Monday, December 1, 2014

A MUSING FROM NEW YEAR 2014--ON CARRYING ON



(THIS IS ANOTHER IN THE "CHRONOLOGY IS OVER-RATED SERIES." IN FACT, THAT RUBRIC COULD APPLY TO NEARLY EVERYTHING THAT GETS POSTED HERE. But I've decided not to worry about it. Ditto for all the strange things that keep happening to my fonts and their sizing, and to the fuzzy photos I post (honestly, they looked just fine before they went up!), which are even keeping my techno-savvy husband perplexed. Please know that although I would love to have everything look as elegant and be as timely as the blogs I admire (Susan Morgan's HALF-YEAR ITALIAN  and Australian Celia's ever-gorgeous FIG JAM AND LIME CORDIAL), I am a certifiable Technodunce, and this is the best I can do. Among the many things Italy is teaching me is to try to leave perfectionism to those who are perfect. As long as what I post is legible, I'm going to stop fiddling and beating myself over the head about it. Roger Rosenblatt, whose writing I adore (See his "Rules For Aging," but if you have a weak bladder, be sure to hit the bathroom first because of how hard you will be laughing), has an important rule: LEAVE BAD ENOUGH ALONE. This is my new philosophy for when things go amiss.)


Having just finished the "Man in the Wooden Hat"--second in the Jane Gardam Old Filth trilogy ("Old Filth" being the nickname of the amiable protagonist:Failed In London;Try Hong Kong)--I am struck by the sadness of these three depicted lives that were intertwined in so many unacknowledged ways. 





Gardam's idea of portraying in three separate novels the same people from the perspective of each of member of the ménage à trois is mysteriously revealing. It shows how much can be going on inside the head of a couple who spend their life together without really knowing how much the other actually knew about their interior life, and presuming that they knew nothing. Yet each partner presumes to have understood the other completely.

The three books depict a different image of love--one based on loyalty and the dignity of keeping up appearances. There is also a character who is a troll-like incarnation of a Superego. We witness in Old Filth himself the permanent marks of a neglected childhood and of the right mentor.

This Jane Gardam trilogy shows the arc of a life--how even important memories can become lost or distorted by old age;how, once a life is over, how little actually endures:the reputation, the magic hat, the watch, the stammer, the venereal disease, the pearls, the guilt.

I think it would be especially easy for a Baby Boomer to link the situations in these Gardam books to her own feelings of estrangement, of life winding down and how and where to spend it with the fewest regrets: retire? What will be the disposition of so much of the stuff we have acquired and treasured? Which connections to keep?

New Year 2015 is not far away. As I think of so many losses actual and imminent, it's hard to say what this year's version of "carrying on" will be. To be continued...





Sunday, November 30, 2014

IF YOU KNOW WHAT A DARNING EGG IS (OR IF YOU DON'T) THIS NEXT PIECE IS FOR YOU! (DITTO FOR YEMENITE EMBROIDERY AND THE EVER-USEFUL WASHBOARD)








Dear U,

Thanks for this lovely message. Wow! A sewing machine! And you probably know how to use it, too. I admire that.

I went through a brief but intense period of sewing garments for myself and others. After putting so much into them, of course I have kept them all. But since I am instruction-challenged, it was one of my more masochistic activities. Even so, it was fun to look through all the pattern books and fantasize.

In my excitement about color and texture, I have a long history of collecting fabric. My mom's mother was a Russian furrier who could make anything without the need for a pattern. I really admire that. Jim's grandpa was a tailor, aka The Clothes Doctor, and Jim's mom learned from him when he lived with them towards the end of his life.

It's interesting to see how popular needle arts like knitting have become in Yale's stressed academic community. As an adolescent, I actually took up knitting as a stress reliever, which helped. A friend of my mom's used to watch me nervously pumping my crossed leg a mile a minute, and predicted that knitting would put a stop to it, because "who could knit while swinging her leg that" ?

It turns out that I could--and did--but even so, I felt more relaxed and better balanced with hands AND legs in motion. Not to mention all the beautiful mohair cardigans I turned out. Three of my 55-year-old creations outlived the dear now deceased aunts for whom I made them. My own sweater and that of my 90-year-old mom are still going strong, whereas her insightful friend who taught me to knit died just last year.

I wish I had gotten to tell her about the longevity of those sweaters that had only cost about four dollars and a whole lot of leg shaking to make. We had the good luck to live near a mohair factory (Montgomery Mills is STILL in business!), and in addition to the generous discounts, I still recall the magic of those gorgeously-colored balls of fluff lying in the box, en route to becoming a warm, becoming sweater. It was hard to choose a color. Mine ended up a yellowish gold that matched my hair. Mom wanted white to go with everything. The others were the richest red and royal blue.

And then there was my Seattle Yemenite embroidery phase. At first, I would come home from every class in tears when my empathetic husband would cheerfully ask, "how did it go?" This was after spending hours on a postage-stamp sized collection of sampler stitches that would never have won me a husband. As the teacher explained, a Yemenite girl's marriageability depended on the quality of her embroidery sampler. My husband who loves reading instructions and who can follow three-dimensional diagrams said, "Don't worry. We will get you a book and figure it out." He was right, and I still treasure my hard-won Yemenite embroidery sampler and the jean patches we made in the class.




I finally got the hang of it. Once I did, I made this for myself  and the red one for my husband, and we actually wore these garments! Now they are a special feature of my office decor.


I still like hand sewing, which feels soothing and useful. In my family we have always mended socks. Maybe all girls whose parents lived through The Depression did. I still have my mother's beautiful wooden darning egg. In our current throwaway culture, however, such objects seem like quaint relics.





Looks good from any angle, no? (But there is something a bit funereal about this last one)


Maybe my 19-month-old granddaughter or her imminent baby sister will carry the darning egg and my mohair sweater into the next generation? And if they need a precious old wooden washboard that has enjoyed a long, useful life and is nowhere near ready to give up the ghost, I know just where to find one.



I am happy to see that the Columbus Washboard Company, established in 1895, is still making this great product. But mine is in no danger of wearing out. This baby was built to last!
 

A TWO-QUESTION QUIZ: HOW OLD IS "OLD"? HOW OLD IS TOO OLD FOR "GOODNIGHT MOON"?


A TWO-QUESTION QUIZ: HOW OLD IS "OLD"? HOW OLD IS TOO OLD FOR "GOODNIGHT MOON"?  
The answer to the first question is "5 years older than you."

The answer to the second about when you're too old for the children's classic, "Goodnight Moon," is NEVER.

While painfully packing everything up to head back to my other country and life, I started thinking about "Goodnight Moon."






I recall the first time I heard about that book. A neighbor, the wife of a minister who was moving to a new location was having a tag sale. And unlike yours truly, she was not a hoarder. Although my son was only about nine months old at the time, I was drawn to the children's books that she was selling. Among them was this odd little paperback that was not in very good condition.

"Goodnight Moon?" "Never heard of it. Looks a bit boring.  I'm not sure I want that one."

"Oh yes you do!" And then she briefly explained why. She was SO right. But she forgot to mention how much its message would matter to me over the next 34 years (and still counting).

I haven't read that book in years, but I can conjure up its soothing pictures and melody. "Good night, comb. Good night, brush. Good night, bowl full of mush." It offers the perfect way to help a child wind down and make the transition into a comfortable night. And maybe an anxious mom, too.

I am wondering if I will ever come to terms with transitions. They are supposed to get easier, but I'm not convinced.

Today, somehow I will manage to get on a plane with a husband on crutches and a large dog whose crate is bigger than some Paris apartments. That crate will have to be assembled at the airport curb because otherwise it is too large to fit in the car.

Here are a few of the steps that will be involved:
1.finish packing and close up house

2.Drive on our terrible Italian country road to the parking lot where we will meet the friend who will drive us to the airport.

3.A few minutes before we arrive at the airport, we are supposed to call a special number that will supposedly make a porter materialize upon our arrival.

4.We are also supposed to pick up the yellow telephone to summon a pre-arranged wheel chair for Jim and his busted leg. What are the chances that these two helpers will arrive at the same time, if ever?

5. Try to find a moment and a spot to pee the dog one last time before getting him into his crate.

Never mind the rest. Somehow it will all get done. And two days later, if all goes well, I will be back in my other nest, don my professor cap, and resume university life.  

Good night, Italy. See you later?

Coda to myself:
When that baby in the book oh-so-gently nods off to Dreamland, she does not have her hands full.  She has bid goodnight to all of her stuff. She doesn't need it now. She is comfortably free, and all by herself.


'TWAS A FEW NIGHTS BEFORE XMAS, UMBRIAN STYLE (PART OF THE “CHRONOLOGY IS OVER-RATED” SERIES, THIS WAS WRITTEN LAST YEAR. BUT PRETTY SOON IT WILL BE CHRISTMAS AGAIN, SO MAYBE ITS TIME HAS COME)




VEHICLES
In addition to being a cyber-dunce, I have no understanding of what makes a vehicle tick. Why should something as heavy as an airplane ever get off the ground? (Especially with all the extra weight my husband, aka Babbo Natale, has in his holiday suitcase)  That's probably why I place so much faith in my magic, flowered, flying shirt and my I AM CALM socks.
These are an indispensable part of my travel "uniform," which includes, of course, my magic shirt --the one that keeps the plane aloft. You've read about this before in one of my earliest posts from 2011   RECONNECTING and also in my very first post,


Flash to the moment it came time to leave our middle-of-nowhere-Italian home-reachable-only-by-two-routes-each-worse-than-the-other for a lovely-sounding holiday party.  Even on a good day, I think of our 2002 Renault as The Little Engine That Could. You've heard about this car before. As you know it serves as the ideal fruit dryer (See 


 ). And it is fully capable of falling into a ditch, leaving a certain blogger behind the wheel completely mortified at having to be pulled out by her farmer neighbor's tractor. We can usually abandon it for four months at a time, and it will start right up. Score another point for the French! But on this particular dark and foggy Umbrian night, this was one little engine that couldn't. Even my optimistic husband proclaimed it "dead as a doorknob." I reminded him that that nutty expression was actually "dead as a door nail," but who knows why?

This unhappy situation called for some quick thinking, to be followed by a lot of waiting. First, a phone call to the kind host to express our regrets. Next to the friend who had offered to meet us at a parking lot and drive to the party. Being the generous soul that she is, she even offered to drive here to pick us up, but when you live where we do, you could not accept such an offer. And since tomorrow is the Sunday before Xmas, you have all night and more to plan your next move.

CALLING OUR WISE CONTADINO NEIGHBOR WHO KNOWS STUFF

I'm getting used to calling the wife of our farmer neighbor to tell her our latest tale of woe and ask if her husband (the same one who rescued my car in the post ,ON DRIVING INTO DITCHES AND MARKETING PLUMS (EXCER... can come help us deal with the latest disaster. "No problem ! He can't come himself tomorrow morning, but will send his brother and son-in-law."
Help has arrived! Looks promising, no?


Moving right along...


We've got the situation in hand--sort of...


Hmm...There's just one little problem:where could those sly Frenchmen have hidden the battery?

SUNDAY MORNING AND THE QUIET SOUND OF A DEAD BATTERY.

The neighbors arrive armed with contadino confidence and jumper cables, but there's a slight problem. SO WHERE'S THE BATTERY?
After much searching and head scratching, Jim whips out the poorly-indexed owner's manual that doesn't say anything about a battery. Leave it to those wacky French to hide the battery under the passenger seat!
AHA! (AS MY FATHER USED TO SAY, "WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, READ THE DIRECTIONS!" MY HUSBAND AGREES COMPLETELY.)


WELL, LET'S START AT THE NON-FRENCH END.


THIS IS GONNABE A PIECE OF GATEAU. OR SHOULD WE SAY A PIECE OF TIRAMISU?


JUST ONE MORE STEP, AND WE'VE GOT IT COVERED. OUR WONDERFUL NEIGHBOR IS HAPPY AND RIGHTFULLY PLEASED WITH HIMSELF. (LITTLE DOES HE KNOW, HOWEVER, THAT HE'S GOING TO HAVE TO COME BACK FOR A REPEAT PERFORMANCE TOMORROW.)



We would never have thought to look for the battery there, because the car has another special feature that I have not mentioned: whenever it rains outside, it also rains INSIDE the car due to a hitherto unidentifiable leak. Because it rained a lot during the four months we were away, I have, at my feet, a body of water the size of Lake Trasimeno.

The tired, wet battery eventually sputters to life, but how long will the charge last? As instructed, we keep it running for an hour and a half, but did we follow the advice to take the old Megane for a little spin up and down our stall-worthy hills? Not so much. Having been there and done that, I did not relish the idea (even if we did survive the fall into a ditch) of wearing out my welcome by having to ask to be pulled out. After all, it was already pretty likely we'd need a recharge the next morning in order to get to our friendly mechanic. We rashly turned off the engine.

Next step:verify if Giuliano the Mechanic will be open for business on the Monday before Christmas. Italians have a very elusive way of scheduling. And with so many saints and holidays, you never know when things will be open. But our architects who know everything, including how to reach Giuliano even when he's closed, reassure us that he will definitely be there to greet us, should we actually make it into town without stalling.

Time to call our neighbors again to thank them for the help of yesterday and to ask for Round Two.

I'm happy to report that the old Megane is once again up and running. I even took a sponge to the Lake at my feet and wrung out a few liters of liquid.

All in all (toutes choses considérées/in tutto caso), that French-Italian car, which we bought "used" from Giuliano himself--a smart business move for him--has been good to us. And anyway, isn't this the time of year when most of our batteries need a recharge?
AS A PUBLIC SERVICE TO ALL IGNORANT OWNERS OF A VINTAGE, LEAKY RENAULT MEGANE:IN CASE YOU EVER NEED TO RECHARGE YOUR BATTERY, HERE IS WHERE YOU WILL FIND IT 







Saturday, November 29, 2014

MAYBE CHRONOLOGY IS OVER-RATED?:HERE COME SOME RANDOMLY ORDERED PIECES WRITTEN THROUGHOUT THE YEAR THAT HAVE BEEN AWAITING THEIR MOMENT



1. WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU TRY TO LIVE AND GARDEN IN TWO COUNTRIES AT ONCE ? YOU GET THE DUNNING LETTER YOU DESERVE FROM LEE, THE HEAD OF THE COMMUNITY GARDEN WHERE YOU'VE HAD A PLOT FOR THE PAST 3 DECADES. NO GETTING AROUND IT:YOU'VE GOT TO COME TO TERMS WITH THE DIVESTMENT PROCESS


When Dick Cavett asked Katherine Hepburn about the sacrifices in her private life that she had to make in order to forge a career, she said without hesitation or regret, "You can't have it all."  


Then there's the play, "You Can't Take It With You" that I saw as a kid too young to "get it." Here I am at 67.5, still trying to "get it."



Hi, Lee,

Thanks for your thoughtful message. You have explained the situation tactfully, and of course you are right.

 I have had that spot since the community garden began, and I remember fondly having Helen, Dottie, you, and Mildred as my gardening neighbors. I also recall wonderful conversations with the original British caretaker of the property whose hand-hewn stakes I used until recently, when they disappeared. 

My son, now 33 and soon to become a father, was my 2-year-old gardening partner when we started the plot. His regular watering with the "poop tea" that we made from composted cow manure resulted in many fabulous crops of vegetables. One year when we had bounty from 24 tomato plants and a dozen eggplants, the saintly Italian grandmother who took care of N from age 3 weeks (and after whom he will name his first child) helped us make many quarts of the best tomato sauce. 

The garden has been and always will be a touchstone for me, but that is not a reason to prevent others from having a chance to create their own memories there. I will be leaving for Italy on May 7, and will want to ask Jeff for advice about what, if anything, I should try to transplant from my community garden plot to our house. So if the person who inherits my space can wait until that is sorted out, that would be best.

We are currently working out how to divide our time between New Haven and Italy, and even though I will no longer have a plot, whenever I am here I will be glad to help out by working in communal areas and supporting this garden which has been very dear to me.--Sincerely, D

What softened the blow of giving up my garden space was to get to know the lovely person, an apartment dweller, who would be taking over my space in the community garden. I was able to write to her.

Hi on this beautiful day for gardening--I wish I were doing that, instead of packing!

Below is the message I alluded to which I sent to Lee about my decision to leave the garden to the next generation, and which tells a bit about what it has meant to me.

I am very happy to know that it is going to you, a kindred spirit. When we first moved to New Haven in 1976 (three years before we bought our house), we lived in the top two floors of a Civil War-era brownstone on Court Street in Wooster Square. There, I used to garden in boxes on the balcony, so I know that you, too, will appreciate the change of being part of the gardening community. 

You didn't mention your current living situation, but until the end of August when I return to teaching, you are most welcome to spend time in our beautiful home garden. It is a calm oasis that has a country feel. My friend Jeff, a Master Gardner, helps keep it going in our absence, but the house will be empty except for our cat, who will be fed daily by our kind neighbor, Bill who lives in the grey house next door. He has a SPLENDID, AMAZING garden that one would never believe is in New Haven. Thoroughly European in spirit and design, it is a sight to behold. If you came over, you could get a glimpse from here, or I'm sure he'd be glad to give you a tour. 

          And now, back to the packing.--Sincerely, D


Dear D,

Thanks so much for the message.  I will soon be heading over to the community garden and will begin work in the beds with a clear conscience and without worry of digging up a treasured plant in my ignorance and enthusiasm to get started.  I have so much to learn, but I agree with you that that plot of earth will do so much to improve my quality of life in New Haven.  Until now, I have been trying to make do with a container garden on my apartment's balcony.  Even that effort has brought me tremendous joy, but with almost no sun and an army of aggressive squirrels it never felt quite fair to ask the plants to try to grow there.

And if you are willing to share it, I would really enjoy reading what you wrote about your garden’s early spring state; its heritage as an English garden is quite evident.  It is so warm and welcoming, and it will be such a pleasure to be surrounded by all those plants as I slowly work to weed and plant and identify what's there...  

(grin) So, I'm off to the garden!  Have a wonderful summer and do stop by if you're even in the park.  It would be great to meet you!

All the best and thanks so much for passing on to me this beautiful space.  I already absolutely adore it!--E



Hi, E,
Thanks so much for your wonderful message. You can absolutely go right to work on those raised beds which unfortunately are full of weeds. As a compulsive nut who used to have zero tolerance for weeds, I am embarrassed that things are in such disorder. But we have been living in Italy the last several summers, and my well-intentioned friends who were excited to take over the garden in my absence were not able to follow through. 

Two summers ago Master Gardener Jeff built the raised beds at a friend's request,  but I never got to use them myself, and the whole design of the garden changed quite a bit when I went off duty. It used to be a beautiful, wild English cottage-style garden, especially during the month of June.

I just skimmed a nice article about you. You and my writer/art historian son, would have a lot to talk about. He regularly lectures on the problem of crime as related to antiquities, and has founded a non-profit think tank to deal with the problem of art theft. Now 34 and a new dad, he's the little 2-year-old who helped me from the very first days of the garden. During the years he watered the 24 tomato plants and 12 eggplants with his little watering can (full of "poop tea" that we had made from dehydrated cow manure), we had bumper crops of everything. So there is a long history to that garden. 

I even recall having met the former gardener of the Brewster estate, a British gentleman named George, who was a fount of information and who gave me some beautiful stakes that I used for decades. He had whittled them himself. But sadly, someone must have thrown them away.

In any case, I'm so happy to leave the garden in your capable hands. For me, it has been a precious touchstone--one of the best things about New Haven. I can send you under separate cover something I wrote about it to Lee, when she urged me to give up the garden. 

By coincidence, I have a brother with the same name as yours, so maybe there's a bit of destiny in your taking over the garden.

It sounds like tomorrow will be a great day for gardening!--best, d

 Hi, Lee,
You must've read my mind! Jeff and I looked at the plot Thursday and decided on a few things to move from there to my house. We were both hoping that the new gardener might want to keep the tree, which would be nearly impossible to move, and which has been happily pushing its way out of its original pot for about 25 years. It's hard to believe that it started out as an eight-dollar tiny sapling. I mentioned to Jeff that it could also be used as a living trellis. 


I'm delighted to know that this space that has meant so much to me over the past 32+ years will be going to such a wonderful person as E, who I am sure will enjoy it.--best, D

Dear D,

Indeed, I adore the tree!  The whole plot has such a wonderful feel to it and I'm so excited to begin gardening.  My working plan for this season is to plant vegetables in the two beds and weed and tend the remainder of the plot, put in a few herbs, but mainly wait and watch the plants that are already there and see what happens.  It's such a wonderful garden and I have no plans to clear the whole space and start from scratch.  I want to build on what is already there.  I only met the plot this morning but already love it, and I chose it over another plot in large part because of that wonderful tree.  


All the best, and if you are ever in the garden and see me working there, please introduce yourself.  I love the tradition the garden carries (especially with the beautiful red maple), and it would be such a pleasure to meet you.--E

A POST-SCRIPT: When I got back to the States and went to visit the garden, I saw that it was thriving in E's hands. Voltaire was right to say, "il faut cultiver son jardin." He forgot to add, "and don't be greedy by hoarding your garden space when someone like E has been longing to have a space in the Community Garden."


*******************************************************************



2. INSTANT TOMATO SUCCESS VIA "Gardener's Supply"

Step One: Buy lotsa gadgets from "Gardener's Supply"

INSTANT TOMATO SUCCESS, ITALIAN STYLE

1. Move to Orvieto 
2. Befriend a local farmer who has been raising tomatoes in your valley for generations
3.watch everything he does and do everything he says
4.staking, crop selection, etc.
5.even if everyone else is having a bad year in the garden, pick mountains of tomatoes