In a way, the coronavirus seems to wreak the most damage on people who are intent on going on with their lives the way they were before. The big danger points come around the major holidays, when people risk everything for the appearance of normalcy.
But what if, like me, you don’t really give a hang about the holidays? No, I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness: I just don’t like the idea of holiday-induced stress. Whenever I think of Christmas and Thanksgiving, in particular, I think of a custom among certain Indian tribes of the Pacific Northwest of “an opulent ceremonial feast at which possessions are given away or destroyed to display wealth or enhance prestige.”
Plus I don’t really like turkey. For the most part it is a dry bird that has to be well-greased before imbibing. For my Thanksgiving, Martine and I will have a more simple feast (though, in her heart of hearts, I know Martine would prefer the turkey): A good beef stew accompanied by a bottle of Egri Bikavér, or Bull’s Blood of Eger, a pleasant Hungarian red wine.
Knowing how much I prefer to avoid poultry, Martine can understand that it wouldn’t help to have me cook something I don’t like—and I do all the cooking in the household.
We will probably do something similar for Christmas. Why not? We are not afraid of offending the Yuletide Police.
The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Branch in Torrance, CA
One day last month, I took a closer look at my driver’s license and was surprised to find that it expires on my birthday in January 2020, just two years after it was issued. It seems that my advanced age requires another official look at my driving ability. Now the Department of Motor Vehicles is under siege at this time by drivers who are trying to get the so-called Real ID which will be required for all domestic flights beginning October 1, 2020. (You will be able to use your passport instead, but a diminishing number of Americans have one of those.)
In order to qualify for a California driver’s license with Real ID privileges, applicants must provide a bewildering array of documents proving their identity, their address, and their Social Security Number. If I didn’t have easy access to the Internet, it would probably take me several trips to the DMV before I got approved.
So I immediately tried to get an appointment at the DMV at my local office in Santa Monica. No go: The first appointment was over a month after the current license expired. The same problem occurred with the Culver City office. I kept checking other branches and found that the Torrance office could handle me at 3 pm this afternoon. I expected a major disaster.
What I found was a pleasant surprise. I showed up an hour early for my appointment and was out the door in about an hour. Contrary to past experiences, the DMV employees were pleasant and helpful. My choice of documents for the Real ID application was approved. The employee taking my photograph actually tried to get a good picture of me (that didn’t make me look like a walrus). And the written exam went quickly and smoothly. Fortunately, an actual driving test was not required.
A day or two before Thanksgiving, I am already starting to be thankful.
I just got back from San Pedro, where I had a great Thanksgiving Dinner with my friends. Naturally, I had to load myself up with insulin, because you know that sugar is one of the main ingredients of the holiday. Still I had a good time and met some new people, who were very nice.
Schoolchildren with Teacher in Lima’s Plaza de Armas
It is now almost two months since I’ve returned from Peru, and it’s beginning to seem as if it all happened years ago. When you replace one present with another, it becomes part of an ever-diminishing past. Well, I have no intention of jettisoning some beautiful memories, such as:
Seeing Peruvian schoolchildren, such as the ones above in front on Lima’s Palacio de Gobierno. (You can see the security personnel in the background.) Kids always make me feel good about the future, even if I don’t have any of my own.
Being awestruck by the Volcano Sabancaya in eruption from Colca Canyon.
Reliving my past by visiting the most ornate and gorgeous Catholic Churches I have ever seen.
Experiencing heartfelt gratitude in Puno when I bought a handmade alpaca scarf from an old Aymara woman.
Eating delicious wor won ton soup at a Peruvian Chinese restaurant, or chifa, on a cold day.
Interacting with the Peruvian people in my broken Spanish, and finding it no bar to communicating with them.
Feeling that the Inca moment in history is still going on, especially in the Sacred Valley.
Because today is Thanksgiving, I will give thanks for Peru and for all the other wonderful places I have seen, all the kind people I have met, and that I still have it in me to want more.
Years ago, at the opening of Dartmouth College’s Hopkins Center, I saw an exhibit of Sesshu Toyo’s Long Scroll and fell in love with it and with the Chinese landscape artists it was imitating. That was the beginning of my fascination with old Chinese landscapes and poetry.
The following lines by Fu Xuan (A.D. 217-278) are as good as the best:
A gentle wind fans the calm night:
A bright moon shines on the high tower.
A voice whispers, but no one answers when I call:
A shadow stirs, but no one comes when I beckon,
The kitchen-man brings in a dish of lentils:
Wine is there, but I do not fill my cup.
Contentment with poverty is Fortune’s best gift:
Riches and Honour are the handmaids of Disaster.
Though gold and gems by the world are sought and prized,
To me they seem no more than weeds or chaff.
Perhaps this Thanksgiving, we should be like the narrator of this poem. Living in the midst of abundance, perhaps we do not need to fill our glass with wine. As the poet says, “Contentment with poverty is Fortune’s best gift.” There is something to that. Today, and always, enjoy your dish of lentils.