The year I spent on La Réunion was the third Thanksgiving I spent internationally, and the first where I tried to make a real Thanksgiving dinner abroad.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I like that it is unique to America (pay no mind to the Canadian Thanksgiving, the designer imposter Thanksgiving). I like that there are certain foods that you eat at every Thanksgiving, making the tastes and smells unique to the experience. I like that there are no presents involved, just good food and wine and conversation. It is a pretty day, at least in the south, where the leaves have changed but the sky is still autumn-blue before shifting to winter-grey. And I like that it’s a day, when taken separately from its rather gruesome historic past, about evaluating life and being thankful for whatever blessings you have.
So naturally, even though I was on a little foreign island, I was excited about the 3rd Thursday in November. Of course, the turkey was the first obstacle. We had only two options for “la dinde”: we could go to the market and buy a turkey—a whole turkey, alive, or buy turkey cutlets in the grocery store. Carrying on the American tradition of choosing to completely ignore where my food comes from before it is shrink wrapped in my local chain grocery freezer case, we could not possibly buy a live turkey. But the cutlets also seemed so sad. So we went to the local Géant and bought the only bird that was intact for roasting: a rooster. A large frozen rooster.
My roommate and I were actually enthusiastic about this idea, since the island roosters had been terrorizing us by crowing at odd hours throughout the night. In keeping with the culture of the island, they had absolutely no sense of time. So we took a twisted pleasure in roasting one for our dinner.
We got as much Thanksgiving goodness as we could fit in our hands and our bags and hiked back up to our apartment, Le Chateau. It is not easy to haul a Thanksgiving feast up those island hills in the island heat, but we were determined. We invited all our friends: the Spanish teacher, the German teacher, my French boyfriend, and of course myself, my roommate and two others - the English teachers.
The day before Thanksgiving, tragedy struck. You see, we had in our little kitchen what I like to call our Easy Bake Over, a miniature stove with a gas bottle attached. Unfortunately, shortly before Thanksgiving I had chosen to make boiled peanuts for all my friends. As any good southern girl knows, boiled peanuts take many hours to cook. So many hours, in fact, that I depleted our gas supply in the process. Because hunting down our landlord’s maintenance man (who could restock our gas can) was a mere impossible task, prospects looked gloomy for the big day.
I was shattered! Not Thanksgiving! How can you have Thanksgiving without a stove and oven? I cried.
I didn’t have much time to lament the oven issue, because I had to work on the big day. I was excited because I got to share my favorite holiday with the kids at the university in their English class that day. It started well, with my first class. I laughed that when I asked them about Thanksgiving they immediately thought of the episode of Friends when Joey ate a whole turkey.
But, unfortunately, my third class was not in the mood to speak in English that day. And instead they decided to snicker and whisper for the whole class. Finally they broke out laughing about I-don’t-even-remember-what, and I lost it. My eyes watered up, and I stood silent in front of the class. The boys looked at me, still smirking. “Get out!” I said. “If I were home today I would be eating Turkey with my family and not working! I would be baking pumpkin pie and not staring at a frozen rooster!!” Of course, based on the blank stares I was getting I could tell that the slackers did not understand my English out-burst, so I just said “Sortez!” and shot daggers out of my eyes until they all left the room.
I walked home in the humidity and cursed all the stupid palm trees and stupid sunshine and stupid salty air and stupid hills. By the time I got to the apartment I was sad and homesick and ready to dissolve into the mattress on the floor that I called my bed.
But no! I opened the door, and all my friends were there. The table was set! They had made a raw Thanksgiving- with salad, and fruit, and nuts and packaged cookies and pretzel sticks. Of course we had lots of red wine and rum. We ate and drank and talked all evening, and everyone said ‘thank you’ in their native language.
And we drank wine in front of Star Academy until we all passed out exhausted, and it was a wonderful Thanksgiving after all.
I notice nowadays that I don’t talk about the future anymore, When it used to be all that was discussed- when we get out of here, when we really start our lives, when we are free and open and done and loving and moving and working and feeling... Now when asked about the future I shrug, usually, look around everywhere but eyes and noses, I wish I could say it’s because I’m living in the present, But instead it feels more like time standing still.
Lulu was not feeling well at all. Her cheeks were not rosy- in fact they were pale. Her lips had formed a strange twisted look that was certainly not a smile. She decided to go see Dr. McLeen immediately.
"What is it, Dr?" she asked. "Is it swine flu?"
"No, it is not" replied the doctor. "It is an advance case of malaise and angst. It may be contagious. You had better get a substitute." The doctor wrote out a note and handed it to Lulu.
"For how long?" asked Lulu. The doctor advised a day or two.
Lulu sat on her quilt at home, sipped her bloody mary (another recommendation at the clinic) and glanced at her cell phone. Perhaps the physician was right: a substitute was needed. She arranged for one the following day, and left her white plastic notebook marked substitute assignments on the coffee table.
In the morning the substitute arrived. As per the instructions in the notebook, she ate a small healthy breakfast and put on a cotton dress. After cleaning the kitchen and starting the laundry, she left for lunch with Lulu's best friend, Matilda.
Matilda looked surprised. "I'm the substitute" said the substitute. "Lulu isn't feeling well. The doctor says her misery may be catching." Matilda nodded in agreement and the two chatted about their weeks, their love lives, and their families. They argued over the check for a minute or two before settling up. "See you next week?" asked the substitute.
"Eerr, I guess?" said Matilda. She kissed her cheek and tottered off to her car.
The substitute consulted the notebook. Oh, dear. She picked up Lulu's cell phone and carefully scrolled through the address book.
Ring, ring... The substitute turned on the car and drove towards the coffee shop.
"Hello?" said the phone. "Lulu? Are you there?"
"Hello," said the substitute. "I am the substitute. Lulu is suffering from turmoil."
"Umm, is she ok?" asked the voice.
"She will be ok." said the substitute. "Listen, this is going to be hard, but I can't do this anymore."
"What do you mean?" said the voice. "I'm confused."
"I can't be with you anymore. Its just too hard." said the substitute.
"Umm, do you mean 'you' as in the substitute, or 'you' as in Lulu?" he asked.
"Me as in Lulu" said the substitute. "I am the substitute. The substitute for Lulu. I can't do this anymore. I'm sorry. You are a really nice guy but I need some space. I will return your things within the week to you..." the substitute glanced down at the notebook, "to your brother."
The substitute hung up the phone. It had gone easier than she had predicted. She did a little grocery shopping, sent out some resumes, and wrote up some detailed summaries of Lulu's favorite television programs.
At the end of the day, the substitute laid the notebook down on the coffee table and went to her home. Lulu sat up in bed and sighed- she felt rested and invigorated. Her consternation was noticeably diminished. She sipped her bloody mary and sat back with her television summaries.
Lulu breathed deeply and relaxed her face muscles. If only the substitutes weren't so expensive, she thought.