7.8.06

The Aftermath

One week back, and I think I still feel the jetlag.

It's been too easy to get back into my LA routine. I have to stop whatever I'm doing, sit down, and think about my time in Jordan. A cognitive anthropologist I worked for used to say that rehearsing a memory in your head helps cement it as a concrete even in your life. The flipside is that rehearsal also tends to modify your view of the actual event in accordance with your overall emotional evaluation of that period of your life. Regardless, I'm taking the time to do it because it's one of the things that makes me feel most connected to that experience.

My jetlag, incidentally, has been exacerbated by the fact that I spent some more time on airplanes this weekend.

There was a good reason, though, because my grandfather, my abuelo, had his 100th birthday.

We arrived Friday night. My uncle picked us up and drove us to Little Havana, where my grandfather and aunt live. There was a group of relatives waiting for us, including my parents, uncles and a cousin. But conspicuously absent was my grandfather. When I asked about him, they said he was asleep. It was 11pm after all. Well past his bedtime, the night before a big party.
I found out later that they had tried to convince him to stay awake using our arrival as bait.
He was having none of it.
This is how I think the conversation went, based on hearsay, rough translation, and previous observation of the way my aunt and abuelo interact:
Grandfather- I'm tired.
Aunt- Don't you want to stay up to see Alice and Kevin?
Grandfather- Grumble grumble.
Aunt- They're flying all the way from Los Angeles?
Grandfather: Who?
Aunt- Alice and Kevin; your grandchildren.
Grandfather- What about them?
Aunt- Don't you want to stay up to see them?!
Grandfather- No!
Aunt- But dad, they flew all the way from Los Angeles!
Grandfather: Fuck them!
...
Like I said, he was asleep when we got there.

We stayed at a hotel in Miami Beach. After getting dropped off, we ventured out to Ocean Drive to get a bite to eat.
We ate at the massively overpriced New Cafe. Shrimp cocktail, empanadas and something else I can't remember right now. You get the idea. It was a memorable meal. But, even more memorable was the parade of hoochies and tools sauntering by our table. We felt distinctly out of place, not being dressed in our hoochie and tool outfits. Luckily, I had packed my ripaway shirt.

The next morning, we got up and headed to the florist. My mom had put Alice in charge of table decorations. We purchased some beautiful birds of paradise, vases and rocks. My uncle dropped us off at the hotel where the banquet hall was, about 3 hours before the birthday party began. We set up and wandered around.

My abuelo made his grand entrance around 2pm, to a crowded banquet hall. Despite riding in a wheelchair, he was vivacious, waving his hand like royalty. People flocked to him, offering their congratulations and good wishes.

My cousin Mario organized a photo of the cousins. We gently ousted my grandfather's brother from behind the wheelchair and positioned ourselves around the guest of honor. They had hired a photographer and he was quite imperious about where everyone was looking. He kept demanding that we look at his camera and ignore the 6 or 7 other people around him taking photos as well. He was a little mean about it, which seemed inappropriate, but I guess he was just doing his job. As Antonio Banderas says, "Sometimes, my friend, you have to...how you say...take the lead."

The cake was a large replica of Cuba. My grandfather was given a piece that corresponded to Manzanillo, the town near where he spent the first 60 years of his life.

Whenever I go to these events, I meet so many people whose names I don't know, but whose faces I recognize. Then there's the occasional person who grasps my arm and kisses me and says that they remember when I was little. I'm not sure what to do in these cases, since I rarely even recognize their faces. I usually smile and nod. Then they ask me if I still play the violin. At this point, I usually scour the room for my brother, point him out, and mention that he's not married yet.

The trip was too short. We arrived Friday night and left Sunday afternoon. But, we did get a chance to spend some time at the beach. The water was like a warm, salty bath. The waves were choppy, but we braved them until the lifeguard whistled us in.

It seems like these trips to Miami for my grandfather's birthdays are increasingly the only times when I get to see my extended family. When we all lived in Chicago, we got together often, for Thanksgiving, Nochebuena, birthdays, anniversaries, anything that gave us a chance to gather. Now, with everyone scattered, it's much harder. Whenever I leave Miami, I feel like the only appropriate thing to say is "I hope we'll see each other next year."

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