Genre of the Week: A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

A Christmas Memory.jpg
Photo taken in December 2014

When learning about American culture and literature, there is a canon of authors, whose most popular books, in the eyes of non-native speakers of English, are highly recommended to read. One of the authors mentioned in this canon is Truman Capote. When looking at his life in general, it was marred by family crises while growing up, mental illness and drugs and alcohol. All of them contributed to his downfall and untimely death in 1984. He was a sad person but one who looked for the truth in writing, no matter how painful. This was seen in his most prized work, In Cold Blood, published in 1965 and based on a true story about a family murder in Kansas, and his collaboration with his best friend, Harper Lee, who later became famous for her two major works, To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set A Watchman, the latter of which was published in July 2015, seven months before her death.

Yet even though he started writing at the age of eleven, not all of his works were of doom and gloom. Many of them were based on his positive experiences and memories as a child, as well as some creative ideas based on stories of others.

While Breakfast at Tiffany’s (published in 1958) is the most popular Truman Capote story on the European side of the ocean, he wrote a Christmas memoir based on the tradition of fruitcake for family, friends and neighbors. Entitled A Christmas Memory and published in 1956 as part of the Breakfast at Tiffany’s Short Story Trilogy and NovelLa, the story focuses on a close bond between the narrator named Buddy and his cousin, both of whom are living in a house with several other relatives who don’t care much about them.

The setting is in late November in the 1930s,  when the two embark on a journey to pick nuts, dried fruit and later, whisky, flour, sugar and butter to make a total of 31 loaves of a traditional fruitcake. Getting the ingredients wasn’t easy, as they had collected barely enough money from their odd jobs just to get the basics from the store. They had a hand-me-down baby carriage to haul the dried fruit and nuts and were accompanied by the cousin’s dog, Queenie.

Despite the adversity and the lack of attention that the other relatives had towards the two cousins, whose age difference spans two generations, the main themes of this holiday classic deal with creativity and closeness. Creativity because despite their lack of resources, they found fashionable ways of creating presents with whatever nature gave them. This was seen as the two made kites for each other and they went kite-flying as they were celebrating with relatives. It also showed as the two found and trimmed the Christmas tree for the family, much to their dismay, as Capote wrote.

It also showed in Buddy’s distaste for materialistic items as he received a dress shirt, writing set and a year’s subscription of a religion magazine. The lack of taste in religion and family morals reflected Capote’s life, as drugs, alcohol, homosexuality and self-liberation were themes in his life, those that even the Pope would have disapproved of.  The cousin was a bit more content with her gift of a woolen sweater. But their gifts toward each other- the fruit cake and the kites represent the other theme in this book. While the relatives never really cared much for Buddy and his cousin, the two made sure they kept their bond to the very end. The kites served as this symbolic theme, especially in the end, when the older cousin succumbed to dementia but not before Buddy was forced to live with other relatives after that memorable Christmas. This segment runs parallel to Capote’s childhood, for his mother had two separate divorces while he grew up, and he had a close attachment to a distant relative, who ensured that he salvaged the rest of his early days before he moved on as a writer.

If there was a main idea in this book, it would be this: Christmas is not just about finding creative ways to showing love and appreciation, it’s about closeness and how you care about the other one. It matters not what you think the person should have but it matters how much love and appreciation you have towards the other one, especially when you listen to the other’s stories and wishes in life. These two traits seems to be missing in today’s world, yet when reading Capote’s book, the Files’ Genre of the Week for the holiday season, you will see why, with every tradition, ritual and creativity presented in the story. This goes well beyond the fruit cake, the kites and the Christmas tree.

Like In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, A Christmas Memory was later adapted to film several times. However the oldest one seen below is the closest to the book. Have a look at it and compare it to the book and the other films that have surpassed it over the years. What is the same? What is different?  Enjoy! 🙂

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German Christmas Market Holiday Pics 3: Nuremberg

Frauenkirche view of the Main Market Photo taken in 2010

After enjoying some music over a Glühwein and listening to people talking about how Carl Zeiss Jena and Erfurt are struggling to make a name for themselves in the 3rd League of the German professional soccer league (DFB), the next stop on the Christmas market tour is Nuremberg (Germ.:  Nürnberg).  A brief overview of the city itself, the city of over 500,000 is the second largest city in Bavaria, behind Munich, and is the capital of Franconia. The city has a colorful history both positive as well as bad (and I believe we all know about the bad part, so I will not mention it here). It is the birthplace of the railroad in Germany, where the first rail line was created in 1835, and it is home to the German railroad museum. Furthermore, the FC Nürnberg from the German Premier League (1st Bundesliga) is a regional favorite as despite the fact that it does some league hopping between the 1st and 2nd leagues, it can be a royal pain in the butt to some of the elite teams, like Munich, Bremen, and Berlin, just to name a few.

But the Nürnberger Christkindlsmarkt is perhaps the most popular and one of the largest Christmas markets in all of Germany. Located in the heart of the city in the old town, the Christmas market ties together tradition, multiculture, and fun for the more than 5 million people who visit the place in the 1 ½ months that it is open, ending on Christmas Eve. The Christmas market is divided up into four parts. There is the main market, where every square meter of over 300 booths fill up the 350+ square meter market square, located in front of  Frauenkirche (a catholic church). To the right of the main market is the Kindermarkt, located behind the church on the east side, where all the children’s rides and booths are located. There is the food market, located along Maximilianplatz, parallel to the Pegnitz River, where different varieties of food are served. And finally there is the Markt der Partnerstädte located in front of City Hall at Rathausplatz, where each of Nürnberg’s 16 sister cities from around the world display their own products for sale. This includes some from Greece, Romania, France, Turkey, Sri Lanka, and Cuba. There is also one from Cordoba (Spain), Edinburgh (Scotland), and Atlanta (USA). Even Gera, which is located in eastern Thuringia (about two hours east of Erfurt), is a sister city to Nuremberg and offers its local specialties at the market every year, including the typical Thuringian Bratwurst.

Children's section of the Christmas market

But there is more to the Nürnberger Christkindlsmarkt than just the types of markets that are worth seeing. Since its first inception in 1610, the Christmas market in Nürnberg offers a wide array of  homemade products which one will not find elsewhere, except at some of the other Christmas markets in Germany. In particular, handcraft products made of wood are very popular as Christmas decorations, Räucherhäuser (incense houses), and even mini toy products for the doll house, such as furniture, appliances, and mini-food products can be bought at the stands. Even alphabet trains are common to pick up and even  my daughter has a set which resembles her name plus the locomotive and caboose. Another tradition that you will find in Nürnberg is the famous “Lebkuchen”, which are gingerbread cookies covered with a coating and whose bottom side is covered with a disk-like white sugar covering. All assortments of Lebkuchen can be found here as well as the other Christmas markets in Germany, at the booths throughout the Christmas market. However, if you want something rather warm and hearty, then the two products you should definitely try at the Nuremberg Christmas market are the Pfannkuchen and the Glühwein. The Pfannkuchen is a dough resembling a cross between a pizza and a tortilla but is filled with toppings at your request, and baked in the oven so that in the end, you can have it hot and crispy. Most of them consist of vegetables, cheese, and meat slices, but there are some with fruit and chocolate should you have a sweet tooth but want to forego the Lebkuchen and another specialty well-known to the Christmas market, the fruitcake. The Glühwein (a.k.a. spiced or mulled wine) from Nuremberg is the most popular throughout all of Germany and parts of Europe. There are different types of Glühwein that one can try, whether it is homemade, or if it is combined with other forms of liquour. This includes one with a shot of tequilla, which I tried at the stand representing one of Nuremberg’s sister cities, Cordoba, Spain. This is probably the most lethal as despite the taste (which was really good), it can put you out until the next week, even if you don’t feel the effects of it at first. This was the case with yours truly, as he suffered a hangover for a couple days, although admittedly, it was well worth the experiment.

Mini-toy pieces for the doll house
Nürnberger Pfannkuchen

Finally, one has to look at the origin of the Nürnberger Christkindlsmarkt. Christkind, when translated into English means Christ Child, and every two years, a girl is nominated to represent the Christ Child at the Christmas market. The girl must be between the ages of 16 and 19 years and must have a “clean record,” meaning the girl must be pure and rid of all the giddiness. She is responsible for opening the Christmas market with a processional, which attracts thousands of people, plus other events throughout the season, which usually starts at the end of November and ends on Christmas Eve.

Despite all this excitement involving the Christmas Market in Nuremberg, it does have an Achilles heel which may be fatal if the issue is not settled in the future. Despite the fact that over 5 million people visit the market every year, there is the problem of overcrowding , as many people push and shove their way through the markets, making the experience of visiting one of the most famous markets in Germany (and to a certain degree, Europe) rather uncomfortable. The worst time is during the weekend and especially on a Saturday, when people don’t work over the weekend and use this time to do the Christmas shopping. Whenever there is crowding in a public place, it is almost certain that there will be tempers flying from those who are impatient and sometimes inconsiderate towards others.  It is worse after a few rounds of Glühwein or other warm drinks, because that is when most of the mischiefs happen. While we will never have the incident like we had with the Love Parade Dance in Duisburg (east of Cologne), where overcrowding resulted in a stampede and the deaths of 144 people and hundreds of injuries in July of this year, the overcrowding may have a potential of becoming dangerous in the future unless the city of Nuremberg either controls the flow of people going through the market through entrance fees, or enlarges the market to include other areas even outside the old town. However, until this problem is resolved, the author here can offer you some tips to make sure that your experience at the Nürnberger Christkindlsmarkt is a wonderful one and not a nightmare. These tips are based in my experiences visiting the market twice within a span of a year and whether they are useful or not will all depend on when you visit it and how you like it.

Overcrowding at the Main Market. Note: The Lorenz Church is in the background

So without further ado, here are some useful tips to consider:

1. The best time to visit the Christmas market in Nuremberg is either on a weekday or weeknight, as this is when the activity is lightest.

2. The worst time to visit the Christmas market is on a Saturday; especially because many department stores and other permanent shops are open at the same time, many people like to push their way through to get to their goods they want. Plus one has to be aware of the overcrowding that is involved.

3. If you insist on visiting the Christmas market on a Saturday, you may want to consider lodging the night before so that you have enough time to spend the next day.

4. Always make sure you have enough money in your possession so that you don’t come up short and have to fight through the crowd just to get to an ATM machine

5. Make sure you be polite to others when getting through and show an example to the rest of the bunch so that it is known that pushing and shoving are just simply not allowed.

6. If it is too crowded and you cannot get through, always remember: the Christmas market is not going anywhere. It’ll be there the next time you visit Nuremberg.

7. Never rush through the Christmas market. Take your time, enjoy the booths, buy some things for your loved ones, and have some fun, and lastly,

8. Never try Glühwein with tequila unless you are man enough to take it and the hangover that accompanies it.

Keeping those points in mind and after trying some goodies, my next trip is north to another Christmas market, where I have friends waiting for me. Until next time folks and friends, enjoy the flicks provided by the author of the Files.