celebrations, customs/rituals, health, parties

Bob Dylan Was Right: The Times They Are a-Changin’

And Here’s the Reason Why – The Covid-19 Virus

I purchased this Covid-19 piñata from a piñata and popsicle shop here in Las Cruces, NM. Since no face-to-face parties are safe during the pandemic, I am hoping to smash it in October 2021, at my 90th birthday party. Hopefully, by then we will have a safe vaccine available. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2021.
I purchased this Covid-19 piñata at a piñata and popsicle shop in Las Cruces, NM. Since face-to-face celebrations are unsafe during this pandemic year, I am hoping to smash it in October, 2021 at my 90th birthday party. Hopefully, by then we will have a safe vaccine available. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2020.

During this 2020 Pandemic we are sheltering in place and keeping our social distances, but leading a sedentary lifestyle brings changes:

       We are gaining weight;

       Our pets are gaining weight;

       Bra sales are down;

       High heel sales are down by 70%;

       Pajamas and lounge wear sales are up;

       Lipstick sales are down (it smears inside a mask);

       Eye makeup sales are up;

      Single folks who are dating now concern themselves with, “What mask shall I wear?”

Since going to movies and dining inside restaurants is limited, we must content ourselves with home-based entertainment. Thus we are transported to places all over the world via TV streaming or ZOOM activities on our computers. I do both.

Last week, I visited the moon with NASA and saw close-ups of its peaks and craters. I’ve gone bird watching in Utah with the Audubon Society; I went on a pilgrimage with the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California to Yosemite to learn about the role of the Chinese as trail cooks and laundry workers in the National Parks;  In the Catskills, I listened to a band composed of Irving Berlin’s great-grandchildren playing great-grandpa’s tunes; I attended the Roswell, NM Jazz Festival to learn about the music of Duke Ellington; I toured three ghost towns in New Mexico; I wept at three different funerals: Catholic, Buddhist, Jewish.

I’ve ZOOMED to the Fowler Museum at UCLA for two Learn and Lunch sessions, one on Voudun flags from Haiti, the other on elaborate headdresses from Sierra Leone. I traveled to the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv; In Cuba, I enjoyed the music of an outstanding female trio, the Vocal Vidas, and I learned about St. Joseph Tables from the Italian American Museum on Olvera Street. In New York, I celebrated Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday party, where Broadway singers belted out his tunes. I’ve visited book clubs, meetings of the Las Cruces Press Women, and weekly gatherings of the Las Cruces Ukes. Once you start exploring online, the opportunities are endless. 

Despite ZOOM transporting us all over the globe for stimulating events, they can’t replace the experience of being with real people. That rarity happened when I attended a drive-through Jewish ceremony for Ephraim Schmukler’s first haircut, called an Upshearin. Ephraim is the three-year-old son of Rabbi Bery and Chenchie Schmukler, co-directors of the Alevy Chabad Jewish Center of Southern New Mexico. In addition to a boy’s first haircut at age three, the boy also accepts his responsibility to begin studying the Torah. 

Ephraim Schmukler, three-years-old, sitting under an archway of balloons before his hair-cutting ceremony. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2020.

Several years prior, I attended the Upshearin of Ephraim’s older brother, Ari. At that time, the number of party goers numbered about fifty, held indoors with fabulous decorations and food prepared by his talented mother. The highlight was having every person step up to cut off one lock of the boy’s hair, in exchange for a donation to charity.

At the drive-through Upshearin, we received a packet of goodies, including cookies that were the birthday boy’s favorites. Then as we drove out, an attendant gave each of us a sno-cone to offset the oppressive desert heat of that day.

Las Cruces’ Tropical Shaved Kona Ice truck provided much-needed respite from the desert heat. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2020.

Since I arrived at the tail-end of the event, Ephraim’s mom invited me out of my car to snip a lock of her young son’s hair. Actually touching this child’s soft silky curls was startling. When was the last time I touched a baby’s hair? This simple gesture reminded me of how much we have lost during this pandemic beyond those who have perished.

Norine, the Barber. What an honor to touch and cut this sweet baby’s hair. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2020.

We crave human contact. We need hugs and human touch, actions that ZOOM cannot provide. Alas, we must wait until such time when human interactions are safe. In the meanwhile, I guess I’ll just have to content myself with hugging my cat for the twenty seconds per day she allots me.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who has taken sheltering-in-place as a mandate.

norinedresser.org

Visit her Gallery of Folklore & Popular Culture: flpcgallery.org

celebrations, independence

Enablers Can’t Be ALL Bad

My friend, Kim, and I met for a 10:30 a.m. showing of  “On the Basis of Sex,” about Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. No matter how hard I tried to stay awake, I dozed. When it was over, I asked Kim what I had missed and she commented, “What I got out of it was that without her husband, she never would have risen to her position. He definitely enabled her.”

Now most of us think of enablers as negative forces: they encourage our drinking, our dependency, our other bad habits. In this situation, Martin Ginsburg, a successful lawyer and law professor, empowered his wife to aim for the stars and become a champion for gender equality. He clearly respected her intellectual talents, and she didn’t disappoint. She admits that she would never have gained a seat on the Supreme Court without him.

I thought about my own life, and for the first time realized that my late husband, Harold, was also an enabler.  When I wanted to go back to UCLA in 1968 to finish my B.A. degree, he was excited and encouraged me. We both knew it would be challenging since we had two teenagers and one pre-teen at home, who needed my attention. Would I be able to balance being a mom and wife while being a student?

 

Professional photo for Harold’s career as a movie and television extra during the last 25 years of his life. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

After experimenting by taking a few classes at Los Angeles City College to reach junior standing, I believed my goal was doable. I enrolled in the UCLA Anthropology Department and discovered that most female students were the ages of my children. I thought I could pass, after all I was only 37. Not so. When I sat next to a recent high school graduate in a very large lecture hall, she outed me: “My mom is going back to school, too.”

On campus, there were services for women undergraduates but only for the young ones. I approached the Dean of Women and asked her what could be done for the housewives and moms who were just beginning to return to campus. She suggested that I create a survey of married women to discover their motivations for being there, what roles their families played in supporting them, and what university services could help them?

Harold & Norine cutting their wedding cake, March 4, 1951. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

Some husbands felt quite threatened. One student’s husband was a physician and resented her intellectual endeavors, especially when his acquaintances expressed newly-found interest in her ideas and achievements. At the same time, other husbands were helpful like the Dad who took the family out to McDonald’s once a week so that Mom could have a break from cooking. Still other women revealed that they were back in school to achieve an education before they left unhappy marriages and could be more easily employable.

Harold was so proud of me, he gave me a Senior Prom after I received my B.A.  Had I not dropped out of the university to get married, I would have graduated in 1953. Instead, it was now 1970, so I asked everyone to dress as if it were the original time. The two of us purchased appropriate formal wear from a vintage clothing store; our 17-year-old son, Mark, provided the dance music with his rock and roll band. Our daughters, Andrea and Amy, handed out homemade plastic flower wrist corsages to all the women. It was a joyous and humorous celebration.

Invitation to my Senior Prom created by dear friend and artist, Jan Steward. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

After graduation, Harold continued to support me for two more years. He was content to stay at home with me on weekends as I turned out research papers or studied for exams earning an M. A. degree in Folklore and Mythology.

All these memories come flooding back at this time of year, the anniversary of his death on February 2, 2007 at age 85. He died one month before our 56th wedding anniversary. If he had lived, on March 4, 2019, we would have been celebrating 68 years of marriage.

Harold had a way with words. Weeks before he died, he said to Mark, “You know, I think Mom’s almost brilliant,” causing us to howl with laughter. When Mark retold this remark at Harold’s funeral, guests also found his comment amusing and endearing.

It’s difficult to say goodbye to one’s life partner, and even though he’s no longer with me on this plane, I will still say, “Happy Anniversary, Harold.”

Harold & Norine Dresser photo by Ed Keck taken circa 2000. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who greatly misses her enabler.

celebrations, Cultural differences, holidays, intermarriage

Holiday Mix and Match

A Christmas/Hanukkah sweater, sold by ModernTribe.com., reflects the commonality and celebration of intermarriage.

 

Offbeat holiday custom combos make me chuckle.

 

A clever depiction of a Hanukkah menorah made up of sushi.

 

First is the Hanukkah menorah made out of sushi. So what’s wrong with that? As long as the fish fit the regulations of being kosher and there’s no shellfish, it’s technically okay. Chenchi Schmukler, the rabbi’s wife at the Alevy Chabad Center in Las Cruces, occasionally includes homemade sushi at her marvelous meals. But sushi with latkes (the traditional Hanukkah fare)?  I don’t think so.

 

Halloween decorations hung on a Christmas Tree in a chain of Japanese stores called Tokyo Hands.

 

Another comical example comes from a Japanese store display last September. Some might call this “cultural appropriation,” insinuating that one should stick with one’s own ethnic/religious customs. Yet, in a way, it’s flattering that someone in the Japanese corporate world wanted to emulate American culture. However, next time they need to do their homework more carefully.

 

The Japanese seem fascinated with Christmas and call it  “kurisumasu.” For decades I heard stories about their nailing a Santa Claus to a cross for Christmas, despite it seeming more Easter-like. After finding this bizarre image online, I was disappointed to learn that it had been photoshopped. Snopes.com confirmed that there was no truth to this event. Even though it’s not valid, I include the photo because it’s such a startling image.

Fake photo of Santa Claus being crucified in Japan.

 

Then there are strange and incongruous mixtures here in the U.S. during the Christmas/Hanukkah season. I remember my own childhood conflicts being Jewish at Christmas time. I felt deprived without a Christmas tree  and the imagined fun being had by my Christian classmates.

ModernTribe.com targets Jewish shoppers and seems to have inventory addressed to this cultural conflict. They sell a Chrismukkah Stocking to be hung over the fireplace and filled with presents. The only difference is that instead of Christmas images on the stocking, the images are apropos of Hanukkah.

Chrismukkah stocking hung on the fireplace with care, from ModernTribe.com

 

They also sell what seems like a more tongue-in-cheek yarmulke (skull cap) trimmed in red and white Santa Claus colors and called a Yamaclaus. Listen to the company’s description:

  Why settle with one holiday, when you can crash them all? If you’re a lonely Jew on Christmas, a half-breed interfaith, or a gentile celebrating one of those eight crazy nights, with Yam Waclaus you’re automatically an honorary believer. If you’re feeling extra goyish, spread the love of Chrismukkah – the hybrid holiday where flaunting your Yamaclaus is your religious right.

Yamaclaus sold by ModernTribe.com. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2018.

 

The above examples reveal that strict cultural rules about holiday celebrations are becoming less rigid, in great part due to globalization and growing intermarriage. Whether one approves or not, it is a reality.

 

My late husband, Harold, once accompanied me to a workshop devoted to interfaith issues. The leader broke us up into small groups and later when we all came back together, Harold whispered to me, “We don’t have any intermarriage in our family, do we?”

Highly amused, I answered, “Well, you have a Vietnamese sister-in-law, a Black nephew, a half-Iranian Muslim granddaughter, a Mexican American son-in-law, and an Italian American daughter –in-law, but other than that, no.”

What was so beautiful about Harold’s question was that he thought of these family members as JUST FAMILY; he didn’t see any ethnic or religious labels separating us from each other.

Three cheers for Harold! If only the rest of our world could see things the same way.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is very proud of her interfaith family and the cultural riches they bring to one another.

 

https://norinedresser.org

Visit Gallery of Folklore & Popular Culture

celebrations, customs/rituals, Festivals, folklore, holidays

LET THERE BE LIGHT!

 

Along with the tens of thousands watching in person in NYC, I nestled in my NM comfy home recliner and saw the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. I felt the same awe that was reflected in the astonished faces the moment the lights came on.

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, 2017.

 

That’s what so magnificent about Winter. With its abundance of traditions igniting their special fires, we are privy to observe lighting rituals unlike our own.

First there is Diwali, the biggest and brightest of all Hindu Festivals. Diwali symbolizes the victory of good over evil, and lamps are lit as a sign of celebration and hope. This year it began on October 18 and lasted four days. Each day had its own tale, legend and myth.

 

Woman in sari next to burning Diwali lamps.

 

Beginning on December 12th, Jewish families will gather around the menorah to honor the miracle of lights. With its eight-branched menorah we commemorate the unexpected duration of burning oil that was supposed to last only one night. The holiday is celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting with special prayers and fried foods.

 

Lit menorah with pastel colored candles as it would look on the 8th night. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

 

On December 26, African Americans will begin their observance of Kwanzaa, using their candelabrum called the Kinara (in Swahili). They light one new candle per night for seven nights to celebrate African American heritage and achievements. The holiday expresses reverence for the Creator and creation, and commemorates the past as well as recommits to cultural ideals.

 

Lit Kinara on the 7th day with black, green, and red candles. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

 

Living here in Las Cruces, NM, one of my favorite light rituals is one that has been brought here from Mexico – the luminarias. They represent the illuminated passageway to welcome Jesus into the world. For me, the lit pathway represents my life’s journey.

 

Luminarias lighting the way to see the Christ Child as recreated in New Mexico.

Light warms us. It allows us to find our way out of darkness to inner awakening. And with our light we have the power to ignite the glow in others.

 

This little light of mine; I’m gonna let it shine.

This little light of mine; I’m gonna let it shine.

This little light of mine; I’m gonna let it shine.

Let it shine; let it shine; let it shine.

(old gospel tune)

 

And so, as we approach 2018, this is my holiday wish for you. May you take your inner light and shine it upon others.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who enjoys the rituals of all ethnicities and religions.

Visit her Gallery of Folklore and Popular Culture: flpcgallery.org

celebrations, folklore, health, vampires

Escapades of a Vampirologist — Now Retired

Pin replica of the USA Dracula postage stamp. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

I never dreamed I would become a vampirologist, at least that’s what others called me. But now that Halloween approaches, memories of that unforeseen former profession flood my consciousness.

It began when an Associated Press science reporter called me for a folklorist’s opinion about a paper delivered by Canadian biochemist, Dr. David Dolphin, at the 1988 American Association for the Advancement of Sciences. Dr. Dolphin hypothesized that those who had been labeled vampires in the past (Middle Ages) might have been suffering from a disease called porphyria.

In brief, porphyria is a rare incurable genetic disease that can also be triggered by alcohol and sulfa drugs or environmental contaminants. In Greek, porphyria means purple and for many, not all patients, their urine turns purple after exposure to the sun or ultraviolet light.

Dolphin asserted that those porphyria patients whose faces were negatively affected by sunlight must remain indoors during the day. He argued that porphyria patients had a negative reaction to garlic. Most dramatically, he claimed that they had a need for blood, but in the Middle Ages since there was no technology for transfusions, they would satisfy their cravings by drinking the blood of others.

The problem was that the Dolphin’s proposition didn’t hold up clinically. In part, this was because there are eight different varieties of porphyria, each with its own symptoms and characteristics. Dolphin had lumped them all together.

However, as a folklorist, the correlations delighted me and the Associated Press quoted me saying that I thought the proposal was, “Wonderful. It proves there is truth in folklore.”

Who knew where my flip comments would lead?

Almost immediately, I received a phone call from France, inquiring if I would be a consultant on a vampire film. Of course, I said yes. That offer, like so many that followed, never came to fruition.

Still I was buoyed by the excitement. I was instantly perceived as a vampire expert. It took some boning up on my part but eventually I became fairly conversant about the disease, porphyria (known to account for the madness of King George); Vlad, the Impaler (a Romanian hero for staving off the Ottoman Empire); and the book Dracula by Bram Stoker, that has never been out of print since the first edition in 1897.

However, some horrified porphyria patients blamed me for linking porphyria with vampires. One woman complained how ashamed the association made her feel and how relieved she was that most of her friends couldn’t remember the name of her disease.

A young male patient in Santa Barbara, CA, disclosed he was frightened to walk around the local schoolyard during the day lest parents might think he was stalking their children. Indeed, so much sensational press surrounded Dolphin’s concept, even the grammar school newspaper, The Weekly Reader, had an article about it.

But my friends and family loved it and could hardly wait to participate.

Bela Lugosi, Jr. had been a USC law school classmate of my brother, Mickey. He gave Mickey a Dracula watch that my brother insisted I must have.

A gift from my brother, Mickey, after Bela Lugosi Jr., gave it to him. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

My dentist, Dr. Rees Smith of Burbank, CA presented me with a custom-made pair of fangs. He assumed I would wear them on all the TV talk shows I was on, but I thought it would make me look to unprofessional.

Custom-made fangs by Dr. Rees Smith, DDS. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

 

At my very first book signing of American Vampires, Forrest Ackerman, “Mr. Science Fiction,” showed up with one of the Dracula capes and rings worn by Bela Lugosi in the “Dracula” film. He let me sign some books wearing those treasured items. Additionally, he purchased 20 copies for celebrities. Imagine my thrill autographing a copy for Stephen King.

A film company invited me to Budapest, Hungary, to be in an international TV production, “Dracula, Live from Transylvania.” I even got to play a scene with actor, George Hamilton, who freaked out having to interview a real blood drinker. He turned that task over to me. I was pretty unruffled about it, too, until I asked one of the blood drinkers, “How much blood do you drink at a time?”

When she responded, “Half a glass.” I lost my cool.

“Half a glass?” I was incredulous as I visualized a glass half-filled with coagulating human blood. To the glee of friends and family watching in the U.S., I could not disguise my shock.

In 1995, I was invited by the Romanian Bureau of Tourism to attend the First World Dracula Congress. What a strange contingent of attendees: fifty international scholars (including me) and 150 members of the press from all over the world.

Upon arrival in Bucharest, my husband, Harold, and I were warmly greeted by Nicolae (Nicky) Paduraru, President of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula. But when Nicky began extolling my virtues in his Bela Lugosi-like accent: “No-rine, I love your mind; I love your brain…”, an irritated Harold demanded, “Leave the rest to me!”

I joined both the Canadian and Romanian chapters of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula. In 1997, in Los Angeles, we sponsored a celebration that drew thousands for the 100th anniversary of the publication of Dracula.

After that, my interest in vampires waned, but still I have my old contacts with new ones always welcomed. When Frankenstein Jones requested to friend me on Facebook, how could I say, “No”?

If you’d like to see more vampire memorabilia, visit my online folklore and popular culture gallery: http: flpcgallery.org. While you’re there, check out additional cultural artifacts: Day of the Dead skulls; Milagros for healing; Evil eyes and hamsas for protection; Political gags.

###

 

Folklorist Norine Dresser is the author of American Vampires: Fans, Victims & Practitioners (Norton, 1989; Vintage 1990), nine other books as well as an award-winning column for the Los Angeles Times (1993 to 2001).

 

Portions of this blog first appeared in the October 2017 edition (Vol.22 No.10) of the Southwest Senior (Las Cruces, NM), pp. 1 & 5.

norinedresser@yahoo.com