I wanted to make a movie list for Christmas, but not a list of Christmas movies, so I decided to zero in on something we often wish for but rarely get for Christmas in Texas where I live: snow. (Funnily enough, we might actually get it this year.) What follows is a chronological list of some of the most memorable moments in film where snow has made a cameo, whether it’s playing a key role or just hanging out in the background. Warning: may contain spoilers.

I was finishing off a bowl of lingonberry porridge yesterday morning when a helicopter suddenly swooped past my window. As it hovered, sirens began to wail. Air horns blared. Whistles whistled. Itching to witness some good old-fashioned gore and violence, I grabbed my camera, favorite Batman blanket and matching gas mask, and sprinted to the normally serene river where I witnessed a scene of profoundly disturbing perversity:



















This was the annual Kaljakellunta or “Beer Float.” It has no official organization and doesn’t actually exist until the first raft hits the water. It’s illegal and theoretically dangerous as hell, since the point of the whole thing is to drink as much beer as possible while floating down a feces-hued river.

Sweating with delight, I sat and waited for the police to arrive and club a few revelers into sobriety. I waited. Then I waited some more. I fell asleep. Because the funniest thing happened: nothing. The floats floated and sank. Drunks imbibed and drank. People flocked and gawked. And the cops didn’t do anything except tell kids not to hurl themselves off the highway overpass (which they did anyway).

And yes, that is an open flame edging ever closer to the trees:








Whereas in the United States and other nations the National Guard would be summoned to corral, contain and eradicate the revelers, the peaceful Finns instead take the opposite tack. Instead of complaining about the trash generated by the ad hoc festival, they simply hire a fleet of dumpsters. Ambulances and medic boats idle by. Motorcycle cops roam the river banks making sure the hordes of tipsy girls are peeing in the grass and not in the middle of the bike paths.

Then everyone vanishes, leaving the riverbanks looking like an exploded carnival:







But volunteers will soon scoop up the aftermath. Because they know what summer is like in Finland: thoroughly unexciting. Finns also understand the best way to cope with hundreds of drunken youths celebrating the zenith of summer is by watching from afar and reminding themselves that in mere months all of Finland will look like this:








Though I’d personally rather give my pet polar bear an unanesthetized neutering than float down a sludgy, pissed-in and beer-stinking river, I enjoy witnessing things like Beer Float. It’s yet another reason why summer in the Republic of Finn is unlike anywhere else in the world.

Indeed, the point of summer here is that there is no point. It’s downright languorous. People take saunas and visit their cottages. Old men sunbathe beside the bike paths in pink undies or none at all. Children squish strawberries between their toes. Seagulls perch on your windowsill and belt out hour-long arias. If you want to entertain your partner with a sexy sunset dinner, you have six or seven hours in which to do so (and if you wait an hour you can cap off your date with a nice sunrise grope session.)

Of course with only a blip of quasi-darkness in the wee hours, summer is, for an insomniac such as myself, blurry and largely incoherent. And from what I gather – based on the ceaseless revving of scooters and smashing of bottles on our street – Finns generally don’t sleep much either. But that’s ok. We have winter for that. And then the drinking won’t be celebratory, but mournful, and the idea of sunburned kids on rafts will seem like nothing but a cruel, distant joke.

Spring Feverish

By Tina Traster

Humor

Anyone who’s ever spent a winter week in Vermont or Canada’s Laurentian Mountains knows how easy it is to get swept up in the dreamy idyll of living in a “place like this” one day. There’s a perpetual blanket of snow. The glow of candles flickering in windows and fires blazing in brick hearths. A red cardinal made redder by a backdrop of stark whiteness.

I used to fantasize about living in a “place like this” every time I visited one. Now I know how it feels. Winter 2011 has given us nine storms and 63 inches of snow in the Hudson Valley so far.

My daughter’s school closed four times for snow days, and there have been several delayed openings and one early dismissal. I don’t think she had a full week of school during January.

We are toiling breathlessly to keep our six hens alive during our first winter of animal husbandry — jerry-rigging the coops with blankets, tarps and heating devices.

The locks on our old cars freeze constantly and the engines barely start. Power outages are frequent.

The front door shrinks when it’s below 20 degrees. So when we leave the house, the door must be slammed approximately 10 times before the latch catches. When we return, every picture on the wall is tilted, like in a funhouse.

Oh, and speaking of fun, have you heard about the newest extreme sport? Collecting the mail. Thanks to the plows, there has sometimes been a mound of frozen ice in front of the mailbox. To retrieve mail, one must stand in the road and drape one’s body over the igloo to reach inside the box. The consolation prizes? Scorching fuel bills and Lands’ End catalogs that make you fantasize about — what else? — living in Vermont.

Nothing, though, has tested our mettle more than the driveway — or what’s left of it. Normally, our long, skinny gravel driveway fits two cars side-by-side at the wider end. But after the post-Christmas Day blizzard, my husband and I did a do-si-do with our two cars, lining up one behind the other. Then an ice storm hit, and his economical but winter-challenged stick shift auto-froze in place. No amount of chipping away at ice or spinning tires nudged the car an inch.

For countless days, I offered him my all-wheel jalopy and experienced the life of a shut-in. Finally, a snow angel appeared just as my husband was once again urging his fossilized car to get a move on. A strapping guy — the kind who wears a T-shirt when it’s 15 degrees outside — stopped his pickup truck in front of our driveway and asked if we needed help. He got behind my husband’s car and successfully pushed it out of the driveway.

Everyone is in on this winter’s complaint-fest. But I had to laugh the other day when my mother, who lives on the Upper West Side, lamented over canceled bridge games and difficult journeys down to Lincoln Center.

“Bridge games,” I scoffed. “Right now, Ricky is in the basement using a blow-dryer to unfreeze our frozen water pipes! He has to bring hot water bottles out to Miracle [our hen] every few hours to keep her from freezing to death!”

“Well,” she responded with a sniff, “these are the choices you made.”

My mother has never understood why I bought an old farmhouse on a mountain road 25 miles from the city. To her way of thinking, I should have stayed in Manhattan, or at the very least, chosen a lovely groomed Westchester suburb.

But I have no regrets about moving to our rugged Hudson River town. When it’s all said and done, whatever wintry challenges we’ve muddled through have been offset by pleasure. Hunkering down as often as we have made us inventive: cooking soups and baking breads. Life slowed down, and our road became largely silent. We stayed in our pajamas all day. We drank hot chocolate and gazed out the windows, watching deer trudge in slow motion through deep snowdrifts. It’s made me nostalgic about childhood winters I seem to remember but probably never had.

Maybe Vermont would be manageable after all.

Read more about Tina Traster’s move from the city to a rural suburb in “Burb Appeal: The Collection,” now available on Amazon.com. E-mail: [email protected]

On Thursday, February 25th, the power went out in my parents’ New Hampshire home. We weren’t alone; more than 350,000 residences and businesses statewide reported outages in the aftermath of a wind storm that ripped through northern New England, bringing gusts of up to 90 mph in places. The resulting damage was reported to be second only to the ice storm of December 2008. I fortunately wasn’t in New Hampshire for that particular storm, but after more than a year it is still a common topic of discussion. It has emerged as a prototype of the kind of awful winter weather that can befall New England. Many people, including my parents, were out of power for nearly a week in the wake of the ice storm. Talking to them and others it becomes clear the incident will continue to live in infamy for years. Apparently, it was so bad that my folks had to draw water from a stream and resort to going to the bathroom in the woods. (Though I suspect my father secretly cherished this.) People’s reflexive attitude towards the ice storm is indicative of the mindset of a New Englander: on the one hand self-pity for living in such a dismal climate, on the other a feeling of pride from toughing it out.

I am back home visiting my parents and have not had to endure a New Hampshire winter for several years. Since escaping the seasonal plight I have come to regard living in a warmer place akin to getting out of an abusive relationship. Now free, I look back and wonder how I allowed myself to be treated in such a brutish manner. But like revisiting a past relationship, there is also an affectionate familiarity to being home for winter. I fell back into my old hibernation habits without missing a beat, holing up and finishing a number of projects I never got around to in sunnier climes. One has to wonder if the Puritan work ethic would have ever come into existence had the pilgrims landed further south.

When the power went out it was approaching midnight and I was lying in bed watching basketball. The lights had been flickering for several hours as huge gusts of wind assailed the area. I wholeheartedly expected some sort of power loss and so when my room went black I didn’t wait for the lights to come back on. I settled in for a slightly earlier than normal bedtime, hoping that morning would see the restoration of electricity.

It didn’t.

My first action upon waking is to check my bedside light. Nothing. After that I get up and groggily stomp into the living room where as usual I receive a warm welcome from my parents’ three dogs. Before this anecdote continues it is necessary to point out that I am not a morning person. I’m not even an early-afternoon person.   For me, the only way to get through the early part of the day is to drink several cups of coffee in relative peace and quiet.

I scoop fresh grounds into the machine, pour the water in the back and press power. Nothing. This is because making coffee, like turning on a light, requires electricity.

I go downstairs and look for the box of camping gear I know contains the burner and percolator that will allow me to brew up a pot of coffee. This is already far more energy than I’m used to expending in the morning. I can’t find the box. I pick up the phone to call my mother. Dead. No electricity means no phones as well. But there’s still my cell phone. I dig it out of yesterday’s pants. Dead too. I plug it in for a quick charge before remembering that this also requires power. For those who would think me daft or who have never lived a day in a house without power, it is quite normal when it goes out to still try and activate all those items which require electricity. Our whole lives are so dependent upon certain things working that it’s almost unfathomable to flick a switch or push a button and not have those things work.

I scuttle from closet to closet looking for the camping gear. My parent’s golden retriever follows me around. His propensity to always be by my side is usually cute, but then again I’ve usually had my A.M. fix of legal stimulants. In my haste I almost trip over him. I cock my fist back halfway before catching myself.

“You are about to punch a golden retriever,” I think.

I am a calm, non-violent person and this dog is even more of a lovable lump than most Goldens. He is the Gandhi of Golden Retrievers. I almost punched Gandhi in the face because I haven’t had my morning coffee. I realize the implications of this abstractly but there is still only one order of business on my mind.

I slip on a coat and a pair of boots, grab my car keys and step outside. I’m shocked to see all of the down branches and other things that have been blown around the yard. Driving towards the store I see more devastation: branches are all over the road….huge branches…the kind that take down power lines…the kind that could signal no coffee at nearby establishments.

The local village shop displays zero signs of life. I continue to a nearby gas station with a Dunkin’ Donuts inside. I see no lights, but there are a few cars in the parking lot. A man comes out with a box of doughnuts. I resist the urge to grab him and ask, “Is there coffee?” I’m afraid of how I might react if he says no.

As I reach for the door it opens and a clerk ushers me into the darkened shop. It feels like I’m entering a speakeasy; I look behind me to see if I’ve been followed.

“We’ve got doughnuts and all baked goods as is and anything else in the store, cash only.” she says.

“Coffee.” I say. “Have you got coffee?”

“No.” she says. “Believe me, we want some too.”

Her voice trails off, as if she’s leaving it open for me to somehow come through with a connection. I feel like I’m in high school trying to buy weed.

I get back in the car knowing it’s hopeless to suppose any shop in the area has power or coffee. Back at home I turn on my laptop to see the latest news about power outages. I stare at the “This webpage is not available” message for several long seconds before I put two and two together. But what about my email? What if somebody left a comment on my blog that is going unanswered? How did my fantasy basketball team do? Has anybody “liked” my witty Facebook status from last night or replied to my epigrammatic Twitter post?

I sit at the dining room table, distraught. The dogs lie at my feet, seeming to sense that something is off. They obviously don’t appreciate the dire straits we are facing, but then again, sniffing each other’s crotches and digging up the backyard doesn’t require electricity.

When the lights go out, it feels a little bit like camping. Camping is great. I regularly set off into the woods to live an ascetic life for a few days. The difference is that when I camp, I brace myself for withdrawal from modern conveniences, even readily welcome it for a short spell.

This is not camping. This is me, at home, without coffee, without internet, without TV, ready to punch the King Charles Cavalier Spaniel if he keeps staring at me.

“Calm down.” I instruct myself. “At least it’s light outside. You can get some writing done.“

I sit in my customary chair, notebook open, pen at the ready. The words don’t come. It feels all wrong. There is no steaming cup of coffee by my side. I can’t read online news and make biting remarks to total strangers on comment boards when I reach an impasse. I’m totally lost. There’s only one thing I can do: sleep this day away….sleep until the power is back and life can resume…

I eat some plain bread and crawl into bed. The dogs join me. I rip off about an hour at a time of sleep. Each time I wake up I try my bedside light and each time the unsuccessful effort prompts me to go back to sleep.

At around lunchtime I manage to rouse myself. I eat some more bread and scour the pantry for caffeinated beverages. There is an old, flat bottle of Pepsi in the back. I drink most of what’s left. The caffeine injection rejuvenates me enough to read an issue of Newsweek. An editorial by George Will incites the desire to email the pundit a vitriolic response peppered with big words I find on Thesaurus.com. Then I remember…
Back to bed.

At about four o’clock I wake up. My mouth tastes disgusting. Brushing my teeth doesn’t require power but I couldn’t be bothered. My will to live has been diminished. Soon it will be dark. My parents will be home from work and we’ll be eating dry bread together by candlelight. It’s a lucky thing my father doesn’t keep firearms in the house.

But more worrisome is how long we’ll have to go without power. Judging by the destruction outside, it could be days….maybe a week. Can I possibly sleep away the entire time? I think of family in the area who wouldn’t be affected by the storm. I have distant cousins in upstate New York. If I start driving now, I can have internet by midnight…

The dogs leap off the bed, excited at somebody’s arrival. My dad walks in and sees me lying down.

“What are you doing in bed?  Are you alright?  It smells like farts down here. What, have you been lying in bed all day farting?” he says.

It doesn’t seem worth denying.

“Well get yourself out of your farty bed and help me with the generator.” he says.

“Generator…you have a generator?” I say, barely able to contain my joy.

“Of course we do.” he says. “I learned my lesson after that goddamn ice storm.”

I leap out of bed, dress myself and join my father in the shed. We drag the generator out and fire it up.

“Let there be light.” says my old man. And so there is.

Back inside, I brew a pot of coffee, extra strong. The internet and cable may be out, but I’m at least able to play X-Box. I slip in Grand Theft Auto IV. While perhaps not as satisfying as an anonymous, impertinent email to a member of the right-wing media, there is really something to be said for having sex with a hooker, blasting her with an automatic weapon then running over her corpse with the vehicle of your choice.

Whoops

By Kristen Elde

Essay

One Friday morning, I was running the streets of Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood when I tripped on some garbage and fell, bracing my fall with… my chin.

The sound was the worst: the dull internal clatter as top teeth met bottom. After lying prostrate in the middle of the dusty street for a split second, I scrambled to right myself. I made it to a sitting position and my thoughts went instantly to my mouth. My teeth: were they all there? A quick once-over with my tongue suggested they were. At the same time I brought my hand to my chin—but not before a nice crossing guard thrust a stack of napkins beneath it, urging me to apply pressure. “You hit the ground hard, honey. There’s blood—a lot of it.”