My mother and I had discussed assembling dueling pans of baklava for a family taste-off this afternoon. I contend that baklava preparation is more an art than a science, and use unorthodox (hey, I'm Presbyterian) ingredients, from orange juice in the syrup to pecans in the filling, and I usually almost double the volume of nuts my most decadent recipe calls for. I've never had anyone complain. Mums, on the other hand, is parsimonious with nuts, stingy with honey, and religious as to recipes, choosing those favoring smaller portions. Which explains why her baklava is so much less expensive to make than mine is. But does it taste as good?
I didn't end up making any, as the robust Hamilton Beach food processor my brother gave me years ago, which has served me well through pounds of pecans, walnuts and unblanched almonds, gave up the ghost this morning, and I was forced to mince a kilo by hand. At least I had a spring-loaded chopper--wielding a cleaver and shooting nut meats all over the kitchen would not have been an encouraging start to the day. I did help Mums bake cookies, and the two pans of baklava she made were good, just different from mine, with more lemon and butter and less spice.
This evening was our choir Christmas party, at the home of our director and his wife. June called me shortly before it was to begin. She was shaking and panicky--someone had run into the back of her car, and though no one was hurt (thank God!) both she and the girl who'd hit her were stuck in the dark on the side of a highly-trafficked two-lane road, shell-shocked and unsure of what to do next. I threw on the vintage velvet dress I'd selected for the party, got into my coat and sat down behind the wheel of my mother's SUV (in the rush, I couldn't find my own car keys), leaned forward to crank the engine, and riiipppp....the seam tore off my zipper from the small of my back to my shoulders. So glad my coat concealed this major wardrobe malfunction! After a nice policeman sorted the paperwork and the disposition of both disabled vehicles, I dropped off June at the party and hurried back home to change.
Our choir director's wife is an incredibly talented decorator. There were two full-sized Christmas trees and several smaller ones, lovely wreaths, garlands, and tasteful white lights festooned throughout the house. The children's play area upstairs actually had a wardrobe, complete with coats, through which small folk could crawl to reach "Narnia", a well-lit reading nook with a multicolored rug and a stencil of a fruit tree on the wall. In the larger room, there were life-size cardboard figures of a storm trooper and Boba Fett. And a huge plush giraffe, books, blocks, and other necessaries.
I'd eaten so much cookie dough during the day, I couldn't fully appreciate the catered savories and sweets covered the dining room table, but I did like the fire they had burning in a grate on the patio, though my hair smelled like I'd bathed in smoke afterwards.
There were some carols playing via the flat screen TV in the family room, but aside from this, no music at the party, where several of my fellow singers confessed that pieces from our Sunday concerts had been running through their heads for weeks. I've been whistling and humming selections non-stop, the brass and organ having blasted the tunes into my brain.
I have enjoyed some world-class, and international, music over the last couple of weeks! Between the Russian Embassy concert and Sunday's candlelit services, I had the pleasure of a Tuesday midday interlude at the Church of the Epiphany, just a block or so from the White House. The program was music by Edvard Grieg, piano and violin, with lyrics by Henrik Ibsen.
Nick, the Chinese guy I'd enjoyed chatting with at Friday's party, told me about the Tuesday music series, and we agreed to meet there and then have lunch--he slipped into the pew just seconds before the first notes rolled out from the piano, while I had for once misjudged my transit time properly, arriving half an hour early, rather than proportionally late. It was cold and raining outside, and inside, a dozen depressed and isolated African American homeless were dotted around the church, bundled in heavy coats and clutching overstuffed bags of belongings. Middle-aged and elderly White music lovers slowly trickled into the sanctuary, supplanting the homeless, who shuffled out. Most of the male audience sported mustaches and glasses, stereotypical upper-middle class academics. While waiting for the program to begin, some clutched the white trifold programs, others poured over thumbed paperbacks and "serious" magazines; one was reading a section from the New York Times while across the aisle three elderly fellows talked loudly about their ancestry, which one traced to the Mayflower. Truly, classical music lovers of venerable lineage. Until Nick arrived, I was the youngest in the audience by some score of years.
The black grand piano was set up in the center of a huge parquet maze, behind it, a lacy ironwork gate replaced the pre-Reformation iconostasis in the archway between the transept and the chancel. At noon, the steeple bells began to sound ten minutes of chimes, some seeming hymn-based, but the squeak of wet footwear on the dingy marble center aisle confused my sense of the melody. When the bells fell silent, a British-accented gentleman thanked the pale and damp congregation for coming out in the "English weather", and the concert began.
Whenever the pianist paused, either of the two infirm individuals who had been assisted to the front row by their minority attendants groaned wordlessly, but it was not until the violinist--his strength evidenced by his economy of motion--applied tremendous pressure into the crescendo of a duet, as if fighting the piano for supremacy, did both disabled become agitated simultaneously and have to be earnestly soothed. When not rapt on the musicians, I stared at the stunning triptych-style stained glass window behind the altar, an intense combination of reds, blues and oranges in an upsweeping triangle, which I initially mistook for a Last Judgment or an Assumption, but which was in fact a Nativity.
The soloist (like the pianist and the violinist, a musician from South Korea), sang in an exquisitely clear soprano--I could almost hear the birds twittering and chirping in the background of the arboreal landscape she described. And then there were the inevitable references to waterlilies. What explains the Impressionists' obsession with waterlilies? Grieg did capture the liquid, sorrowful spirit of Ibsen's Song #4 perfectly, though.
Nick and I ate at a Korean restaurant just outside McPherson Square Metro. He proved a thoroughly comfortable person to be around, easy to talk to, and I ate an enormous plate of bulgogi with rice while we chatted about religion (he's Roman Catholic) and politics (he'd just met with an opposition leader from his home country, who was facing renewed house arrest on a trumped-up morals charge). I did not attempt to use chopsticks with my meal, having severely embarrassed myself thereby on my last dinner out with an Asian guy! It was a pleasant afternoon, and general well-wishes and "look me up if you're in town" suggestions were exchanged on parting.
I wasn't so comfortable at Sunday's candlelight services--not because of anticipating the advent of the fellow I'd invited (he didn't show), but because the children's choir members were carrying lighted tapers, and some wore robes so long that they were tripping on the hems. I almost had a panic attack, visualizing the horrible burning scenarios. Happily, we all made it through without setting ourselves, anything, or anyone else on fire!
While the twelve days of Christmas have not yet begun, I need to finish my 40 Days of Thanksgiving with the final dozen that procrastination and melancholy prompted me to skip until this concluding post!
I am grateful that there were no accidents at Sunday's Lessons and Carols, and that the Muslim friend of a neighboring alto came to the second service--wearing hijab and with her five children!
I am grateful that neither my sweet Grandmommy nor my friend June were hurt in their respective recent car accidents, and that the necessary repairs to their vehicles are comparatively minor.
I am thankful for occasions to enjoy beauty, that these spots of joy need not be entirely divorced from pain to be recognizable.
I am glad that, even after a year, there are some people who are still praying faithfully that I will find a good and worthwhile job.
I am grateful for people who have had financial mercy on me and my unemployed (or underemployed) friends, from buying us groceries to writing off medical debts. God bless you many times over!
I am thankful that Anita's and my shows went well, that I was able to be reimbursed for my travel and components expenses.
I am happy to see pictures of my niece and nephews regularly! Their smiles brighten even the darkest winter days.
Befriending nice fellow believers, especially those who share my loves for classical music and intercultural communication, is a special blessing!
I am pleased that I have had opportunities to paint and make jewelry lately; I've used components that had been gathering dust for years, and I found a perfectly good wood table discarded near Anita's apartment that I brought home, stripped of its heavy mahogany varnish and am refinishing in red, black and gold.
I am grateful not to be homeless (I want to learn how I can help those who are).
I am thankful for dreams and hope! Many people become disillusioned and complacent as they grow older, allowing their worlds to shrink and their ambitions to falter. I am glad that as a Christian, the opposite can be true of me, that as I learn more of the height, depth and breadth of Almighty grace, my universe will continue to expand.
And most of all, I am grateful for God's gift of his son, Jesus, completely human and completely divine, to save me from my fundamental screwedupness. I am glad that he knows me!