities, they return it to me as “incomplete,” and ask for yet another piece of information. Technically, her estate lacks an executor or administrator. I’m not even certain whether the disposition of the estate is governed fully by Canadian law or partly by Canadian and partly by American. So I’ve adopted a hands-off posture. Unfortunately, that’s meant losing just about everything.

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    • Thanks for reading it through. While writing it, I went back into my old emails, and found an email correspondence that you and I (and Michael Young and I) had had while I was still in Dudince, about to leave for Prague. You gave me advice on which Smileyverse novels to read, and in which order. I have yet to follow through, alas. Time has been tight.

      When we got to Prague, Alison and I went to the Kafka Museum. Reading a bit about him at the museum–his troubles with his father, his troubles with male authority figures, his religious ambivalence, his general paranoia–Alison said, “Well, this sounds awfully familiar. Did I wake up one morning married to Franz Kafka?” I don’t remember how I responded. Anyway, I resolved to read (or re-read) some Kafka when I got back, but only ended up reading Amerika (which I did enjoy).

      I could resolve here and now to read some Capek, but I hesitate to add any more resolutions to my list.

      I don’t know what it is about Prague, but the pull of the place was so strong that once I got there, I wasn’t sure I was psychologically capable of leaving. Before I got there, I hadn’t really understood Alison’s blathering on and on about moving there and living there, but it wasn’t long before I began to make sense of it. Actually, I was deeply taken by the Slovakian countryside, as well. I could live there, if only I could find something to do there to make ends meet.

      Forget libertarian organizations. We should just pool our money, and find a way to go on our own. I’m sure Michael would be game. You would, alas, have to put up with my descents into nostalgia and endless stories about how things were “the last time I was here.”

      I haven’t seen “Selfie.” I did try Google Street View, but couldn’t quite narrow down the restaurant. My best guess is this one, but it’s just a guess.

      https://www.facebook.com/hostinecucernehovola

      Have you ever seen the film “Zelary”? Highly recommend.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I haven’t seen it – though the way the English-language narrator pronounces “Želary” makes me want to reach for my revolver.

        I have an essay on, in part, Kafka’s Amerika:
        http://praxeology.net/Godwin-other-minds.docx

        I also have YouTube videos about Kafka and Čapek, as well as Hašek. I presented a shorter version of these at the aforementioned conference.

        As I write on YouTube, topics for the Čapek lecture include: “intelligent, morally ambiguous salamanders; rebellious, morally ambiguous robots; the effects on supply and demand of unleashing the Absolute; a critique of the labour theory of Labour Day; the geometrical logic of imperial expansion; why police detectives have no interest in mysteries; the merits and demerits of government theme parks devoted to the preservation of Czech folkways; the magic word by means of which the English protect their property; why God can only be a witness and never a judge; the role of clumsiness in advancing civilisation; the benefits and hazards of replacing feet with wheels; inspirational workplace posters suitable for shackled newts; how Roderick ran into one of Čapek’s robots in the lounge of the Auburn Hotel and Conference Center; and the crucifixion of Christ as a sensible protectionist measure.”

        Topics for the Kafka lecture include: “theological versus political readings of Kafka’s vision of elusive, perpetually deferred authority; bureaucracy as hopelessly incompetent and out-of-touch, versus bureaucracy as all-pervasive surveillance; the dependence of rulership on those who rule; Stoic versus anti-Stoic readings of Seneca’s Medea; discovering Kafka through Marvel Comics (or not); and remembering Kropotkin but forgetting Nietzsche’s umbrella.”

        Topics for the Hašek lecture include: “the perversities of bureaucratic incentives; the state as a parasite on private crime; the importance of providing every voter with a pocket aquarium; the dangers of displaying, or not displaying, portraits of the Emperor; access to one lavatory as a bribe for permission to reopen another lavatory; electoral campaigns as anarchist street theatre; justice in canine nomenclature; what happens when criminals go on strike; the forgotten economic costs of farting; the ethical, logistical, and grammatical aspects of assassinating Archduke Ferdinand; Roderick’s success and the Soviets’ failure in deciphering Czech signage; and the economic transaction that Roderick conducted with a nun in the men’s room of the Vatican.”

        “You would, alas, have to put up with my descents into nostalgia”

        I think I could take it.

        Liked by 2 people

          • Such cute people they have on TV nowadays. Well, I guess that was eight years ago, but eight years ago is “nowadays” by my standards. TV remains a technology in current use, right?

            Ah, social media. It was my first wife who insisted that I get a flip phone (2005), my intervening girlfriend who insisted that I get on Facebook (2014), and my second wife who insisted that I ditch the flip phone for a smart phone (2016). Then a forced encounter with unemployment forced me to spruce up my LinkedIn page and learn the arts of “networking,” insofar as I have (2020). Left to my own devices, so to speak, I’d still be living in a cave. Well, I guess I do live in a cave. But I work in Big Data. Make it make sense.

            Honestly, I have very mixed feelings about social media. It was Alison who got me the smartphone, then complained (justifiably) about my using it too much. On the one hand, it becomes an impoverishing substitute for real-life experience; on the other hand, it supplements real-life when real-life is itself an impoverishing experience. On the one hand, it puts unprecedented power in the hands of State and Corporation; on the other hand, it puts unprecedented power in the hands of the people. Hard to know where we stand, all things considered.

            I discovered this video on YouTube one day, out of the blue, just randomly clicking around. It’s a treasure. Without YouTube, I might have gone a lifetime without ever encountering it. He’s a major contemporary composer with all of 99 online followers. When I think of the downsides of social media, I remember this, and they fade away.

            https://www.youtube.com/@borisyoffe9560/videos

            Liked by 1 person

        • It seemed familiar: you blogged this material here about two years ago, and we had a brief exchange on “bureaucracy.” Re that earlier discussion: I’m still skeptical of the idea that we wouldn’t get a proliferation of bureaucracies under anarchism, but haven’t read Kevin’s book, so, won’t pronounce on the subject. It occurs to me that I never finished your Kafka video (I mention watching part of it in one of my 2020 comments). I was, alas, in the middle of a few trials of my own at the time.

          Closely Watched Brains; or, Czech Your Premises: A Bohemian Rhapsody

          I think I’ve asked this before (if so, I forget your answer), but is there some one centralized place (sorry) where you store all of your papers online, and/or all of your videos? I’d been meaning to watch the videos you’ve been posting on Facebook, but having semi-departed Facebook, was looking for a non-Facebook location for them. Is there one? I may be wrong about this, but I think your Agoric Cafe You Tube channel only houses the specifically Austro-Athenian libertarian stuff, not the material you use for class lectures on the history of philosophy.

          The other minds paper I am going to print out today, and read this week.

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  2. That was a very moving piece. I felt extremely emotional reading that and it resonated very powerfully with me. Thank you as always for writing. Your blog is a treasure, and as a long time reader, it is a pleasure!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you, Irfan, for sharing all of that. You are loved by me, if not by Jesus et al.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    A lighter note:

    English translation of Bach cantata for Christmas Day

    Christians, etch this day in metal and marble!
    Come and hasten with me to the manger
    and show with joyous song
    your gratitude and duty
    for the dawning radiance reveals itself
    to you as the light of grace.
    (and so forth)

    From Palestrina’s Hodie Christus Natus Est

    Today Christ is born,
    today the Savior appears.
    Today the angels sing on earth,
    and the archangels rejoice.
    Today the just exult and say:
    Glory to God in the highest. Hallelujah

    From a capitalist Christmas card:
    Some brought you frankincense, some brought you myrrh.
    But I brought you the cutest little pair of cha-cha shoes you’ll ever see.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Your post evokes memories of Prague for me. They were always spruiking classical concerts there. I must have gone to one but don’t remember. As for Christmas….I figure it’s just Yuletide under another name. But I find it somewhat boring, probably because of the way my family celebrates it. Lots of eating and talking. No dancing, music, quaint rituals, bonfires, snow, coloured lights or anything that might spice it up. Basically Australians are a dull people, although we can be pretty funny.

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    • “Basically Australians are a dull people, although we can be pretty funny.”

      We have an Australian houseguest right now who would agree with you. She was born and grew up in Australia, but is the single most anti-Australian person I’ve ever met. She now lives in Canada, which she adores.

      When I think of Australia, I think reflexively of AC/DC, which is anything but dull.

      Like

        • I just asked our Austro-Canadian houseguest whether she hated Australia. She looked at me as though I had lost my mind, denied it, and demanded to know where I’d ever gotten that idea. I thought I got it from her! But maybe not.

          My musical tastes were born in the late 70s and early 80s, which is what I think of as the high point of Australian rock: AC/DC, INXS, Midnight Oil, Men at Work. I had no idea until now that the Bee Gees and Rick Springfield were Australian, but they’re part of my musical heritage, too.

          What’s so terrible about Australia? I want to hear from your daughter. Out with it!

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          • Well, as she won’t go on this blog, I’ll have to paraphrase her. Australians are complacent, ignorant, boring, stupid and parochial. Our built landscape is mostly ugly and our governments have steered us into a housing and debt crisis that will destroy all hope of a happy future for our youth. Those of them, that is, who aren’t brain washed and deluded. I think that’s it in a nutshell. I agree with her on some of all this… Australia is a largely comfortable and isolated country so we do tend to be complacent and somewhat ignorant. And we do have a really bad housing crisis…that is, a great crisis if you own a home but a bummer if you don’t.

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            • I just discovered this, and couldn’t resist. Surely this redeems Australia.

              It reminds me of the fact that Alison regarded AC/DC’s “Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be” as the unofficial anthem of our marriage. Maybe Australia could adopt it, too?

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  5. Well, if it’s any consolation, all of that is true of the US as well. When I was in San Francisco back in 2019, the homeless encampment in the middle of town stretched for miles—thousands and thousands of people. It looked like a refugee camp. I haven’t been to New York since 2020, but I understand the housing crunch has gotten worse there, as well.

    It’s ironic that so many of us New World people have such envy for the Old World. Given half a chance, I would live in Europe.
    I’m sure Europe has its own problems, but I could use a change, if only a change in problems.

    Like

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