Sam Bauman: Sharing holiday memories here and abroad
It was in the mid-1970s and I was subbing for the regular correspondent who was on home leave for two weeks. Beirut, Lebanon, was chaotic at the time with the Maronite Christians and the Muslim Left refugee Palestinians fighting for control of the government.
There were daily car bombings on the main street which separated the two (and probably more) sides and I would file a story about each. They were so frequent and so much alike that I had a fixed format so that all I had to do was change the dates and numbers of dead.
On Christmas Eve, all was quiet so I took the regular man’s car, an aging Mercedes 180, and took the coastal road south, turning off for one of the beaches.
Nobody around so I went through a small village to the Mediterranean coast, walked a while and came to the remains of a fortress-like building, probably left from the days of the Roman Empire.
I sat down on the sand out of the northern winds, watched the waves and dug my hands into the sand. I felt something metallic and dug it out. It was an ancient Roman coin, worn so the profile of someone on the one side was blurred, but the eagle symbol of Rome was on the obverse.
No way to tell it was an actual Roman coin or one of the thousands of counterfeits common around that part of the world.
I pocketed the coin and walked back through the village, and at the end saw someone sitting in a doorway with books piled before him and candles burning. I stopped and asked him in college French if he was an American, as I surmised from the U.S. Army field jacket was wearing. Yep, from Queens, Long Island.
“What’s with the books?” I asked. I could see one was a Christian Bible, another had Chinese characters on the cover, another was labeled with Arabic symbols.
“Christmas Eve, right?” he said. I agreed. And he said, “You know all around the world people are celebrating Christmas. But nobody’s doing anything about Shinto or Islam or Buddhism or any other religions, so I’m making a little homage to all of them. That way they won’t get their noses out of joint.”
“A noble idea,” I said.
He gestured at my feet and said, “Get those pants shortened. I know, I used to be a tailor at Brooks Brothers.”
I thanked him, shook hands and left him with his candles and holy books.
Driving back to Beirut I turned on the Becker radio and accidentally got a station broadcasting Christmas music, “O, Come All Ye Faithful.” I sang along with the music, forgot the tenor part I used to sing but just followed the melody.
Caught the flight back to Italy that night and got home late in the morning. I could hear the church bells ringing at midnight as I got home.
Another one …
My wife and I were living in a small fishing village on the outskirts of Naples, Italy. I was a “foreign correspondent,” a title I disliked but they paid me. So I wrote a story about a priest at a small church nearby, about how the priest there took care of the local fishermen but had no funds this holiday season. The story got good play and money flowed into the priest. He thanked me and on Christmas gave me an aging oil painting of Joseph and the Christ child. Joseph also was holding a long tree branch, which was growing fresh leaves.
Nice picture and it convinced me that sometimes when you wrote copy it would mean something somewhere to somebody.
And one more …
I was skiing at Shiga Kogen in Japan (later an Olympic site) on a holiday weekend with some journalists and U.S. military friends. We stayed at the Gurendo Hutte (Greenland, that is) and New Year’s eve we skied and then used the ofuro or Japanese hot bath before gathering for a sukiyaki (pronounced “skiyaki”) dinner in a small room. Must have been six or eight of us drinking beer and stoking charcoal in the kusatsu. After a bit the big American got up and said he wasn’t feeling well, and promptly fell backward through the thin paper and wood sliding door.
I got a terrific headache and was retching. The carbon monoxide from the smoldering charcoal has sickened us all.
But next morning we still got and went skiing. And there was the time we went hunting for mushrooms in the walled outside Munich on Christmas, but that’s long story…
Sam Bauman writes about senior issues for the Nevada Appeal.