Last Friday night the moon was high. I’d been looking forward to the night eagerly because it was the night of the Chinese Moon Festival! I’m neither Chinese nor a moon worshipper, but I’d been invited to celebrate the occasion at the home of Chinese-American friends.
This ancient festival, they explained, one of the most important in Chinese culture, traditionally celebrates the autumnal harvest under the full moon.
For an urban creature like me, an ancient harvest festival is exotic indeed. I never harvested anything in my life that I didn’t have to pay for first at the cash register of WHOLE FOODS MARKETS, and my several attempts long ago at planting bulbs and growing things in pots or in my New Jersey backyard were abortive. I have a black thumb.
So, at this delightful, noisy party, after an extraordinarily tasty international dinner – prepared by a hostess who is a fabulous cook – and after too much wine and beer, we finished up with small round delicious mooncakes that symbolize the full moon. These mooncakes were tiny savory pastries stuffed with lotus seed paste.
Some of us went outdoors to enjoy the bright moonlight on the terrace and then we all settled around the large desk in the living room to Skype.
While the food and company were great, this was the part of the evening that, to me, was wondrous. Our hosts, using their computer, of course, skyped their young daughter who is studying on Taiwan, and – in a second, there she was virtually with us in the New York living room, vivid.
But there was no moon shining in Taiwan. A typhoon and heavy rainstorm were pounding the island at the time. Though we could see the storm through HER windows, it did not interfere with or mar our transmission.
This miracle of communication dazzled me! She was a member of our moon party in that living room. Thousands of miles away and yet there.
We had come to the best part of the evening, the poetry and song part. The plan was to celebrate the moon by offering snatches of poetry and song that were in some way lunar. The first poem, a lovely original work came from Taiwan, and was enthusiastically received. Unfortunately, since I only heard it recited, I have no copy to produce here.
Her poem was followed by an eclectic variety; literature is packed with “moon” allusions and poems and it was great fun to hear guests offer them. Someone sang “Blue Moon”. We were entertained by “The Owl and the Pussycat,” by Edward Lear.
“The moving moon went up the sky; And nowhere did abide; Softly she was going up, And a star or two beside,” wrote Samuel Taylor Coleridge in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
We heard a snatch of “Endymion” from John Keats and then “Moonlight Becomes You,” the old Bing Crosby favorite.
Then, “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” and “Shine On, Harvest Moon,” and “By the Light of the Silvery Moon.”
On it went for a long, melodic time. I think the ancient Chinese farmers would have been pleased by our celebration of their festival. We scavenged the moon literature, enjoying it till, alas, it was quite late.
Our hostess loaded our pockets with mooncakes for the journey as we bid farewell to Taiwan, and then walked, a happy group, along darkened but moonlit upper Manhattan streets to the subway underground.
For New Yorkers at that hour it was, obviously, the only way to go.