Anglophile #5 2019-2020

IN THIS EDITION

Save the dates
Last call: sign up for Diever!
Unforgettable Books: A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo
The Great English Book Swap
Review: Last Chrismas
Memory lane: Liften in Engeland en Schotland in 1964
Starting school: learning to teach
Christmas Puzzle
Season’s greetings
Five Christmas stories

Save the dates: 10 January and 7 March 2020

This Anglophile issue is devoted (almost) entirely to Christmas. But before you dig in to enjoy all those stories about the coming merry days, please check wether you saved these dates. On Friday 10 January you are welcome to join us for drinks in Café de Wolthoorn, Turftorenstraat 6, 9712 BP Groningen. We will be there from five o’ clock!

Then, only two months later, we will organize our 2020 event: on Saturday 7 March 2020 you are invited to spend a lovely afternoon in Groningen. We will inform you about the programme and the location in the new year. There will be drinks, an inspirational speaker and a pub quiz!

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Last call: sign up for Diever

By Reinou Anker-Sollie

As we let you know in our previous issue, we are planning another trip to Diever. We have selected the following date for 2020: 28 August. In 2020, Shakespeare in Diever will celebrate its 75th anniversary and they will treat their visitors to 2 plays: MacBeth and the Comedy of Errors!

Since we had a few tickets left this summer that we weren’t able to sell on, we have decided to ask our members to register well in advance, before we actually buy the tickets. But apparently most of you have not had the chance to think about your plans in 2020, so we have extended the periode you can register to buy tickets. Please let us know before 15 January 2020 if you wish to join us. You can use this Google form. Tickets are €26 for the play + introduction.

In addition, the board also liked the idea of having dinner together before the show. This would be an early dinner since the introduction by Hans Jansen starts at 18.45. We have added a question to the above mentioned Google form with which you can indicate whether you would like to join us. More details will follow based on how many of you are interested.

We hope to see your reactions soon!

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Unforgettable Books:

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

By Berendsje Westra

When I opened A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers and began to read, the first thing I thought was: Oh, no! Why? Because it starts like this:

Now.
Beijing time 12 clock midnight.
London time 5 clock afternoon.
But I at neither time zone. I on airplane. Sitting on
25,000 km above to earth and trying remember all English
I learning in school.
I not met you yet. You in future. (p. 3)

But trust me, you will get past the awkward English and you will find a reading flow. Besides, as you go on this journey, you’ll find that the protagonist’s English improves over time.

The story is narrated by a twenty-four-year-old girl named Zhuang Xiao Qiao, who refers to herself as Z. Z’s parents have sent her to live in London for a year to learn English, so that she can help them with the international side of their shoe factory upon her return. Z. goes to English classes, carries a dictionary with her everywhere she goes and she  also keeps a notebook in which she scribbles down new words and their meanings. Every chapter in the novel starts with a dictionary entry that relates to the plot.

The novel centres on Z.’s love affair with an Englishman, but even so, this is not a romance novel as in the end they go their own separate ways. The story is really a coming of age story (women’s fiction), and towards the end of the novel, Z. has changed significantly. Having been part of China’s collective identity all her life, she’s developed a clearer sense of self by the time she returns home and she isn’t afraid of being alone anymore.

Z.’s struggles with the English language are the start of her relationship with the man, whom she only refers to as ‘you.’ They meet in a cinema one evening, strike up a conversation and after the film they go for a four-hour walk. He calls her the next day and they go to Kew Gardens. Z. is disappointed to find there is no garden dedicated to China, especially as they’ve put the bamboo plants in the Indian garden, while Z. thinks they are typically Chinese. (Throughout the novel, Z. points out the differences between the English and Chinese ways of doing things). Z. and the man rest for a while, and gaze at the blue sky. When Z. tells her date she’d like to see where he lives, he says: “‘Be my Guest’” (p.53). She misunderstands his comment and thinks he means she can move in with him. This is how she ends up living in Hackney with a vegetarian bisexual man who is twenty years her senior and who makes sculptures of body parts but delivers goods with his van to make a living.

One morning, however, he packs a bag and tells her he’s going away for a few days. This turns out to be the start of a pattern: he’s a free spirit and wants to do his own thing; she’s clingy and constantly wants him around. When he’s gone, she goes through his personal belongings and finds his diaries and some returned love letters he once wrote to someone. He writes about his father, who was a bus driver, but also a drifter, who left his family one day and never came back (p.92). In one of the letters he says: ‘But I can never see myself in a couple’ (p.91). In his diaries he writes about going to art school and sleeping with guys and feeling no real love in his heart (p.95, 96). When he discovers that Z.’s gone through his stuff he is furious, but Z. doesn’t really understand the concept of privacy from a Chinese point of view because in China, she says, people share everything and privacy makes people lonely (106).

Although Z. and her boyfriend do have two things in common— they both like gardening and having sex—we, readers, know from the start that their relationship won’t last. Z.’s dogged persistence, however, in trying to get this man to settle down with her is astounding. Then the boyfriend tells Z. she should go travelling around Europe for a while on an Inter-Rail ticket. She doesn’t want to but he’s determined she should go, so in September she sets off on her five-week journey.

We’ve now come to the middle of the novel and the plot is rather thin here. She meets people; mostly men. In Venice she is approached by a man who asks her for directions to the Asian Art and Culture Festival, assuming she’s on her way there too. He tells her he works as an ‘avocado’ and after he’s explained it she understands and tells him it’s called lawyer. Her English has improved. In Faro she meets a man she’s initially physically attracted to, but when she has a change of heart he rapes her. After this she stays in Dublin for five days and then returns to London, where the bickering with her boyfriend is picked up where it was left off. He doesn’t meet her at the airport and isn’t home when she returns. So she waits… as she has so often; always lonely. When he does come home he’s brought some friends along and he only hugs her. She doesn’t get it. They’ve not seen each other in five weeks, during which he sent her only five emails, by the way, while she wrote to him every day, but he calls her selfish for expecting him to abandon his friends. She shouts back that all she wanted was a quiet night with him and then she lies in the bath and reflects on the word ‘self’ (p. 268, 269).

The next chapter starts with a dictionary entry for the word ‘abortion.’ She wants one and her boyfriend takes her to a clinic in Richmond. Shortly afterwards, they go on holiday to Wales. Her boyfriend has been depressed and unhappy with his life, but in Wales, near the sea and surrounded by nature and the elements, he perks up. Again, their different personalities are evident: she finds the weather gloomy and doesn’t want to go out, but he loves it so she comes with him (p. 281, 282).

The weeks go by. She still has her English lessons. Her boyfriend’s not well; they don’t really get on but keep on living together. She resents him for always living in the moment and not thinking about the future. Christmas arrives and he takes her to see his family. His two sisters (forty-two and forty-eight), his mother and grandmother live together in one house. The next day they leave early in the afternoon because Z.’s boyfriend can’t stand to be there any longer (p. 308).

On New Year’s Day, Z. broaches the topic of her European trip and mentions the man she slept with in Faro. Angry, her boyfriend asks her why she did it. Her answer is surprising. She says she did it because she doesn’t “’like distance’” (p. 315), while she could have told him she was raped, which is what it was. Meanwhile, Z. increases the pressure on her boyfriend by reminding him that her student visa has almost expired and that her work unit in China expects her back on time. She begins to ponder her reasons for staying in England. She asks him if he sees a future with her but he gives her an evasive answer about not knowing the future so how can he know the answer to that question? When she won’t let it rest he says: “‘The future will decide for you, not you for the future. You’re from a Buddhist country, I would have thought you would know that’” (p. 319). Just in case, Z. applies for a visa extension, even though, deep down, she knows she doesn’t need it. When her boyfriend tells her he wants to be on his own and “‘We should leave each other’” (p. 323, 324), she starts to visualise being on her own, without him. She realises she would be lonely but shouldn’t feel scared and that there is more to life than him (p. 325).

Even so, another month drags by and when her request for a visa extension is declined, her fate is sealed. She goes back to China without him. At home, her mother is shocked to learn she has no intentions of working in their shoe factory. Z. is moving to Beijing; she speaks English now. She wants to follow her heart and maybe write about her time in England and her ex-boyfriend. The circle is round when her mother yells at her: “‘You know what your problem is: you never think of the future! You only live in the present!’” (p. 351). Z.’s become a freer spirit. The novel ends with a final letter of her boyfriend. He’s moved to Wales, near the sea. He’s happy at last.

I wouldn’t say that this novel is one of my favourites. Much of it is told rather than shown; some plot strands feel contrived and the scenes lack description. There is a lot of repetitive reflectiveness in the form of inner dialogue which starts to feel like drivel after a while. But is this novel unique and unforgettable? Absolutely!

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The Great English Book Swap

By Elke Maasbommel

Christmas: ‘t Is the season of giving. Of giving food, of giving presents, of giving joy, and of giving love. To me, this season of giving also includes giving books (and, to be honest, getting others in return). Every month, my friend and I attend our favourite event: The Great English Book Swap, held at Café Rabenhaupt in Groningen (take a look at their Facebook page if you’re interested in joining). The idea is very simple: bring some English books (read, unread, loved, unloved, in every size, shape and colour imaginable, but preferably not too soiled), put them on a table, and leave them there, just so others can browse through them and substitute their own books for new ones. Read on if you want to know how to get most out of this event.

First comes the anticipation: which books should you bring? You can’t bring your favourite book in the entire world, a book that you’ve had for ages, read every year, and couldn’t possibly give away, for it would mean saying goodbye to part of your soul (but, since it’s Christmas, it might actually be a truly selfless thing to do), but neither can you get rid of a book you haven’t read yet, for that means you have never given it the chance to become a beloved book. Also make sure you’re not only bringing books which you hated; this will mean that others might take your stupid books, only to realise later that they’ve been deceived; clearly, something like this doesn’t breathe the Christmas Spirit.

The best solution is always to bring a book which you have read, and which you quite liked, but which you’re sure you’re not planning to read again. Bring a book that you think might be happier at someone else’s house, in someone else’s bookshelf or nightstand. And if you want to bring more than one book (more old books equals more books you haven’t read yet), just start the process all over. This might take a couple of hours, though, so make sure you’ve got the time to think long and hard about this.

Next comes the process of actually going there. Make sure you’re not going there alone, for driving, cycling, or walking towards the pub can be a lot of fun. Ask your friend, partner, acquaintance, or whomever you’re planning to go with, what they’re planning to give away, and compare their choices to your own. Sometimes, you might even end up with one of their books, for they’re planning to donate something which has been on your to-read list for ages – or the other way around, of course. So, definitely do not underestimate your friends’ taste in books, for they might surprise you (or not, if you’ve carefully selected your friends on their tastes in books).

Once you’re there, make sure you’re early, because arriving there on time means you will have access to last time’s collection, and also a great spot to sit at. Make sure to pick one close to the window (for during these short winter days it’s good to get as many minutes of daylight as possible), with a good view on the stairs (for that’s where the new books, I mean, new people will be coming from) and on the selection of books itself. This way, you’ll be able to sit comfortably while also being in the best position to pounce on the books the moment you know new ones have been added.

Why the rush, you might wonder? Well, if you’re like me (and most people who attend these events are very much like me, indeed), you are highly determined to acquire new books, and prospective owners flock around these new arrivals like vultures around a dead antelope. Things might get very messy, very quickly. Therefore, it’s best to decide on a secret sign indicating that stock might be replenished soon and it’s time to slowly rise from your chairs. This way, you’ll be the first one to decide whether this book should belong to you, or whether you allow others to take a look at them.

Now you know what these events can be like. However, it’s also good to bear in mind that these events, while occasionally stressful, are meant to be relaxing and comfortable. Buy a nice drink, and sit down with your friends. Then you can do what you’ve been dying to do ever since last month: talk about books. You must have a very busy life, like almost everyone else, so you never quite take the time to truly discuss books. This is always the best part of the entire day, for you momentarily forget about everyday issues and focus on things that matter most to you. You can take the time to add some books to your Goodreads want-to-read list (or delete them, of course – again, this depends on how must you trust your friends’ book opinions), review books you’ve read this past month, debate about the cultural relevance of specific authors, or, if you’re really planning to have some fun, observe the other booklovers and endeavour to find out their literary preferences, based on their hair styles, their clothes, or even the way they talk. It’s not mean if everyone else is doing the exact same thing, is it?

Finally, don’t settle down for just any random book. As can be seen from what I’ve written so far, this is an event that takes time. Never just show up, slam your books down with the others, pick one at random, and leave. Instead, sit back, be patient, be a great white shark circling its prey. You might take a book that you might possibly like, but you’re allowed to put it back as soon as you’ve found a better one; and this could go on four hours.

And yes, every so often it happens that you don’t find your perfect book. Then you can do two things: settle for something remotely decent – you might as well return it at the next book swap, right? Or, just because it’s Christmas (and because, in truth, you’ve got so many books you won’t exactly miss one), you can also decide to bring two books and only take back one. Then ‘t would be the season of giving, indeed.

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Review: Last Christmas

By Nienke Castelein

As great a Christmas classic Wham’s Last Christmas is, I don’t think the film of the same name will get the same status. The song will be repeated every year during the holiday season, but this film can be forgotten after a year. I must admit I made the mistake of reading a little too much about this film beforehand. It might have the predictability of any sappy rom com, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but knowing the punch line takes all the fun out of this one. No worries, I won’t spoil it for you as I think the film was entertaining in its genre, just not one for the classics.

The greatness of another Christmas themed film, Love Actually (also including Emma Thompson), will not be matched. The complexity of those multiple story lines is nowhere to be seen in Last Christmas’ one dimensional story of an unhappy girl looking for a better life. Christmas serves as a location setting for the protagonist works dressed as an elf at a Christmas store in Covent Garden. This store serves as the meeting place for Emilia Clarke’s Kate and her love interest Tom (Henry Goulding). He inspires her for a better life, which of course as the genre predicts, she gets.

Music by Wham! and George Michael is also an inspiration in Kate’s life visualized by many subtle references to Kate’s idolization from a young age. Not only are there posters in her childhood bedroom, the band and singer can be heard in the film quite a lot, including the unreleased song This Is How (We Want You To Get High). However, as the latest of a series of music inspired films (remember Queen inspired Bohemian Rhapsody or Elton John inspired Rocketman) Wham! and George Michael are undeservedly put in the background. Ultimately, this dedication feels flat (even though Emilia Clarke’s singing is not).

In fact, I’m not quite sure what this film is an ode to anyway. It’s not quite Wham! or Christmas or London or Love in general. There’s not anything spectacular popping out. I suppose it’s an easy going film about getting better and doing better. However, I don’t think it’ll inspire anyone to be better or do better. It’s 103 minutes of easy entertainment and I won’t dissuade you from going, but you won’t have missed anything if you skip this film. At the end of the day, it’s Last Christmas’ lyrics stuck in your head, and that might inspire us for something special next year.

Directed by Paul Feig
Story by Emma Thompson & Greg Wise
Screenplay by Emma Thompson & Bryony Kimmings
Starring Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Emma Thompson and others
Rating: 5/10

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Memory Lane:

Liften in Engeland en Schotland in 1964

(en hoe Preston naar Montreux leidt)

By Geart van der Meer

In het vorige nummer van de ANGLOPHILE verwees Henk Dragstra kort naar zijn ervaringen als lifter in Engeland. Dat maakte een aantal lang sluimerende herinneringen in mij wakker aan mijn eigen ervaringen in dat land op dat gebied, en eigenlijk ook van enkele die nooit echt zo sluimerend zijn geweest.

Ik ben ‘aangekomen’, zoals dat heet, in 1963 om in Groningen Engels te gaan studeren, en ik was 19 jaar. Na een ‘groentijd’ van maar liefst drie weken bij VERA (dat kon toen nog) begon het echt, in het drie verdiepingen tellend gebouw aan de Boteringestraat 42, waar wij (dat wil zeggen de ‘academische’ studenten Engels – anders dan de wat geminachte MO-ers, die geen Grieks en Latijn kenden) gemakkelijk met ons gering aantal in de kleine collegezaaltjes pasten. In de kwartiertjes pauze tussen de colleges kon je koffie of thee kopen voor respectievelijk een dubbeltje of een stuiver van een mevrouw, wier naam ik vergeten ben, die in een piepklein keukentje zetelde naast de kamer van professor Zandvoort. Die Zandvoort was mij door mijn leraar Engels in Sneek afgeschilderd als een boeman, die jou het leven zuur kon maken als hij eenmaal de ‘pik’ op jou inhad, om welke reden dan ook. Omdat ik wist dat dat het laatste jaar van die boeman was, heb ik het er maar op gewaagd – en Groningen lag ook het dichtst bij het vertrouwde Sneek. Nou, die boeman bleek op wel wat afstandelijke manier toch de beminnelijkheid zelve te zijn. Hij gaf van precies negen uur tot tien uur college over Chaucer. Als je er een keer niet was, kreeg je daar wel een opmerking over.

Tijdens dat eerste jaar kregen we verschillende malen van de latere professor Gerritsen en ook van Jan Posthumus het advies om de volgende zomer op vakantie naar Engeland te gaan, en het liefst alleen, dat was de beste manier om in de praktijk Engels te leren. Ik was een gehoorzaam en oplettend studentje, dus ik heb die raad opgevolgd. Ik had in de vroege zomer van 1964 twee weken vakantiewerk gedaan, een nachtdienst bij LUCAS AARDENBURG in Hoogeveen, een conservenfabriek waar groente en zo werd ingeblikt. Dat betekende overdag slapen in mijn kamertje in Groningen en dan om zes uur met een bus vol medestudenten naar de fabriek. Daar wachtten ons allerlei klusjes, wat de chef maar vond te doen voor onze handen, bijvoorbeeld van een lopende band sperziebonen plukken die beter niet uiteindelijk op tafel konden verschijnen. Omdat er regelmatig wat misging met de machines heb ik heel wat rotte bonen voorbij zien komen, die onze nijvere handen zo snel niet konden grijpen, wat mij jaren lang heeft opgescheept met een zekere argwaan tegen ingeblikte eetwaar.

Maar goed, ik had aardig meer dan 200 gulden verdiend, wat naar mijn berekening voldoende was voor een verblijf van maar liefst drie weken (!) in jeugdherbergen, en om verder alles liftend te bereizen. De reis naar Londen kostte 80 gulden retour, met een speelgoedvliegtuigje van de NBBS, het Nederlands Bureau voor Buitenlandse Studentenbetrekkingen.

Aldus toog ik begin augustus 1964 erop uit. Voor het eerst op vakantie, en nog wel in het buitenland. Mijn ‘heit’, mijn vader, heette op zijn Fries ‘koemelker’, dwz. een bescheiden boer met zo’n twaalf koeien, en die koeien hadden natuurlijk ook nooit vakantie, dus heit en wij ook niet. Zo was dat toen – maar ik was jong en naief en onbezorgd en de tijden waren toen, denk ik, ook minder gevaarlijk. Het speelgoedvliegtuigje van de NBBS vloog pas om zeven uur of zo in de avond, wat inhield dat ik pas na elven bij de jeugdherberg was, waar de beheerder gelukkig mijn besproken bedje had vrijgehouden, al was de jongensslaapzaal al wel in donker gehuld.

De volgende ochtend werd ik wat onwennig wakker in die grote stad. Ik stond op, waste mij wat, en zocht mij bedeesd een plaatsje aan de tafel, waar de herbergvader uit een heel grote pan met porridge de borden vulde. Het was er rumoerig en ik hoorde om me heen een taal die mij Scandinavisch toeleek. Ik zei wat tegen het meisje naast mij. ‘Wat zegde ge?’ was haar antwoord … ik zat dus tussen een groep Vlamingen.

Die eerste week deed ik de gebruikelijke dingen om Londen te bezichtigen. Op de zesde dag ging het toen gebeuren: ik zou gaan liften. Ik had wat jeugdherbergen besproken in het zuiden, geen idee hebbend van hoever ik zou komen. Ik had het plan opgevat om met de bus naar Windsor te gaan om het kasteel even te bezichtigen, om dan daarna op mijn duim te vertrouwen. Daar aangekomen wou ik wel even mijn onhandige lompe ‘rucksack’ kwijt (die mooie backpacks van tegenwoordig bestonden nog niet), en ik vroeg een agent die in een piepklein kantoortje bij de ingang zat waar ik die kwijt kon. Och, zet maar even achter mijn bureau, zei hij, ‘it’s against the regulations,’ maar toe dan maar.

O tijd van onschuld, nog jaren voor de ‘Troubles’ in Noord-Ierland en de bomaanslagen van de IRA.

En toen liften … meteen stopte er een auto. Als je meewilt naar Preston, dan kun je mee, zei hij. Preston is vrij noordelijk. Nou, toe maar. Plan veranderd. Maar dat was een heel eind, en Preston kon niet op een jeugdherberg bogen, dus al vrij laat moest ik toch verder. Uiteindelijk kwam ik in een klein erg afgelegen plaatsje in het Lake District terecht, met een jongeman aan het stuur die daar ook wel wou overnachten. Dat kwam dus goed uit. Daar zag ik voor het eerst iets wat op een echte heuvel leek. Daar wou ik als Fries van letterlijk het platteland natuurlijk recht naar boven bij oprennen, en pas later heb ik geleerd dat je dat beter zigzaggewijs kunt doen. Al doende leert men.

Edinburgh Castle

Toen lonkte het magische Schotland, toen ik toch al zo ver was. Ik wist dat in Schotland veel dingen anders waren, bijvoorbeeld dat je in de jeugdherbergen daar je eigen etensbordje en bestek mee moest nemen. Dus ik liet me aan de rand van Glasgow even afzetten, wandelde een winkelstraat in, en kocht de nodige spullen. Alles ging zo gemakkelijk, heel bijzonder eigenlijk. En weer verder liften. Ik weet niet meer waarheen, maar uiteindelijk een of twee dagen later zat ik in een jeugdherberg aan Loch Lomond. En toen naar Inverness.

En daar gebeurde iets. Ik raakte daar in gesprek met twee Deense meisjes die zeiden dat ze mij bij Loch Lomond ook al hadden gezien. Ik zag er heel geleerd uit, zeiden ze nog. Nou ja.

Zoals nette Deense meisjes betaamt heetten ze beide Inge. Goed, maar of ik die avond mee wou. De VVV van dat plaatsje Inverness had namelijk een avond georganiseerd ten behoeve van de toeristen, met muziek, ergens op een veldje. Ze hadden in Schotland ook nog een Deense jongen ontmoet en in hun kielzog meegenomen, die uiteraard de naam Sven droeg. Wij dus met ons vieren daarheen, waar we veel snerpende doedelzakken hoorden. En of ik zin had morgen een lange wandeling in de buurt te maken langs een riviertje. Nou, dat leek mij wel wat, al was ik eerst van plan geweest om verder te trekken.

Zo gezegd, zo gedaan. Er was een eind gewandeld, er was gepicknickt, met brood door de meisjes klaargemaakt, want Schotse jeugdherbergen boden namelijk ook keukenfaciliteiten, en soms boden ze zelfs helemaal geen avondeten aan, want je werd geacht dat zelf te doen. En de terugweg was aanvaard, waarbij op zeker moment achter ons de andere Inge met Sven verdwenen was. Ik heb nooit kunnen ontdekken of dat nou vanwege een sanitaire stop ergens was, of dat ze al wat ‘gedoente’ gekregen hadden, zoals dat in het Fries heet met een wel heel on-Fries aandoend leenwoord. Hoe dan ook, de andere Inge en ik vlijden ons in het gras neer en gingen zitten wachten. Dat duurde een poos. Toen dacht ik, wat die andere twee kunnen, dat kan ik ook. En ik trok Inge naar mij toe en begon haar te zoenen. Het eerste meisje dat ik ooit gezoend had.

‘O,’ zei ze oprecht verrast, ‘was dat je bedoeling.’ Nou, eigenlijk nog niet toen we gingen zitten. Maar dat poos wachten had me een idee gegeven. Maar ze reageerde niet afwijzend. En daar waren die andere twee ook al weer, die snel in de gaten kregen hoe de vork in de steel stak. We hadden dus wat ‘gedoente’ gekregen, ‘mijn’ Inge en ik.

Die avond was heel gezellig. De meisjes maakten eten klaar, en met aan dezelfde tafel vier oudere heren die ook veel plezier hadden met zelf iets te koken wat uiteindelijk op eten leek, althans dat was de bedoeling, en die bij gebrek aan kopjes dan maar thee uit sjempotjes dronken, vloog de tijd om. Dat was nou het bijzondere van Schotland: in die jeugdherbergen kon alles, en werden ook gepensioneerden toegelaten die met weinig geld toch nog wat vakantie konden vieren. Onvergetelijk, die aanstekelijk vrolijke oude knarren. Ik hou van Schotland.

Walter Scott Monument

Na de volgende dag nog een lange zwerftocht in de buurt daar over heide en heuvels gemaakt te hebben zijn we naar Edinburgh gelift, twee aan twee, de paren met ‘gedoente’ dus. Daar zijn we twee hele dagen gebleven, zwalkend door de stad en zelfs op de laatste avond met een taxi naar de havenstad Leith, om in een knus café romantisch wat de laatste avond te vieren – want de volgende dag moesten Inge en Inge in Newcastle de veerboot naar Esbjerg halen. Dat lukte weer wonderwel. Liften was toen een fluitje van een cent. Ik zei toen altijd: ‘I am always lucky!’

Afscheid.

Ik zie Inge en Inge nog staan, naastelkaar op die veerboot, op een zwart-wit foto’tje (van Sven gekregen) dat ik nu al 55 jaar trouw heb bewaard. Met ‘mijn’ Inge zo aandoenlijk melancholisch en wat onzeker kijkend, en met die charmante welving van de bovenlip als ze lachte, of in dit geval dat probeerde. Een in de tijd bevroren beeld. Zelf ben ik daarna in twee dagen naar Londen gelift via Lincoln. Na een nacht bij familie in Amsterdam geslapen te hebben ben ik de dag daarna naar huis gelift. Mijn 200 gulden waren nagenoeg verdampt.

Saint Giles Cathedral

Hoe ging dat toen verder, vraagt waarschijnlijk de lezer zich nu af. Met mij en Inge dus. Ik moet nu met het weemoedige deel van mijn relaas beginnen. De afspraak was dat ik eind september 1964, na een examen, een bezoek aan haar zou brengen. Ik kon dan bij familie slapen. Echter – ik had geen geld en ik begon heel onromantisch maar praktisch na te denken over het feit dat ik nog in geen jaren financieel op eigen benen zou kunnen staan, en dat een ‘verkering’ op afstand dus wel wat bezwaren had.

Verder: we hadden elkaar nog geen week gekend en het vuur der liefde laaide ook niet echt zo hoog op in mij. Onze verhouding was oprecht, maar in die korte tijd uiteraard weinig diepgaand en heel onschuldig, en was zelfs op het gebied van zoenen en verder lichamelijk contact erg bescheiden geweest – we waren eigenlijk ook nooit echt alleen samen in zo’n jeugdherberg. Wij slenterden hand in hand door Princes Street en over de Royal Mile, we klommen naar ‘the Castle’ en boven op het Walter Scott monument, en ik citeerde regels uit bijvoorbeeld dat vreemde en prachtige gedicht KUBLA KHAN (dat ik vele jaren later misschien wel om die reden niet onaardig, al zeg ik het zelf, in het Fries heb vertaald). Ons geluk was heel gewoon, want weinig eisend. Dat was het: wat zoenen en een vastgehouden hand.Ik begeerde weinig en had dus veel. Twee zielen die elkaar kortstondig leken te naderen.

Ik schreef dus een brief met bovenstaande argumenten om niet te komen. Maar om wel contact te houden als pen-pals. En zo geschiedde. We hebben onze relatie als het ware ‘in de wacht’ gezet, en wel tot begin 1966, toen we besloten om elkaar te laten gaan. De tijd was voor beiden rijp om verder te gaan.

Ik heb, beste lezer, dan ook absoluut niet een gevoel van spijt over een vermeende jammerlijk verloren liefde en een verloren kans op een eindeloos 24/7 geluk. Het is wel zo dat over deze geschiedenis de frisse glans van een nog weinig door mijn verleden ingekleurde jeugd hangt, die zodoende vóór zich vele nog ongekozen wegen naar de toekomst zag.

Ik heb wel, ook op grond van dat zwart-wit foto’tje, een in de tijd bevroren onveranderlijk beeld van haar, en dat zal zij ook van mij gehad hebben. Twee figuren als op die beroemde ‘Grecian urn’ van John Keats, die elkaar nooit zullen kunnen bereiken, maar die ook nooit zullen veranderen en verouderen. Daar zit weinig TRUTH in maar wel veel BEAUTY.

Zoiets heeft de schoonheid van het onvoltooide – de nooit aangegane confrontatie met de wereld van 24/7 en de verstrijkende tijd. De TRUTH is uiteraard dat mensen veranderen. De glans van de jeugd wordt doffer, en de jaren eisen mettertijd hun tol. De tol der jaren bij Inge zal ik nooit weten.

En toch … De door Henk Dragstra wakker gemaakte sluimerende herinneringen van 55 jaar geleden brachten mij ertoe (en was dat wel zo verstandig?) om eens bij Google te kijken of ik haar kon opsporen, en tot mijn stomme verbazing kreeg ik meteen een ‘hit’. Geboortejaar en verjaardag en volledige naam en zo – alles klopte precies – dat moet zij geweest zijn. Zij was kennelijk getrouwd met een man uit een familie waar iemand aardigheid aan genealogie had en zijn familie had uitgeplozen. Als aangetrouwd familielid stond zij ook daarbij.

Maar nu de schok: zij was vrij jong gestorven, in 2000, nog maar 57 jaar oud. Dat in mijn herinnering tot onveranderlijkheid gestolde meisje. Al negentien jaar dood. TRUTH – na al die jaren.

Ik moest toen denken aan een soortgelijk geval dat de Friese dichter-politicus Piter Jelles Troelstra is overkomen. Piter Jelles, Fries dichter in zijn jongere jaren, beschrijft in zijn allerlaatste, meest persoonlijke en mooiste gedicht van 1925 (na sinds 1909 geen dichtregel meer geschreven te hebben) hoe het nieuws van de dood van een vroegere jeugdvlam hem bereikte tijdens zijn verblijf aan het Meer van Genève (hij had net afscheid van de politiek genomen en zijn gezondheid kwakkelde). Hij vergelijkt de plotseling ontwakende herinnering aan haar met hoe aan dat meer de hoge sneeuwbergen uit nevel en wolken kunnen oprijzen om dan hun stralend smetteloos wit te tonen. Dat gedicht heet dan ook ‘Lêste Blink’ – een laatste stralende herinnering aan haar. Het staat er niet letterlijk zo, maar we weten dat het hier om het jonge zusje Sietske van een schoolvriend gaat, met wie hij ’s avonds vaak huiswerk maakte in Leeuwarden. Dat moet omstreeks 1877 zijn geweest. Na afloop maakten ze vaak wat plezier met die knappe vrolijke dochter des huizes van 16 jaar, met die wondermooie ogen. Voor dat meisje had hij een ‘heimelijke liefde’ opgevat, zoals het in zijn Gedenkschriften heet, zonder verdere details over namen en dergelijke. Nou ja, daar had Piter Jelles nogal snel last van, van zulke hevig opkomende verliefdheden. Maar zijn vriend maakte de HBS niet af en met dat meisje verloor hij het direct contact. Toevallig vertoefde zij in 1925 net als Piter Jelles ook aan dat meer, voor een kuur, want op latere leeftijd had ze veel problemen met haar gezondheid.

Daar hoorde hij dus van de dood van het onderwerp van zijn ‘zoete jongensdromen’. Bijna een halve eeuw nadat hij haar uit het oog verloren was. Haar lichaam is toen met de trein naar Leeuwarden gebracht, waar ze begraven is. Ook opeens TRUTH.

De ontroering die dat nieuws veroorzaakte gaf hem dat bijzondere gedicht in de pen. En ikzelf ondervond na dat totaal onverwachte Google-moment ook even een soortgelijke ontroering.

Een man reed naar Preston en had behoefte aan wat aanspraak tijdens die urenlange rit. Een student van twintig jaar reageerde niet angsthazerig op zijn aanbod en liet zijn plan varen om zich maar veilig niet te ver van Londen te wagen. Een lange reeks toevalligheden leidde uiteindelijk na 55 jaar tot een ‘hit’ in het zoekprogramma van Google en even een moment van weemoedige ontroering bij wat hij daar zag. Geen ‘verhaal’ met structuur. En toch hangen al die toevalligheden als veel meer dan los zand aanelkaar. Al die afzonderlijke toevalligheden vormen toch een lange keten van oorzakelijke verbanden. Het verband tussen schakeltje n en schakeltje n + 1 in die lange reeks is niet toevallig.

Ons leven heeft toch in zekere zin ‘vorm’. Een mengeling van TRUTH en BEAUTY. Wat vind jij, Keats?

NASCHRIFT

Het zal de lezer niet ontgaan zijn dat bovenstaande uit een zekere emotie is geschreven. Eenzelfde maar sterkere emotie moet ten grondslag hebben gelegen aan het genoemde gedicht ‘Lêste Blink’ van Troelstra. Ik denk dat wij dat allemaal wel eens gehad hebben, zo’n moment dat iets je opeens terugwerpt in de tijd en een nagenoeg vergeten beeld van een bepaald persoon weer voor je oprijst en lang sluimerende emoties doet herleven. Voor Troelstra was dat zijn Montreux-Sietske-moment, voor mij dat Google-Inge-moment. Ik kon het daarom niet nalaten om te proberen Troelstra zijn gedicht in het Nederlands te vertalen. Een lift naar Preston leidt zo dus naar een vertaling van een Fries gedicht van Piter Jelles Troelstra.

De al bestaande vertaling van Theun de Vries bevalt mij niet. Die is te letterlijk en teveel gericht op het behouden van de inhoud van alle woorden. Dat gaat meestal niet goed. En doet daarom wat gekunsteld en verwrongen aan. Een aantal rijmwoorden zijn bovendien kreupel en doen denken aan een zekere wanhoop om wat goeds te bedenken.

Hoewel het Fries veel op het Nederlands lijkt, zijn de rijmwoorden niet altijd klakkeloos over te nemen. Ik heb er daarom voor gekozen om vrijer te vertalen om zodoende in dat opzicht dichter bij het vloeiende van zijn fraaie tekst te komen. Strofe 4 in zijn Friese tekst doet wel wat ‘gemaakt’ literair aan, en ik heb het maar gewaagd om die wat te normaliseren.

Ik bied mijn vertaling aan jullie aan als het (voorlopig?) laatste schakeltje in de reeks toevalligheden beginnend met die autorit naar Preston. Zo bestaat ons vormeloos leven toch uit een verzameling van slierten gebeurtenissen die enige samenhang vertonen.

Piter Jelles Troelstra (1860 – 1930)

LAATSTE BLINK*

Waar hoge sneeuw door wolken breekt en nevel,
En mijmert boven berg en meer en woud,
De zomerzon gloeit boven ’t jonge leven,
En het gevogelt zingend bruiloft houdt,

Daar, eindelijk, ben jij van pijn genezen,
Beeld uit mijn jonkheid, al verbleekt zo lang,
En uit de nevel van mijn hart herrezen,
Kuis sneeuwgezicht, bij zon en zomerzang.

En met jou brak door wolken, dicht en duister,
Het beeld op van mijn jongensdromerij,
Waarover mild als sterren in hun luister
Twee ogen blinken, ooit te ver voor mij.

O stil verlangen, diep, nog zonder wensen,
Een overgave, die veel woorden mijdt,
Een schuwe vogel, schichtig voor de mensen,
Die diep in ’t bos de nacht zijn zangen wijdt…

Nu gaat men jou, gebroken beeld, heen dragen
Naar waar mij ooit betoverde jouw lach,
Terwijl, nog dolend, ik in ’t licht der dagen
Denk aan jouw weg naar waar ik jou ooit zag.

Zo zag ik eenmaal nog jouw ogen stralen,
Waar hemelblauw welft boven berg en meer,
Jouw lichte ziel bleef even om mij dralen,
En vluchtte toen van hier – en keert nooit weer.

Meer van Genève, juni 1925.

* Met dank aan Theun de Vries (toch wel…) voor de rijmwoorden in strofen 2, 5 en 6.

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Starting school: learning to teach

By Charlotte Korten

The Christmas break is almost here. I can feel it, my students can feel it – and everyone is longing for it. It’s true, the last few weeks before the Christmas break are chaotic. With the notorious ‘profielwerkstukpresentaties’, parent-teacher conferences, Sinterklaas, and the upcoming Christmas musical everyone is kept on their toes. The late sunrise and early sunset at this time of the year are not particularly helpful. It seems as though everyone comforts themselves with the thought of two weeks of ‘no school’ on the horizon.

Especially my first-year students are ready to take a break. Last week, there were no fewer than three instances where one of them asked if we could watch a movie or do ‘something fun’. Slightly disappointed, they take a different approach: Christmas music. My Achilles heel. “But Miss, I’m sure that listening to English Christmas music will improve our listening and speaking – or singing – skills.” And because I’m not the Grinch, I comply. The only thing missing is a crackling fire in the background, but there’s only so much I can do in my classroom.

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Christmas Puzzle

by Reinou Anker-Sollie

 

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Wishing you a merry Christmas and a very happy New Year

Season’s greetings from your board!

Reinou, Nienke, Marjan and Charlotte

Ps By the way, if you would like to join this merry bunch, don’t hesitate to let us know!
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Five Christmas stories

Finally, we would like to treat you to the stories five  students wrote as creative writing assigment for Irene Visser’s class. They were kind enough to hand in their stories way before the usual deadline, so we could publish them in this issue as a kind of mini e-book. We really appreciate this, so we decided to publish them all. Thank you Denise Hoenjet, Sharon Hodge, Cherize Thompson, Vincent Potman and Folkert de Wit. And now, curl up on your sofa and enjoy their stories!

Mr. and Mrs. Claus

By Denise Hoenjet

It was Christmas eve and Emily couldn’t wait to climb into bed and wake up the next morning to all the presents. Though there was something that had soured this evening for her. Leah, the girl that lives across the street, had whispered a little poison in her ear right before dinner.

“Santa isn’t from the North pole,” she had said. “What you think you know about him, it’s not real. All lies.” Emily had looked at Leah suspiciously.
“How do you know that?”
“Last year on Christmas eve, I heard some noise coming from downstairs, so I went to look. You know who I saw?” Leah pushed her big glasses up and paused for dramatic effect. “My dad! He was the one stuffing our stockings.”

It couldn’t be. It didn’t sound right at all. How could Santa just live across the street from her? Her eyes kept shifting from the movie mom had put up to keep them busy to the man in the red sweater at the dinner table. He was indeed a little chubby, she thought, but he didn’t’ have a beard! She studied the little picture of Santa and his wife that was placed on the coffee table. He looked nothing like Leah’s dad!

She, unfortunately, couldn’t stop thinking about it and figured there was only one way to find out the truth.

***

After the grownups had all left the party, Emily waited patiently in bed. She needed to know who Santa was and see him with her own two eyes! Maybe Leah’s eyesight was deteriorating? Maybe she was just mistaken?

The house grew more and more quiet. The only thing that could be heard now was Uncle Dave’s snoring, which meant that everyone had gone to bed. Emily tiptoed down the stairs, blanket in hand and a flashlight hidden under her pajama shirt. The plan was simple. She would simply hide and wait. She would then flash her light when she heard something. And then… Well, then she would know.

It took an eternity. Maybe even two, but there it was. Soft footsteps on the wooden floor. “Santa’s here,” Emily softly whispered to herself, she hadn’t realized it at first, but her heart had started pounding rapidly. This was it; she would finally know the truth. However, when she emerged from under the blanket and pointed her light… it wasn’t Leah’s dad’s freckled face looking back at her. No, these brown eyes were more familiar to her. “Mom?” She blurted out loudly. Her mother’s shocked face mirrored her own, but before she had time to explain herself, Emily had already darted back up the stairs.

Oh no! Oh no! Oh! No! Mom is Mrs. Claus? How could that be? Emily felt sick to her stomach. She thought about Leah’s dad as Santa, which means… Oh no! How was she supposed to tell dad?

Green Orphans

by Sharon Hodge

It had rained all day. The air was moist, and fog was spreading all around us. December wasn’t what it once had been, rarely did we get to spend any more time in the snow. Now it was almost dark out here in the field behind the old barn. The old couple that worked as our primary caregivers had already headed inside, not giving much thought to us being out here still. The help had already gone home for the day. There were many of us, short and tall, some more skinny than others, malnourished even, others pumped up with nutrients and various other chemicals that were supposedly good for them. Though most of us were younger and still very green – having been here only for a few years and not fully aware yet that this was to be our home for a long time to come – there were some that had been here much longer, reaching maturity in this plain old field. A few had even been uprooted from another place before being brought here. They had played this game year for year, letting the adults dress them all up for Christmas, only to be disappointed once again. As they grew older, the chances of someone finally agreeing to take them in grew smaller. Most adults were not prepared for this sort of commitment, usually giving some sort of excuse that they couldn’t properly accommodate the older ones in their homes, when really it was just more than they were willing to make room for in their lives. For the younger ones none of this mattered anyways. To outsiders visiting to look us up and down, we all seemed the same more or less, living the same regretful existence that they might choose to save us from. Sometimes we were highly aware that there was nothing we could do for them to love us more, to be taken into their homes and become part of a real family. Keeping up appearances, with the more frequent walk-ins on December weekends like this one, we were all dressed up in pretty garments supposed to lighten us up, as if we weren’t enough, as if we needed to be decorated to bring out our natural beauty. But this year I was determined and pining for anyone approaching – I was going to get a Christmas out of this. I was willing to fill that empty void in someone’s heart and head and home, help them pretend a harmonious, merry Christmas, reminding them of the good they had inside them. Even if, after they had seen me around for one or two weeks and the initial sense of wonder had worn off, they would remember that we weren’t made for them, and that the void was still there.

The most wonderful time of the year

By Cherize Thompson

The small living room rarely felt as crowded as on Christmas Eve. It was currently packed with family members sitting on every available surface, all clamouring loudly with exaggerated merriment. Lizzy sat in a corner, trying to cope with the forced boisterousness. From the corner of her eye, she noticed her grandmother beckoning her. She sighed, crossing the room with great difficulty thanks to the many bodies littering the floor.

“Lizzy, the star fell off the Christmas tree again,” her grandmother said. Not that she had to: Lizzy had noticed the bedazzled and glittering monstrosity in her hand already. “Be a dear and put it back.” Lizzy just nodded, and her grandmother pressed the star into her hand. Lizzy winced; the star had a jagged surface and sharp edges, and was impossible to hold without having your hand cut.

Lizzy was barely tall enough to reach the top of the tree, and had to practically hug it. The branches scratched at her arms and the hot strings of lighting burned against her body, but she managed to push the star back on top of the tree.

Just as she stepped back, her mother hollered for her help from the kitchen, not realising Lizzy was right next to the door. Lizzy winced, walking forward into a kitchen that was filled with too many family members for her to count. They were all shouting orders at each other, squabbling about what still needed preparing. Lizzy’s mother, a sheen of sweat covering her forehead, shouted something about Lizzy peeling the potatoes while her eyes darted around the kitchen in a frenzy. Lizzy barely had time to nod before her mother was off to shout at someone else about their job. Deciding she needed some fresh air before she went to work, Lizzy slipped out the back door and into the garden.

Living in the countryside, Lizzy was used to her evenings in the garden being gently illuminated by the stars shining in the night sky. Tonight, the stars had no hopes of outshining the innumerable amount of lights strung around the house.

Her mother had wrapped decorative lighting around the gutters of the house, as well as every window pane. They incessantly flashed on and off in nauseatingly bright colours. The lights were out of sync with the gaudy decorations strewn around the lawn, all competing to outshine each other. From the end of the lawn, just where the light couldn’t reach, Lizzy could only just make out the snowman the younger kids had built today. One of her aunts thought it would be funny to use detachable bike lights for the eyes. They flashed an ominous red at her from the edge of the garden, making Lizzy’s skin crawl.

It was becoming abundantly clear that Lizzy wasn’t going to have any peace tonight. Just like every year.From inside the house, she could make out her younger cousins singing:

“You better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout and I’m telling you why.”

“Santa Clause is coming…to town…”

The Cabin

By Vincent Potman

She watched as the snow fell down, white flakes drifting through the air. It was light enough that she could make out the cottage in full, colors and all. It was a sturdy building, one of those classic log cabins whose hearty reds and browns stood in stark contrast with their blank surroundings. The windows were alive with an orange glow, and the twinkling decorative lights that were wrapped around the porch’s banister only further bolstered this appeal. The finishing touches to the whole ensemble had to be the wreath that hung on the door, and the two decorative candy canes that lined the front steps. It was, in a word, festive; warm and inviting in a way that only the holiday spirit could be.

It was cliché, immensely so, and at first she felt nothing, but as she stared a memory bubbled to the surface; one filled with hot chocolate, laughter and crackling fire. It tugged at her heart, and for a moment she was lost, but then it fell into place and she knew exactly where she was. Indeed, she didn’t even need to see the interior to know what it looked like. There’d be a small hallway, filled up with coats and winter apparel, and a staircase leading up to the second floor. Directly to the left would be the door that led to the dining room and kitchen, which housed a table with a checkered cloth and a set of six chairs. Across from the window, which hung by the sink, you’d find the door that led to the living room.

Bigger than the kitchen, and cozier besides, it was the main attraction of the cabin because nothing quite beat the combination of a big fireplace, a comfortable and well-used couch, and a magnificent view of the hillside. In the left corner stood a Christmas tree, the floor beneath laden with wrapped gifts of various sizes and shapes. Diagonally across by the windows sat a big, lumpy chair that all but enveloped those who used it. Behind it, right by the door that led back into the hallway stood a bookcase filled with books, knickknacks and picture frames.

One of those knickknacks had been a snow globe, displaying Santa and his reindeer if she wasn’t mistaken, and her younger sister, Claire, had instantly fallen in love with it. She herself hadn’t really seen the appeal, thinking that she was much too old to be entertained by something so simple, but as she once again shook the globe in her hand, resetting the scene, she thought that maybe, finally, she’d found that special something that she’d been blind to for years now. Yes, it wasn’t about price, or size, or exclusivity – it was about association and what it made you feel. Snow globes weren’t just pretty little baubles, they were little windows into the past, and so when she looked – really looked – she saw a pair of young girls having a snowball fight besides that cabin of yesteryear. It hurt, yes, but in a good way, as seeing ghosts so often did.

December

by Folkert de Wit

One day I found myself wandering about the outskirts of an unfamiliar town. It was the end of November, and even though the climate was typically tropical, an atmospheric anomaly had caused heavy snowfall in the area. The woolly cover laid the town to a winter sleep, as activities were halted and people advised to stay indoors. I didn’t.

Slipping and faltering, I climbed the hill that overlooked the town until I found a lone bench at the top. I sat down, and immediately regretted not wiping it off, as I now had to come to terms with the fact that the Arctic had relocated to my ass cheeks. The day began to fade into evening, basking the town in an ever-darker orange.

Just as the sun kissed the hills in the distance, I looked up and saw a woman standing next to me. She looked back and smiled at me, a warm smile, despite her choice in attire which by all standards seemed hazardously thin.

“Aren’t you cold?”, I said.

“Freezing”, she answered. “But alas, no blankets here except the snow.” She sat next to me without wiping the bench, and if her expression betrayed any traces of discomfort, it was getting too dark to tell.

Despite my lack of talking mood, the silence felt oppressive. “So, eh, what’s your name?”, I finally asked.

“December. Nice to meet you.”

“That’s original.”

“It means something like ‘the tenth’.” She seemed very annoyed with this little tidbit. “What brings you to this lonely apex?”

“Oh, you know”, I said, “just had to get out of the house I suppose. Being locked up with five people – well, they get on your nerves after a while, no matter who they are.”

“Can’t choose your family”, she pondered.

“They’re not my family. I’m not from here. I was supposed to fly home a few days ago, but then, well… all this.” I kicked at the snow, now turning blue with the reflection of the evening sky.

“Sorry about that”, she said. It felt sincere for some reason. “Hey, did you know snow isn’t actually white?”

“What?”, I said.

“Yeah”, she said, gathering a fistful of snow. “It’s just the light being refracted or something. If you look at it very closely, it’s all just perfectly symmetrical ice crystals. They break up the light into colours, which then mix back into white.”

I considered this. “So you’re saying that, even if it’s easy to be blinded by the light, if I look close enough it all makes sense? That everything happens for a reason or something?”

The lady looked up from her snowball. “What? No, I was just showing off my scientific knowledge.”

“Ah.”

I turned to the sleepy town. The moon was out now, and with it the stars, for once unobstructed by light pollution, were on full display. Underneath the snow the people continued their lives, huddled around their own tiny stars. It looked like the earth was a mirror of the heavens.

“Say –“ I started, but the lady was gone. This mystified me until I glimpsed the flounce of her dress turning the corner a little ways down the road. I smiled, and felt silly for thinking, even for a second, that she’d never come around again. We had, after all, had this conversation many times before.

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