Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas and Khamas

For those of you who are following these epistles, you will no doubt have realised that there’s a time lag, worse than a Skype call, between word and map. The former has reached late October, and the jungle of Misiones, the latter is on the Puna, the Altiplano near the Bolivian border. Two worlds separated by four thousand metres of altitude, ninety percentage points of humidity and a calendar month. At the present rate of production and publication you’ll be in for a tedium of tales, long  after we return. Many establishments claim to offer a Wi-Fi connection, it seems to be a standard accoutrement , along side a toilet and a hand basin. When the reality is otherwise, strength is weak and the virus software bullies me into offering it priority. So when we get lucky and find the right place, hoping the local kids aren’t in the cyber-caf next door, destroying a virtual world and hogging any  available capacity, we go for a burn and post logs like the fire might go out.  So to keep in sequence, I now have to compose the Christmas Letter. Groan on both our parts. As we have no hyperactive offspring or overachieving events to relate, can I offer a thought and piece of lexiconic trivia?

Why Xmas? The spelling, not the event. It’s one of those assumptions that I’ve never thought to question, half assuming it was piece of slovenly shorthand or a pictorial reference to crucifixes. Time to delve… The 22nd letter of the Greek alphabet is ’x’ , ’chi’ - actually it’s slightly different but as this is a Spanish keyboard and yours is  probably an Anglo-Saxon one, you’ll need to visualise the ‘kiss’ letter, only with elongated tails. This is transliterated as ’kh’ or ’ch’, and represents the initial ’chi’ of the Greek ‘khristo’, Christ. Hence, Xmas. The ‘mass’ comes from a different root, from old English: moessa’, through ecclesiastical Latin, ‘missa’, possibly from the closing liturgy: ‘Ite missa est’, ’go, it is the dismissal’. Educational trivia.

Why Christmas? A message, not the event. Yesterday we were passing Alfarcito, a small Andean pueblo which seemed to be the centre of considerable activity, stopped to see what was happening, and more prosaically, to hunt down a tin of lentils. A place with a few low adobe dwellings, all with their mandatory PV powered satellite dishes, Coca-Cola signs and a stone church. All the standard constructs for any local village, only on this occasion, to one side stands an incongruous, smoked glass, reed thatch building.  Father Alechandro meets us and explains. The event and all the activity is to commemorate the passing of their priest a year ago. A young rugby playing man, who had been disabled in a parapenting accident seven years previously, yet as a paraplegic, had managed to minister to his congregation from his ‘donkey quad’, and to build this secondary school where none had ever existed before.  A message of Hope, writ large in tinted glazing.

A Salt Christmas Tree 
I’m penning and the Navigator will be advance blogging this, from a small mining town that extracts talc. The sun is intense, but there’s little of the debilitating heat found on the lowlands. This morning’s tent was frost-armoured and I rode in double gloves and heavy boots, which is possibly the only Venn diagrammatic point of contact between scribe and recipient this post-dated Christmas. Where we will be on the day, fate un-tempted, you will no doubt learn sometime around St. Valentine’s day.