It wasn't the Christmas they expected.
The shepherds weren't expecting anything. The Wise Men (who came later) might not have been surprised that the king they were seeking was a young child, but they probably didn't expect to find him in such humble surroundings. Herod wasn't expecting him, though he certainly knew how reigning kings dealt with potential rivals: Off with their heads!
Mary (and Joseph) did know, having been clued in by an angel, but I'll bet Gabriel didn't bother to include the messy details, such as going into labor away from home, at the end of a long and difficult journey to a crowded city with limited accommodations.
Despite innumerable clues throughout their history to the coming of a savior who would put everything right—albeit less clear at the time than in hindsight, of course—the religious scholars in Israel saw nothing momentous about the events. This despite having told the above-mentioned Eastern sages that they should go to Bethlehem to look for the Messiah. As was shown some 33 years later, their ideas of "put everything right" had some major misalignments with God's own; we tend to see what we are looking for.
There's a long history of Christmas not being what people expect, so I should not have been surprised that Christmas 2021 wasn't the Christmas WE expected.
In this year's Christmas newsletter, I included this line: "Sub conditione jacobaea, we will make a fifth trip, to Connecticut, before the end of the year for another family gathering." The Latin phrase is the more formal equivalent of the Southern, "Lord willin' and the creek don't rise."
The creek rose. Or rather, COVID rose. As in, two of the people we'd planned to spend Christmas with tested positive. We reflected: (1) people who are sick do not generally welcome houseguests, (2) if one is going to get sick, home is usually the best place to be, and (3) the threat of isolation and quarantine could turn a 10-day visit into 20 or more, especially if one is flying. Then we made the painful decision to cancel the visit. :( Instead of flying out early Christmas morning, we were going to be home.
Two days before Christmas I crossed "pack suitcase" of my list and added "buy a roast for Christmas dinner." We did not have a tree, but I stopped by the Home Depot tent and picked up some of their tree trimmings to add some festive and aromatic greens to our hastily-decorated substitute:
I only drove to three places that day—the post office, Target, and Publix—but came home exhausted. As I said to Porter while he was helping me unload the car, "You'll know how crowded it was when I say I elected to wear my mask everywhere I went."
Christmas Eve wasn't as planned, either, as our pastor's wife had also come down with COVID. The CDC protocols do not require vaccinated people to quarantine, but our diocesan rules are stricter, so he was suddenly out of the picture, which cancelled some of our services and altered the others. Amazingly, they found a substitute priest for Christmas Eve and Sunday, though not for Christmas itself. Nonetheless we are grateful that the bishop didn't revoke his permission for choirs to sing without masks! All things considered, it was still a lovely service, though for us the really festive celebration had been our mid-month Lessons & Carols. (Too many of our choir members travel out of town for Christmas, for us to be able to plan anything big closer to the Day.)
Since the Christmas Eve service began well after my normal bedtime, and, unlike last year we had no children around to inspire an early arising, we slept in on Christmas Day (That is, to about 7 a.m.).
Our Christmas breakfast usually includes traditional Dutch almond raisin bread and banket. Often we order these from Vander Veens' Dutch store, but this year I convinced myself that it's cheaper and better to make them myself. (I was right.) I did buy the almond paste from Vander Veen's (much less expensive than I can find at the grocery store), but our grandson makes his own from scratch, so I might try that sometime. I doubt I'll go through the effort of making my own puff pastry, however; Pepperidge Farm does a great job with that.
No one complained that the "banket letters" were selfish this year—all I's.
The day was a quiet one, spent opening presents, talking with family, and reading. Porter read one of my Christmas present books, and I continued reading Oathbringer, which I intend to complete before the Twelve Days are over! (I'm currently 2/3 of the way through the 1200+ pages.) I did manage to cook Christmas dinner in there somewhere, and it was good (especially the gravy), but I couldn't help noting that it didn't hold a candle to my brother's Christmas roast beef, which we had been anticipating.
The Second Day of Christmas was Sunday, and we went to church. If attendance was about as expected for the day after Christmas, at least the choir did not outnumber the congregation. And we had enough choristers to sing Vivaldi's Gloria!
I hope you are all enjoying a very good Christmastide.
Even if it might not be the Christmas you planned on.
I've always had a problem with headlines, which all too often distort or even contradict the content of the story they purport to summarize. It's similar to my frustration with book covers that make me wonder if the artist actually read the book itself. Even knowing this, it's all too easy to judge a book by its cover and to get our news from the screaming headlines. To get any useful information, we have to dig deeper.
On the other hand, it's possible that our State Department has simply gone mad.
One of Porter's travel websites led him to the handy(?) State Department website for its current travel advisories: a categorization of the world's countries into
- Level 1 Exercise normal precautions
- Level 2 Exercise increased caution
- Level 3 Reconsider travel
- Level 4 Do not travel
A glance at the associated map reveals that we consider the rest of the world to be a very, very dangerous place and should probably just stay within our own borders. There are thirteen places marked Level 1, the safest level, including Paraguay, Bhutan, Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Zambia, and Togo. Not exactly places high on my list of comfortable vacation destinations. Perhaps we should go back to The Gambia; our Gambian friends can take comfort in knowing that their country is one of those few getting our State Department's blessing, along with neighboring Senegal.
On the other hand, Switzerland is Level 4. Do. Not. Travel. More than 300 other countries are given this worst possible rating, include North Korea, Afghanistan, and the Central African Republic.
I am a lot happier that our daughter and her family are in Switzerland rather than North Korea, Afghanistan, or the Central African Republic. What do you think?
Fortunately, the website allows you to click on individual countries and get more detailed information about the advisories.
- Do not travel to North Korea due to COVID-19 and the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention of U.S. nationals.
- Do not travel to Afghanistan due to civil unrest, armed conflict, crime, terrorism, kidnapping, and COVID-19.
- Do not travel to the Central African Republic due to COVID-19, Embassy Bangui’s limited capacity to provide support to U.S. citizens, crime, civil unrest, and kidnapping.
- Do not travel to Switzerland due to COVID-19.
Methinks our State Department could do with a finer gradation of the Level 4 warning.
Here's another interesting anomaly: Liechtenstein has a travel advisory rating of Level 3. So if you can get there, you are considered safer than in neighboring Switzerland or Austria, each at Level 4. However, they make no suggestions as to how one might get to Liechtenstein without travelling through either Switzerland or Austria, given that Liechtenstein has no airport (though they do have a helipad). Perhaps one could parachute in, though that does introduce risks of its own.
As I wrote before, we recently made our first airplane voyage since before the start of the pandemic. I was surprised at how rusty we were in what used to be accustomed procedure!
Overall, I was impressed, as I usually am, by Southwest Airlines. We flew during their recent—and never satisfactorily explained—outage, and our outbound flights were cancelled. However, we were automatically rebooked, within minutes of that notification, on a flight that left later the same day and arrived at our destination earlier, a much better situation for us. Between that and having automatic TSA Precheck, our airport experiences were problem-free. And I'm very happy about the improved cleaning and air filtration procedures, since in my experience an airplane is nearly as dangerous as an elementary school when it comes to challenges to the immune system. That part of the flight felt good.
Not that we had all that much chance to experience the new, fresher air, as masks were required to be worn at all times, even between bites and sips while eating and drinking. Fortunately, the between bites part was not aggressively enforced, but neither was there all that much opportunity for eating and drinking.
I can handle a mask, when necessary, for short shopping trips, and can make it through a choir rehearsal or a church service, albeit with difficulty. If I had to wear a mask for my job, I'd be applying for a medical exemption. I have no disability other than age, but that was good enough to get me priority for the vaccine, so maybe it would work. Fortunately, employment is not an issue.
Wearing a mask for the trip was hard. Ours was a relatively short flight, but that was three hours, and of course you have to add in the airport time on either end. Still, we managed all right, as far as I could tell.
The scary part was on the flight home, when I had the elbow room to use the sensor on my phone to check my blood oxygen. I know I'm good at sleeping on airplanes, but I couldn't stay awake to read a very interesting novel, and that concerned me. The sensor on my phone is hardly as accurate as a medical pulse oximeter, but there has to be something wrong about the fact that it consistently reads between 95% and 100% at home (usually on the high side of that), and my readings on the plane were between 84% and 90%! Pulling the mask away from my face for several breaths got it up to between 93% and 97%. But for how long had I been in the danger zone? Was the problem due to wearing the mask, or the altitude, or a combination? All I know is that when I got back home the numbers were up to 97%-100% again.
I'm trying not to think too much about the fact that our overseas family, including small children, had to endure two very long transatlantic flights for their Christmas visit here, and were forced to wear medical masks because their own cloth masks—similar to mine—were deemed to allow too much air exchange.
This won't stop me from flying again, even overseas when that is allowed. Family is too important. But at my age I need all the brain cells I can keep. Who doesn't, at any age? (That's one reason I avoid anesthesia whenever possible.) I'm more and more convinced that the harmful effects of our pandemic regulations are only just beginning to be felt.
Southwest Airlines has been getting some bad press recently, but we've recently had a wonderful experience.
I'm very disappointed that they caved in to pressure to implement a vaccine mandate for their employees. I would have respected them much, much more if they could have held out against this wrongful policy.
That said, I was impressed, and pleasantly surprised, by what happened to us.
We were scheduled to fly Southwest, and more than a little concerned about their recent cancellations, especially the news stories of people waiting several hours to get help, and not being able to reschedule any sooner than three days away.
Sure enough, the night before we were scheduled to fly, we received notice that our flight was one of the ones that was cancelled. Before we could even get through to the Southwest website, however, we receive another notification:
We have rebooked your flight for you.
Not only did it happen quickly, and with no effort on our part, but they had actually put us on a better flight than the one that was cancelled. It left three hours later, giving us a more comfortable start, yet arrived at our destination an hour earlier, because it was a direct flight instead of requiring a plane change in Baltimore. True, our new flight was packed to the gills and we were among the last five people to board the plane, but at that point we felt nothing but gratitude.
Kudos to Southwest for making a potentially terrible situation into something almost pleasant.
And many thanks to all of you who prayed for our trip!
The sheer quantity of art in Rome is unfathomable. Quite aside from all the museums and the grand churches, every time you turn a corner there's another little church, and inside that little church is more incredible art. Art that an American museum would protect with guards and high-tech security systems and state-of-the-art climate control—all at the mercy of curious tourists and the Roman climate.
The Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, however, has taken a step to protect its priceless artworks from one assault: smoke from the many candles burning nearby.
I'm sure it's better for the paintings. But it seems so wrong.
We spent a week in Rome this September, including a day in Vatican City. We saw fountains and pines, museums and monuments, art and history in overwhelming quality and quantity. But we did not see the Pope. Strangely, he never invited us to a private audience!
I don't consider that much of a loss, although we'd have been thrilled if he had, just as we would have been thrilled to be invited to visit almost any head of state. But seek him out? Never occurred to us.
The strange thing is how many people asked, after we returned, "Did you see the Pope?" When I visited England, no one asked me, "Did you see the Queen?" nor "Did you see the Emperor?" when we went to Japan.
It's a slightly more reasonable question with respect to the Pope, since we did go to St. Peter's Square, and the Pope has been known to address audiences there. But if he had done so when we were in Rome, we would most certainly not have been at the Vatican during that time, any more than we would be anywhere near Times Square on New Year's Eve. Not even for Pope Benedict—for whom I had a great deal of respect until he abdicated—would I brave such crowds. Certainly not for the man who might be a nice enough person but makes me rethink those exchanges that end with, "Is the Pope Catholic?"
On the other hand, Your Holiness, if you really want to meet with us, we'll be happy to consider a return visit to Rome. I still have an unused bus ticket as my version of throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain.
As I've written before, we enjoy watching Rick Steves' television shows about travel, and make extensive use of his guidebooks when visiting unfamiliar places. Another resource that we found invaluable on our recent trip to Rome was a Great Courses series, The Guide to Essential Italy.
Neither, however, advises what we discovered for ourselves on our visit: Do as much as you can in the morning. For us, Rome was at its best before noon: the weather was pleasant, and the streets were delightful to walk through, with more locals than tourists in sight. Except for the most popular attractions, e.g. the Colosseum and the Vatican, crowds were low, and we were able to visit museums and churches relatively unjostled.
By noon, the crowds of tourists had begun to take over the city, and Rome under the afternoon sun suggested that we were back in Florida. The early evening mobs reminded me of taking Boston's Green Line buses during rush hour, and the threat of pickpockets became a much more serious issue.
As for eating, we found late afternoon to be a delightful time to relax in a restaurant after a hard day of walking and museum-browsing. Perhaps because Rome must cater to tourists, we found most restaurants open for a four- or five-o'clock dinner, with plenty of available tables and attentive staff. It was also still light, for better views, and relatively quiet—as it gets dark, the music gets louder, a correlation without obvious causation.
No doubt "night people" have an entirely different view of Rome, but this worked very well for us. Our only later-evening excursions were short walks down the street to the local gelato place, which soon became our nightly habit before falling into a deep and exhausted sleep.
When visiting Rome, we prayed in far more churches that I can possibly remember, from the incredible St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, to the personal chapel of the popes at the Scala Sancta, to the little churches everywhere on the streets of Rome, each filled with museum-worthy artwork.
But we only attended two services on our trip, both in Switzerland, both official state churches, one Reformed and one Catholic. The way I figure it: on average, we were Anglican.
The first church was just about what you'd expect from a Reformed church: a pulpit, a cross, an organ, and some chairs. Scripture, a long sermon, and a little music (no choir). I'm told there's sometimes more music than we experienced. Of course it was all in German, but it's amazing how much you can understand of Scripture readings if you know the Bible well enough, and we even figured out a tiny bit of the sermon. Singing in German is almost easy if you (1) have the words and the music, and (2) know even a very little bit about German pronunciation.
Our second service was Catholic, and it's not really a fair comparison, because it was a special day for the church, a celebration of the saint for whom it is named. Therefore the music was special, and included the choir, which doesn't always sing for the services. (That's not all bad, as it allows Stephan to sing in the choir and still attend most of his usual church's services.) It's a modern building, but not nearly as bare as the Reformed church.
Once again, we could pick up a little bit of the Bible readings and the sermon, but of course it was mostly lost on us. On the other hand, if only we had been provided with a written transcript of the liturgy, we could have participated in most of it and known exactly what was going on, even if we didn't understand most of the German. It was recognizably very much like our Episcopal (Anglican) service. (To be fair, the Catholics would say the Anglican service is very much like theirs.) At one point, Janet leaned over and asked, "Do you say this at your church?" referring to a part of the liturgy not used in the Episcopal churches of her experience. "We do now," I replied (thanks to our current priest). I could tell you what the priest and people were saying, but I couldn't join in without the German words to read.
Here's one fun hymn (#95) we sang, fun for me because I knew the tune as that of The Glory of These Forty Days. Close enough, anyway. (Click on the image to enlarge.) Note that the Catholic hymnal attributes the music to Martin Luther, while Hymnary.org to Johann Sebastian Bach. It actually is Martin Luther's music, but Bach did base a famous cantata on it.
When it comes to travel, I'm a huge fan of Rick Steves. Not of his politics, but if you avoid his more informal, off-the-cuff broadcasts, such as the ones you'll find on Facebook, you can mostly avoid that; his shows and guidebooks have the advantage of better editing. We've found his products enormously helpful in planning a visit to an unfamiliar city, from finding hotels to organizing our days to learning about the sites and sights we are seeing.
That said, we differ from Rick on sightseeing almost as much as on politics. If he says a museum visit will take an hour, we know to count on three. And we are simply not the least interested in the nighlife of a city, which he finds vital and stimulating. Neither his television show nor his guidebook mentions our great discovery about visiting Rome: Do as much as you can in the morning. (More on that in another post.)
Then there's people-watching. Apparently that's one of Rick Steves' favorite activities, as he frequently mentions it as a highlight of a trip. I've never seen the attraction, so I made a point one night, while enjoying gelato in the little shop down the street from our hotel, to try the exercise.
I couldn't do it. I couldn't remain focussed.
I'd start out taking notice of the people around me: the man carrying his crying child, no doubt exhaused from a day of sightseeing; the fashionably-dressed women accompanied by scruffy men; the customers who thought a single cigar worth the €20 price tag. I noticed with appreciation a woman whose grey purse exactly matched her grey suit—I've never in my life bought a purse to match an outfit. Then I noticed another woman whose bright orange purse exactly matched her bright orange outfit ... and my mind was off down a rabbit hole.
That purse can't be useful with very many colors. Does the woman wear nothing but orange? Does she have a purse for every dress she owns? I can barely handle three: something I need is inevitably back home in another bag. And I cringe at the cost every time I need to replace a worn-out purse; I can't imagine spending money on one that is useful solely for one outfit. She doesn't look wealthy. Then again, what does "wealthy" look like; how can I presume to judge her financial situation? How, for that matter, can I presume to judge her spending priorities? Why am I staring at her anyway? Seems downright rude to me.
Reluctantly, I hauled myself back to the nightlife around me, but soon my internal voice (a.k.a. Li'l Writer Guy) took over again. After about twenty minutes of such struggles, I gave up on people-watching.
Perhaps it's a sport for extroverts, who apparently do not engage in this constant internal dialogue. (I can't imagine that, but I'm told it's true.) At any rate, I found the exercise moderately interesting, but nearly as exhausting as a three-hour museum experience.
Last Sunday, our church celebrated the Feast of Michael and All Angels. Also known, it turns out, as Michaelmas, a term I had only known thanks to a murder mystery in which "Michaelmas daisies" are featured.
The sermon included a short dissertation on the difference between actual angels and our popular conception of those beings, which reminded me of the observations we made during eight days of bingeing on Italian art while visiting Rome.
Biblical angels apparently feel the need to begin their encounters with humans by words like "Fear not." I'm guessing it's a pretty overwhelming encounter.
Angels in art? All too often they look as if they are about to announce, "Aren't I adorable?"
Since 2010 I have kept a list of the books I've read each year. It began as a New Year's resolution, when I realized that although I was still reading a great deal, the percentage of books included in that reading had declined considerably. In the spirit of "what gets measured, gets done," that resolution was highly successful, and I've kept up the practice of logging my books because I still find it useful.
Last year was my best year ever (108 books read), and this year is on track to be good as well (67 by the end of August, which was ahead of last year's pace).
And then came September.
After a steady reading diet each month from January to August (6, 15, 11, 10, 7, 2, 9, and 7 books), I completed zero (0) books in September. In my 10 years of keeping track, that has only happened once before, in November 2011.
So what did I do in September, if I couldn't even finish one book?
Oh, yeah. We prepared for a hurricane. In the end, it didn't hit us, for which I'm exceedingly grateful, but for a long time it looked as if it would, and the preparation is largely the same whether the hurricane hits or not. And Porter was distracted and out of town until the threats became truly serious, because of his father's death and his subsequent executor duties.
Then we spent three weeks in Switzerland and Rome, where we played with grandchildren and hiked and travelled and visited museums from morning till night.
I could have made a better showing in September if I had thought about it. Some of my favorite times were sitting on the porch swing, reading side by side with our granddaughter, who turned from a self-described non-reader into a confirmed bookworm practically overnight while we were there. I could have been sharing her A to Z Mysteries as she blew through them. Or I could have been reading the new-to-me Life of Fred books that I noticed too late on their shelves. Instead, I tackled a longer and more challenging book: Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray. I should have known I'd end up needing to borrow it and bring it home for completion.
Plus, I have plenty of fairly short books on my Kindle that I could have completed on one of our transatlantic flights. If I'd had a new Brother Cadfael book, I probably would have. Instead, I did puzzles, watched cooking shows, enjoyed a movie about J.R.R. Tolkien (that's another post), and slept.
There are no real excuses for having left September a blank in my reading record. As with many things in life, if I'd put my mind to it, I could have done better. But neither are there regrets. We had an exciting and fulfilling September, and October is another month!
The life of a Transportation Security Administration inspector is not an easy one.
I had packed my suitcase efficiently and well, everything neat and tidy and protected as much as reasonable from potential damage. It was full, closed, and ready to go.
Then, my eyes roving over the bookshelves, I discovered that I had left something out: my Ovomaltine spread. (It's sort of like Biscoff cookie butter, but crunchy, malted chocolate.) Fortunately, Porter had plenty of room in his suitcase, and was planning to fill it up with our bags of dirty clothes.
So I wrapped the (glass) jar in plastic wrap, inserted it into a plastic bag, then another plastic bag, and then wrapped that in a dirty shirt. And another dirty shirt. and a pair of dirty pants. And then placed the whole bundle amongst the rest of the laundry in the dirty-clothes bag. This, I was sure, would keep the precious contents intact during the long journey from Switzerland to Orlando.
Intact—but not, as it turned out, unmolested.
My suitcase with its varied contents apparently set off no alarm bells for the security inspectors, but Porter's was selected for special treatment in New York City. Those poor TSA inspectors dug through our dirty clothes bag and unwrapped all those smelly shirts and plastic bags to get to the gold. At least the seal on the jar was unbroken; they didn't bother to taste it.
Thank you for your service. It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it.
What do you do when you're hiking along in Switzerland and a big Bernese Mountain dog runs up to you, leans against your leg, and sits on your foot, stopping all forward motion?
Then rolls over, exposing a furry belly and pleading eyes?
And you're allergic to dogs?
You give thanks that he's not a cat, and give him a good tummy rub using one hand only, promising yourself you won't touch your face until you get home and can wash.
Because who can resist such trusting love?
After staying up all night to watch the moon walk, I was glad the next two days on our Girl Scout European adventure included not much more than relaxing at Hemsby Beach. When you realize that I had grown up with the warm Atlantic waters and the soft, sandy beaches of Daytona Beach, Florida, you will realize that the following entry was actually high praise for Hemsby Beach and the North Sea.
Went to beach—nice but sort of rocky. Not nearly as cold as I thought. Pleasant to swim in.
We stayed up late again on the 21st, to watch the Eagle (lunar module) rendezvous with Columbia (command module).
Then on the 23rd we had an adventure that had nothing to do with the moon landing. We waited an hour and a half for a bus to take us into Yarmouth to do some shopping, not my favorite activity to begin with.
Saw a grand total of 2 stores. Didn't see anything I wanted so Mrs B. told Bonnie S. and I to explore a nearby street and meet her back at a certain store at 12:15. We were there, and she wasn't. So we waited and waited. For an hour and 45 minutes. We figured that they must have realized we were missing, and would come back for us. [That was the standing instruction in my family: If you get separated, stop, stay where you are, and wait for us to find you.] We didn't know whether Mrs. B. expected us to go back of our own accord or wait for her. So we played it safe and waited. Finally, we decided to call the camp. We found a phone but oh, what problems. We had to call the operator to figure out how to call. Then we couldn't get the money in the machine. We called the operator and she placed the call. Talked to a panicked Mrs. B. who said to come back via the Wellington Bus Station. When asked where it was she said, "ask anyone." So we did. A very complex story, but the end of it was we ended up in the factory section of town. We finally found it, and arrived at the camp about one and half hours late.
I have no idea what happened, why it was we didn't connect up with the group when we were sure we were in the right place at the right time, nor what directions we were given that had us going through the factory district. In fact, I only remember two parts of that adventure: trying to make that phone call at the British pay phone, and what we stared at while sitting and waiting to be found: a gigantic photo of a singer, and the words, "Englebert Humperdinck," covering one wall of the building in front of us. At the time, I knew that name only as the composer of the opera, Hansel and Gretel. This young singer with the same name was soon to be giving a concert in the area.
Little did I know that fifty years later, one of my friends would be touring the world, singing with that same Engelbert Humperdinck.
On July 24 we paid a visit to Sandringham Palace, the Queen's private residence. Alas, not to see the queen; the building wasn't even open. We enjoyed her gardens, however, and had a picnic. We arrived back at camp in time to watch the astronauts return to earth.
Watched astronauts come on board ship. Laurie and I threw an Apollo victory party just after a TV review of all Apollo. Mrs. B. provided drinks (7-Up and Coke); Laurie, Kathy M., and I bought goodies, and nearly everyone who came brought something. We ate and sang and took pictures.
Even though I didn't experience as much of the historic moon landing coverage as I would have liked, the timing could not have been better for where we were in our trip. We missed very few of the major events, and it was a great week to be an American in Europe.
"Ate and sang and took pictures"—I guess that's been my favorite way to celebrate for at least half a century.
On July 19 our touring Girl Scout group had left London and a madcap sightseeing itinerary behind and settled into a hostel of sorts at Hemsby Beach in Yarmouth, England. July 20 was a day of rest and recreation for us, for which I was grateful, as there was a television set in the camp on which we were able to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing. Not well, because it was a small TV, almost certainly black and white, and the room was packed—but we saw it.
My journal tells me just those bare facts, because I poured my stream-of-consciousness "live" reactions into a letter that I sent to my family. It's possible I have that letter somewhere, and if so I hope to unearth it in my lifetime. But sadly, that time is not now. As a long-time science student and science fiction fan, with grandparents who lived in Daytona Beach and an uncle who worked as part of the space program, this was a big moment for me. I'm glad my once-in-a-lifetime (or so I thought) trip to Europe didn't cut me off completely from the joys and triumphs of the moon landing.
Mrs. B. made us all go back to our rooms at midnight, so I was once again grateful to have my contraband radio. Several of us huddled together in the tiny, one-room "chalet" I shared with my friend Laurie, and stayed up all night following the coverage so as not to miss Neil Armstrong's first step onto the moon.