In areas of the world with a predominantly Catholic population, Carnival (spelled Carnaval in France) is the festive period prior to Lent, the time of prayer and penance before Easter. During Lent, people traditionally abstained from eating meat, which may have led to the word “carnival” (essentially a derivative from Latin and meaning “removal of meat”). People also refrained from consuming dairy, eggs, other fatty foods, and sugar.
If you don’t get to eat meat or other goodies for six weeks, then you might have the urge to load up as much as possible beforehand. Let the party begin! Laissez les bon temps rouler!
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About a dozen years ago, I made a single New Year resolution: to live more in my heart and less in my head. It turns out this one single thing is a lifelong process, at times frustrating, always fascinating.
In school, I earned A’s in math classes and was told I should consider a career in engineering. For a long time, my hobby was architecture; I used to design wildly bizarre floorplans, and even built models of a few of them. But engineering never interested me, and eventually I chose not to pursue architecture either.
I studied graphic design in college, and that was my first exposure to the cultural division between following one’s head and following one’s heart. We saw the painters and sculptors as the spacy ones who would probably never earn a living with their art, while we were the “smart” ones who used our art to find a better-paying job. I’m pretty sure those “spacy” artists thought we had sold our souls.
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The usual time to talk about affairs of the heart is around Valentine’s Day, which of course is next month, but first I have something to say about heart that doesn’t have so much to with chocolates, flowers and lacy valentines. As we begin a new year, this January post is a voyage of discovery about other meanings of the word “heart.”
A little over a year ago, I decided to take action on something I’d been pondering for a while: living abroad for an extended time. Somewhat like stepping into a dressing room to try on a pair of pants, I tried on the idea of this new adventure by occasionally checking in with myself to see if the idea still “felt” right, while continuing to live the life I had in Colorado. I started to go public with my plan about the time I realized that not only did I definitely want to give this a try, but also that I might be a little disappointed with myself in twenty years if I hadn’t tried it. My mantra became, “if not now, when?”
As the adventure became ever more real, people began to say things to me like, “I admire you for doing this. It takes such courage.” I was puzzled by this comment, because at the time it didn’t feel like courage to me. It felt like a lot of work, a lot of details to attend to, and a dogged determination to make it happen. But not courage.
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It is the season of reverence for light and lights, not to mention something called the light. For inspiration on this dark December eve, I’m sitting by a roaring hot fire, throwing plenty of light and warmth to guide me. The days are dark: I awake in the dark, and barely get the day’s tasks done before dark once again settles upon the land.
It is no wonder that from dark days are born celebrations of light. Hanukkah has begun for Jews around the world, an eight-day Festival of Lights celebrating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Using the menorah, one candle is lit for each day of the holiday. Kwanzaa, a multi-day celebration for people of African descent, involves lighting the candles of the kinara.
The light of the Star of Bethlehem led the magi to the manger and the infant Jesus. In Santa Fe, New Mexico, there is a Spanish Catholic tradition of lighting farolitos, simple lanterns made with paper bags and candles, which line the walls and roofs of houses in the region.
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I’m writing this from my living room in an old stone house in a tiny town in the South of France, where I’ve relocated for a year. This evening I built a fire, roasted some chestnuts, and began writing to you.
Gratitude for sacrifice. It is November 11—Veterans Day, Armistice Day, Remembrance Day—and my little town put on a show that brought tears to my eyes.
The South of France saw enormous loss during World War I, the war to end all wars and the war that brought us Armistice Day. About 12 times as many men from this town died during WWI as during WWII. I missed the start of today’s event at the cemetery, but caught up when the French Tricolore was marched through town, proudly borne by several veterans. A whole parade of townspeople accompanied them to the war memorial, where young children were invited to the front of the crowd to read the names of the fallen, and the local chorus gave a rousing rendition of the French national anthem, the Marseillaise. The mayor gave a speech, as did one or two other dignitaries. I didn’t follow all the French, but I understood enough to know that both of the longer speeches gave enormous credit to the United States for entering the war and helping the Allies win.
And that is really what this is all about: a day to remember those who gave their lives to fight for their nations, and to show our gratitude for their sacrifice. The armistice to end WWI took effect in 1918, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month; here in my town, the ceremony began shortly after 11:11 in the morning (perhaps those parading vets are walking a bit more slowly these days!).
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