Frame of Reference

FRAME OF REFERENCE

 

It is surely the worst kind of betrayal for me to watch these grey-clad women, knowing they can never look back through the one-way window and pass judgement in return. They sit along the wooden benches, ripping through piles of fish and tossing away the entrails. Their fingers flick as swiftly as their tongues and they rarely pause to gaze down, so practised are their hands. The gloomy hut is rank with the smell of newly-dead herring. As I watch them work, I breathe swift thanks for my cavalier location in the twenty-first century.

The women nearest to me are in deep shadow. Those further away are illuminated by the light flooding through the crude window in a dazzling arc and splashing onto the floor below. I have never before seen such luminous paint and I wander past the picture several times, hoping to catch it off guard and fathom the secret of its liquid brilliance.

I am in this art gallery in the nothing time of a Copenhagen Sunday afternoon simply to avoid the nothing time of my empty apartment. I should have gone where there were more people and less silence. I take one final look at the painting then walk along the passage to a small statue gallery where a young woman moves confidently across the honeyed wooden floor in the warm spring sunshine. She shakes her parasol into flirtatious folds, delighted to be walking once more beneath the creamy blossoms after a long, cold winter. I stand in the shade of the nearest cherry tree and watch her glide noiselessly across the grass and sink onto a wooden bench. She drapes her skirt folds attractively and observes the passers-by under shaded eyelids as I shelter helplessly under my branch, no more able to move towards than run from her.

Three pre-school children tumble through the far door in a flurry of giggles and half-unzipped snowsuits which remind me that spring has been reluctant to arrive this year. As the children’s carers marshal them wearily along one side of the gallery, I leave by the far door, propelled unresisting on the current of their vitality. I ought to look for Andreas. I met him in a bar last night, hitchhiking defiantly from Sweden to Spain to recover from the break up with his girlfriend and unable, he told me, to pass an art gallery without exploring it. I am generally ambivalent about the half-life of galleries but the morning drizzle and the city being draped in its usual Sunday slumber tempted me to accept his invitation to join him here.

I find him at last in a room devoted to ancient and rather sour royalty. He is inspecting an ornate gold frame rather sceptically and frowning but smiles when he sees me. ‘I did not find you before. What have you seen?’

I hesitate. ‘I saw one amazing picture and a statue I’m not yet sure about. How about you?’

He shrugs. ‘It was definitely worth travelling all this way from Kiruna for the architecture of the museum but I have found no picture yet that speaks to me. You must show me what you have discovered.’

I am not sure that I want to share my finds but the exhibits are public and anyone can see them. I turn and lead him towards the gallery where the girl is still waiting for me. I hesitate inside the archway but he takes my elbow and edges me closer to her. We stand in silence as the clock inside my head breathes off the seconds and I watch him rather than the statue. I already know all I need to about her.

‘You are right, she is indeed very beautiful,’ he says.

‘I didn’t say that. I said I wasn’t sure about her.’

He laughs. ‘Seriously – you don’t think she is beautiful?’

‘Maybe on the outside. A little too perfect, perhaps, but you can never tell what’s on the inside.’

He seems genuinely curious. ‘And so, we are to assume the worst?’

‘Of course not, but appearances aren’t everything, are they?’ I force myself to resist the easy jibe simply because he is a man.

He looks at her again. ‘Appearances can of course deceive. In real life, you can come to know someone in time, to see what is underneath. But this is a statue. Whatever is there to be known is all on the surface, surely?’

I shake my head. ‘Not necessarily. The artist must have wanted us to look deeper or there’d be no point in all his work.’

He stretches out a hand and allows one thoughtful finger to trace her eyelid, then opens a water lily palm to cup her pale cheek more sensuously. My visceral reaction shocks me. I have a sudden violent urge to slap his hand away, to scream at him for his male blindness. ‘God, she’s a bitch!’ I exclaim, to purge the bitterness that surges through my mouth.

His shoulders erupt into shocked laughter. ‘No, indeed, you cannot seriously think that. She is just as you or me.’ He takes my shoulders and forces me to face her full on.

‘She’s nothing like me,’ I say flatly. ‘Can’t you see that smirk? She looks as though butter wouldn’t melt but all the time she’s watching …’

He interrupts my venom. ‘Why should she not?’

I change tack, unwilling to appear any more irrational. ‘Just look at her dress. You can tell she doesn’t work for her living. l bet she’s never had to get her hands dirty in her life.’

He is shaking his head in bewilderment. ‘She is not smirking. She is trying desperately to please those around her, and have you noticed she is all alone?’

‘Aren’t we all?’ I snap, regretting it instantly as his face folds shut. ‘I’m so sorry, Andreas. I didn’t mean this to get personal but you can’t be sure she’s alone. She’s probably waiting for someone.’

‘Aren’t we all?’ he asks and grins at my discomfiture. ‘I’m sorry but I think you are a bit hard on her. It’s not her fault she is so beautiful. To me, she simply looks lonely. Is she waiting perhaps for someone who never turns up?’

‘Because he’s with his wife,’ I say reflexively.

He smiles and tips his head to look at her more closely. ‘You think he is not free to be with her, so they are to meet one last time to say goodbye?’

‘With that smug smile? She’s waiting here for him to tell his wife it’s over and then he’ll come to her.’

He shrugs and spreads out his hands. ‘I’m not helping, am I?’

‘I didn’t ask for help.’

I take his elbow and draw him back through the gallery to my picture. He gazes at it for a long moment. ‘It is certainly … interesting,’ he says.

‘Isn’t it?’ I ask eagerly.

He smiles. ‘Not the picture itself but it is interesting you are drawn to this one when to me it seems so … colourless.’

‘Colourless? But look at the light,’ I urge, dragging him forward as though this one tiny step will make a difference to his perspective. ‘Doesn’t it give you hope?’

‘Hope for what?’ he asks, pushing his hands deeper into his pockets.

‘For … them … for their situation. You must see it!’ I insist, half-laughing at his frustrating obtuseness.

‘No. I would hate to be in their situation, working all day in a cold hut for a few kroner, pulling the insides out of fish with my bare hands.’

I consider his viewpoint as I study the picture anew. The sun seems lower in the sky and no longer tumbles through the window to warm the women’s pale cheeks. I watch the youngest woman heave the last of the carcasses onto the pallet and wipe her red hands on her woollen dress. She tugs at the splintered latch with raw hands and scrapes open the door. The late afternoon sun shines in golden bars through the grey clouds. November air whips coolly around her ankles and the exposed skin of her neck and she shivers. ‘I saw it as a summer’s day,’ I tell Andreas. ‘You’re spoiling it for me.’

He stands his ground. ‘For that I am very sorry,’ he says quietly, ‘but I am looking at it with my own eyes and I see what I see.’

I frown. ‘This is exactly why I don’t like being taken to museums – the burden of other people’s self-expression.’

‘Perhaps because you only see through other people’s eyes? Next time you should come alone and make your own judgements.’ He glances at his watch. ‘I am sorry but I really have to go now. My train is leaving.’

‘Good luck,’ I say, willing him to leave quickly.

He lifts his hand in a casual salute and smiles. His footsteps rap lightly through the gallery and flick away to silence. I return to my picture and watch carefully until the summer sun climbs higher in the sky and pours through the window once more onto the captive workers.

I turn away quickly before the light can change and move reluctantly across the gallery and down the passage to where the statue waits for me. This time, I do not hide in the doorway or under the trees but walk towards her. When I look directly into her face, I am surprised to see a faint blush on her cheek. I glance down and see her nervous fingers clutching the yellow-ribboned handle. Instinctively, I reach towards her then lower my hand and leave her standing there, trapped in her marble moment, cherry blossom tumbling softly down around her head.

 

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Writing about friends and family

I have long written about friends and family. What writer has not? The description need not be perfectly specific to anyone, but how could we possibly write about people in general without including those we have met with over the course of our exemplary or misspent lives?

People are not a homogeneous mass, to be written about in one lump as we consider those things which make us all human. People are a glorious mish-mash of quirks, eccentricities and downright oddities. As a species, we want pretty much the same things. I have learned this very clearly during my years of moving around the world and living in different cultures. It is undeniable but we definitely go about getting those things in very different ways.

Even when I do resist the temptation to put friends or family members into my novels, I am wasting mental energy. They will see themselves in there anyway. ‘But why did I have blonde hair in your book?’ a friend will ask me, puzzled, having decided that the overdrawn caricature of a shriekig socialite is based entirely on their introvert, retiring self. I never respond in detail on these occasions because denial only gives offence. I have come to understand that people would rather be immortalised in print than not, however unflattering the portrait.

Everyone is convinced that any writer they know will naturally include them in their work. They see themselves in every line and are rarely insulted, however awful the portrait, just as long as you get their hair and weight right. Woe betide the character I write as a size twelve who faintly resembles a friend who wears a size ten. No amount of, ‘But, Hilde, you aren’t a Spanish portrait painter!’ will ever convince your German gym teacher friend that you have not grossly misrepresented them. Friendships have been shattered for less.

I did once model a character on a particular acquaintance because she really had informed every line I wrote, not too flatteringly, I must admit. I hesitated for a while, before changing her hair and giving her glasses. She loved the book and never once saw herself in it. It may be that we all only identify with those we see as positive characters, and the likeness was indeed speaking …

My latest book is about a family of three children. I have loosely based it on myself and my siblings, used our childhood home and written about some of the things we used to do. However, these are simply the skeletons of people, the structure of a family. My three characters are definitely not us, not that anyone will ever believe that, least of all my siblings. They have even had me change the names and descriptions of their fictional partners because they would never date someone like that. I have obliged as far as possible but am still resigned to giving offence, although to my mind, the descriptions have been quite flattering and the characters I have created are pleasant enough.

I have only ever had a trouble-free experience  with loved ones when I have written about my cats. They remained just as loving and unruffled as ever even when I wrote about them as fat, duplicitous, greedy and self-centred. In point of fact, they were all these things but I still loved them to distraction and my life has never been quite the same without them. I definitely appreciated their pragmatic approach. Did my writing about their defining characteristics mean that they received one less bowl of food or cuddle? If not, then what did they care? If only people were as simple to deal with.

Dick King Smith may have been onto something when he decided to write about animals. Maybe my next plot line should be about a cat whose best friend is a dog as and they open a pet food store together. No feelings will be hurt, no sensibilities ruffled. No delegation of local felines will turn up on my doorstep with a petition for me to rewrite them as slimmer and less fluffy – and you know the Man Booker people are going to want to talk to me when it’s finished.

In the meantime, I will continue with my career of giving offence to those to whom it was never intended and insulting others with impunity. I should also finish this post quickly. I have a phone call I need to make to a writer friend, whose one-eyed, nearly bald South American mass murderer needs a little work before I am prepared to accept it as an entirely accurate portrait of me. I must say, though, I’m very flattered that she cares enough about me to put me into print.

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Half a cake is better than no cake

Yesterday was the first day of the school year. Since my five were small, I have baked a cake on the first and last days of term. Chocolate cake, Victoria sponge, carrot cake, coffee and walnut cake – you name it, they requested it. At one point, I was cooking for four teenagers and a toddler, plus assorted friends with the ability to smell baking from several miles away. A cake or a batch of cookies disappeared within ten minutes of their arriving home – inhaled rather than swallowed and never affecting their appetite for dinner.

But the baking of the twice-termly cakes was different, at least for me. It became a punctuation to the school year, a marker that celebrated their school releasing them for a while and a sad acceptance that it would reclaim them again all too soon. Holidays were always the best, the messiest and the noisiest times and I still hate their ending.

And yesterday marked the beginning of yet another school year. I pulled out the baking tins and recipe books as usual, then stopped. Almost without noticing it, our resident family has shrunk over the past few years. Now that our fourth child has left home, only the eight year old is still here. Without him I might not even have known that the schools were back. Looking at the familiar recipes, they suddenly seemed all wrong. The pictures of large and lavishly-decorated cakes only highlighted the painful fact that our family has shrunk and the house is much quieter nowadays. I almost gave up the tradition on the spot in a burst of self-pity.

Eventually, after much thought, I baked half a cake. It looked odd and sad when finished. But our youngest deserves to experience the same traditions as the older children, even if he can’t demolish a cake with the same swiftness as the four of them working as a team. When it was finally assembled, I looked at the half-a-cake sitting forlornly on the plate, as though bemusedly wondering where its other half was, just as I sometimes wonder where the rest of my family went. I breathed in the familiar scent of vanilla and sugar. My daughter always said her newborn baby brother smelled of vanilla cookie and cake crumbs. They were clearly some of her favourite smells and he was one of her favourite things.

The afternoon passed very slowly as I counted the minutes until school pick up and felt the pain and the pleasure of nostalgia for things which had been and which would never come again, at least not in the same form.

Until our youngest burst triumphantly through the front door, fresh from a day back with his friends and the excitement of a new class. He dived straight into the cake, just as his brothers and sister always had. No gloomy cobwebs of memory and regrets can hang around for long under the onslaught of young energy and a face smeared with cream and jam. He was purely, blissfully in the moment and so, after a second, was I.

Those cakes of years gone by were very wonderful. They punctuated our family’s year and helped soothe disappointing grades and broken friendships. They highlighted achievements and eased the transition back to school each term. But so too was this cake equally wonderful. It served the same purpose for our youngest as for his siblings. It highlighted the fun of a new year ahead. It gave me the same chance to connect and share in the rhythm of his life as it always had with theirs. Half a cake, a whole cake, it doesn’t really matter. It connected the past and the future, smelled of vanilla and sugar and gave my son and me a moment to share together, a joyful celebration of the fact that life does move on and change and that the joy is often in the change as much as in the continuity.

HalfACake

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My Writing Process

Thanks to Elise Abram for introducing me to this blog hop. It is a new concept to me but sounds a great idea.

Elise Abram, B.A. B.Ed., M.Ed

Teacher of English and Computer Studies by day, wife and mother by night and author whenever she can steal some time, Elise is the proud author of Phase Shift, The Mummy Wore Combat Boots, and Throwaway Child, available on Amazon and KoboBooks. She pens a blog about literature, popular culture and the human condition whenever the muse moves her.

Elise’s fourth book, a young adult paranormal thriller entitled The Revenant will be released in eBook and in print on July 10, 2014 by Black Rose Writing.

Connect with Elise at http://www.eliseabram.com

 

So, back to the set of questions we have been asked to consider

What am I currently working on?

I am currently writing a novel about Emma, a young woman who receives a parcel after her grandmother’s death. It contains a hand-painted glass Christmas ornament. With no idea where it originally came from or why it was sent to her, Emma decides to take a break from her unsatisfactory and directionless life and set off to trace the origins of this gift.

In the process she travels to Venice, discovers a previously un-guessed at part of her grandmother’s history, reconnects with her sister and begins to make sense of her somewhat fraught relationship with her mother. By the end of the novel she is finally able to understand the meaning of family ties and see that the myriad of tiny connections that bind families together have a meaning beyond anything she has yet acknowledged.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My first four novels are loosely connected by the theme of a British woman who, through circumstances or by choice, moves abroad. I have sent these women to countries in which I have lived for some number of years. I hope that the flavour of the different countries and cultures comes over strongly and adds something to the novels. You gain something by living in a place that can never be experiences simply by holidaying there.

The novels are light women’s fiction. The first of them The Cnnamon Snail, is set in Copenhagen, where I currently live.

http://amzn.to/UXJUJp

http://amzn.to/1iUiadT

It was reviewed by The Copenhagen Post http://bit.ly/1puSPwJ

Why do I write what I do?

I write for pure enjoyment. I wrote my first novel, When Winter Comes, out this autumn,as a semi-autobiographical novel, as so many authors do. It seems that we may all have to get our own story out of the way before we can write other people’s stories. But after that I began to write for fun. I write when an idea pops into my mind. Sometimes I expand it into an entire novel, sometimes a children’s book and sometimes just a short story. If I didn’t enjoy writing, I wouldn’t do it. I love to create new worlds and characters and get a glimpse into other people’s stories through my own imagination. The characters can be become so real that I dream about them and even think about searching for them on facebook!

How does your writing process work?

I write every day. I am very disciplined about sitting down at the same time in the same place and writing something. I usually start with emails, to warm up my writing brain, then move onto my blog and any small pieces I might be working on. After about an hour, my creative brain kicks in and I can get on with writing my novels. I aim for 2000 words a day. I often fall short but on a good day can write up to 5000. The consistency of approach is what helps me and most days I will get at least half a chapter written.

Thank you if you have managed to read this far. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments. Don’t forget to take a look at the next authors on the blog hop. So far I have Kay Camden and Laura Berg. Their profiles are below. They will be blogging sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Kay Camden is the author of THE ALIGNMENT and is currently working on its sequel, THE TWO, which will be released at the end of the summer. She lives with her husband, two children, and three cats in the middle of the U.S.A. next to a big river. She’s always on the lookout for a good love story. Other interests include learning the Irish language and listening to a lot of EBM/industrial/synthpop electronica and dark/progressive/hardcore metal the only way those types of music are meant to be played: LOUD. Learn more about Kay and her books atkaycamden.com

Laura is a German currently living in Denmark. A risk professional by day, she enjoys writing and working on her blog as an outlet for her creativity. After graduating from university with a Masters degree in business, she worked in financial consulting across Europe, which led to many hours spent on planes and in airports. She recently decided to slow down and take a day job in Denmark, working for a large investment bank. She lives with her boyfriend in Copenhagen and is continuously trying to persuade him to get a dog.

Laura has always been keen on expressing herself, and she has written a blog before to chronicle her experiences in two semesters spent abroad in Paris and New Orleans. After moving to Copenhagen, she decided to start another blog about life as an expat in Denmark. She also freelances on the side, mostly about travelling or expat topics.

 

http://thecopenhagentales.com

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When Summer seems to be the hardest word

In Denmark, we look forward to the summer. We really do. We endure six hour days in December and the sort of vitamin D deficiency that would only seriously be cured by eating a whole raw seal. So we watch anxiously for the first spring rays. And occasionally the sun does actually appear. I suspect the locals have some secret spring ritual that they perform in the quiet of their living rooms, one involving candles, animal sacrifice and possibly some special dance. I’ve never asked. I don’t really want to know.  If there is such a ritual, it only seems to work one year out of three so the Danes need to up their game. It worked last year so this year should mean the deluge. Unless global warming kicks in to help us out. There’s always a silver lining.

And the one thing I always forget, while eagerly counting the days until May and the brief feeling of thawing hands and feet, is that for ex pats, summer means all-change. Many of us have children so the summer holiday is the natural time to move on and settle in a new location before school starts. Looking back, I can’t remember a summer over the past two decades that has not been punctuated with the word goodbye and, quite frankly, I have grown to hate it. Promises of keeping in touch don’t often materialise, at least long term and that’s really how it should be. No one can fully establish themselves in a new life if they are always looking back to the old one.

Of course we don’t let go all at once. We glance over our shoulders for a while at what we have left behind us. We check that the old life didn’t suddenly get more fun just as we left. We make sure we haven’t been entirely and instantly forgotten in the influx of new and possibly more exciting people to what was our old life and now is their new one. But time intervenes and the new life becomes the real one and the old life becomes a ghost. It has to, or we could never live the life we do.

So the word goodbye is one I now avoid completely. I used to use it dutifully and emotionally every summer as old friends left and then, at the end of each assignment, as I was the one to leave. And the word weighed more heavily every year. Eventually, I simply quit. I refused to say the word at all, or even think it. After all, I reasoned, people emerge from the woodwork all the time and in the most unexpected places. One friend who left me in Denmark and went to England, wrote to me when I had moved to Australia and said they were moving again and would be near to us Canberra. Our goodbye in Denmark had hardly been necessary.

Really, though, I stopped saying goodbye because it is a painful word and associated with difficult emotions. Nowadays I duck the farewell parties, try not to think about any casual school gate conversations possibly being the last and generally make myself scarce as summer approaches. Perhaps we all have only so many goodbyes in us and I am reaching my limit. Perhaps this means I am also coming to the end of my capacity to live this kind of life. I have roots in so many places and in none.

It’s a great life, travelling the world, seeing new places, experiencing new cultures. It’s a privilege and generally one for which I am grateful. The benefits for me have always outweighed the negatives, just as the summer brings brings more fun than pain. I am, however, beginning to look forward to the time when the first spring days mean nothing more than a summer to look forward to and then a winter and another summer, all in the same place and with the same people. I’m not quite ready but that time is quickly coming, a time when summer will once again become the easiest word.

 

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Tome, Sweet Tome

Nine years after we decided our family was complete, our fifth child arrived. It was a glorious and shocking event for us all. We had been in Denmark for only a brief time and barely knew the people, or spoke the language. As a family, we had been on the move for decades, travelling in quick succession between three continents. We were no strangers to upheaval, but this one tested us all. 

As I look back on those turbulent years, I see now that a love of reading kept us grounded and sane, amid the insanity of our constant moves. I did not realise this so clearly at the time. It was not until I watched our new son’s brothers and sister gather around his cot, to tell him their favourite stories and read him their old picture books, that I appreciated the important part that books had played in their young lives.

Six years earlier, we landed in Auckland one rainy September, with four very young children. We spent three months in a dilapidated rental house, with no furniture and no possessions except the ones we had carried with us – a few clothes, a travel iron, some Lego and several suitcases of books. Every day, when their father left for work, the children rushed to the bedroom where the books lived. They snuggled in sleeping bags on the carpet and I read to them. The first three Harry Potters, the stories of the Baudelaire children, poetry and rhymes, Horrible Histories, comic books and Star Wars adventures. We read whatever came to hand and, when we ran out, we read them all again.

When we could read them no more, it became our daily adventure to walk to the ferry and sail across to the city. The bookshops in Auckland were wonderful. Every assistant was friendly and endlessly tolerant of the four children as they sat reading the stock, skimming, discarding, arguing, negotiating and finally choosing the perfect book for our next day’s reading.

Three years later, we moved to Denmark at only six weeks’ notice. Our possessions went into storage again for six months. Only our books came with us. We arrived at the tail-end of an unusually hot Danish summer. We rented a house with a higgledy-piggledy garden and an unkempt orchard. When their father left for work each morning, the children and I walked to the local corner shop for a litre of ice cream. The house had no freezer and ice cream had to be consumed at once or not at all. The children rose to the challenge. We lay under the plum trees with the drone of bees in our ears, and tried a different Danish flavour every day. We shivered at the dastardly Count Olaf and rejoiced at his final downfall. We cheered for Matilda when she left her book-hating  family. We sailed with Charlie down a river of molten chocolate.

None of the children ever commented on the lack of cooking facilities that led to months of scratch meals from an old microwave. They failed to notice the lumpy, borrowed mattresses that even the cats refused to sleep on. Their memories of that summer are of ice cream, ripe plums and several hours of stories every day. 

For us, twenty seven years of marriage has meant more than thirty moves across continents and hemispheres, and five children born in three different countries. Nothing has ever stayed the same for long. Nothing, that is, except for books. Our collection ebbs and flows. Old favourites pass on, fall to bits or go out of print. New titles come to join the family, often in multiples of two or three, if they are truly special.

Ten years on,  I still see our older children read to their younger brother. I am happy to know that the love of books, which began half a world away, will be passed down to their own children and grandchildren. Books have been the anchor that has connected our present to both our past and our future, the strands of multiple experiences that have tied us together as a family. To every author out there who has created new worlds for my children to inhabit, while their own was so constantly changing, I am truly grateful. 

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Easter Egg Hunt

No matter where we have lived in the world – and the places have been many and various – Easter Sunday has always meant an egg hunt. The first Easter that we had children, our oldest son was nine months old. I ‘hid’ a chocolate egg on his high chair tray. He still took about five minutes to notice it. As I write this, he is nearly twenty-four and living twelve thousand miles away. I had to send him his egg this year but still secretly wished I could be there to hide it for him.

Watching our eight-year-old run around the garden this afternoon in the brilliant sunshine, skirmishing with his teenage sister whenever her count exceeded his, I thought again about the nature of tradition and its place within a family. As someone who tends to be driven very strongly by emotions – an INFP for those who like Myers-Briggs – I have many times been guilty of trying to control traditions so that they replicate my childhood experiences exactly. Only in this way, runs my subconscious reasoning, can my own children experience exactly the same pleasures that I did at their age.

And this, I have grown to realise, is nonsense. Any pleasurable experience is, by its very nature, fleeting. As soon as we make an attempt to pin it down for posterity and impose too much tradition and restriction on it, we lessen it. As we moved from country to country, it used to bother me if we couldn’t find Cadbury’s eggs. I had them as a child and I thought my children should have them too. In Florida it took a sixty mile trip to a Butcher’s shop in Miami to get hold of Cadbury’s chocolate. Best not to delve too deeply into that one. On that occasion maybe I was justified. Hershey’s chocolate has always reminded me of the dog treats we gave to our friends’ puppy at Christmas. But I doubt my toddler sons would really have noticed the difference, or cared.

In New Zealand, Cadbury’s tastes different, because the climate dictates a higher melting point. Again, none of the children really noticed. Stranger to us all was the fact that Easter was in the autumn. In Australia, a British friend in Queensland put her children’s eggs inside thermos flasks and made the children dive into the swimming pool to retrieve them. In Queensland the eggs would have melted if they had been hidden in her garden the way we always hid ours in Canberra. She did what worked and that was a lesson to me.

Here in Denmark, where we have spent so many Easters over the past decade, we can’t even buy Creme Eggs and are stuck with the Easter dragees that none of us like. So this year I threw tradition to the winds and bought a large jar of Quality Street to hide around the garden instead. I am finally in the place where I understand that the meaning of a tradition is in the joy it creates and not the structure in which we choose to enclose it. I am not saying that I am quite ready to celebrate Christmas on the 24th December. Some traditions die harder than others. But I do put an almond in our ris à l’amande and whoever gets it receives a marzipan pig. I am now ready to meet the Danes halfway.

Quality Street in a Copenhagen garden, waxy Hershey’s kisses in a Florida apartment, odd tasting Cadbury’s hidden in the trunk of an Auckland feijoa tree or under our giant eucalypt in Canberra. Finally, I get it. Despite many years of trying, I never managed to replicate the Easter egg hunts of my childhood, nor the Christmases, nor the birthdays. Now I don’t even try.

The magic of an Easter egg hunt is not in the kind of confectionery we use. It is in the appearance of usually rationed treats, the excitement of the chase, the fun of hunting with siblings or friends, the spring sunshine if we are lucky. My children had just as much fun today as I did at their age. And I watched them scrambling up trees and under the trampoline, wrestling for the purples and the pinks, simply thankful for another Easter memory to add to the joyous stock we have amassed over the years.

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