L from the travel group and I had gone back and forth for months looking for best case scenario ticket prices and lodging. Something was awry, I travel often for work, consulting restaurants, a bit of pleasure and now for my education. This time it was too protracted. I was engulfed in my first semester back in school, a PhD program in Food Studies, 29 years since my last endeavor. We had delayed getting visas for no truly good reason other than conflicting schedule demands. I had looked up from my final papers and realized that time was tight. Twelve days ago, we got up early, trained and bussed to 42nd and 12th Avenue. Harsh winds snapped at our skin and garments. By 8:25 there was already a considerable line in the street in front of the Chinese Consulate. I wondered why it was stuck way over here, until I observed the Falung Gong group across the street, swaddled in thick layers, practicing Qi Gong behind banners asking for self determination from state authority. Like the Cubans before them, I guess the Chinese needed space. A West Indian guard greeted us at the corner, asking for I.D. One by one people were allowed inside, removing outer clothing and walking through metal detection. We kidded with the guard that he needed a booth to fight the winds and subzero temps. He explained that above our heads was one of several closed circuit cameras. “once you get inside, everywhere you go, you will be watched. Even in the toilet, trust me, even there. My boss is watching us now, from his office sipping his coffee. We can wave to him now. I have to smile.” Continuing, he shared that he was informed that 15 people are waiting for his position, if he is not satisfied with the terms.
“Do you get breaks,” I asked. “Not enough to handle this cold.” Welcome to a bad economy and a powerful player in it.
I have come to observe that an aspect of the consular experience indicates a flavor of the country. Superficial assessment at best, but telling nonetheless. Once seated in the second row of chairs, a dozen or so people ahead of us, we waited until the nine AM opening of functionaries windows. The room was gray, fluorescently lit and nondescript. No exotic images of China, The Wall or Forbidden City; unlike the walls of the Brazilian embassy last year. Once the windows opened, we were called forth one by one, and each successive applicant was instructed to move up one seat, an adult duck-duck-duck-duck-goose, snaking slowly forward. We elected to return in six days, Wednesday the 23rd, which was the cheapest price available. The following week, timing was off, and we missed the scheduled hours. Luckily I was able to obtain our passports on Christmas Eve morning, on a slightly warmer early morning.
That day, I happened to, visit the consulate, the D.A.’s office, the Hall of Records, former home of the City Clerk, the City Court and finally the current Office of the City Clerk. Too many detection devices in too short a time. I met Michele midway through my morning, and we walked to Baxter street in search of fresh Ho Fun noodles for my Christmas Eve Pho.
I had planned to reproduce the feast of seven fishes with a global menu, Bolas de Bacalhau Pimenton Aioli, Griddled Octopus, Black-eyed Peas and Spinach Coulis, Jill’s Vodka-Dill scented Gravlax with Buckwheat Blini and Farmer Cream Cheese, Poached Shrimp from Dad and Stews. Slow Roasted Swordfish with Dukka spiced Eggplant Relish, Couscous and Artichokes, my Herbaceous, Veggie laced Maine Red Shrimp and Maryland Crab Pho and Cointreau Flan. We ended up being 10 at table with the welcome, late addition of Faith and Neal. Everything took a bit too long, based on too little prep time, yet the results were delicious and savored by all. Possibly the best result was that time delay. Everyone present in their own way took a piece of the puzzle, looking for a tablecloth, ironing it, discovering silver, rarely unwrapped since Sylvia, my mother had died five years earlier this same week. We agreed during dinner that the sequence had brought Sylvia back into all of our consciousness and to this dinner. We laughed for hours, spelling my Dad’s bouts of loneliness in the now quiet house. Joy and laughter are great medicines. Unfortunately cleanup and laundry in preparation to travel took forever. The following afternoon we left for New York and Jersey. Dropping Michele and the clean clothing at home, and ending up in Madison at Susan, my brother Craig’s sister in law’s house. Dinner was simple and beautifully executed. Just six of us with her brother and sons. Doug, her husband had passed a few years prior. I left soon after dinner, to pack say a few goodbyes and finish a Literature Review for the Hong Kong trip, grading of final papers and general household cleaning. I have to do Too much, too little time; please Mr. Migraine I don’t need you now.