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!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Christmas spirit in Nashville and at The Farm

Last weekend we enjoyed Holiday and Christmas festivities in Nashville and rural Tennessee.  Saturday December 7, 2019, was the 92nd Nashville Christmas Parade.  This Christmas Parade has been a yearly tradition in Nashville since 1927.  Elaborate floats and giant helium balloons slowly went down Broadway.  Nashvillians lining the streets applauded 15 high school and university marching bands from nine states:  Tennessee as well as Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Michigan.  I watched the morning parade at home on television and took photos from it (they are not too sharp.)  Click on collage to enlarge.

There were also mass performing groups of singers, dancers and choirs.  A group of 74 dancers from 7 different states came as a single team to perform as America's Clogging All Stars.  They learned their clogging routine through social media and came together to dance in Nashville.

Of course Nashville being "Music City" there were many artists' performances, mostly "country music."

Then the parade ended with a float carrying a waving Santa Claus.

In my last June post "Walking in my Nashville neighborhood..." I explained that my house is located in the Hillsboro-West End section of Hillsboro Village.  Most homes there were built in 1910-1935.  Hillsboro-West End has the largest, cohesive collection of early 20th century houses in all of Nashville.  The neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and much of it is protected by Conservative Zoning.  In 1975 an association, named Hilsboro-West End Neighborhood (HWEN) was founded to preserve its character and enhance the community.  On that Saturday and Sunday they offered "A Holiday in Hillsboro Village," with 30-minute tour rides to see festive homes decked in holiday decorations, proceeds going back to preserving the neighborhood.  They urged the community to place lights and decorations outdoor around their homes.  I did not have any in Nashville so I ordered some and paid extra shipping so they would get to me in time.  I also volunteered to serve cookies and hot cider at the hospitality center before the start of the tours.

Early on Saturday afternoon my daughter and grandchildren came to help me decorate the house.  The decorations I had ordered never showed up.  As I was leaving to go to the hospitality center my daughter was driving to the village hardware store to buy some outdoor Christmas lights.  At the hospitality center cookies and hot cider had been brought on a long table but I was the only one there serving all the riders before their tour.  I was quite busy from 3:30 pm to 7:00 pm.  Then I met with my daughter and her family to take a ride on the "Jolly Trolley" as the horse and carriage tours had been sold out.  There were no windows in the trolley and a bit nippy!  A young country singer with a guitar lead the passengers into singing Christmas carols as we passed many homes decked in dazzling illuminations.

Walking back to my house after the ride I took more pictures of the decorated houses as I went by.  I almost passed by my house as there were many lights there and I did not recognize it.  My daugher had done well with little decorations and time.  My house is shown on the bottom extreme right of the collage below.

On Monday morning I tried for several hours to find out what had happened to my decoration package.  Finally I talked to a human who told me that it had been delivered.  I then checked with the delivery service and was told that it had indeed been delivered on Saturday morning and they sent me a picture.  I recognized the white wall and baby stroller from my next door neighbors (the ones who kept trespassing in my back yard last summer during their garage update.)  I looked and there was an opened package on their front porch.  The babysitter was outside and I asked her if it was mine - my name and address were on the box.  When I asked why they did not let me know or bring me the package, she answered that they were all busy people and certainly did not have the time to fuss with packages.  When I told her I saw them walking outside during the weekend and even going on strolls, she gave me a bad look  and said that they must not know my address.  Really?  Mine is the same street as them with just a number down?  I thought that the holidays brought the best in people ... well, not this time.  It showed pettiness and Christmas no-spirit, no kindness, don't you think so?

I did find plenty of kindness and friendliness on Sunday December 8th, 2019, at The Farm.  My daughter, grandchildren and I decided to drive to Summertown, Tennessee, about 1 1/2 hours down from Nashville where The Farm is located.  That weekend they were having The Farm School Holiday Bazaar with all proceeds to benefit the school.  My two youngest grandchildren attend one of The Farm School satellite campus in Brentwood.  My late husband and I visited The Farm several times to see our friends from San Francisco (click here and here to read about it.)  Their site says "The Farm is an intentional community of families and friends living on three square miles in southern middle Tennessee, founded on the principles of nonviolence and respect for the earth.  We started The Farm in 1971 with the goal of establishing a strongly cohesive, outwardly-directed community.  We want, by action and example, to have a positive effect on the world."  In 1970, 300 hippies from San Francisco lead a caravan of old school buses across the country.  They settled on 1,750 acres of land in Summertown, TN, and created a commune which has now evolved into an "intentional community."  It is the oldest commune in the USA.  The bazaar was in two school buildings.

For lunch we shared a small pizza.  While we waited for it the three grandsons were actively tree climbing.

They were still hungry, so we went to the kitchen in the Solar School that had been transformed into a cafe with beverages, desserts and more.  Live music was being played there by local talent.  My grandson ordered a large burrito.

Then we walked back to various rooms in the building where vendors from throughout Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia offered unique gifts.  Local artisans from the surrounding area also brought one of a kind stained glass, tie-dye clothing, pottery, plants, jewelry, knitted woolens, handmade dolls, hats, scarves, books, ornaments, posters with quotations and more.

A Santa was selling attractive photographs.  The vendors donate a percentage of their sales to The Farm School.

An older gentleman was selling little pewter figurines that he had crafted.  I bought a tiny camel to add to my collection.  I walked outside, looking at the solar school painted walls as I passed by, then waited for the family.

While I waited for my daughter and grandchildren at the Hippy Gift Shop, I took some pictures of the old school buses that had been stationed there since the 1970s (part of the 80 buses that had left San Francisco.)  They showed their age.

The Farm community, now with a couple hundred of residents, mostly baby boomers (some younger, some older,) with some having lived there all their lives, has survived and prospered as a free-thinking community.  I talked to more people there in an afternoon, all friendly and kind, than in Nashville in more than a month.  But it was time to get back to Nashville and get ready for my upcoming return to Georgia.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

In search of fall colors in Tennessee and Georgia

On the week-end of November 10, 2019, in search of fall colors, I drove to a small park called Beaman Park, about 15 miles northwest from downtown Nashville, Tennessee.  It covers 1,678 acres of natural areas, mostly ridges and hollows.

The Nature Center has a back patio (pictured in the heading) and a boardwalk.  Rocking chairs are provided so you can observe the steep wooded hills below.  It was a sunny Saturday afternoon, a bit cool - low 50s F (11 C.)  I encountered no one on the patio or on the boardwalk.

I sat in one of the rockers for a while.  The deck is perched high above the forest floor as Beaman Park is located on the edge of the Western Highland Rim.

I drove to another area of the park, to the trail heads.  There are three hiking trails, one of them following an old logging road with rugged hills and a shallow stream.  It was getting late afternoon - lots of shade.  The colors of the leaves were not very bright, though. (Please click on collage to enlarge.)

The following week, on Sunday 12 November, 2019, I drove south to Georgia.  I usually exit the freeway, I-75, at the Red Top Mountain Road exit.  Then it is about 8 miles to my house.  But if you turn left from the exit and cross a little bridge over Lake Allatoona, it is only a mile to the entrance of Red Top Mountain State Park.  Since it was warm and about 3:30 pm I decided to try my luck at fall foliage there.  My late husband and I often visited the park and I showed photos of it in several posts - here is a post from 2013: "Fall color at Lake Allatoona".  Then I drove up the hill to the park.

I parked by the Visitors' Center and petted a friendly dog near a bench.  Then I walked up a small trail.  Many dead leaves and branches.  As soon as there is a clearing though, pine trees grow like weeds in Georgia, and they are ever so green!  The fall colors were not as vivid as in prior years - could be because of the drought or the early frost, or a bit late in the season.

The sun was about gone and in this wooded area the colors were subdued.  I sat on a nice round rock and thought for a while.  Am not sure what about but I'll find some "thought" to write below.

"Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn."  - Elizabeth Lawrence,1904-1985, garden writer.

On Monday the weather was quite pleasant again, full sun and 66 F (18.8C.)  Driving to the grocery store I decided to drive the extra mile to one of the Cobb County Parks.  The entrance was promising with intense red trees along the road.

Unfortunately by the time I arrived at the lake it looked like the promise from the entrance had not been kept.  The lake was deserted, peaceful and placid but did not show much fall color.

Walking on the trail near the lake, I saw more pine trees and several little bushes with colored leaves.  The leaves from the couple of large trees there looked as though they had been burnt by the sun then frozen in place by the early frost.  The color palette was more in the shades of brown:  tawny, caramel, russet, cinnamon and gingerbread than gold.

I gave up looking for golden foliage and sat on the bench close to a small stream running into the lake, and recalled..."Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts."  Rachel Carson, 1904-1967, American conservationist.

That evening, I did find color; the colors of the sunset behind my neighbor's pine trees.

But I did not give up.  I had visited a state park, a county park and now with the sun still shining brightly I decided to drive to a city park.  The Roswell Old Mill Park is not far.  Vickery Creek waterfall, near the ruins of the mill, pours from a historic spillway dam and is gorgeous in any season.  The creek is a Chattahoochee River tributary.  The waterfall is not visible from the entrance to the park and is not advertized.  There are few visitors during mid-week.  I walked along the creek loving the rustling sounds of the water as it rushes over the rocks.

Once by the waterfall I sat on a huge rock and just listened to the appeasing sounds of the falling water.  It had not been an easy walk along the stony trail and I was pleased to sit for a while.  There was no one around - a good place for meditation.  I thought about a quotation from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the francophone Swiss philosopher: Jamais je n'ai tant pensé, tant existé, tant vécu, tant été moi, si j'ose ainsi dire, que dans les voyages que j'ai fait seul et à pied.”  /Never did I think so much, existed so vividly, and experienced so much, never have I been so much myself, so to speak, as in the journeys I have taken alone and on foot."  Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1712-1778, Philosopher.

The next few days I had to forget my search for fall foliage color and concentrate on keeping clearing out the house.  Although, the sun was still shining and I happened to look out through the screen of the kitchen window.  My backyard is on its way to becoming a true jungle forest now that my husband is not there to trim the English ivy vines.  Still, it looked like there was some rich fall color there.

The temptation to step outside was too strong - so I went out and took more photos...even walking closer to the lake in the back.

It was time now to get ready to drive back to Nashville where the fall foliage is not in its full glory any longer but where the temperature is cooler and more like fall.

"Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall."  F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1896-1940, American writer

Now I'll end with my best and sincere greetings to each of you for a very Happy Thanksgiving!

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