I got kidnapped by a couple of Swedish anarchists. Kidnapped is a strong word. I was pulled into their room and handed a beer. Several hours later we were out on the town with a few other victims, one of whom is Toels, a Danish chainsaw sculptor to whom I’ve since become quite close.
Apricots didn’t work out. (Things are never very certain here in terms of jobs, but they always seem to work out). By the time my car was back (150 dollars, but it seems to be fixed. Fingers crossed) they didn’t need any more workers. But I found a job that started the next day at a cherry orchard. Several people at my backpacker’s called the boss and in total, 8 of us started working there.
Cherry picking is the most delicious job I’ve ever had. At some point I realized I was picking over $1,000 of cherries a day, and earning about 10% of that. But I must eat at least another 10% of that. Even after my stomach ached and I was full, I couldn’t help but eat a perfect plump cherry. Several times a day, I’d think this is the best looking cherry I’ve ever seen, and I just couldn’t resist eating it. I knew I’d regret not eating it for the rest of my life. This is a problem for everyone.
I like this job better than apple thinning. Physically, it’s a lot easier, and because it’s hourly not contracted, there’s not this crazy urgency and people actually take breaks as opposed to scarfing down sandwiches periodically and running back up the ladder. But mostly, I feel somehow connected to individuals this way. I’m actually picking something that someone is going to eat. Directly from my hands to their mouths. Even though apple thinning is just as important as apple picking, it’s not as satisfying to get rid of the smaller fruit that will just sit on the ground and rot and feed insects. My work here is a lot more tangible.
Now onto Christmas. When I imagined being in a country alone on Christmas, before I came, I imagined crying in a bed, alone in a dingy room in a vacant hostel, getting up only once to walk around the town, emptied of all souls because everyone would be off celebrating and laughing with families. I’d tear up, and if I listened closely I’d be able to hear children playing in the distance with cousins and new toys before dinner was ready (which I would also be able to smell faintly). I’d think of all the Christmases I’d ever had. How I hadn’t appreciated them enough. How nothing is beautiful until it’s gone. There might be a homeless man in the town. It would just be the two of us in the whole town, but we wouldn’t make eye contact because neither of us could bear it. And then I’d go back into my bed and cry because I shouldn’t have come in the first place, and this might be what life feels like every day for the homeless man I pretended not to see.
It was nothing like this.
I worked until about noon on Christmas Eve Day. It was just the group of us from Toad Hall on the orchard, so it was nice. We all talked as we worked about our family Christmas traditions. When I got home people were already starting to plan for the evening. Most of the people here are South American, and Christmas is a very big party (I get the impression that there are a lot of parties in South America). I made some jam from all the leftover cherries I took from work, which was quite a mess. Nothing stains like cherry juice. I’d never made jam before. I didn’t actually know how to make jam, just knew that sugar was involved. Toels came by later and we went to the grocery store to get meat and wine for the barbecue. (We only grilled the meat). Then it was Christmas. We were all going to have pizza and champagne, but nobody really felt like organizing the whole thing. We all ate meat and drank wine on the rooftop and danced to reggae and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was very summery. Which I guess, is very typical here. Somehow, I think that made it a little bit easier to be away from home—it never felt like Christmas. At midnight, we all drunkenly kissed and hugged and sang “Feliz Navidad.”
In the morning, Toels and I tested the jam and then I headed over to the Bogen’s for Christmas Day.
Janet was really sweet and invited me to spend the day with all of them. It was nice to be around a family. I realized, watching Clare and Alice interact with one another and their cousins, and Janet with her siblings and mother how every family is exactly the same, each in its own unique way. After coffee, the kids headed off to the beach. Actually, I really like spending time with them, because in a lot of ways their family is very similar. Rachel, Claire and Alice are about a year older than me, Clare and Elly, respectively. And their dynamics are very similar to the three of us. Actually, the three of them remind me of the three of us. We each have a lot in common with our counterpart. Rachel wasn’t there this year because she’s traveling in Brazil. Clare flew in from London where she’s in school studying literature and film. She is clearly very smart. And a vegan. I get the impression that Alice is really wise. Understands the big picture, in a way. Empathetic. And Janet and Dan split up about a year before my parents split up, so we all went through a divorce at the same exact stages.
Perfect example of similarity: Alice rode in the car with me because she doesn’t like Claire’s driving and wanted to avoid a Christmas fight. It was like reliving holiday experiences with my own sisters.
I like the tradition of spending Christmas on the beach. The waves were giant and perfect for playing in. The water was warm, the sky was blue, the sun was hot. Perfect beach day. We got back to the Bogen’s and killed some time before dinner, which Janet’s sister had spent the day making. Roast lamb, sweet potatoes, broccoli, pumpkin. It was all delicious. And for dessert, vanilla ice cream with boysenberries, blueberries and strawberries. Most of the fruit and vegetables came from Janet’s garden.
Then there was the present-opening. Janet had made a stocking for me as well, filled with lots of New Zealand goodies (most of which I’ve already consumed. I’m not good at saving candy…). Then Janet’s brother played some old home movies on his computer of all the kids when they were little. I was extremely touched at being so included in such intimate family moments throughout the day.
The next day I went to see Toels. He lives in an Arts Village with other potters, sculptors, painters and carvers who are all given residence. He gave me a tour of the village and I met some of the artists, and then we hiked up a volcano and went swimming in a river. (I’ve decided to stop showering. I’ve just been going in a different body of water every day. I really want to get dreadlocks). Then we went to the grocery store with some of the artists and we all got food for dinner. We all sat outside, cutting vegetables and cheese and making salads and grilling meat. Dinner took several hours and then we sat around a fire with some beer and wine that someone had gotten from the viniculture institute down the street. It was a truly splendid, simple evening.
I got home around 12:30 and then had a beer on the roof with my friends at the backpacker’s, and was persuaded to go out dancing. I’m easily persuaded. The club was pretty empty, which was good—it gave the seven of us lots of space to move. We didn’t get home until almost 4:00, but for some reason, I was so excited I couldn’t sleep. Plus, Charlene, my roommate(I figured her name out, although everyone just calls her Amalie anyway) left and I wanted to relish a room to myself.
Today I went to Ocean Spa, (a bunch of outdoor pools across the street) with Roy. We swam and soaked and steamed and then I bumped into my old roommate Tony who had apparently had a pretty wild night and was trying to kill his hangover by swimming in the cold water before heading home.
This will sound stupid, because I’m in my twenties, but at the moment, I really feel like I’m in my twenties. I’m meeting all these new people, mingling, dancing, drinking, doing shitty jobs for almost no money, just…moving. I like it this way.