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Monday, 30 December 2013

Pope Francis and all things amuzing - When was the last time you saw a Pope in a clown nose?

The following post is by my friend Ron Vazzano.  I hope it will put a big smile on your face.

Pope to Pop More Surprises in 2014?

In the nine months he has been in office, it seems Pope Francis pops one surprise after another on an almost weekly basis. Be it a startling quote, an act of ya-gotta-be-kidding-me humility, or some off-beat everyman disclosure (“I was once a bouncer”), he has captured the imagination of a large cross section of humanity.

I mean, a pope in a clown nose?

In designating him as their Person of the Year for 2013, Time magazine had this to say:
"… he has placed himself at the very center of the central conversations of our time, about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, modernity, globalization, the role of women, the nature of marriage, the temptations of power. When he kisses the face of a disfigured man or washes the feet of a Muslim woman, the image resonates far beyond the boundaries of the Catholic Church."
And that’s just on Monday.

And then shortly after, Advocate, the oldest gay rights magazine in America, also honored him as their person of the year. In so doing, they hailed as a landmark, his famous response to a reporter who had asked about gay people in the church: "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?"

One can’t help but wonder in all of this, what surprises and revelations might be forthcoming in 2014, regarding this popular pontiff. These are but a smattering of headlines that are not difficult to imagine in the coming year.wh

Pope Francis: “I once got a ‘D’ on my Latin Final”

A Vatican source who asked to remain anonymous, revealed that the Pope was a also terrible speller.

Pope Francis Lives in a Studio Apartment with His Dog “Assisi”

Sources confirmed that he walks to work every day, after first walking his dog, a mutt he rescued from a pound in his first week as Pope.

Pope Francis was Born in Kenya

Pope: “Mary Magdalene was an Apostle”

When asked by someone in the press corps on a flight coming back from the desert in which he had spent 40 days and 40 nights, if he was saying therefore that there were really 13 apostles (and a woman at that) and not 12 as in the scriptures, he responded: “13, 12, 11, whatever…it’s just a number.”

Pope was Fired from Bouncer Job

It was revealed today in the Italian press, that Pope Francis was fired from his job as a bouncer for always turning the other cheek and never checking ID’s at the door.

Pope in line at Motor Vehicles

Not using his status to avoid a four hour wait, Pope Francis stood in line to renew his license at a nearby Motor Vehicles in Rome today. (He drives an ‘84 Renault in lieu of the Vatican provided chauffeured car). It gave him the opportunity to “demonstrate patience, rather than merely to preach it,”he said, as he consoled some who had stopped by in tears, after having failed their written test.

Pope Francis Was Once Jewish

New Dress Code for the Swiss Guard

The Pope announced today that the Vatican will institute a casual Friday dress code for the Swiss Guard beginning this Spring.

“It’s Gay Divorce I’m Really Concerned About,” says Pope Francis

Pope Surprises Many on Scriptural Interpretations

As for the eating of the apple in the Garden of Eden, he responded: “I might have done the same. Who’s to say? I love apples.”

Pope Owns a Cell Phone

But in keeping with his austerity, it is a rotary. And he has not downloaded any applications. The U.S. Government has confirmed this.

Pope’s Denunciation of Capitalism Caused the DOW to Drop on Friday

Cardinal Dolan in a recent homily at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and in follow ups on Meet the Press, the Today Show, Good Morning America, Charlie Rose, CNN, CNBC, Fox News and the Tonight Show, assured all that the pope was speaking metaphorically.

Pope Once Gave Meat to a Hungry Man on a Friday

When asked whether or not the man was Catholic, “Don’t ask don’t tell,” he explained to the press.

Pope Meets with Lady Gaga

They shared a bit of humor about the number of syllables in their respective real names: Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Ted Cruz is outraged.

Pope: “I am Not Worthy of My Name Being Capitalized”

In still one more sign of great humility, the pope issued a statement in which he asked that his name no longer be capitalized, nor should a formal Roman number follow it. He asked that it now appear in print as francis 1.a

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Memories of Past Christmases in Iran

On a misty December day in Glendale this year, I was jolted back in time 50 years to my childhood Christmases in Tehran. The experience was evoked upon the sight of the beautiful holiday décor arranged by Glendale School Board member Mary Boger in their living room. Mrs. Boger's home was one of the four enchanting homes chosen by Herbert Hoover High School for the Tour of Homes, a holiday fundraising tradition now in its 56th year.

I caught my breath when I entered their living room and saw not one, but three Christmas trees. They were all decorated in white twinkling lights and icicles. Patches of fluffy and sparkling snow made from cotton roll gave the look of a very old fashioned Christmas décor. I wished my mom was with me.

My mom - the Martha Stewart of 1960s, Iran - was meticulous in every aspect of home making. And during the Christmas season, she put extensive effort into creating exceptional décors and a beautiful tree for our celebrations.

First, there was the buying of the tree. The Russian embassy was in walking distance from where we lived, and along the sides of its walls, Christmas trees were sold. Buying the Christmas tree was a family affair. We all went along – Mom, Dad and us three kids, but Mom had the last word.  She scrupulously chose the largest tree with the most perfect and symmetrical shape. We all brought the tree back home. The installing of the tree was a big hassle, because we didn't have all the tools and facilities available today.  Sometimes we used a sheet metal bucket filled with dirt to hold the tree.  

Then came the painstaking decoration. Aluminum icicles were at the height of fashion and she hung them all over the tree, making sure every strand dangled perfectly straight from branches. As a special helper, I would place the lights evenly around the tree, squinting from afar until perfection was achieved. I was so proud to have the most beautifully decorated Christmas tree of all the families we knew.

My father’s side of the family belonged to the Evangelical Church, which was founded in the mid 1800s by American missionaries. The church was situated in the old part of Tehran on Ghavam-Saltaneh Street. Its sprawling grounds included two schools and living quarters for missionaries. At this church, my father’s side of the family celebrated Christmas on December 25. My mother’s side belonged to the Armenian Apostolic Church and they observed Christmas on January 6, as most Armenians do.

The Evangelical church to which my father belonged had a youth program. Mother was not keen about us participating in the program, because it was not conducted in Armenian, and our peers and instructors were proselytized Muslims. However, I loved the activities and have many fond memories of that church.

At the youth program, we learned Christmas carols in English and sometimes translated into Farsi. Leading up to Christmas, the elders of the church drove us around in crammed cars to visit different Christian homes so we could sing the songs we had learned. Today, hearing Christmas carols takes my mind back to that youth program. Without question, singing carols is a memory that I will always cherish. I’m glad that I insisted my mom to allow me to participate.

In Tehran, Christmas was not a big celebration, but New Year’s Eve was the excuse for major festivities. All the hoopla, the gift giving, the decorations, the “Holiday Tree” were for celebrating the New Year, not Christmas. Santa came on New Year’s Eve and we opened our gifts on New Year’s Day.

I sometimes think that it would have been so much better, if, here in the “West,” Santa would come for the New Year instead of Christmas. Then all children from every religion could enjoy the charm of Santa Claus. In reality, what does Santa have to do with the birth of Jesus?

Back to my memories of Armenian Christmas in Tehran: On January 5, we had our Christmas dinner around the table at my maternal grandmother’s home. The traditional food included smoked fish, pilaf and koukou. We had the same menu for Easter. I’m not sure how the dish became the traditional menu for Iranian-Armenians. I think the koukou (a cake of greens & eggs) and the pilaf were adopted from Persian cuisine, while fish is a staple from the Armenian tradition.

Red wine was always present on the table, and the “holy cracker” was brought from church and was cracked and served in the wine. The tradition also included burning incense (Frankincense), and I've always loved that aroma.

Another custom I remember, now phased out, was visitations. After Christmas and Easter for almost two weeks priests and deacons would visit parishioners' homes and bless them.

Christmas and Easter dinners have an important role in our culture, and we were reminded of this regularly in Tehran. During dinner, our elders told us stories about how they celebrated the holy days in years past. My mom always told us that her father insisted that for Christmas the dinner could be served after the sun set, but Easter dinner had to be served while the sun was still up.

My grandfather was a village boy, his family moved to Tabriz when he was young. So my mother's memory of her own father's family practices reveal to me that Armenians living in villages in Iran also kept the tradition of having Christmas and Easter dinner.

The best part of Christmas was when we had the home ready for visitors on January 6. It was a tradition that the women stayed home while the men went from home to home to visit and celebrate the advent of Christmas and the New Year.

Our relatives and friends came for a short visit just to keep the tradition and to say Merry Christmas. They had to visit about 20 homes or more within a few hours. Usually they took taxi. We served them a shot of brandy and a chocolate and then off they went to the next home. Sometimes they brought their kids with them. That’s how we stayed in touch with distant relatives. Not every home had telephone.

My dad was a translator and worked with many Jewish and Muslim merchants. On January 6th, all his clients came to visit us. The house had such a festive spirit. We were dressed in our best clothes, the house decorated “to the T” and the food was overflowing. Dad’s clients brought us nice expensive gifts: huge vases, bowls, platters and trays of sterling silver or hand-painted miniatures in rich marquetry (khatam-kari) frames. We kids received gold coins. Usually Dad was not at home because according to the tradition he had to visit other relatives, but Mom received the visitors graciously.

A few years ago when Mom was still alive, I had the opportunity to walk to her home for our “Jour-orhnek” dinner – Blessed-water – that’s what we call the Armenian Christmas. To get to her home, I had to cross small residential streets in Glendale, where most homes are occupied with Armenians.

While walking, I looked through the windows and saw some dinner tables ready inside homes. The mood was so festive. I noticed people arriving by car or on foot, with their hands full. They carried gifts or dishes of food that they had prepared. I could even smell incense burning while passing by some homes.

Needless to say, the women were coiffed beautifully and the men were in their best suits. I was overjoyed to see how in these foreign shores, “Odar aperoom,” we Armenians are thriving and the traditions are alive and well.

As I sit here reflecting about past Christmases, I realize that although I no longer fuss about decorating my house and to have the largest and the most beautiful tree, I admire people who do that. I feel blessed that I can pass my stories to our next generation and I hope they will continue to tell the stories and practice the customs we have brought with us from old countries.

I’d like to quote the prolific novelist Isabel Allende who says, “I need to tell a story. It’s an obsession. Each story is a seed inside of me that starts to grow and grow, and I have to deal with it sooner or later.”  This is true with me.  

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Divorced At Christmas... Whose Year Is It, Anyway?

Vicki Abelson is a cool person.  I know her from a writers group that she has created.  Here is a piece she has submitted to Huffington Post. The piece is about celebrating Christmas as a Jew. I love her style – snarky and witty.

Vicki Abelson

As an almost-divorced (don't get me started) Jewess with shared custody, the yearly Christian celebration is giving me a taste for the hunger games. Please, just kill me now.
I know it's not my holiday, but Christmas belongs to everyone... except my Uncle Si.
As a kid, I was all about my heritage. When asked by a Macy's Santa what I wanted for Christmas, I snarkily... although it wasn't called that then... replied, "Nothing. I'm a Chanukah girl." I was five. And stoopid. Sure the eight nights of candles had each brought a gift --but really? What could possibly be wrong with a few extra presents from a jolly old fat man?
By the time I was nine that shit stopped anyway when my parents took the divorce highway to holiday hell. My mother did her best, but after a couple of nights, it was a chocolate coin or two. I began to covet the ever-growing number of wrapped packages under my best friend, Roseanne's, family tree. And they were Jewish!
When I left New York for college in the desert town of Tucson (where a girl in my humanities class, upon hearing of my ethnicity, asked to feel my scalp -- looking for... horns. I swear!) I took to celebrating with the goyim. Then I married one. Where was the guilt? Where was my shame? I left it with my youth somewhere in Nebraska.
There are many Jews to whom Christmas is a day to catch a double feature and eat Asian -- that's way more evolved than what we actually say. For me, an overcompensating underachiever, it became my mission to be the best non-Christian Christmas celebrator around. I bought presents for just about everyone I knew... played songs of the season for weeks... decorated, cooked, baked and entertained other Christmas-loving-Jews and non-Jews, alike. I hid the activity from my Hebrew-teacher-father, holding my breath more than once when an unremembered photo crossed his path.
Husband number two (don't judge me, it's not the Christian thing to do -- especially now) was Jewish. I somehow managed to coerce him into joining me as a semi-secret Santa lover. Each year our home became Christmas central for our friends, and even our Jewish mothers.
Once we had kids, it felt morally irresponsible to have a tree and demand that our son take Bar Mitzvah lessons. Even though I was a "cultural" rather than a religious Jew, the rite of passage to manhood was a must for the son of this Hebrew teacher's daughter. So, I hid the ornaments, lights and tinsel, but continued to cook jumbo shrimp, sauce with sausage, and bake Christmas cookies for our holiday feast. I used blue and white sprinkles at least, damn it!
In more recent years, new traditions were added. On the first night of Christmas it was staunchly agreed... that we'd watch Elf and Love Actually. (I hope you sang that line. If you add a touch of seasonal good cheer, it almost works. Humor me.)
Then we split up. Mother's Day, Father's Day and birthdays were no-brainers, though a bit painful and awkward. We agreed to alternate the rest. Fourth of July -- whoever didn't have the kids spent the day with friends. The Jewish holidays and Thanksgiving have been a bit trickier. We did a couple of years all together. That proved increasingly difficult. And this year's double whammy Thanksgivukkah -- are you kidding me, or what?
I haven't hosted Christmas in a while. As a result, the holiday has lost much of its sparkle. I feel less like a non-Christian celebrator and more like that little girl spectator of other people's holiday.
And whose year is this, anyways?
We decided to split the pain... I mean holiday, in two. I get the kids on Christmas Eve. It'll be a touch of the old -- Love Actually -- and the new -- chili and latkes.
On Christmas Day, I'm gonna heed Uncle Si -- go to the movies and eat Chinese with the rest of the Jews.
It could work.
Now what the f**k do we do about New Years?

Haunted by ghost of Christmases past – A long-ago death still haunts a family's Christmas

Sandy Banks is a columnist at LA Times.  I've been reading her columns for a long time.  She writes about her life, about her challenges of being a single mother.  She also tells us about the social realities.  Here is her latest column reflecting on Past Christmases.

The children aren't little anymore; they're 28, 24 and 23. But I still know where my daughters will be on Christmas Eve — snuggled under a blanket with me, while I read "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," the classic story of Santa's visit.

I don't know when quaint becomes eccentric, but that's how we've spent every Christmas Eve for as long as they can remember.

Christmas rituals in our household are more than mere tradition. They're a link to the family we used to be; a connection to a father who died one week before Christmas 20 years ago, when his children barely knew him.
  • Sandy Banks
  • Sandy Banks
But they're women now, with obligations to others and busy lives of their own. I couldn't escape that fact this year, as I spent the run-up to the holiday baking cookies in a quiet kitchen and stringing lights alone.

Maybe it's time to let them move on, to let these rituals go.

I considered that thought for only as long as it took me to find our familiar Christmas Eve book in the bottom of a dusty box crammed with holiday decorations.

I felt a rush when I opened the book with its smudged and fading pop-ups. It takes me back to when we were whole, and I'd read the poem to little girls whose dad was on the roof jingling bells, trying to make them believe that Santa was coming.

Rituals can be both comfort and crutch, in ever-shifting proportions. Ours link us to an image of family that we didn't want to release. But they've also stranded us in the past, tethered beyond reason to the way things used to be.

Most people feel sentimental at this time of year. But how do you untangle desperate longing from ordinary pine-scented nostalgia?

My middle daughter recently shared with me a 20-year-old memory of the night her father died, when she was about to turn 5. "I understood when you told us daddy died," she said. "But I didn't know that meant that he would always be dead."

None of us, I realize now, understood what his death meant then. We couldn't comprehend that every milestone and celebration from that night forward would be shadowed by his absence.
I understand now that death's reach is long and hard and strong. When you lose a loved one near a holiday, the annual onslaught of painful memories competes with the season's joy.
I learned rituals can turn into ordeals that just make everything harder.

There were years we didn't buy our tree until Christmas Eve because college, jobs and holiday outings kept us from getting together. And times when the pressure to get everything right turned grown women into squabbling toddlers.

This year, I decreed we'd buy our tree at Thanksgiving, when all my girls were home. They argued over what tree to get, then cried because the one I picked wasn't quite perfect.
It's kind of hard to get in the holiday spirit when your 28-year-old can't look at the Christmas tree without weeping because a dad she holds in her heart might not think it's good enough.