They say Freedom comes with a price. The concept isn’t an easy one to grasp since we are always redefining what Freedom means to us. People aren’t static, they are living and life means change, growth, and decay. Where do all these ideas come from if all we are are our bodies? But we are more than that. We are sacred.
I went out last night in Atlantida, Uruguay, leaving my home at 11:30pm, or, rather, 23:30. The sun sets now around 21:00 and rises around 6:00. We are currently on Daylight Savings Time, at -2:00. Some call it Amazon Time. So 23:30 here was 8:30 in New York and Boston, where the hoopla was just starting.
I suppose it’s cold there, in my former home of Watertown, Massachusetts. Folks have to be careful driving on ice. We have some of that commercialism here and a few of the stores were packed with long lines at the register. Only a couple of our stores broadcast Muzak, thankfully, or have statues of Santa greeting customers.
I was amazed at the lack of Christmas decorations. Where I lived in the USA, there was so much “holiday cheer” that it was sickening. My landlady here is one of the few in Atlantida who has Christmas lights in her door. I’ve seen very few Christmas trees.
At 23:30, I decided to go out and see the fireworks. I didn’t bring Puzzle with me cuz I figured she’d be scared. But honestly I think with all the popping around, perhaps she was uncomfortable staying home alone.
The night was warm. I tried walking down Artigas toward La Rambla, then turned onto Cuidad de Montevideo. Around the intersection with Rep de Chile, I saw some folks gathered. Someone was doing something in the middle of the street. He was bent down. Then, he ran off to join the others.
In the spot where he’d been fussing, sparks shot up, up, up and erupted into bursts in the sky. Popping sounds surrounded me. I quickened my pace, moving away from the noise and explosions. I turned back onto Artigas.
The street was marvelously empty. A lone couple passed me walking arm in arm. I nodded to them but they were engaged in Spanish conversation I didn’t understand.
I passed by one of the bakeries, or, rather, panaderias, which was closed up for the night. Their parking lot was empty. Just beyond, I saw a man bending over. I thought he was looking for a lost coin. I told myself if only I could speak Spanish, I could ask him if he’d lost a ring or if he needed help searching for whatever valuable he was frantically seeking.
Maybe he was seeking God, or meaning.
But I reminded myself that Freedom comes with a price. I walked past, then turned to see what he was doing. He got up and walked away rather quickly.
All at once, the spot where he’d been searching (so I thought) erupted in sparkles and thunderclaps. More sparkly stuff shot up. Boom! Boom! I told myself this was a loud one. A large one. Did he even anticipate that a pedestrian might be walking past? Or was I stupid to be out on such a night? Boom! Boom!
Silent night. Holy night.
I didn’t turn onto the highway at Plaza de la Madre, but headed up Ave Circunvalencion, toward the Liceo. The popping became more frequent. I turned to see what was happening in the homes. Some folks were enjoying parties. I suppose the folks in the darker, silent homes were either at another party or trying to sleep. Or maybe these homes were vacant, their owners hungry for tourists to rent them. Many, indeed, had “Aquilar” posted out front.
I tried to walk past the Liceo. Not a chance. A line of young people, teens I suppose, stood out there and I knew they were blowing off more firecrackers. I walked around the school and took a side street to the Interbalnearea.
This major highway was completely devoid of vehicles. I saw no buses, even though I know I’ve walked past here and seen the bus stops crowded late into the wee hours. Tonight, on this holiday some consider sacred, those bus stops had been abandoned. No buses. No cars. I saw no cops. After about ten minutes’ walking along the Auxiliary Road, a lone ambulance or rescue vehicle whisked past without playing its siren, and tore eastward along the abandoned Interbal.
You would think, then, that all would be silent, with no cars nor people around. No, hardly. The popping increased to a feverish mania.
I could have been in a battlefield. The sound of machine guns surrounding me. Up ahead, I saw it just in time. Some teens set off a firecracker in the middle of the Auxiliary Road. Damn good thing I saw it and turned around, hurrying away as it exploded.
I reminded myself there was no need to be scared, though perhaps being out on such a night wasn’t the best idea. Especially alone. I was now headed westward, but I was hesitant to pass the Liceo again. The popping and firecrackers display made the USA Fourth of July look and sound like kids’ play. Even the Boston Pops concert on the Charles River paled by comparison.
And no, the quieter, more private and less pricy north side pf the IB wasn’t quiet tonight. While I walked on the south side, on the other side of the highway were higher and more elaborate sparkles in the sky. The grass is always greener. Especially since it’s summer here.
I remembered that under the bridge where Ruta 11 crosses over is a teen hangout. I told myself maybe I shouldn’t be walking past there. But I saw no kids, no people hanging out at all. I laughed, then knowing they couldn’t shoot firecrackers under an overpass, so they wouldn’t want to use this hangout. Silent night.
I walked all the way past Tienda Inglesas, of course, closed up for the night. The Petrobas gas station also was closed, open only to those who had credit cards to use at the pumps. I followed Calle 11, hoping it was safe from mischievous kids. Something told me again perhaps I shouldn’t have ventured out, but the warmth of the night comforted me and I felt rather secure. Now, midnight had passed, and the popping machine gun noise was calming down. Less frequent, coming to a close.
I didn’t hear the churches ring bells. I haven’t heard mention of Jesus or “Senior” as they sometimes say, referring to Jesus.
That I know of, we have only two churches in town. One is a Jehovah Witness meeting place, and I know the Witnesses do not celebrate the holiday. The Catholic church of course does. But I have heard not one familiar Carol. No Jingle Bells. No Little Town of Bethlehem. Yesterday, I saw cashiers wearing Santa hats at one of the stores. They seemed to regard this as a bit too silly.
And above all, no snow. No snowmen. No White Christmas here.
All at once, I wanted to shout out, “No! This is not my country!” But I didn’t. I wanted to be home now, holding Puzzle and comforting her. Surely, she must be spooked by this. Why had I left her alone?
I passed by a home and saw a Christmas tree in the window. The family was gathered around their dinner. Norman Mailer picture perfect. For whatever reason, I found this scene immensely relieving.
I walked a few more blocks. I saw the pharmacist, an older guy who works at the pharmacy on Calle 11, closing up shop for the night, perhaps his wife with him, headed elsewhere. I wanted to wave but didn’t. I’d gone there looking for calculator batteries only two days ago.
I prayed for peace, for love, for understanding. All at once, I had arrived back at my apartment.
I opened my door, stepped inside, and felt such marvel at what was before me. Nothing had changed. No one had come to do an illegal search. No one was here to drag me off to some hospital or holding place. Puzzle had been asleep, and rose to greet me. I gave her a pat. Yes, I have come to Home Sweet Home at last.
The four walls that surrounded me in Watertown that was my apartment sure didn’t make a home. It was more like a prison. Home is a place where you are wanted and loved and feel secure and safe. I never had that in Watertown, not since 2008. Here, in this place where Navidad is so different, I am okay, safe, and free.
They say Freedom comes with a price. Watertown must have had over 20 churches in four square miles. Here, not one charity group nor church people came to me this season asking for money. In the USA, they spoke of Christmas around the world. What a dumb, ethnocentric idea. I doubt Santa made it past the equator, and had he slipped down anyone’s chimney here, he would have been considered an intruder. Here, if you want to alert those inside of your presence, you clap your hands outside the door. Santa needs to learn our customs or I guess he’s not wanted here. No wonder the cashiers were laughing over “Ho ho ho.” The joke’s on the rest of the world.
Late at night, I held Puzzle in my arms while she slept peacefully through the remainder of the fireworks. I, too, fell asleep soon after I lay down. I made sure both of us were on the inside of my mosquito net. And then, we lay curled up together, like mother and child.
Merry Christmas, everyone.