Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Vintage Georgia ... and current events

Last October as I kept cleaning the Georgia house garage I found many old things, toys, games, dishes, books, magazines, etc.  I even wrote a post on it called "old magazines, old memories..."  Last December I was there again cleaning a bit more of the old stuff.  Actually, I should call it "vintage," it does sound better.  And by the way, the etymology of the word "vintage" is French.  It was used as early as the 15th century meaning vendange or wine harvest. Although now vintage also means something from an earlier generation.  There were some old wine bottles in the garage but mostly just vintage stuff.  It was slow going as I would stop and look at the magazines.

Sometimes I came upon items long forgotten, that I did not know even existed anymore.  I found some old paintings I had done as a teenager.  My mother must have sent them to me ages ago and I put them in the garage instead of throwing them away, so should I keep them now?

Then I found the old, I mean vintage, items from the Jimmy Carter for President Campaign.  That stopped me and I reminisced for a while.  We had moved to Georgia in 1973 because of Jimmy Carter.  I wrote about it briefly in my post Bird Drawings from Sir Peter Shepheard in January 2011.  As I said in that post my husband had finished his Master's Degree in Environmental Planning and spent a couple of summers working for his professor Ian McHarg's office as a river planner.  My husband received three job offers, one from San Diego, California, one from Arizona and one from Georgia.  He decided to take the offer made by Governor Jimmy Carter.  The position had the lowest pay but the project sounded the most challenging.  My husband was not materialistic, just interested in helping the environment, nature and the country.  Of course I was not very pleased about moving to Georgia instead of going back to California or even to Paris where my father had offered to buy us an apartment.  But we moved to Atlanta in 1973 and he started working at the GA Capitol.  Below are two 1970s vintage postcards of Atlanta.

In the early 1970s the US Congress had funded a project for the US Corps of Engineers to build a dam at the Sprewell Bluff of the Flint River, 50 miles south of Atlanta.  Jimmy Carter, Governor of Georgia at the time, did not approve of this project.  The Flint River is one of only 40 rivers in the nation to flow more than 200 miles (320 km) unimpeded by dams or other man made systems. Gov. Carter needed a thorough technical study to back up his objections.  My husband Jim had been hired to do this study.  He assembled a team and worked tirelessly for several months, driving back and forth to the Flint River. His finished study was handed to Governor Carter who was able with it to veto the controversial dam.  Governor Carter tore apart the Corps economic justification for the dam and accused them of ignoring the environment.  The end of his 18-page letter said that he was opposed to the construction of unwarranted dams and other projects at public expense.  And so the Flint River was able to run free and we stayed in Georgia.  Below are photos of the Flint River and of the Flint River at Sprewell Bluff.

Not long ago on a Georgia boating site on the Web I read this:  "Once threatened by a hydro-power dam, this section of the Flint has been preserved and once you've paddled it, you'll shout a big thank you to the many advocates who fought to save the Flint River in the 1970s."  I smiled as I knew an advocate who worked long and hard to have the Flint River run wild and free.  Now Sprewell Bluff has been made into a park called The Sprewell Bluff State Recreation Area.  It is a peaceful and natural area, with wildflowers (like the endangered spider lily,) wildlife and a regular stop for migratory songbirds.  It really is one of the most scenic rivers of Georgia.  It is popular with fishermen, hikers, kayakers and white water rafters.

When Governor Jimmy Carter decided to run for the office of President of the United States I offered to volunteer to help with the campaign.  I was not a US citizen yet and did not belong to any political party but whether he was a democrat or a republican I was going to canvas for him.  In the 1970s I was astounded that a governor would have refused a $133 million funded project ($775 million in 2020 money) because it would harm the environment, it was unheard of.  I wrote to tell him.  He answered and thanked me and I received several posters, buttons, tee-shirts, etc.  There were some left in the garage (and his letter is somewhere in the house.)

After traveling to Alaska in the summer of 2009 I wrote a post on Denali National Park.  In it I mentioned that President Carter in 1980 had again helped the environment.  He had signed an act that added millions of acres to the US wilderness system (8 million to the national forests, 56 millions to wildlife refuge and 44 millions to national park.)  You can read it here Alaska Trip - Denali National Park.  Later, as my husband and I were driving to Plains where Jimmy Carter lives, I printed a copy of my blog post and mailed it to him.  He replied and thanked me.  This is also somewhere in the GA house.  This is why I am trying to sort everything carefully.  We visited the farm in Plains where Jimmy Carter grew up and I took many photos for a future post.

I had been sad when President Carter had run for a second term and lost.  He had lost mostly because the voters had punished him for having been unsuccessful in releasing the US hostages kept in Iran.  On the Internet lately I read reports showing that Republican Candidate Ronald Reagan had colluded with the Ayatollah Khomeini (enemy of the US) to delay the release of the US hostages in Iran until after the presidential election.  He had offered them weapons, parts and money (like later in the Iran-Contra affair?).  That would explain why it was minutes after Ronald Reagan's presidential inauguration that the Iran hostages were released (how could he have negotiated that in several minutes from the podium?  Before becoming president he had not been supposed to have contacts or have any dealings with a foreign government...)

I kept going through boxes of papers, studies, notepads, etc.  Most needed to be thrown out.  Then I came upon a pad hardly used.  I threw away the first few pages, but the next page was a letter my husband had written to President Jimmy Carter around 1981.  It had been in the garage for 39 years.  What should I do?  Throw it away?  It had been meant for President Carter so once back in Nashville on December 28 I mailed it to him, explaining where I had found it.  I wished him and his wife Rosalynn a Happy New Year and that was that.  In February after returning from Georgia I was surprised to find a letter from President Carter in the mail.  At first I thought it was an ad and was going to throw the letter away, but then I saw the seal.  I was dumbfounded really that he would have answered me.  It is below with part of my husband's letter.  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

While traveling back and forth to Georgia I was also checking travel sites on the Internet.  In the fall my daughter had suggested that for my birthday in March we needed to go on a week to 10-day trip somewhere nice.  At first I refused because I needed to keep working on the house.  She insisted saying that since my other daughter's wedding in California in 2016 I had not been anywhere.  Because of being my husband's caregiver 24/7 until his death I could not step away.  I researched several places - New Zealand, New Caledonia, Uruguay, Guadeloupe and Argentina, settling on Argentina.  In January my daughter told me that we should not travel overseas.  So I said why don't we go to Miami where I have never been.  I was surprised when she said "may be" as she had insisted so much that we should travel.

In February my daughter said that we should forget a trip altogether.  Why, I asked.  She replied because of the novel coronavirus.  But it's in China I said, and if it came to the US the CDC would take care of it for sure.  She told me that the current CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta) is not our cousin Lyle's old CDC.  In an earlier post, 10 Year Blog Anniversary, I had mentioned that my husband's first cousin Lyle, now retired, had spent his career there as an epidemiology physician traveling and fighting diseases all over the planet.  My daughter is also a physician and in addition has a Master's Degree in public health.  In fact, in 2018 President Trump had ordered such drastic cuts to the global health section of the CDC that most of the staff had been laid off.  He also closed the White House pandemic office (he needed to find the funds to build his great big beautiful wall.)  The CDC new director is a Trump political appointee with little public health expertise.  My daughter was worried that mistakes would be made and thought we were heading toward a national health crisis.  I thought she exaggerated.  Below is a photo of the entrance to the CDC and a photo of cousin Lyle (in center) being honored as the 2014 recipient of the Stephen B. Thacker Excellence Award.

In late February my son-in-law was driving to Atlanta.  I rode with him and spent a week in the Georgia house.  I was happy to go because in early March Bulloch Hall in Roswell was hosting its annual quilt show featuring 182 quilts this year.  I was looking forward to attend the show.  I texted my daughter that I was going to the show - "no, no, she replied, you can't go where there are crowds in a small house."  I thought she was over protective but reluctantly I agreed and did not go.  Then two days later the first known case of Covid-19 in Georgia, the new name for the novel coronavirus, happened in my town in Cobb County.  Below is the 2020 quilt that was raffled at the show.  I did attend the 2019 quilt show and will have a post on it.

Last fall in Georgia I had bought cleaning wipes, rubber gloves and masks to clean the dust and dirt in the garage, as pictured in the heading collage.  I didn't know I would have to bring them back to Nashville for my own safety!  Now that I have been isolated in my house for 15 days I have had time to research the history of Covid-19.  I read many newspapers, mostly foreign (French, UK, Irish, Belgian, Swiss, etc.) to get neutral opinions.  I also like to read actual quotes and watch news videos.  China informed the World Health Organization in late December 2019 that a new coronavirus was spreading rapidly within and out of China.  Taiwan being so close to China started emergency health measures immediately and as of today, March 31, 2020, counts only 322 cases and 5 deaths in a population of about 24 millions.  Everyone has to wear a mask.  Photo below of Taipei, Taiwan (courtesy ABC News.)  I'd like to add that the CDC refused the WHO tests and made their own.  They were faulty, couldn't be used and resulted in much delay.

 The United States meanwhile has the worst virus outbreak in the world.  As of today, March 31, 2020 there are 185,200 cases and 3,815 deaths.  Last February President Trump refused to let Dr. Anthony Fauci speak publicly without approval or warn the public about the virus.  Then he downplayed the virus and refused to have aggressive testing made "The President had made clear - the lower the number of coronavirus, the better for the president, the better for his potential re-election this fall."  Many people heard him take no responsibility and early on say that the virus would be gone shortly "it will disappear, like a miracle."  The Boston Globe wrote that the president has "blood on his hands" because "much of the suffering and death coming was preventable."  Now he is telling Vice President Mike Pence to shun certain states from Democratic governors that he does not like.  This is a colossal failure in leadership that the American public is paying for.  I saw an older woman on TV - her husband was in hospital in a coma in the ICU.  She kept saying "but we watched Fox News and were told the virus was a liberal hoax to hurt our president ... that we could go out ... I don't understand..."  Fox News (that calls itself Fair and Balanced) is a scourge to the low information (low education and high religiosity) people who watch it.  Fox News is not authorized to air in France or the UK.  (It has been banned as propaganda media.)  So instead of celebrating my birthday in Buenos Aires or Montevideo I was in my kitchen alone with my cat.  But I made a New England dinner and a small French chocolate cake.  Before I blew off the one candle I had found, my daughters and families sung Happy Birthday to me via our cell phones Face Time.  We had waited for my son-in-law to come back from hospital (cautiously he does not come home any longer.)  He is an anesthesiologist physician and very exposed.  I am worried for him as he anesthetizes patients when tubes are placed into their lungs, when they are at their most contagious.  He has very little protective supplies left.  Still it was a nice birthday, in isolation ...

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Tornadoes through Nashville

On Monday March 2, 2020, I bought the two hyacinth plants shown in the heading photo.  I love their fragrance and know that when hyacinths start blooming spring is getting close.  Mother Nature gives us lovely plants and flowers but Mother Nature can also be very destructive.  Going to bed that evening I checked the weather forecast.  The Storm Prediction Center was predicting rain and a very small chance (2%) of tornado watch for portions of western and central Tennessee.  They did not even say "tornado possible."  At about 12:50 am, on the morning of March 3rd, I was suddenly awaken when my cell phone made a piercing shrieking noise.  I looked - it said "Tornado warning, take cover."  Just waking up it's a bit difficult to react quickly but I did go downstairs to the kitchen to pickup my cat and head into the basement.  First I turned on the TV for news.  They were showing the tornado path - it was about 3 miles north of me at the time.  I stayed in the kitchen checking the path until about 2 am when it looked like the tornado was going away from downtown Nashville.  On the map below, the tornado path is shown by an orange line.  I placed a red dot where my house is located (under the letter S in Nashville.)

The weather map below also shows the tornado path.  There is a red area shown under the letter V of Nashville.  It is where my house is located, but I did not place the red mark there.  It was on the weather map showing heavy storm and rain in my area, and it did uproot several trees close by.

Later I found out that the tornado warning was not issued until 12:35 am, when the tornado was in the process of demolishing the John C. Tune Airport (about 7 miles north of me.)  This airport is the busiest general aviation airport in the state with more than 86,000 operations in 2019.  It services our region's corporate and private aircraft.  A well-known country music band had just landed their aircraft there around midnight.  The damages to the airport are considerable.  It is expected to cost $93 million in infrastructure, not including more than 90 damaged aircraft, 17 hangars, the airfield, pavement, signage, navigational aids, lightning and utilities.  If there was a siren alert in my area, I never heard it.  Here are photos at this airport. (Click on collage to enlarge.)

It seems that the tornado cell started at the John C. Tune airport then stayed on the ground for 60 miles, from Nashville in Davidson County through four more counties.  Actually the latest news indicate that it was not just one tornado, but seven tornadoes ending with an EF-4 tornado, categorized as "extreme" with winds up to 200 miles per hour (322 km.)  Below is a map showing where the Nashville tornado started, at the airport - I placed a green dot below it.  My house is below it indicated with a red dot.

Growing up in Paris, France, I had never heard of tornadoes or witnessed any close by.  But here, we have them often.  For those lucky souls who do not have tornadoes in their countries, a tornado is a violent rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground.  They are also called "twister."  Violent tornadoes bring destruction to everything in their path, and are one of nature's most devastating forces.  From the Tune's Airport the tornadoes went through West Nashville and totally destroyed the new agricultural research center of Tennessee State University (a loss estimated at between $30 and $50 million.)  I mapped it on Google and this university is only 3 miles from my home.  It went on through North Nashville, trendy East Nashville, Germantown and Five Points, were two people died.  I'll show the area in a close-up map below.  To give you an idea of distance, my house is about 1 mile or less from the Parthenon Park.

The tornado also severely damaged the historical Tennessee State Prison, built in 1898, closed in 1992.  Built like a fortress it was used in several films.  Below are pictures of the prison, before and after.

I spent most of that afternoon watching the local television stations showing images of the damages.  The music community had set up a phone bank with the Red Cross to receive donations.  The telephones were answered by well-known country music stars and other celebrities.  Dolly Parton came live on television to bring words of comfort (she lives south of the city in a suburb.)  Others wrote messages of support on social media, such as longtime Nashville resident Taylor Swift who donated $1 million to the Emergency Fund.  Chris Young Music donated $50,000.  Many others contributed and sent their wishes including Keith Urban, Jack Owen who said "We as NASHVILLE will stand together and help anyone and everyone in need.   That's why I'm proud to live here and call it home."  Tim McGraw" "We are heartbroken for our community after last night's tragic tornado, but know that together we will rise up and rebuilt again!"  Martina McBride, Ricky Skaggs, Carrie Underwood, Miley Cyrus, Faith Hill, Reba McIntire: "My heart, thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in the Nashville area affected by the tornado last night.  Even if the tornado didn't hit our personal space, we are affected because we are Nashvillians."  Maren Morris:  "The tornado must have missed our block by an inch because we are alright, but I am so depleted looking at the damage that has happened to our beautiful city."  The Nashville Predators (ice hockey) were providing free pizzas to those affected.

The images on television showed terrible destruction that was beyond dramatic.  I took photos from them (courtesy WKRN, WSMV and others.)

More photos - courtesy The Tennessean.

Five Points in East Nashville with a high musician-to-civilian ratio is a hip community with thriving locally-owned businesses, full of bars, vintage stores, coffee shops and small restaurants.  More than 40 restaurants are closed - some heavily damaged, some completely destroyed.

As the tornadoes increased in strength they brought more destruction to the counties outside of Nashville.  Most had only 60 seconds of warning, in the middle of the night.  Just think, 60 seconds coming out of a sound sleep to gather your family, pets, etc.  Most of the fatalities, at least 22, were in those counties.  The national average for warning lead time is around 8 to 10 minutes before the tornado first touches down, that's not what they got.  The photo on the extreme top right side is Stoner Elementary school; at least no children were attending school then.

Utility crews, including some from other states, worked to repair the more than 600 downed poles.  Almost 20,000 people signed on the website of "Hands on Nashville" to assist with tornado cleaning.  So many volunteers showed up the next day that there were long lines of helpers waiting to clean up the destroyed areas.  These tornadoes devastated the lives of many residents; small independent businesses may never recover.  I hope that help and funds will keep coming for recovery as other tragedies unfurl.  Here in Cobb County, Georgia, there is a case of Novel Coronavirus and a large group of cruise ship passengers are coming to stay at Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta, about 8 miles from my home.  (My son-in-law was driving to Atlanta from Nashville last weekend and gave me a ride to my GA house, so I am in Cobb County now.)  People here are concerned about the virus.  More tragedies...

Monday, February 3, 2020

2020 so far ...to 1920s and 30s

While I was still in Georgia before the Holidays I visited again the historic antebellum mansion Bulloch Hall as it was decorated for Christmas.  I took many pictures and was going to write a post in early January, but as you'll see below, something happened and I could not.  January started well, though.  On Thursday, January 2, 2020, my daughter, son-in-law and I went to a movie matinee to see the modern but faithful adaption of "Little Women" directed by Greta Gerwig.  I had read Louisa May Alcott's classic book, translated into French and titled "Petites Femmes" or "Les 4 Filles du Docteur Marsh" when I was eleven years old.  I did not remember it very much.  We all enjoyed this period drama, so beautifully acted.  (below photos from the film, courtesy Sony Pictures and LA Times.)

 Later I watched a PBS documentary on the 350 years old Orchard House (the home of the Alcott family in Concord, Massachusetts.)  It was full of interesting history and information.  Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) wrote her two-part novel in this house in 1868 and 1869.  Her book was successful from the start.  It was translated into 50 languages and has never been out of print.  The virtual tour of the well-maintained house, with its original furnishings, was quite moving.  I have gathered several postcards of the house and its interior.  (Please click on collage to enlarge.)

While looking at vintage postcards of Concord, Massachusetts, I came upon one featuring Ephraim Wales Bull - so had to find out who he was.  It turns out he was a farmer in Concord, also in the 1800s, and a neighbor of the Alcott family.  Around 1849 Ephraim planted seeds from the wild vine Vitiz labrusca.  After evaluating more than 22,000 seedlings he decided on the ideal one and called it "Concord Grape."  The Concord Grape won first place in 1853 in a Boston agricultural exhibition and was introduced commercially in 1854.  I had no idea.  In the fall if I can find fresh Concord grapes I always buy them as I like their sweet but slightly acid taste.  The Concord grape is popular for jellies, juice and more.  Poor Ephraim Wales Bull (1806-1895) never obtained any money for his grape discovery.  On his grave it reads "He sowed.  Others reaped."

On the following day, Friday 3, 2020, my daughter and I went to Nashville's first "Salute to Vienna" New Year Viennese style celebration.  Maestro Bernhard Schneider, from Vienna, conducted the Strauss Symphony of America as well as dancers from the National Ballet of Hungary, Ballroom Dancers, a soprano and a tenor.  The program included waltzes, polkas, with The Blue Danube towards the end.  The lyrics of the classic "Auld Land Syne" were printed in the back of the program so the audience could sing along.

This concert was performed at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in downtown Nashville.  I had never seen it before and thought it was an old building.  But no, construction had begun in 2003 and the building formally opened in 2006.  It is named in honor of Kenneth Schermerhorn, the late maestro of the Nashville Symphony.  It has a neo-classical style with modern acoustic features and has won several design awards.  Coming out of the dark parking area, the brightly lit symphony building looked imposing.  Once inside I was surprised to see spectators seated behing the orchestra, under the large custom-built organ.  It is a special choral loft that can be available during non-choral performances.

This Salute to Vienna concert had been touring the US close to New Year for many years.  There are performances in major cities, but in the South, only some cities in Florida and for the first time in Nashville.  The concert included mostly Johann Strauss, Jr. (Austrian, 1825-1899) waltzes but also a couple from Franz Lehar's.  I knew all of them and I'll tell you why below.  It certainly was a delightful evening with lovely music, songs and dances.  A great start to the New Year.  I just took a few photos with my iPhone.

My mother loved dancing when she was young, in the 1930s.  She had spent some time in Juan-les-Pins and told me that she used to go dancing almost every evening.  It was the "jazz age" period and people like author Scott F. Fitzgerald lived there as well and had made this French Riviera resort town quite fashionable and in vogue.  Mother particularly enjoyed dancing the tango and the waltz.  Unfortunately my father was badly injured and handicapped in WW2.  But if on the radio a Strauss waltz was played she would stop everything and have me dance with her - even if I was in the middle of playing or doing my homework.  By 6 years of age I could dance the waltz, the tango, fox-trot, polka, Charleston and more.  This is why I knew all the waltzes and polkas played during the concert.  Below is my mother (on the right) with my grandmother, mother (on the right) with a friend and in a small ID photo.  She had red hair and pale turquoise eyes.

After my father died in 1974 I went back to visit mother every year after Christmas to be with her about 10 days around New Year.  She always had bought some tickets to a musical, tango or Viennese waltzes spectacle, operetta or play in a theatre for the two of us to attend.  Then when she became stricken with Parkinson's disease and could not go out she would send for a ticket for me by checking her weekly magazine "Pariscope" that listed all the shows in the capital (and being in the center of Paris there were always a multitude of them.)  When I arrived in Paris she would tell me what kind of show I was going to attend.  She would wait for my return from the show to listen with excitement for my descriptions and impressions.  She did get a tremendous vicarious enjoyment from it.

As you can see I have started the new years with songs and dances for a very long time.  It was nice that my daughter invited me to watch the Salute to Vienna to continue the tradition.  As my readers know I have been traveling monthly to Georgia to clear out our house there.  Last August I became very tired and short of breath.  It got worse and worse.  I just thought I was aging and kept going on.  But by Sunday January 5, 2020, I could not walk across a room without catching my breath and had to sit down.  When I finally went to see my doctor he diagnosed Atrial Fibrillation (Afib) which is an iregular heart beat.  Because my heart had been running so high for so long I also developed acute heart failure.  Bother - now I can't go back to GA for a while.  I'm taking a bunch of pills daily and am scheduled for a battery of tests: breathing, stress, MRI, and more and will have to wear a heart monitor for a while until they understand where the heart failure comes from.  I can barely walk so have been spending time reading, and listening to music.  A friend sent me links to black and white old movies from the 1930s that I can watch on my iPad.  I'm trying to watch upbeat movies with dancing and songs.  I just watched a couple of old Bob Hope and Bing Crosby films and also "Dancing Feet."  It is a 1936 American comedy with a lot of dancing.  Here are a couple of pics from this film.

Then I found music from that era on my iPad as well; the type of music famous in the 1920s and 1930s, a time known as the Roaring Twenties and the Jazz Age.  I even found a second-hand CD on line featuring "The Great British Dance Bands" from those years.  Right now, I prefer to listen to the music from that period - a time of flappers, Art Deco and jazz, instead of turning on the TV and watching more shootings, the terrible epidemic from the Coronavirus or endless political talks.

One of the songs I like was played by Mrs. Jack Hylton and Her Band.  I found it also on youTube.  It is called "Got to dance my way to heaven."  You can listen to it below.

She had a very good and successful band in the UK in the 1930s and sold many records through the Woolworth's stores.  I remember when I was in London as a teenager - there was a Woolworth's close
to my host family house.  I had not seen those Woolworth's stores in Paris and I thought they were "smashing."  I also remember going to change my Francs into Pound Sterling at the Foreign Exchange booth in Victoria Station.  Then I'd go to Piccadilly Circus and have tea at Fortnum and Mason, or if money was tight, I'd have a cup of tea at Lyon's Corner House.

As I sat listening to that music it seemed kind of familiar to my ear.  It was before my time though as I started traveling to London in 1953 when I was 13 years old.  But still.  Then, in my mind's eye I could see myself in the late 1950s studying my English on the weekends for my Cambridge exam while staying at my pen friend's home.  Wasn't that the music playing in the background?  Did I imagine it?  So I telephoned my British pen-pal (I have known her since 1953) who is now retired in Florida and asked her.  No, she could not remember ...but then... she said "you are right! Mum had an old Gramophone radiogram and she used to play her old 78 records of big bands from the 30s while doing her house cleaning." Her mother, Gladys, just like my mother, had loved dancing in the 1930s.  My friend added "but you did not like that type of music then, you liked Dixieland jazz and Fats Domino!"  Tastes change, just like in fashion, and mine can change in ...what? over 65 years?  Well, here you are, I started 2020 with music and am still listening, even if the melodies are from the 1920s and 30s.  I explained my health issues to my friend.  She told me, and insisted "you are not sick - you just have a "condition."  She is British and speaks proper English, so she must be right - I just have a condition, a heart condition.  I feel better already!  Wish I could dance ...

Note to Naomi's readers - This post took several days to write.  Next post, I'll write about my latest conversation with Naomi.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Christmas in Atlanta ... and Japan

A tall decorated pine tree atop a department store has been a holiday tradition in Atlanta.  It started in 1948 on the downtown Atlanta store of Rich's Department Store.  It was a large 70 to 90 feet tall (21-27 m) decorated white pine that was named Rich's Great Tree.  Rich's was sold to Macy's and now a Great Tree sits on their store at the Lenox Mall off Peachtree Road in Atlanta.

The lightning of the Great Tree starts the Christmas and Holidays celebrations in Atlanta.  This year the 72nd annual Great Tree Lighting event was on 24 November, 2019, and featured live musical performances with a fireworks finale set to favorite music.  There were more than 45,000 multi-colored lights on 490 branches of the tree, with a big red LED lighted star on top.  There are many holiday light displays in and around Atlanta: Atlantic Station, Atlanta Botanical Gardens, Christmas Lights at Callanwolde (former home of one of the original founders of the Coca-Cola Company,) Light Festival at Centennial Olympic Park, Mountain Country Christmas Lights at the Stone Mountain Park, Lights of Life at the Life Chiropractic College in Marietta.  There are more places and neighborhoods with twinkling lights.  Below are some (courtesy the AJC.)  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

I was in Georgia for about nine days, driving back to Nashville on December 21, 2019.  To get into the Atlanta holiday spirit I drove to Lenox Mall where I had not been in several years.  I used to work across this mall in the early 1980s and it would take me half hour from my home in Cobb County during morning and afternoon rush hours.  This time, mid morning, it took me 1 hour 10 minutes!  Still, as the sign said I was glad to be back in Georgia.  I enjoyed walking and watching the decorated shops, the shoppers and the benches to rest my feet ... I took several pictures of a grassy reindeer before sitting next to him ... but he never spoke to me -:)

Since I was close to the Neiman Marcus store I went into it to admire their Christmas decorations which are always beautiful.  First I stopped at the counter of Maison Francis Kurkdjian perfumes, mostly because of its Armenian name.  Two gentlemen there told me that Francis Kurkdjian was a French Armenian perfumer of repute who had created many famous perfumes.  They sprayed my wrist with a sample that did smell wonderful.  I forgot its name though when they told me that the 2 ounce bottle costs $345! I thought it was safer to admire Christmas decorations ...

There were several lovely ornaments with the Neiman Marcus name.  I was tempted to buy one but since they started at $50 each I passed as I don't have a tree this year anyway.

After walking all around and up and down Neiman Marcus I walked outside and sat on a leather bench facing the store where I talked to someone this time.

A couple was standing nearby.  The lady went inside the store and the man came and sat next to me.  We started talking.  He told me he was a Japanese business man visiting Atlanta and had brought his wife to do some Christmas shopping.  He added that Christmas was big in Japan.  I was surprised as I thought Japan was mostly Buddhist.  Yes he said, we are 99% Buddhist but we all celebrate Christmas.  He added we don't celebrate it for the birth of Jesus Christ or any other religious reasons; we celebrate the mythical Santa Claus that we call Santa-san ((サンタさん .)  He said they also have a Japanese equivalent of Santa Claus.  It is Hoteiosho, a Buddhist monk who gives presents to well behaved children on Christmas morning.  (Later I found pictures.)

He explained that the Japanese love public lights at Christmas time that they call "Illuminations."  Most major cities, hotels, shops, malls, etc., display these incredible lights.  Osaka he said has major light exhibits that people come from afar to enjoy.

Another thing, he added, that would surprise me is that the big Christmas dinner in Japan is traditionally a KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) dinner!  Later, on a French site I found out that in the 1970s when western expats were trying to find chicken or turkey in Japan for the holidays they could only find chicken in the KFC fast food restaurants.  KFC jumped on that and had a huge and aggressive (and rewarding) marketing campaign.  In 2017 the KFC chains sold, between December 23 and 25, 6 billion of yens in chickens (49 million Euros or approx 55 million dollars.)  Close to 4 million Japanese families get their holiday meal from KFC and have to order it months in advance or have to stand in queues for hours, the rest do go to the KFC fast food restaurants to eat.  Some people even think that Colonel Sanders is Santa Claus (pronounced as Santa Kuroosu ((サンタクロース  ) in Japanese.)

The other cultural difference is that Christmas Eve is considered the most romantic night of the year - like St. Valentine Day in western countries.  Couples start making plans months in advance to throw a party or go out to fancy restaurants and nightclubs that are solidly booked.  Hotels are booked as well and stores sell lovers' Christmas gifts while shops have displays of romantic items.

Another interesting fact he added that his American friends find unusual is that for the Japanese traditional Christmas music is not listening to Christmas carols, no, it is to listen to the "daiku."  The daiku I asked?  Yes, it means number nine he replied, we love Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.  But he could not explain anymore as his wife was exiting Neiman Marcus with a shopping bag.  I said good-bye to him and he replied "Merii Kurisumasu" (Merry Christmas in Japanese.)

It certainly had been a fascinating conversation.  But I still had some shopping to do.  I drove back to Nashville at the end of that week and spent Christmas at my youngest daughter's home.  There was a beautiful Christmas tree there with many ornaments and gifts.  The two au pairs, one Chinese the other French, enjoyed their new Nashville Predators' sweatshirts (the Predators are the professional ice hockey team based in Nashville.)

For this post I read more on the Japanese Christmas.  I found out that during World War I, the first performance of Beethoven's Ninth was played by Germans held as prisoners at the Bando POW camp in Tokushima.  The Japanese loved this piece of music and it has become a holiday hit.  Japan goes crazy for the final movement of the symphony "Ode to Joy."  In 2018 Beethoven's Ninth was performed more frequently in Japan than anywhere else in the world.  It received more than 170 performances in Tokyo alone.  The last two weeks of December, Suntory Hall presented 11 sold-out performances and Yomiuri Nippon Hall seven.  It is so beloved by the Japanese that they sing it in choirs (even in German) all around the country.  The Osaka choir called "The Number Nine Chorus" comprises close to 10,000 members who perform it every year.  I found one performance on YouTube.

Many people in the US might complain that is is not right for the Japanese to celebrate Christmas in a non-Christian way.  Well, millions of people in the West celebrate Christmas in a non-religious way as well; they see it as a more cultural event than a religious one.  It is really a winter festival that predates many faiths.  It is about family, friendship, charity, gift giving, kindness, happiness and joy.  Why can't it be shared?  We share the earth, the sea, the rivers and mountains, the trees and wild animals, the sky, sun and stars, even a sunset (such as the one below on Christmas Day from my daughter's window,) so why can't we share a holiday if it makes everyone happy?  It does not take away from those who celebrate it in a religious manner.  We should all be able to share the Yuletide for peace and goodwill to all.

And since we are just a few days to the end of the year, I wish each of you a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

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