|Living El Alto: The Sensation of Christmas|
|Tuesday, December 06, 2011|
By Luis Miranda
Even as a boy, during this time of year, my body is alerted to the arrival of the holiday season. I am not speaking of a hallucination or of something so physical. What I mean is a feeling that pierces deeply within me and causes me immense joy. It is a feeling that provokes a smile, a cascade of love. It can arrive at any time, but always before the 31st of December. Sometimes it even skips a year. And if it does not arrive, my life follows its due course, and I continue being who I am.
But when it does arrive, for that minute, or day or week, I walk on clouds. Things that regularly would bother me slip past unnoticed; I receive an additional burst of energy.
And it has been mi barrio, in northern Manhattan, that has served as the catalyst for this spark to light.
Sometimes it has been more difficult. I remember when I first moved to the neighborhood in 1981. I was only 27 years old, and I felt that I carried the world on my shoulders. We moved to Payson Avenue on the 21st of December. The move was a disaster. It began to snow and as the first-time homeowners we were, my wife Luz and I had not paid attention to our lack of heating oil. We were soon without heat. For the first time, I had an expensive mortgage, a little boy, Lin-Manuel, of just one year of age, and a 7year-old angel, Lucecita, in addition to many bills to pay, and was living in a neighborhood I did not know. The day after our move, just a couple of days before Christmas Eve, I sat on a bench of the park in front of our house to suffer in silence. But I could not.
Suddenly, Inwood Hill Park became a picture-perfect Christmas postcard brought to life, the kind that I would receive when I lived in Puerto Rico, when I could only fantasize about snow and sleighs. The house with its rows of lights and decorative icicles seemed like a gingerbread house, the kind you’d find in fairytales. And the majestic Cloisters, just at the end of the street, seemed the castle where Cinderella would find the prince of her soul. It was then and there when the spirit of Christmas of that year came into me. The panic over all the responsibilities I had acquired, seemingly overnight, was vanquished by the pure feeling of Christmas that made me appreciate the wonderful place that I now would call my home.
Almost a decade later, Washington Heights, served again as the setting for this special sensation that I experience. It was 1989, and I had just finished losing the mayoralty campaign that September. December found me cleaning up and collecting loose ends from my work in the Koch administration. That day, as I finished bringing home my papers and the many memories, I was not very happy. Although I already had a new job, a change that profound impacts you. I was sure that the Christmas spirit would not find a home in my soul that year.
But that night we decided to attend a small celebration that la Asociación Comunal de Dominicanos Progresistas (ACDP) was hosting in its offices on 173rd Street. There we danced, and we ate, and we spoke with our good friends. At some point, I stepped outside because I was warm. As I looked up at the sky, the starred night served as a veil over the Highbridge Park Recreation Center, alongside the Tower. At that moment the spirit of Christmas sailed through my body, and the future was reflected in a starry sky in the Highbridge Park that appeared clear and fruitful. Once again the beauty of my neighborhood overcame the sadness of having lost an election and my job.
In 1999, when the world was worried over what digital changes might come with the new millennium, I totally was focused on a fiestón that I was putting together in my hometown of Vega Alta, Puerto Rico. Managing all the details from New York, I was far more concerned with the roast pig we were going to cook in the perennial summer of the Caribbean island than anything that might be occurring in or to the island of Manhattan. I thought “when the passengers applaud upon our arriving on Puerto Rican soil, then the Christmas spirit will enter me.” In fact, one week before departure, I was in a meeting where we were putting the final touches on what would be the launch of The Manhattan Times. I felt the rush of emotion that would come with this local newspaper, and how it would serve to document my neighborhood, and Christmas began in my heart.
Yesterday, while I drove with my nephew Miguel through these streets, we spoke about buying our Christmas tree and about finishing the decorations at home. I looked onto Dyckman Street, and from a block away, I could spot the beautiful blue sea of lights draped over the trees in from of Mama Juana, Mama Sushi and Il Sole, and the joy overtook me. I said to Miguel, “Christmas has arrived.” He answered, “It’s the sensation of Christmas.”
Without a doubt, it is the sensation of Christmas en el Alto.