Stately Blaska Manor U.S.A. hosted an international Thanksgiving this year. To a table groaning with bounty from the Blaska Experimental Work Farm, the Squire and his family made welcome a young student from China and a student couple from Saudi Arabia.
Three nations playing a leading role on the world stage, with completely different cultures, religions, and politics.
The Manor was draped with more maps than Patton's Third Army headquarters, onto which, the international guests pointed out their home towns. The Chinese fellow pointed at Wuhan, a city of 10 million in the east-central part of the country. The Saudis located Jeddah, on the Red Sea gateway to the Muslim holy city of Mecca.
In my turn, I traced the heroic saga of the Blaska Tribe from the Sudetenland of Bohemia (not mentioning its sad role in WWII) and the maternal lineage from the Orangemen of Northern Ireland. The lovely Lisa indicated the north-easternmost Poland as the home of her paternal forebears and merrie olde England on the maternal side. All of which, explained Number One Son, made him a mutt. #1 Son met the three through a Christ Presbyterian Church outreach program.
I asked about their families. Young Mister Saudi explained that his father had eight children, by his first wife. Seven by his second. I thought he assumed a sheepish look. I did not ask but assumed that the wives were contemporaneous. I suggested his father must be wealthy. I interpreted his non-verbal response as "with 15 children?"
The young man was very solicitous of his wife, who wore a black hajib and was pregnant with their first child.
For the blessing, I read the contemporary accounting of the Pilgrims' 1620 embarkation from Holland ("for the tide waits for no man") as they set sail for Plymouth Rock. A reproduction of a 17th Century map of North America loomed behind me. I pointed to a spot near present-day Boston then traced that to what would become Wisconsin, then claimed by France. Recent times, I acknowledged, compared to the histories of our guest nations. I asked our Chinese emissary how old was his country.
Expecting an answer expressed in millennia our guest responded, "One hundred years," then invoked the name ofSun Yat-sen, who had overthrown the last imperial dynasty and become provisional president of the new republic in 1912.
I asked our young Saudi husband to follow my blessing with his. "In Arabic?" he asked. Of course. And then the young Chinese student, who said he was not very religious.
The indentured kitchen servants prepared two smaller turkeys for the table of six in order to double the number of drumsticks and wings. The foreign desk of the Blaska Policy Research Factory had failed to discern, however, that the Saudi couple were vegetarian. The Squire and his chatelain were relieved that they had planned ample portions of sweet potato, green bean and mushroom casserole, peas and onions.
Our international guests were not much interested in the mince meat pie, which we explained was really raisin, nor the cranberries, but took readily to the pumpkin pie.
The house staff had thought to remove the Rubenesque painting of the naked lady hanging over the toilet, whom we have dubbed, "Our Lady of the S***ter." My advisers suggested that the Squire refrain from his customary cup(s) of Sauvignon Blanc, at which point the advisers were dismissed for the day. The Squire believes in the castle doctrine.
Effervescent grape juice was served for the guests, although I failed to pick up on the Chinese guest's professed enthusiasm for rum. My bad.
His attention was drawn to the rum after the Arabian mister had correctly identified a statute of the Virgin Mary, reigning over the well stocked liquor cabinet (a.k.a. "Holy of Holies.") Neither of the Saudis were completely conversant in the English language but then, neither are most of TheDailyPage Forum inmates. His Missus carried a cheat sheet of phrases. Over dinner, they extolled the virtues of camel's milk as a health food and possible anti-carcinogen.
I was aware that their king had died recently and inquired about the succession but language difficulties intervened.
After dinner, we toured the extensive grounds of the Manor and peered out over the verdant fields, now fallow, of the Experimental Farm. Our three foreign guests were excited to peer into the high-tech innards of the top-secret Mobile Terrestrial Exploration Module, which began life as an Airstream Bambi. Trusting their discretion, I did not demand that they sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Back inside, to the map room. Over a depiction of the U.S. of A., Mister Saudi Arabia wondered where the cowboys lived. I waved a hand over an area from the western Dakotas down through Texas and over to the Pacific Coast. Hovering over Arizona, I noted that our Arab guests might feel right at home in that area's dry heat.
We assured all that the Wisconsin winter was even worse than the horror stories they had heard. The Saudi man and wife looked at each other with that Home Alone look.
At the cities on the map where my hand rested, Missus Saudi asked, "Is it expensive?" Women can be practical in any culture.
Her husband had his own standard question: "Black people or white people?" In the case of Arizona/New Mexico the answer was "Indians," which prompted a show and tell of the Pueblo Pottery collection. The Chinese fellow, much more conversant in our language, related that his area had pockets populated by the equivalent of Native Americans. "Tibetans," he said brightly.
A brief mention by Mr. Saudi that his people "had hopes for Obama" was the only other reference to the political, a subject their congenial hosts uncharacteristically avoided. "Arab Spring" was not voiced, nor were any complaints about China.
Our intention was to expose our foreign visitors to an American Thanksgiving -- the Saudis were only one month in America. But we watched no football, so they missed the glory of Aaron Rodgers and the debacle of Ndamukong Suh, for whom there is no good explanation. In any language.