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Archive for the month “August, 2017”

Summer Roundup

As a child, I believed summer stretched forever, an unending beach that unwound along the endless shore. And even though I now spend part of my year in San Diego, summer here at home always beckons with the feel of promise, a break from routine. 

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 But this summer has been unusual and has vanished in a flash, but as I reflect on it, I have to admit there have been some really wonderful moments. In spite of Howard’s fall, our travels in overcast rainy Europe were fun, particularly wandering through Copenhagen’s Fredericksberg park and watching the baby elephants nuzzle their moms; and as tourists feeling welcome in that city as we sought out differing varieties of cinnamon buns at local cafes. But even as a girl traveller I was drawn to Copenhagen time again, maybe the magic of the Tivoli drawing me in.

And recently, our time in Berlin was something very special too, the echoes of the clang of the war incongruous with the present day ascendancy of an incredible aesthetic, particularly in its magnificent eclectic buildings. There is a buzz here, particularly the art scene, exemplified in the outdoor East Gallery marking where one section of The Wall demarcated the city. Even hobbling and waiting in line, Howard responded to the Pergamon, museum of antiquities, remarking with awe at the turquoise tiles of the Gates of Ishtar with its dragons, serpents and strange creatures assembled piece by piece in the museum by wise architects -way before IKEA numbered their pieces, and the Marketplace at Miletus from 2 AD reconstructed by the Germans after an earthquake in the 1900’s.

We wandered and read and tried to imagine Berlin divided into quadrants. We walked and walked, each morning there at a tiny bakery where the fraus upbraided Howard. Their kuchen fresh from the oven, fragrant with heat and spice, a perfect way to begin the day after our nights spent at the fabulous boutique Hotel Am Steinplatz , an art nouveau designed hotel where Brigitte Bardot and Nabokov slept- but not together.

Berlin hustles and throbs, the people aloof and mainly unhelpful. Yet a supper at Nobelhart and Schmutzig, greeted at the locked door by a man with a messy man bun askew at the top of his head was memorable for its rose blush on venison, tiny new potatoes dusted with lavender and fennel ice cream. Along the long bar, we were seated beside a hotelier from Hawaii whose lover lived in Norway. The restaurant reminded us of Allo, Canada’s number one restaurant, but focused on locally grown ingredients allowed to shine in themselves, not entwined with myriad others- quite spectacular, except perhaps for the frozen, grated pinecones! They described their cooking art a “performance” and their chefs “actors,”and it was true that we were served with great confidence as our offerings were meticulously described.

Berlin overwhelms as you never can see it all, museums, intriguing spaces, that contrast of old and new that is difficult to assess and evaluate. As a Jew, I wish for an enduring rebuke to the past, but as a human touched by the evolving growth of an incomparable city, I applaud the beauty of advancement, that beat of art and architecture that pervades this perplexing city.

And in the raggedly beautiful Dubrovnik overrun by cruise ships, reminded me of Italy’s Cinqueterre with orange tiled roofs amid overgrown shrubbery. It too was an amazement, the quiet of tainted Lokrum where one cannot stay at night or die!, so the legend warns, reached by the gently rocking ferry. And later home watching Games of Thrones and recognizing the throne from which the wicked Geoffrey and manipulative Cerses committed their disastrous crimes, and the comment by a salesperson in the old city on the origin of the tee- shirts: “They’re crap”, he gleefully offered,”but the tourists love’em”. Huge smile.

And in spite of the torn thigh muscle for Howard , a milestone birthday where the stunning grandchildren all in sparkling white, assembled to pull off a surprise that even the all knowing Howard had not uncovered. An evening in the Cave Springs Winery, really a soirée of a tiny familial group prancing and dancing to the guitars of father, son and teacher as they strung and sang. Children well behaved, twirling, whirling and delightful to be caught by the artful photographer in a night not to be forgotten. Perfected scenes frozen forever we will want to return to and wonder at : four month old Georgia’s twinkling smile ; the mischievous antics of the boys; Aaron’s wild fling of a dance in a secluded corner; Carter’s impeccable rendition of Hallejuah on the recorder; or Remy finally breaking into smile at the black eyed susan; an overtired Rhett by the end of the evening, running around the table, signalling it was time for festivities to end . And Howard, who in spite of insisting on no celebration, had celebrated, the rock star of his own event. And me, quietly appreciating the ephemeral bliss of family when every carefully planned element falls into place, even the weather gods calling off the storms in the nick of time. Just wondrous.

There were quieter times too as we went to Stratford to catch a play.

We are aware but unaware of time, only marvelling in the photos of how we have changed: stomachs less taut, wrinkles more, faces softened by the years. One protagonist in Wagamese’s Ragged Company book reflects on how we cannot stop time, but how it is in us, as we change, but hold our memories of what has passed in ourselves and in photos as well. There is no evidence of time, no tangible proof. We cannot grab a handful of it, or take a picture of it as it moves: slowly, when I was a schoolgirl contemplating my days away from school; quickly as an adult when years appear to disintegrate and I ponder what events occurred just three or five short years ago. Yet I know poets have lamented, contemplated and considered on the passage of time, the incongruities as they explored times past, present and future, attempting to capture all in thoughtful, meandering words , a response to the unending march that eventually consumes us all.

This summer, the terrorist attacks, the idiocy of a Trump response to Charlottesville and the threat of North Korea elicit my thoughts of years long gone, of how my mother hoped for a better world for her children and the future. But even today, the 21st century, we are insecure in a world threatened by bombs, antisemitism and discrimination. Yet my friend Anne rebuked by her brother for her narrow view of the world submits there is beauty and good in the world too and she chooses to focus on that rather than the wider circle of the awfulness we read of, and experience vicariously every day in the news media.

Perhaps that is why my small candles in the light wash over me today as I seek to share them in my blog.

Gratitude.

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.Hauntings

In Richard Wagamese’s novel, Ragged Company, he presents his characters who are aware of the dead, passed spirits who are somehow present- by the side of the road, or even present at movie theatres. The four protagonists in the story accept them , acknowledging them without a second thought.
How do we feel about things or places imbued by those we once knew but who no longer inhabit this earthly realm? Yesterday as I walked out in the rare sunshine we’ve had this summer, for a second or so, I thought I recognized a few people on the street, but upon reflection, realized theyhad passed away. When someone dies, these spottings happen frequently, as a certain gait, the flutter of a scarf or even a body shape seems familiar and makes us want to rush over and greet them, grab their arm and say hi. Suddenly we are caught up by the realization that it’s not the person we thought it was, someone different and we feel kind of silly, but also duped or tricked by our maginations.
One friend engulfed by a storm of butterflies and another continually visited by a cloud of blue Jays insisted it was their dead husbands who wanted their presence felt. My  daughter reminisced  of a storm of hummingbirds that surrounded the casket of an adolescent whom she had treated, an ingenue too soon gone, but whose devotion to these tiny birds was well known.

Sometimes I wish I could feel my mother’s presence, encounter her on the street or have her come to me in a dream. I fear she harboured feelings of resentment before she died because I would not, could not remove her from the hospital at the end of her life. There was her suppressed rage, her seething anger and truly, I did not know how to handle it. I turned cold and she, she too was a separate frigid island, so different to the person who had guided and ensured my growing up . In deed my lingering memories are of her refusing to talk to me, more upsetting as we  had shared a warm and loving relationship throughout her entire life, she my constant support and later, my treasured friend. When she died , I felt as if the final words of companionship had not been uttered, her blaze of indignity and my helplessness in the situation unresolved.
In contrast, my sister was there when a passing rabbi entered her room to blow the shofar the eve of Rosh Hashana and I believe they experienced the warmth of the moment together. Later Wendy fed her spoonfuls of chicken soup. Then she was gone, vanished forever. As all must. Her words for me missing, caught somewhere, hanging, never released in the warmth of a smile, a touch I knew so well.
If I believed in an afterlife, I would have called out in the forty days, some say where the spirit circles, sending a caress  to her cheek or apologizing for my own standoffish manner in those final days. Perhaps because a hospital domain is my sister’s habitat, she knew how to ease her patient’s pain, make her comfortable, assuage her wants. But like my mother who dreaded and avoided hospitals at all costs, I withdrew. She had often recalled being an immigrant child coldly examined by indifferent doctors like some migrant specimen, and then with my father’s confinement at Riverdale when he had polio, she would lament that she had had “ her belly full of doctors”, their misdiagnoses, their pronouncements, their callousness, their unfeelingness to her emotional angst. With my cereal, I ingested her attitude, fear and resentment of the profession, myself demonstrating the “ white coat syndrome” of ridiculously high blood pressure when having to be seen, even by the kindest docs. Interestingly my sister embraced and not surprisingly, I retreated from doctors.
If I knew she hovered above, or wherever the dead persist, if they do, in deed, I would have entreated her to intercede in one particular family issue, but then, maybe the dead are only observers, witnesses to how life folds and unfolds from the unseen domaine of the spirits. But why should I harbour illusions of their power? From the tales of my friends and daughter, I want to believe they can turn themselves into a clump of butterflies or leave me a message in my dreams, but in the three years she has been gone, I have not experienced either.
Wagamese in Ragged Company suggests they are voices in our heads and maybe this is true, and rather than a ruminating superego who constantly warns us against crossing the street against the lights or running with scissors, they like Casper the Friendly Ghost provide safeguards for us. He, an Ojibway writer, reflects the world of his ancestors. I’m unsure what the Polish shtetl had to bequeath about the dead.  The year my mother and Jordan, early graduated from high school, were to share a grandmother- grandson trip to Las Vegas, she was hit by a car crossing the road near the corner of her apartment. She swore my father had instructed her to pull in her legs- or they would have been crushed. A concussion, blackened eyes, badly  bruised, she never traveled after that incident, another event we would hear her relate.
Wagamese through his protagonist the homeless tender Amelia One Sky also explains that when something sad happens in some place with some people, we leave a part of ourselves there, apart that wanted or needed hints to come out differently, a part that got separated from itself, a shadow of ourselves. Likely, I hunger for a resolution at my mother’s bedside, awaiting a final word of blessing or love, something that would crystallize decades of caring and constant love between us.

 

Says Amelia or her street name, One for the Dead, “If we never get right with it and we’re asked to move to the spirit world , that shadow stays here, revisiting those places and those people, hoping maybe that it can reclaim the part that got lost. By watching us learn to deal with our hurt, our losses, and reach out to life again. It tells them we’re okay. That they don’t need to patrol, revisit, or haunt those places anymore.”( p.213)

For me, I suppose I have not reconciled those final days, smiting myself for not finding some softness within to draw her to me and exterminate her anger. How ironic that in my father’s passing, she facilitated a last meeting where my father softened and was able to express love for me as I rubbed his feet, and yet there was no final resolution here at her bedside.
Mindfulness teaches to forgive ourselves past experiences, to permit an acknowledgement that we did the best we could at the time- and move on.

Were it so easy, I would. 

But as yet, I am trapped in a place where there are no butterflies or blue Jays, just empty space and the whiff of chicken soup.

Privacy

I’m not a prude, but some things just bug me. That Scaramucci was fired for his Reince Priebus diatribe did not bother me. I laughed at his obnoxious comments that could not be fully printed.Apparently oldster John Kelly, White House chief of staff, also felt the omitted words totally unacceptable .I can read all kinds of language, and always have, and it doesn’t really raise my ire or even one eyebrow. I remember when people banned Sons and Lovers and Catcher in the Rye for its naughty bits. I couldn’t understand the fuss. Still I’m glad another idiotic Trump minion has bit the dust.

However , in spite of the tender relationships among sibs and forthright sincere talk of “ Moppa”, in one of the initial scenes in Transparent , I did not enjoy was the pinching of Sara’s nipples by her partner Tammie in sexual foreplay. Is it absolutely necessary to present every detailed nuance that sends a person into erotic raptures? Is an audience incapable of knowing what tickles and sucking is involved in the bedrooms of couples in love? Might you think I have an issue with same sex romps, I’m no fan of explicit heterosexual many faceted penetrations either. Often I reflect, I’m not wild about the in depth examination of the workings of the inner ear either. I much prefer the well groomed façade to the sweaty interior excavation of body parts. Listening to WTF’s Mark Maron’s podcast interviews with stars from GLOW( Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) on explicit bedroom scenes also query, why is there no towel for messy mopups or where are we disposing of the condoms? So if shows are going for verisimilitude, where are the other corollaries of scenes that go into high detail of every grunt and groan? Breasts OK? Messy, wet sheets not?

Similarly I do not enjoy watching television characters on toilets, followed by the wiping of their bums. Should a character be checking for evidence of pregnancy I can allow for the collection of urine: it works with the plot. However, we all know what occurs in the bathroom, grunts of relief, fast whooshes of the hot chilis only partly digested, straining noises to avoid ruptures. Do you get my whiff? Have you enjoyed my foray into toilet talk too? Plop, plop.

 

Why must every intimate nuance, even ones that cause my grandchildren to tightly fasten bathroom doors and scream “privacy,” be made explicit on the screen. I add to that explosive puke of heavily seeded green vomit that we are treated to when personages hurl? I just don’t get why these instances that even a three year knows are private are treated as filmable and sharable? 
Interestingly, I can read about ablutions or the variations of lovemaking and do not turn the page to avoid the depth of descriptions, but I do not want to view them in living colour.Some people would conjecture that violence could be considered similarly, but often there is a thematic point, a metaphor or an explicit reason for the inclusion of these terrors: to advance the plot, to provide revenge to tactics, to examine concepts of victims and victimization, even to provide contrast to quieter moments…; although some are in deed gratuitous, there for the titillation of those who get off on slashing and mashing and mutilations. Noise and blood for edification. But as in the above of needless pain and suffering, sexual and bathroom intimacies stretches my understanding of their inclusion in a narrative where lovemaking or constipation/ diarrhea is hardly the point, just the de rigueur of daily existence.

I can’t recall but likely did cringe at the famous first scenes of Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris, the anonymous sex necessary for the plot; however the backstory that Maria Schneider was unaware of the use of butter during the rape scene violated her as actress and human, even as part of the story line. Even Brando expressed regret. Gratuitous violence and sex may titillate but is an easy crowd grabber that is flagrantly dishonest. And truthfully, even some younger members of the audience will avert their eyes- in distaste, disgust, disapproval or annoyance.

So perhaps you are thinking I should keep my nose in my books, and stick to Anne of Green Gables.It is a tough call as I do respect artistic integrity and long have argued against censorship. I suppose I would like to believe in artistic integrity( does that concept still exist?) of the creator, of the art form, and I would wager Lena Dunham might agree, but like most things gone the way of the dodo, it’s business, profits and money as the bottom line and I am increasingly cynical .

Today’s generation ( sounds like my mom, I know) seem unable to separate public and private acts, Facebook so overloaded with the tedium of superficial happenings that boomers like myself wonder why someone would include daily events that range from their cats’ antics to their relationship status. Maybe my generation who was constantly admonished, or maybe just me by angry parents, “ To think before I spoke” lest revealing our families’ secrets (????) might have lessened the burden by adding, ” anything you post may embarrass you in the future because the Internet has the longest memory- never erasable, kids”. Some facts of your life should be discussed with your parents, your therapist or your best friends in camera, not to all the hundreds of Facebook friends you may be loosely acquainted with.

From television and social media, we imbibe manners, mores and morals.That sexual congress is easy, unmeaningful, and as uneventful as a hi five just is not true, especially for adolescents. Sharing one’s body means something more. Perhaps the crazies who protest sexual education are also reacting to the loose goose of sexual adventures on tv, another axe to grind. Vital to growing up, sex education is more important now than ever, STDs still rampant, hearts broken, genitals in sexting a game for ridicule and worse-not love.

Hey, I’m not against sex. It’s the intricacies that we are made privy to during prime time tv along with other body functions best left in the privacy of one’s own home that I’m ranting about in this blog. And it’s true what we cannot see, but imagine is a helluva lot sexier- except in the bathroom. To which my grandsons would defiantly slam the door and loudly scream, “Privacy, please!”

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