This past weekend was my birthday. I’m really close with my family, so it’s not always easy to be away from them during celebrations. However, living abroad has the unique advantage of celebrating in new ways.
First, my school department took me to El Zócalo, one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in El Salvador. I was donned with a sweet sombrero and cape as the waiters sang and brought me flan.
Second, three of my classes on Friday threw me a little party: cake, ice cream, soda, balloons, silly string, even a picture of me on the dry-erase board.
And I got a cake from my school department!
Also, I learned about a fun little tradition: “Mordida! Mordida! Mordida!” How it works is… well, if you don’t know, I’ll just let you experience that one for yourself.
Lastly, my other family came to my house Friday night, and we enjoyed homemade tacos, fun, and games.
All in all it was a wonderful birthday. So many people sang for me, brought me food, cooked me food, gave me gifts, and warmly wished me a “Feliz Cumpleaños.” Gracias a todos! Wonderful country. Wonderful people.
Mark Van Doren was a poet, critic, and professor born in Hope, Illinois (a couple hour drive from where I grew up). Educated at the University of Illinois and later Columbia University (where he would later become professor), he won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1940. Highly influential, I first came across Van Doren’s name while reading the Trappist monk Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain (still one of the most moving works I’ve ever read). As I post poetry on Wednesdays I am often learning about the poets alongside my blog readers. I can say, Mark Van Doren is a guy I’d like to know more about. Nevertheless, this poem struck when I came across it a few days ago, and I feel that it helps capture the essence of the creative story-teller, a vocation which knows that all is alive and life is a grand story to share. I hope it stirs your imagination as it has mine. When someone tells a good story, a “worm” is wakened “in the world’s brain” and nothing stands firms again. What great story has done this to you?
He talked, and as he talked
Wallpaper came alive;
Suddenly ghosts walked;
And four doors were five;
Calendars ran backward,
And maps had mouths;
Ships went tackward
In a great drowse;
Trains climbed trees,
And soon dripped down
Like honey of bees
On the cold brick town.
He had wakened a worm
In the world’s brain,
And nothing stood firm
Until day again.
Ted Kooser, 2004 and 2005 US Poet Laureate, visited my small, Midwestern university back in 2009. Unfortunately I was not able to attend his poetry reading at the time. Nevertheless, I became slightly acquainted with his poetry.
Ted Kooser, born in 1939, is a pastoral, Midwestern poet of sorts. He focuses on rural landscapes and universal themes, and what makes him so powerful is his accessibility. In an age of obscurity, abstraction, and elitism in poetry, Kooser brings poetry back to the people. Perhaps Dana Gioia sums up Kooser best.
…unlike most of his peers he writes naturally for a nonliterary public. His style is accomplished but extremely simple—his diction drawn from common speech, his syntax conversational. His subjects are chosen from the everyday world of the Great Plains, and his sensibility, though more subtle and articulate, is that of the average Midwesterner. Kooser never makes an allusion that an intelligent but unbookish reader will not immediately grasp. There is to my knowledge no poet of equal stature who writes so convincingly in a manner the average American can understand and appreciate. -Can Poetry Matter
Here I share Ted Kooser’s “Abandoned Farmhouse” (1980). What might we discover if we came upon an abandoned farmhouse or any old building for that matter? What do we deduce without a word when we meet someone? What kind of burdens are they carrying? Perhaps Kooser’s poem does not exactly raise our spirits, but it helps us think about our lives and the symbols of our stuff.
He was a big man, says the size of his shoes
on a pile of broken dishes by the house;
a tall man too, says the length of the bed
in an upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man,
says the Bible with a broken back
on the floor below the window, dusty with sun;
but not a man for farming, say the fields
cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.
A woman lived with him, says the bedroom wall
papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves
covered with oilcloth, and they had a child,
says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.
Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves
and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole.
And the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames.
It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.
Something went wrong, says the empty house
in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the fields
say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars
in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste.
And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard
like branches after a storm—a rubber cow,
a rusty tractor with a broken plow,
a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say.
I have been a bad blogger the last week or so. Things got busy, and I never really sat down to spend time sharing literature or travels here in El Salvador. Forgive me. But I’m here now!
First of all, a couple weekends ago my friend Fernando and I ventured out to La Puerta del Diablo. Unfortunately, it seems like the devil was a little inundated. Rain only allowed a few pictures before returning home. Here’s all we got.
There are worse things though; Fernando and I will return another day. After Puerta del Diablo we returned to my house and cooked steak and potatoes. Good ol’ comfort food. By the way, Fernando’s nickname for me is “Chele.” Basically this means I’m white. Chele is the nickname for lighter skinned Salvadorians. So at least I feel accepted.
Last weekend I visited El Tunco. Many locals like to remind us estadounidenses that there is more to El Salvador than our third world perception. There is incredible scenery, tourist spots, and very modern urban life. Of course it’s sad that there are areas of violence, but El Salvador is a beautiful country with even beautiful-er people! By the way, El Tunco gets its name because the rock formation is supposed to look like a pig. Eh…I don’t see it.
Finally, what is life without your friends?! Last weekend we celebrated the birthday of our friend, and her favorite cake is carrot cake, so I tried my hand at it. [Below is the recipe…it is awesome! However, for me (probably user error) the frosting was a little runny. I will probably keep the cake recipe and search for a new cream cheese frosting. Additionally, I’m adding a great pizza crust recipe I used recently for friends. I would suggest heeding one commenter’s advice (Crikkitt was the username) who doubled the recipe, added garlic, and oregano.] After we all went out to eat, we returned to my apartment to eat carrot cake and dance salsa. I’m terrible, but I’m learning. Yay El Salvador!
Though his love life was notorious, even infamous, Lord Byron’s ability to speak of the aesthetics of love is nothing less than profound. Thus, this week’s poem is a good ol’ fashioned love poem.
Lord Byron (1788-1824) was an English poet and a leading writer in the Romantic movement. Though in life he may have seemed to be a young, amorous, spoiled aristocrat, his handling of language particularly in the form of poetry will forever cement him as one of the best writers in English. In a Telegraph article, “The 1o best love poems,” Felicity Capon states that “She Walks in Beauty” is “[a]rguably the most romantic poem in English literature.” Try not to think too intently on the context of the poem’s writing though–it is said that Byron wrote it after seeing his cousin outside of a ball. Yikes! However, without further ado and for which ever lovely lady is in your life, let Lord Byron’s words transfix and transform you.
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
Although officially Día del Niño is observed on October 1st, students at my school celebrated with half day of school on Friday, September 30. The half day was filled with food, games, and a spectacular performance from the seniors. It was really amazing to watch them band together in rehearsal (okay, I only saw one rehearsal) and commit to preparing for their amazing performance Friday. Children from all grades dressed up like Disney characters, but the seniors put on the show. The spirit and culture is amazing, a country that knows how to honor and celebrate.
“It may be that [God] has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” -GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Though Día del Niño was the highlight, I had a great weekend with friends. On Sunday we capped it off by visiting an incredible lookout: El Mirador de La Giralda.