Сар шиниин мэнд хүргье! Sar shiniin mend hurgeye! Have a healthy new moon!
Today is the start of the new year in Mongolia. Apparently I was off a bit on some details about Tsagaan Sar (White Moon), Mongolia's National Lunar New Year celebration. It is not kosher to get drunk on the holiday. However, I do know they give you many shots of vodka to drink as I visited one family tonight and the other Westerners had to drink at least six shots of vodka. I feigned an allergy to alcohol and said I'd die if I drank it which is pretty much true. See other DON'Ts During Tsagaan Sar below.
There was a boov, a pile of ceremonial bread in an odd number of layers tooped with aruul and other "white foods", and a huge grilled side of mutton, the massive fatty tail draped over the edge of the plate, in the center of the table. These were surrounded by platters of buuz and a variety of salads. Apparently, they don't eat the entire sheep's tail during Tsagaan Sar. It's mainly present for tradition, but they can freeze it and melt it down in small parts later to cook with. One sheep's tail can last a family until June.
DON'Ts During Tsagaan Sar…
Don't wear a black-colored deel
Don't drink too much alcohol
Don't spend the night in another ger (not at home)
Don't leave animals out to pasture overnight (animals should be close to ger)
Don't greet your husband or wife
Don't get a haircut
Don't embroil or fix old clothes
Don't get anything from another ger
Don't kiss during greetings (old people may kiss their children and grandchildren)
Allison and I may go fly kites in Sukhbaatar Square during these three days of Tsagaan Sar. I'm writing a poem with the kite as a central metaphor for self so when she suggested it I thought it was a great idea. Then I read this great sketch by Brad Zellar that included a kite in The Rake's January fiction issue that another Fulbrighter from Minnesota brought for me.
Ah, life's patterns...
The moon is waxing. Tonight it was eery since the streetlights were cut off in part of the city and the moon dangled in the sky like someone stuck it up with a tack next to one brilliant star. It was barely a sliver but my brain fooled me into thinking I could see its full roundness. Years ago when I went out to a field with some friends to use a telescope I learned that this was an optical illusion known as "the old Moon in the new Moon's arms." We can't really see any other part of the moon than what is lit up.
Soon I'll be starting translations of L. Ulziitogs poems to try to take advantage of these auspicious times. She just came out with a new book that features her in front of the ocean on the cover. The waves uncurl behind her. I'm looking forward to diving into a new poets work. And soon completed translations of eight of Ayurzana's poems will be submitted to some literary magazines in the US.
Tomorrow I will visit Ayurzana and Ulziitogs's home for Tsagaan Sar. The holiday goes on for three days of visiting family, eating and drinking, etc. I look forward to it very much. They are great people and wonderfully talented. Thus I will leave you with an excerpt of my translation of Ayurzana's poem "Vagrant Train", followed by the Mongolian version and English transliteration:
Having closed my eyes to hear the first sign of daybreak, Somewhere’s sound of a vagrant train knocking its path Is disruptive, dying away to an unknown somewhere Like a naive love of five, six, seven years ago.
We are quickly approaching Mongolia's Lunar New Year celebration. Tsagaan Sar, or White Month/Moon, is a Mongolian holiday of food, drink, gift-giving and relative visiting that spans roughly three days. This year it takes place on February 16, 17 and 18. It's not so different from American holidays, except that the food of choice is buuz, the steamed dumpling filled with mutton and fat, and the drinks of choice are milk tea and vodka.
I will be spending Tsagaan Sar most likely house-sitting Konchog's sweet Floki and vibrant Mooj. Of course, this makes me very, very happy. I'll have plenty of animal therapy before the weekend is over. However, I also hope to visit the homes of some Mongolian friend's and colleagues to partake of the holiday and eat my fair share of buuz.
My conversation partner Chana told me that the women make on average 1500-2000 buuz for Tsagaan Sar. As far as I can discern Tsagaan Sar seems to be a holiday as much dreaded as it is loved among Mongolians. They are force fed buuz and vodka and have to buy presents for everyone. At the end they are bloated, nauseous and broke. What fun! Sounds like Christmas!