Monday, September 26, 2011

Darkest Peru

While our children were swinging happily on the monkey bars at a neighborhood playground, I asked my Peruvian friend Araceli if she had ever heard of Paddington Bear.

Beloved of English children since his creation in 1958 by author Michael Bond, Paddington is a small brown bear who sports a duffel coat, hat and wellington boots. He lives with the Brown family and his favorite food is marmalade.

Named for the London train station where he was found, Paddington originally hailed from Darkest Peru. But these days he is more often seen in the shops at Heathrow Airport, where tourists eagerly snap him up as a quintessentially British souvenir.

Sitting with Araceli it struck me as odd that this bear who has come to symbolize what it means to be British (duffel coats! marmalade! wellington boots!) is in fact Peruvian. And that in his home country, where his Great Aunt Lucy resides in a home for retired bears in Lima, he is not such a household name.

Like Billy Idol and countless Hollywood celebrities, sometimes you have to leave home to make it big.

But where is "Darkest Peru?" Araceli wondered.

In the England of the1950s, Michael Bond probably chose "Darkest Peru" as Paddington's birthplace because it was far, far away and sounded impossibly remote and exotic, I said. Like the legendery Timbuktu.

Araceli laughed. And I asked her: "Where is Darkest Peru for you?"

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Weddings as cross-cultural bridges

This has been a year of fabulous weddings -- four to date -- and though a priest of my acquaintance once quipped that marriage is the ultimate cross-cultural experience (hello -- in-laws) in these cases it was an actual cross-cultural experience.

Earlier this summer the Syrian/American daughter of a friend married her Romanian fiance. The reception was a rollicking celebration of both cultures in music and dance -- a belly dancer who balanced a candelabra on her head and later performed in golden wings and a troupe of folk dancers from Romania.

Then an Ethiopian friend got married in a traditional Orthodox ceremony. A drummer led the wedding procession into the church, where the couple were decked in royal robes and crowns. Later the guests feasted on injera and wat and danced the Ethiopian shoulder dance while the women ululated in celebration.

A wedding at the Maryland Renaissance Festival was like stepping into a time machine. The bride and groom danced to Greensleeves at the Dragon Inn while knights, kings and courtiers stopped by to pay their respects. (And then the newlyweds, dressed in Medieval finery, rode into the sunset on... an elephant!)

Next up is my English stepbrother's marriage to a Texan. In this cultural mash-up there will be barbecue, croquet and elaborate hats.

Cross-cultural marriages can be incredibly challenging, requiring a high level of commitment and accomodation. There are logistical as well as cultural differences to navigate, different customs and a whole set of thorny issues that can arise when children are involved.

But weddings like these are shining moments: reminders that our global family is just that -- a family -- and that we all love to come together to witness happiness and be joyful and dance -- no matter what the music.