Expat Chronicles: Have Yourselves A Merry Little Christmas

As I write this, I’m watching a video of jazz musicians playing their weekly gig from the bandleader’s apartment in Harlem. The name of the video series is “Emmet’s Place,” and you can find it on Facebook and YouTube. They’ve been doing this for months, ever since the COVID lockdown began. When I’m stuck inside on Daddy’s Night Out, due to our own lockdown here in London, I tune this gig in, when I might normally be out at a jazz club watching a live show.

The bandleader’s name is Emmet Cohen. His website tells us he’s a “multifaceted American jazz pianist” and “recognized prodigy” who “began Suzuki method piano instruction at age three, and his playing quickly became a mature melding of musicality, technique, and concept.”

Well, he’s certainly an excellent musician and engaging host. He has similarly stellar players sitting in, all talented professionals, all forced to ply their trades in the confines of Emmet’s apartment instead of at a club or concert hall somewhere.

Tonight’s is a special Christmas show. One guy takes a turn on vocals, crooning a slow version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” I walk upstairs to grab another beer – Carlsberg, a Danish pilsner – and find that our oldest daughter is also playing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” on the piano as part of her nightly practice.

There’s a symmetry to all this that I would say something profound about, if I only had profundity in me right now, which I don’t. I really need to do some real work rather than blog. The assignments keep coming in. But it’s the Yuletide season, so…

London is on lockdown again. It started a couple days ago. This is the 438th lockdown since March. Okay, that’s not right. It’s the, ummm, third or fourth? Something like that. This one is especially concerning because a new strain of the coronavirus has visited our fair town, and the Prime Minister says it’s a doozy. Much more contagious than previous strains, though not necessarily more life-threatening. The PM had hoped to keep London open over Christmas. London is a great place for Christmas, with the lights and decorations and Dickens and Christmas markets and all the history and reverie.

But it’s 2020, and Christmas must be reined in, like everything else. The hospitals are filling up. Don’t come down with a serious condition right now, because you might wind up in a hospital storage room. All of Europe has caught a bad case of the Second Wave. In fact, Europe doesn’t want Brits traveling around the continent, so some countries have cut off travel from the United Kingdom. EU ambassadors would like to reverse this ban. Vaccinations are being administered, which is a good thing. People seem to be adhering to the new rules. I see a lot of masks on my daily bike rides.

We’re just looking forward to Santa, presents, turkey and stuffing.

The kids are excited. And why not? School is out, Christmas is coming, the tree stays lit pretty much 24/7 because I’ve grown too lazy to turn it off, and the fat guy with the sleigh is gearing up for his annual sojourn.

I get the kids outside at least once a day here in perpetually damp Wintertime London. I’ve had them hitting baseballs the last couple of days at nearby parks and playgrounds, figuring they’d rather roller blade or something. But no! They’ve enjoyed hitting baseballs! And they’re good at it – they haven’t forgotten how to over here in the Cricket-crazed UK! A Christmas Miracle!

The rest of the family will probably head out to Christmas Eve Mass while I brine the turkey, because churches still seem to be open, even though most everything else is closed besides grocery stores and pharmacies and the like.

But mostly our daughters hang inside, enjoying life away from the rigors of school, doing their computer thing and laughing or chilling or just laughing. The world has been a mean, unforgiving place in 2020. It’s been tragic for many, inconvenient for most, scary for the lot of us. Many adults have not acted very adult. Many leaders have not led.

But it’s Christmas, and the kids are excited. One day maybe they’ll tell their own kids and grandkids about life during the Double Twenty. It will sound fascinating and horrifying, all these lockdowns, all this chaos and anger.

For now, though, it’s just Christmas. And it’s still a pretty cool place to be.

So, Merry Christmas to all.

And God bless us, everyone.

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