Feliz Navidad

We flew from Denver to Atlanta on Sunday night to see Dave’s cousin Muriel, whom we hadn’t seen in ten years and three kids. I thought it would be disconcerting, to take off on a runway passing the half-burned shell of a Continental Airlines 737 that had gone off the runway the night before, but I think that runway is not in use. I wonder if they cover the plane with a sheet, as if it were a corpse?

Our flight arrived a few minutes ahead of schedule on Sunday night after a clear flight behind a cold front. We flew right over Wichita and Memphis, actually north of them so I had a good view out the right side of the plane, although the GPS didn’t have enough satellites to track after about Kansas. But nobody told me to put it away. I was sort of hiding the box. My flyer profiles on Travelocity and Expedia show I want a window seat.

Renting the car was an odd experience. The National guy said that we could go out to the lot and pick any car we wanted from the section marked “Compact”. The first car we picked, a blue fluid level warning light came on immediately so we switched to a Kia Rondo which is actually closer to a van but nobody said anything when we exited the airport. (They tried to charge us for an upgrade when we gave it back, but Dave said no.)

We drove directly to our Motel Studio 6 in Duluth, Georgia, which is a super place. $51, taxes included, gets you a room with a kitchenette.

The next day we met Muriel and her husband Carlos and their children Anthony, Johnny, and Andrew. They live in the New New South: the Korean grocery is called Supermercado La Fiesta. It’s Obama country all over, except for some conservative military families of Mexican origin. Muriel teaches Spanish reading and writing to native Spanish speakers who only know English orthography, and Spanish to native English speakers.

“After about two days, the students always ask me: ‘Who are you? Who are you? Where do you come from, how did you come to be here, white blonde Kansas girl teaching Spanish to African Americans and Vietnamese?'”

She sounds like a dream teacher. For her lesson on reflexive verbs, which largely relate to personal care, she darkened the classroom, entered in her pajamas, and when an alarm clock went off, she went through a whole routine of getting up in the morning, while reciting the whole litany of what she was doing. Even had her hair wet when she re-entered the room after a “shower” and used a hair dryer.

She told us how she could tell the difference between English speakers who had cheated by having native speakers do their homework, and those who had cheated by using Google Translate.

Muriel can’t teach using Lotería cards because “Negrito” is offensive. Even Obama’s Georgia is not quite over itself, yet.

Anthony is the coolest kid. He has been diagnosed borderline autistic, which is the diagnosis to have, in 2008. If Tycho Brahe or Évariste Galois were kids today, they would totally be on Risperdal. The whole family took a walk around the lake to feed stale bread to los gansos, the flock of aggressive geese who could profit from a pony hit of Ritalin themselves. We looked at the funny little vertical ice crystals which form under pebbles and sand on freezing nights. On the way back I remembered to turn on my GPS to plot my track home. After we had been in the house about five minutes, Anthony announced to Muriel that he was “going for a walk with Ray and the GPS”.

So we did that. Anthony held the GPS and made a waypoint called “Anthony”. Muriel probably will think that we bonded, but he bonded with the machine. He is no dummy.

That night, we all got in the car to go see the local instance of Christmas Tree Lane. When we got off the freeway, we were probably five miles from it and the traffic was simply not moving. It took 20 minutes to get across the freeway after turning left at the top of the diamond interchange. It was plainly not going to happen, so we got back on the freeway in the other direction and Anthony started crying and screaming it wasn’t fair. In 2008 this counts as a diagnostic element.  Of course Muriel would rather he not cry and scream, but it’s important to keep a sense of justice alive for as long as you can.

And so to Buenos Aires. We flew on Delta to Miami in the afternoon of December 23, and after a four hour layover, including a “meal” in a “hotel” “restaurant” at MIA (about like the Olive Garden at twice the price, i.e. frozen microwaved portion controlled TV dinners in decent surroundings), on to Buenos Aires on the red eye. Since it’s a LAN flight, i.e. Chilean, they can fly over Cuba. Also, I noticed on the departure screens that there are direct flights to Cuba on some Continental subsidiary. Who gets to do that? Is Obama going to put a halt to this madness, or was part of his deal for not having Florida stolen from him like it was stolen from Gore, that he continues this infantile national refusal to acknowledge the government of Cuba which is older than he is?

We arrived in summer.