Happy holidays from McMurdo! Christmas is one of our three two-day weekends here, and is filled with celebrations all around town. There are holiday parties, a Christmas feast, and one of the coolest and most interesting events that happens in McMurdo over the summer, MAAG.
MAAG is the McMurdo Alternative Art Galley, and is comprised of mostly installation art made by community members throughout the season. The event is held at a shop sitting on top of a hill looking down over McMurdo and over across the sound to the mountains. There is a small footpath that leads up from town, and for this event it is decorated with flags, arched walkways, and prayer wheels, transporting one from the dry volcanic desolation of Ross Island to a trail through a village in the Himalayas. Before entering the building, the first pieces on display are large, interactive contraptions that usually involve somehow being ridden. Sitting on a super-sized seesaw, listening to drunk revelers beside you play in hamster wheels and merry-go-rounds, you feel as if you are in some kind of twisted playground for adults, like something out of a Tim Burton film. All the while the blue and white endlessness of the Antarctic stretches onwards into the background, exaggerating the surrealistic moment.
Besides being so unique and interesting, there is another reason why MAAG is my favorite McMurdo event. Last year, Elizabeth and I had just started dating. We weren’t quite sure what we were, and where we were headed. Still shy of showing our newfound interest in one another off, our fledgling relationship had been confined behind closed doors. Last Christmas was when that all changed. The weather was warm and soft that day, almost feeling like a mild winter’s day in a much more temperate climate. We came early to MAAG, before most of the crowd had arrived. Having walked around through the outside portion of the gallery, we entered through a small door on the side of the building. The door was flanked on either side by homemade wind chimes that sang a gentle tune as a soft breeze made its way past. Inside the door were hundreds of white origami doves hanging from strings at varying heights. Liz walked in front of me, as delicate sunlight and mild breeze swept into the room as the doves danced. The sound of the wind chimes fluttered in the distance as she stopped in the midst of the doves, turned, and gave me our first public kiss. It felt like a first kiss on a summer’s day, a strange realization that I had found something very unexpected in the harsh and lonely emptiness of Antarctica.
Christmas in Antarctica is strange. There’s no Christmas music blaring at you from every angle, there aren’t droves of mad consumers looking to trample, and the commercialism of it all isn’t being constantly jammed down your throat. I don’t miss any of that. But I do miss the very particular coziness of the season: the dark evenings lined with twinkling lights, the universal air of festivity, the fluttering possibilities of love. Somehow an ever-present sun and a population primarily comprised of crusty old tradesmen diminish the (overly saccharine yet) sweet wonder of the season. The fact that it’s currently the height of mud season doesn’t help either, as all of the snow in town has melted, revealing the very grungy side of this weird little town.
But, there are numerous efforts made to compensate for the oddity of holidays at the bottom of the world. There is the Charlie Brown play, carolers, over the top meals involving lobster tail and duck, and a party held in the heavy equipment shop including a large bearded santa seated on a flatbed Piston Bully. The current santa is a friendly man from IT who lives in our building. There was a santa in the past who got a little too frisky when pretty ladies sat on his lap – now dubbed “fresh santa.” But the highlight of the season is MAAG, the McMurdo Alternative Art Gallery, which Kevin already eloquently described above. MAAG holds a special place in my heart, not only because it’s such a fantastic celebration of self expression, but because of the special, solidifying kiss Kevin and I shared amid a shower of peace cranes last year. And to stand in the same little hallway this morning, infinitely closer to him than last year, is such a good measure as to how much we’ve grown together. Despite having just woken up and being subjected to drunken revelry in those early fragile hours of our day, I still felt the shimmery sparkles of the season while holding Kev’s hand and strolling through one of the historical sites of our relationship.
Happy Holidays to all of our friends and family back home! We’re thinking of you and missing you!