December 25, 2008

Christmas with the Corrals


I decided to take Pablo (the photographer) up on his offer to spend Christmas with his family. Why not experience a true Ecuadorian Christmas? The opportunity couldn't have been better.

Christmas here is celebrated on Christmas Eve. People gather late that night and celebrate in much the same way we do. The build-up to Christmas is, however, much different. It is rare to see a Christmas tree unless you are in a big mall. Christmas music pops through the noise of the busy streets only once every few days. There are few advertisements. (Mind you that I don't watch tv.)

Pablo invited his house help, carpenter, handyman, and their families for lunch on Christmas Eve. They are such lovely people. We had rotissery chicken from a local vendor. Delicious. Part of the conversation was less than engaging – they were recounting who had died that year, who had been robbed, and their injuries. Heavy talk. I turned it – What's one good thing that is happening in your life? I spoke of how grateful I was to be with this “family” of Pablo's house, albeit not with my own. They thanked me profusely. And did not continue my suggested comments of gratitude, but you can only do so much, right?

Christmas dinner was to be at the house of Byron and Maria, the Ecuadorian ambassadors to Austria. At 10 pm. Around 8 Pablo mentioned that the evening would be bumped to 12. Why? Because Maria forgot to put the turkey in the oven. She sort of blamed it on Pablo because Pablo's house help is also Maria's... And the help were all eating lunch with Pablo instead of assisting Maria. Baaah! I found the whole thing comical.

The Turkey Chefs (Pablo & Byron)

There were about 12 of us gathered for Christmas dinner. There was lovely music playing in the background and a cheery Christmas tree set up next to the fireplace, and a hearty mound of gifts. Byron made rounds every five minutes or so trying to force wine and expensive champagne on all of us. The refusal process was amusing. I finally gave in on the champagne. I hate champagne. There was only one kid present. He was 14. He tasted it and made an awful face. I told him I had the same reaction, but I'm an adult and therefore not allowed to show it.

A simple menu of turkey, fruit and nut salad, and some sort of weird grain and apple dish was served in opulent dishes on a large table. (With more alcohol.)

The discussion in my group was about the political climate of Cuba and Latin America's desire to emulate their so-called revolution. Included in my group was a member of the United Nations' anti-corruption task force. Those I was discussing with spoke with great passion, and the discussion sometimes turned into argument. It was amusing to observe from a distance – Quite an odd discussion for Christmas dinner!

The entire family is lovely. What I love about real people, about good people, is that titles don't matter. These guys have excellent repute. But they engage me as an equal, seek me out for conversation, and are generally laid back. Over all, I felt completely welcome. I am truly grateful for this.

The food was, ehm, not great. I ended up eating lots of grapes and crackers. Which was just fine with me. Like I said before, life goes on.

Maria, our gracious host

Gifts were practical and not extravagant. I received a traditional necklace from Maria made of seeds and feathers. I've not decided what to do with it. Is "...interesting..." the right descriptor? Re-gift? :) And a box of chocolates from Pablo. Thank god he did – it would be so sad if mom's tradition of chocolate giving was not continued!

I did not receive any letters or cards from home. I was sad about this. Then I got over it.

Christmas day was more than anti climatic. People do nothing but rest. I am used to the same Christmas breakfast, method of opening stockings, and order of presents. It was time for breakfast, so Pablo and I went to look for a restaurant. We found a bread shop. I began crying because I missed my family – tradition and familiarity really do count. We ended up in a hotel. Mediocre pancakes and bland sausages were served. I cried again. I was grateful for the food, and truly grateful to have his kind and gentle company, but truly missing home.

That night was... a good joke. I was eating a left-over huge turkey leg out of a pot at 8 pm. We were laughing about the situation. Then went to a Swiss restaurant and ate fondue. That was my Christmas dinner. I only cried once. (I'm laughing as I write this.)

Pablo and I - December 25, 2008 @ the Swiss restaurant

Thank god I was with a friend that I trusted, and not some acquaintance. That would have been awful!

Bueno - Here's to a blessed Ecuadorian Christmas - Turkey at midnight, fondue for dinner, and thank god for new friends.

- Miss Rosi

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