samedi 31 octobre 2009

Night watchmen, Halloween

Jack o'lanterns at the gate
at least we have a gate, almost

Now I know what I needed in the pillars. Jack O'lantern niches. Actually, year 'round lanterns niches would have been lovely. Why do we have these ideas too late?

Actually, they haven't actually finished the pillars, and there are niches... not too late. Something to think about.

It's Halloween. It's my favorite -- absolute favorite -- night of the year, even here in France. Halloween is anywhere I am, with or without children in costumes, mine, or someone else's.

Mine is grown. It's the first year since he was born that he is not home on Halloween. He is in Amsterdam. With friends. They are not trick-or-treating. They are probably sampling Dutch and Belgian beers in the cafés along the canals.

I remember the first Halloween. He was just a month old. Someone had given me a hand-me-down pyjama, cream-colored with gray leopard spots. We were still at my office in Manhattan. I took a piece of gold paper and cut it in the shape of a Venetian mask and started to cut holes for his eyes as he gazed at me from his seat on my desk, alongside where I worked. I cut them quickly, with a sure gesture that startled me. What if I got it wrong? We needed to catch the train back to Greenwich. There wasn't much time to start over and get it right. I placed the mask over his tiny face, and two dark irises gazed back at me from the center of the holes. I had gotten it exactly right.

That's what comes of staring at your newborn for hours
, I thought, putting the mask in my bag and scooping him up to head up Fifth Avenue to Grand Central.

At home, I got out the pyjama, tied string to his mask and put it on him. He didn't make the slightest objection. So new, and already an old hand at dressing up for Halloween; ready for any adventure I could offer. I headed out the door to take him to see all our favorite neighbors and friends. His first trick-or-treating.

I bought the pumpkins more than a week ago, the day I saw them in the big wood crate in the entry to my supermarket. They were especially beautiful this year. The French are getting better and better at this pumpkin producing thing for this hallow'd fête, one over which they shook their heads for some time, muttering something about McDonalds and the USA destroying their culture, before caving in to their own children's delight. Pagan, yes. Evil? Not near enough to disappoint eager little children, dying to dress up and go door to door asking for candy.

I dreamed of my new entry for this Halloween. I was going to have the windows alight with candles, a lantern hanging from the beams, jack o'lanterns on the benches. The gate would be open, and I would be there, wearing my crone hair and peaked black hat, feigning fright and not having to pretend any delight with the children who would come. But, no. It's not done. The work has dragged on and on, and there is still no paved courtyard, no new kitchen entry with its windows, beams, lantern and benches. There isn't even a bell to ring so that we know to run and offer the bowl of candy to the children who can't see that we are home.

I hoped the jack o'lanterns on the pillars would be a hint.

"Mais tu pourrais mettre les bonbons dans un bol au portail --" I said to my husband.

"Non. Ils n'ont que de venir frapper."

"Mais! Ils ne vont pas oser rentrer comme ça. On n'a même pas de clochette cette année, et tu es allé au supermarché exprès pour acheter les bonbons pour eux." It's true. He went all the way to the grocery store, while I carved my pumpkins so the children would find candy here.

Halloween is contagious.

I am going to put some in a bowl at the gate. Excuse me.


There. I think all the kids passed through the street when he left to go to the store, but I have made the essential gesture. They trick-or-treat too early here, and too briefly.

Halloween is warm and safe. The holiday just after a new school year has begun, just after the leaves have turned all the colors of the holiday -- orange, brown, and red and gold -- and begun to fall, drifting and scuffling across the road under our feet, cloaks and bags filled with candy knocking against our legs, out far past when our parents call us home, they walk at our sides and still there is a charge of adventure in the air. This is no ordinary night. And, we are going to have candy to empty all around us on the carpet, to divide into piles of Almond Joys, candy corn and pumpkins, Three Musketeers, lollipops and the boxes of raisins the well-intentioned but hopelessly misguided give out with our health in mind.

"Did you get an apple, too?"

"Yeah. Do you think it's true? Do you think we can eat it, or is there really maybe a razor inside?" The awful tales grown-ups told on the evening news to make sure our parents were vigilant, but no one ever got a razor in their apple. Ever.

They finally admitted it recently, before my son and I left for France. Or maybe it was just after. Anyway, it was an overblown fear; it was true, no one could remember a single episode of a child biting into a razor blade on Halloween, or ever, for that matter.

But Halloween! Ah, Halloween. It is special forever, even when we are nearly grown up and ready to fall in love, bewitched. A friend left this comment on the post Evening. Ennui. as part of a longer comment. It belongs here.

Never told you how I met my Denny...if not for Halloween... We met at a Presbyterian Church Halloween party/dance in 1963. Skeletons and witches on the walls. Great cobwebs suspended in the corners of the hall. Black and orange crepe paper streamers shivering delightfully overhead. And enormous bowls of (demonic) candy everywhere.

This beautiful, blond Scandinavian guy asks me to dance. He sings in my ear as we dance.

I was bewitched. Stayed bewitched for the four years of courtship that followed--and
for 42 years of marriage. I hope that, when the day comes I am with him again, it is Halloween...

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