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Monday, December 24, 2012

December 25, 2012 by · No comments

Zlatko Anguelov


Grey suits this day best. It wraps up the sky around our home, making the house that is lit up from inside intimate and cozy. Grey makes nature silent. I remember back in Bulgaria, where I used to live in a house in downtown Varna with my grandma, the cloudy sky on that day had the same focusing effect. Even for an atheist like me, it evokes the mental image of the Nativity with its light coming from inside out. The Day then, in communist Bulgaria, was New Year Eve.

On Christmas Eve I feel surrounded by all my friends – from past and present – and I’m even more connected to the world that I inhabit and which inhabits me. It is mutual, I guess. They think of me and I think of them, because we all think of how our lives have been and where they are heading to. I’m sending emails. I’m receiving emails, and now and then, more and more rarely, a post card in the mail.

I’m listening to Chopin played by Horowitz, a medley of Polonaises, Nocturnes, and Waltzes, and I’m enjoying the human connection made possible through the virtual electronic space. A friend of mine shares his love for his new companion. Another friend writes me that I’ve made her the best Christmas present ever by publishing an essay about her book. An incidental Facebook post sparks the memory of an encounter with a woman at the seaside last summer. A young friend of mine, whom I know since he was four and used to run with my four kids in the woods of the Trevnenski Balkan and who now runs an architecture studio in a sky-scrapper on Fifth Avenue in New York, posted a picture from San Francisco. A close-up of a glass of champagne and the caps of the champagne corks, all in shades of yellow-brown. He is spending Christmas Eve with other very successful Bulgarians who live there, former class mates of his from Stara Zagora. I visited with him in November, just two days after Hurricane Sandy had struck the city. In his Brooklyn apartment, we spoke about his father – a man my age – and about our future. I want this guy to be at my funeral one day, along with my six kids and the born and still un-born grandkids. This is a thought that makes me serene about the flow of life. Our lives are neither like the life of Beckett’s Malloy who implodes between comedy and sadness nor are they drawn in champagne bubbles like the rich types walking in the drizzle of Seattle, WA. But we like our lives’ energy and joys, falls and rises, births and deaths, marriages and divorces.

Then, I visit a website and my eyes are caught by an interview with a painter, a Bulgarian painter. The interview is more than a year old. But the illustrations, photographs of his canvases and drawings, are fabulous. I am totally drawn! Even small on my computer screen, the paintings shine with some vibrating quality of their own that seems to me inimitable. He talks calmly, wisely – and I’m thinking, this I not the talk of a painter, a Bulgarian one at that. But the paintings are a proof of an unique sensitivity. Once again, I discover the connecting power of the Internet.

As the day winds down, my two kids come back from a late lunch in the Hamburg Inn, perhaps the oldest Iowa City hangout for young people, famous with the visits of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and Bill Clinton in 1996 during their respective presidential campaigns. We drink tea again, and open a long Skype chat with their two siblings who live in Rio de Janeiro. The family spirit is reinforced by the smells coming from the kitchen. My wife makes sarmi (grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs) and a heavenly tikvenik (pumpkin strudel). A friend who is currently in Spain, has posted a picture of their Christmas pitka, and it is wonderfully looking, and I send her congratulations.

It’s indeed ridiculously amazing how we can be at some location in the Midwest, as if totally isolated in our home in a neighborhood where you barely see a living soul during the day, and in the same time feel that we are together with all the people whom we love and who love us.

I recognize that that’s America: at once vast and spacious, brutal and humane, backward and the world’s technological leader, candid and politically correct, self-absorbed and yet compassionate, full of jails and limitlessly free, boring and fantastic, deeply religious and amazingly progressive – a country of contrasts. A country that can never be summarized.

It’s time to sit around the table, enjoy the food and good wine, and then, come the gifts that wait under the tree.

It is Christmas time!

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