How lucky can you get! Two New Year’s celebrations right in a row!
I didn’t realize that today would be New Year’s Day, but it does make sense: it’s Firstday the first of Firstmonth. My tour begins tomorrow, not today; meaning that I have a whole day of nothing to do except write you this letter.
I found out about the New Year the night that we all went over to John Anderson’s apartment for dinner.
What a crowd he had invited! Lanni, Harna, and I were there, of course; the couple from the apartment next door, and John’s friend Panu Maksimak.
I volunteered to help Panu make the salad, but once we were in the kitchen, I just sort of took over. The vegetables were a little different, but not strange enough to throw me off. I just had to do a little taste-testing, and sniff my way through the herb jars. Panu chopped the vegetables and watched in fascination as I concocted my own salad dressing: three parts of some sort of nutty-tasting oil from a plastic bottle; one part of vinegary stuff from a glass jar; some salt, peppery stuff, and minty herbs. I got all sorts of compliments for the dressing, but I am not sure why—was it because it tasted so good (which it did), or was it because they are Homelanders and congenitally nice; or was it because they were astounded that I could actually pull it off! I don’t really know, and I care even less. It’s better to enjoy praise than to analyze it!
While we were in the kitchen, Panu asked me what the word for ‘kitchen’ is in the human language. First I told him that there is no such thing as a ‘Human language,’ there are thousands of languages, just like on Homeland.
“My native language is English,” I said, “an important trade language, and the second-most common language on Earth.”
“Like Fjarnian on Homeland,” Panu interjected.
I agreed. Then I went on to say that ‘kitchen’ is our word for kitchen; and I added that it’s called ‘kokhnya’ in Russian, which I studied in college.
“Oh, that is quite amusing!” Panu said, “‘Kitchen’ sounds like a sneeze, and ‘kokhnya’ like a cough! Not very appetizing at all.” We got very giggly over that one. Then Panu asked me what I was planning for New Year’s Eve.
“We were just celebrating the New Year of 1996 when I left Earth,” I recalled, “What year is it going to be here?” Now I admit that asking what year it is, is kind of a daft question, but how should I know? I just got here!
“It will be the year 17830 beginning Firstday,” he replied while he chopped away at the salad vegetables.
It took me a while to do the math in my head. For some reason, I still have to do arithmetic in English. “That’s exciting!” I remarked, “The 179th century begins tomorrow!”
Panu finished his chopping. “Not quite,” he said. “No, it will still be the 10th century in the 18th millennium; only the decade changes. I don’t think you’re party will be long enough to last to the 179th century!” He gathered the vegetables in his hands and put them in the salad bowl.
It’s really quite amazing to me that the big differences between Earth and Homeland are easy to take in stride; it’s the little differences that really give you trouble. Like light switches and water faucets (hot and cold are on the opposite sides), driving on the left side of the road, numbers in Thorgelfaynese, and traffic lights that turn red-yellow-blue. Very annoying and very endearing all at once. However, I have mastered the light switch problem. When it was time for us all to sit down, I turned on the light like a real pro.
We had a Hapdorn-style provincial dinner—something like a potluck, except that the host provides the food and everybody cooks. We paired off, and each pair cooked one of the courses: Panu and I made the salad, Lanni and Harna made the main course, the couple from next door made the vegetables and some other stuff. John was the host, so he didn’t cook anything, he just tended to all his guests and distributed all the beverages.
It was a lovely and very delicious meal. It took all evening to prepare and consume it, but it was an awful lot of fun. I think when I get home to Earth I’ll organize a Hapdorn dinner sometime.
By the time that dinner was over and the dishes were in the dishwasher, it was close to 30 o’clock. We swapped anecdotes and told jokes (most of them at the expense of the Ustranki dictator), and I answered a ton of questions about Earth. Then Panu played some sort of musical instrument and we had a great time singing folk songs. Let’s say that they had fun singing the songs, and I had fun trying to sing along! We even attempted the national anthem (‘O Thorgelfayne, My Native Land’) but John began to cry and had to leave the room to compose himself. Lanni jumped up and ran after him, and returned after only a few seconds.
“He’s okay. He wasn’t really crying,” she announced, trying unsuccessfully not to grin. “His life on Earth was not very happy, so the national anthem is especially moving for him. At the same time, it brings back memories of the naturalization ceremony. He was laughing and crying at the same time, and nearly choked!”
“I remember that!” exclaimed Hank, “The yodeling caught him by surprise and he just cracked up, but nobody knew what was going on. We just thought he was happy!” There was general laughter, and John returned to the room, wiping his eyes with a tissue and grinning.
I had a really great time! I’ve never felt so much at home in all my life. How very strange it is to travel light-years into outer space to visit some alien planet, only to discover that the place I’ve never been to before feels more like home than the place I’ve spent all my life! I miss these people already, and I haven’t left here yet. I’m already homesick—for Thorgelfayne!
The days here are longer than on Earth, so I was exhausted after all that. It was only a 16-minute drive from John’s apartment in Barlamon back to Lanni and Harna’s apartment in Hapdorn, but I couldn’t stay awake for the whole ride. It’s the first time I’ve fallen asleep in the back seat of a car since I was a child. I briefly thought about Harshan again, but I just chased him out of my mind. The last thing I can remember before I fell asleep is Harna pointing out the Moonrise through the trees—only one Moon is up. It’s the largest of the Homelander moons (how odd to think that I’ve been there!) but it looks smaller than the Moon back home.
This place is really neat.