Happy Les Miz Mother’s Day

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Eight years ago, my friend Kim insisted on taking my two sons, Marco and Max, and I to the 25th Anniversary production of Les Miserables at the Ahmanson theater in Los Angeles, whether we liked it or not. I was sort of curious about the play as I used to see Kim and various members of her family go to all sorts of Les Miz productions over the years, including ones done in a high school auditorium. We went that night at her treat with husband Tony and her kids, AJ and Alexa.   I was transformed and transfixed. Never had a play touched so deeply with music so searing it was as if it wrote its songs on your soul. Max was nine at the time and pierced as well by this production.

At Max’s insistence, we had to do the customary backstage door wait for his coveted cast member autograph. Adult Cosette came out and Max was having none of it. Can you please see if little Cosette can come out, I asked her? Max had been smitten to say the least. She was gracious enough to honor our request and out came the precious, young Cosette. Max got her autograph. At home that night he looked her up on Facebook and sent her a message. Two years later, we were sitting on the sofa one night with various technology on our laps, when Max said, “She answered”. Who answered, I asked. Cosette. She answered my Facebook message. The actress thanked him for his kind words of praise of her performance. She explained she had been busy touring with the play all this time and apologized for answering so late. There was an outright grin on his face from that one.

Kim had given me her Mom’s 25th anniversary CD to listen to and Max and I spent a few years riding around blasting the soundtrack and singing badly along, well me anyway. He can at least carry a tune. One night coming home by myself from a less than safe looking part of town from a football game I had to leave Max at, I decided that if I blast the Les Miz score really loud out of my car amidst the bass booming boom boxes of my fellow travelers, I was pretty sure no one would bother me. It worked.

The 25th anniversary performance in Los Angeles was a short-lived event; as big plays are want to do here. I promised Max at the time, that if Les Miz ever came back to Broadway in a new production, we would be there to see it. And that’s how I ended up taking about 13 family and friends to see the new Broadway production a few years ago.   And what a treat to see it with the West End’s own Alfie Boe.

We all test the sensibilities of people, whether overtly or covertly, according to some inner litmus test, whether we are conscious of it or not. For many years, Les Miz was this test for me. I was thrilled to see my niece, Eliza, love the play and the music as much as we did this night.   After my discovery of the play through my dear friend, I discovered it was the favorite of another dear friend of mine. No wonder, I thought. It’s Marjorie.   Fast forward a few years and there I was on the isle of Guernsey with another Les Miz-er, who gladly stormed Victor Hugo’s house, under construction and not to be visited this time, so she can snap a few pictures for us. Sandi only left when the loud and frenzied French woman asked her to. A good friend she is.

Tonight, it’s Mother’s Day 2019 and that Broadway production is now on tour and so for the third time I will get to see this mother of all musicals. The best sound track ever. Sorry, Alexander, it just is. I will see it tonight with another dear friend, Patty, who rearranged her Mother’s Day to accompany me. Happy Mother’s Day to my Les Miserables moms, Kim, Marjorie, Sandi and Patty and to my Les Miz kids; Max, AJ, Alexa and Eliza.

A Day in the Life of a Realer…Or Planting a Lukas Garden

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While the story I am about to tell you will garner all sorts of accolades about my generosity and kindness and blah blah blah, the reason it all came about is solely due to my finely honed laziness. Sometimes we just have to stay home. Sometimes we don’t have to be at everything. Sometimes we just have to stick close to our adult kids whether they like it or need it or not. This long planned trip to Austin Texas with a friend to see a Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real concert with the Avett Brothers thrown in for good measure just took an uneasy turn. And those, my intuition always tells me, are always for the good.

I love Lukas. He is an extraordinary singer/songwriter but more than that, he has an energy and aura on stage that is unmatched. I came across him about three years ago in a chance Facebook video. Where else does anyone our age get news today? He was doing his dad, Willie’s, You Were Always on My Mind, which I always manage to confuse with Andy Hill’s, Still Very Much on My Mind. It was from 2013 on a cruise ship in the lounge with a couple of old timers, one on the piano and the other on trumpet. Not a formal show, just a late night hang, that is still one of the most breathtaking musical things I have ever seen. I posted it on my FB page. Fast forward a month and a few friends of mine are raving over him. Well, irritated, I asked them, where the hell had they been since I posted him over a month ago. We started an FB messenger chat and within an hour, I had tickets for the four of us to see him play in a small club in Sacramento in July. There were no other solo shows closer to us, meaning just Lukas and his band. I had no interest in seeing Willie, nor do I ever go to all day music festivals in the dirt. I am too damn old for that. I need comfortable seats. We flew to Sac, saw the show, met him afterwards and got pictures with him. We had a great night out with girls who I had just met a year or two before. Lukas, by this time, had added another show in October at the Fonda Theater right in our backyard in Los Angeles. So we went to that as well and signed up a few more Lukas Ladies to go with us. Both shows were spectacular and reasonably priced.   And then that annoying re-make of A Star is Born happens and Lukas pretty much takes off. This February, his $30 ticket at the Troubadour went for close to $480 bucks at first. I was so mad. I wrote his booking agent and asked, what the hell were you thinking letting the scalpers get all the tickets. Why on earth didn’t we get a fan pre-sale at least? He wrote me back a very nice email sort of apologizing.

And that is how I came to buy two tickets to see him this Friday, May 10 in a place called the Whitewater Amphitheater in New Blauvelts, Texas outside of Austin. Now mind you this is not the name of the town, it is actually New Braunfels but for some damn reason this addled brain of mine refuses to accept that fact.   I’ve long since stopped asking my mind how it works. My friend has a son that lives there and so the plan was for us to go visit him and his wife and then see the show. She has never seen Lukas; so initiating a new Lukas Lady was going to be fun. Besides it was cheaper to go to Texas than the Troubadour at that point. We had two GA (general admission for the non concert goers among us) tickets, which I was sure I could use once the knee problem got better. It didn’t and so last week I picked up two more preferred seat tickets so that I could be guaranteed a seat as I would never make a four hour standing only show. I could have gone to the Troubadour in Los Angeles twice at this point.

I now had four tickets to get rid of. I hate seeing tickets go to waste. The idea though this morning, of the incredible hassle of actually selling these tickets to people in another state was more than this lazy Lukas lady could stand. About four days ago, I had joined a new Facebook page Lukas had created for fans only called the Realers after his band. I decided I would sell these tickets for karma bucks instead of cash bucks. I would see what happens and so I posted this:

“Stuff happens in life and I always like to put karma bucks in my bank. I can’t go to the Whitewater Lukas show in New Blaunfels Texas after all, so I just want to give my tickets away. I have 2 GA tickets. Private message me. I also had 2 preferred seating but I got a message on those. They are all email tickets so I can email them to you. Just send me some video! Love Maddie! I’ll have to wait to see our Boy when he comes back to LA!”

And then I met Brandee Rockett. Now mind you, when she first sent me a message, I was a little skeptical of that name. No offense, Brandee, but it’s a great burlesque name. Brandee is a 38 year old mom to a 17 year old boy who lives in Austin and is in the process of moving to Denver. Brandee is a thyroid cancer survivor and a huge Lukas fan.   She so wanted to see him close to her house but medical bills made it a luxury she can’t afford right now. So what if I’m running my own Make A Wish program. This Friday, Brandee and her 17-year-old son will be seeing Lukas and the Avett Brothers. When you start your day with a message from a perfect stranger that says (Brandee has given me permission to reprint her words):

“Thanks for making a difference in my life. I saw this concert was 30 minutes from my home and was so sad (at first) that I couldn’t attend. My husband and I used to attend concerts on our date nights. One every 6 to 8 weeks and would be planned months ahead. All of that stopped with the cost of cancer. And I mean not just financially. So thank you so very much for this. I am so grateful to see him near my hometown and one of my all time favorite venues before I move. It’s like an acknowledgement of reclaiming my life. That’s how much it means to me. It means everything”

I’ll let you guess how many tears flowed down my face reading this. The power of music. The power of gratitude. The power of laziness. Well it is I, of course, and I turned Brandee on to my blog site and so I made another reader. What is that, ten of you now? She liked the first thing she read. And that is enough pay back for this writer wanna be.

The next set of tickets were the two preferred seating ones. I had received a message first from a 61-year-old gentleman who just had knee replacement surgery two months ago and wanted to take the new knee out for a concert spin. How perfect was he for the tickets I had to buy because of my bad knees? At the same time, I had also received an email from a lovely lady who is a TV producer for an Austin show called Support Live Music. I wondered about her and why she couldn’t just get comp tickets. She even offered a shout out on her TV show for what I was doing. We chatted a bit and then I thought well maybe I should just split the tickets up and give one to Robin A, the knee guy, and the other one to her. I wrote Robin back a message and asked if he wanted one ticket. What he wrote back earned him both. He said he was grateful and all and he would love to see Lukas, as he was a big fan and had never seen him, but he could not go without his wife. Wow, that is love! I would have dropped my husband like a bad habit to go see Lukas with an offer like I made.  So now Mr. and Mrs. Robin A will get to see Lukas for the first time and Robin will have lots of time to read my blog since he is still recuperating. It didn’t hurt that Robin is a huge Beto fan either, per his Facebook page I snooped around on.

I told the TV producer why the tickets went to the knee replacement gent and wife and she understood and loved the story. I asked why she needed tickets as she told me she works with Lukas’ people when he releases new videos. What she said would warm the hearts of all my musician friends. She said she never asks for comp tickets. She pays for them herself. The saying at her TV show is “ Pay the Cover, Tip the Band and Buy the Merch!” Now that’s a girl after my own heart!! And she ended her last message to me with ‘just love you and you are funny, too’! So I do what I do best. I sent her to the MY BACK PORCH page and to Midnight Missives and Musings to read me.

I racked up a nice chunk of karma bucks this morning, all before 10:30. It allows me to be a little bad. I like it. Can I afford this all? Hell no!! Will I get crap from certain people about me wasting my money? Hell yes!! Do I care what they think? Hell no!! I don’t get my religion from a bible or a pew or my high from a pill or a powder. I get it from walking around and thinking of interesting things to do and see what happens. The joy I experienced today, not to mention picking up three new readers of my writing and maybe more since I also posted my blog site on Lukas’ fan page, is better than any drug or organized religion on the planet. And maybe, just maybe, it lightens things a bit for those I love the most to hear this. Well, must go, just heard Lukas is playing the Fillmore in San Francisco at the end of the month! Who’s in?

 

 

 

Home Is Where….

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According to Mr. Webster, a noun is a person, a place or a thing. I posit that a home can be all three. Inside the bricks and mortars of our youth, midlife and later and greater years, it holds the people we love and sometimes don’t. It is the place we make our memories in, good and bad. A home holds the things and dreams we create our lives with.

What happens when that home is threatened? In late 2017, fires devastated my city. Not quite a new occurrence for Southern California, but usually they occur in the hills and canyons and crevices where the populace is a bit less dense, or at least less dense by Los Angeles standards. The first week of December saw a raging fire close to Bel Air and the Skirball Center. When an early Monday morning greets the already beleaguered LA commuters with the closure of the 405 Freeway from the Santa Monica Freeway to the 101, it is as surreally serious as a brushfire can get. Couple that with the raging fires in Ventura a day ahead and another in the Sylmar region and we have our very own version of Dante’s Inferno without the pithy repartee.

Some 100,000 people had to flee their homes at a moment’s notice. Some had to remain quietly at their doorstep for hours on end in suspense wondering whether they too would have to flee the flames. It got me thinking, what in that house should go with you and what should stay at a time like this? What becomes important in those first few minutes? The documents that will keep the bureaucracies at bay of course like the passport, the birth cert, the bank account and a marriage license or two as needed. Photographs would seem to be the next most grabbable item, I suspect.   Memories really are what you are grabbing. But what happens if, as my friends did, you sit there for hours on end waiting to see if the evacuation ever comes?   Do the priorities change?   You have the time to keep looking around and grab just one more item like the souvenir of a vacation long gone or a painting that you fell in love with. When the car is full, then what? Do you keep trying to fill it or do you at some point say enough? Over the course of those hours of wondering how much of your home you can possibly save, does the importance of the trappings, the furnishings, and the chachkies become irrelevant? Does a painting mean no more or no less than a lamp? Does it become clear that you cannot save an entire lifetime in one small trunk of a car? And is it in that moment when a house is no longer the entity you thought it was? Does it become clear in that moment that the spirit, the love, the hate, the dinners, the tears, the Christmas mornings and Halloween nights are what made that place a home and not the carpet, the couch, the wallpaper or the fireplace? Are you then comfortable in knowing that no matter what happens to that edifice you can and you will create a home again albeit inside four brand new walls.

The threat to the home in this case is a very real tangible and possibly imminent fire. What is it like, though, when a home is altered not by environmental threat but rather torn asunder by the very people who built it in the first place?  What is it like for each member of the house when the two principals must part in acrimony and lack of love? My house undergoes such transformation now as the divorce finalized by summer sees the winter’s move of my former husband.

There are often pockets in any house that belong just to one of the inhabitants. For some men a garage, for others a den.  Women seem to gravitate to the kitchen for obvious reasons or perhaps an office. In our case his domain was his garage. A place so filled with remnants of his tinkering and building and carpentry and love of tools that a car has never seen the inside of that structure. For days we watch with fascination as every single item accumulated for 25 years is looked at, wondered about, examined and then either deemed worthy of the trip up north to his new home or relegated to the mounting scrap heap. The thought goes through this mind of why this or that was not thrown out years ago. This thought so clearly speaks to the fundamental differences that could not be reconciled for 27 years until the stagnation of that failure could not be endured any longer.   On the one side of the marital bed, she who could not stand an item of clutter and often had to buy the same thing discarded at a yard sale the very next day. On the other side, he who could not part with one scrap of wood or nail discarded on the floor. What a chasm they caused all those years.   But that garage was part of the home built for all those years. No matter the reason, to see the dismantling of it is to feel the sadness of the loss of that quiet corner where he sought refuge for so many years. What about his sons? What do they feel to see the place so long identified with their father disappear tool by tool, plank by plank, jar by jar? No other room inside this house will see a change quite like this garage will. What will be left? What will this permanent change do to this home? Will there be a sigh of relief that the suffering of two people woefully wrong for each other is finally over? Will something take its place in there that will mend some of the broken hearts left over? Or will that room be irrevocably changed forever? Will nothing in there ever feel right again? Will that part of the house never be a home again to the inhabitants that remain? Will it take a brand new set of inhabitants to make it a home again? There are no answers. For now it will have to suffice to be brave enough to ask the questions. At our advanced marital ages, the dissolution of a lifetime is not something easily done. It takes a type of courage or weakness that not many will subject themselves to.   There are those that look around that house of pain they have created and never see a way to leave it. They look around their home as my friends and many others had to do in the days of the fire and ask what would they take if they left this place? The answer for most is “I don’t know.” They could not possibly decide what to take and so they never leave no matter what. They live their days without joy, without love, without happiness because the decision of what to take would bring them to their knees and it’s a risk they are not willing to take. I took the risk. I must now wait to see if it was worth it. I must now see if it is possible to build a home again or if we are simply left with the shell that is a house.

 

Mind Out of Time

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How is time measured when advancing in the years?  Is it truly so different than the timepiece of youth?  I feel these days that time is a finite commodity, no longer the infinite pendulum of early adulthood.  But is that true?  Do we seek to fill the minutes of the mind to ward off the end of those minutes?  Do we do it as our last and best chance at leaving…what?  A memory to someone or no one at all, an indelible mark on society or none at all?

It seems my sons and their peers never seem to find something “to do” and I can never seem to find something “not to do”.   We come from a less standard generational approach. We are two generations apart, a result of  my late in life entry into motherhood.  Is it the fact they feel like time is always on their side that lends them to less of a need to fill all the minutes of their minds on a constant basis? Was I the same in my youth?  Is boredom a necessary byproduct of the expanse of youth drenched time?   Do they see no end to it and so they brush stroke the minutes in at a leisurely pace?   Perhaps it is and perhaps it should be.  What if that boundless space is interrupted with a grief or two?  Does the color of mortality color the time of their mind permanently or does it merely form a shadow?  I believe it  can coexist in youth in an exquisite way with the shadow providing a brilliant silvery shimmer around the edges of the minutes of the mind for a very long time.

Is economics a factor as a hindrance or a help to the management of the minutes of the mind? I have no solid guess.  I think back to my own very literal misspent youth and my less than large wallet certainly tempered my desires at times- at others not at all.  But what if they had the means, would they go out and about or is the lack of  things to do at their age the culprit?  Does a thing need to be of a certain caliber for it to even be considered?  Is my measurement and yardstick of the amount of mind minutes that need to be filled an unfair comparison for their very vast amount at this time in their lives?   I suspect the answer is no to the former often and yes to the latter always.

What about immortality? Does the race against the mind clock truly guarantee us another week, a month, a year?  I asked my last living paternal relative at 97 years a few weeks ago: what is your secret?  Keep moving, she laughed, just keep moving.  Sage and ironic advice.  My father and his relatives, most over the age of 80, all had their mental states in perfect tact right up to the day they passed.  Their mobility, though, left a lot to be desired.  Legs and knees and ankles didn’t take the passage of time too well.  Walkers and canes for some, sitting a lot for others.  This particular relative employs her very smart tripod cane and off she goes. A casino here, a son visit there.   Is that where my newfound love of motion at all costs comes from?  Is that why, when I do stay home, the walls seem to enclose me as if in a premature tomb? Or is it simply my mind’s need to fill the minutes as best I can, as long as I can.

Where does the penchant for long term planning come from, I wonder?  Do I think that having a concert ticket for five months hence guarantees the grim reaper does not visit, as if a concert ticket is akin to the garlic around the neck of a prospective vampire’s prey?  Yet, I do, at times, seek the tickets forfeited by an untimely demise of a patron’s relative on the day of the show if I chose not to make this one a bargain with eternity.  I don’t wish them severe sorrow, perhaps a beloved great grandparent whose funeral they must attend on the night of said concert.  It could happen and it has.

I peel and peek back a dozen years at my inability to plan anything in advance of the next several hours. I thought this was a clear and concise result of the trauma endured from the medical condition of my then spouse. But was it?  Or was this just a normal passage in the mind out of time sequence of one’s life.  Youthful immortality was no longer at play to delay the filling of all those days’ hours and the mind’s minutes.  Time as a finite commodity really had not set in as yet.  So perhaps this was a simple transition of the mind’s adjustment to the days when you know for sure there is a true and real expiration date.

Perspective,  the compass that points the direction to how someone will attend to the sunset minutes of the mind that comes with a certain age. There are those that will simply be still and allow the minutes to drain on their own like so much sand in the hourglass without being able to grasp not even a grain.  I am not one of them. I want to touch and feel and squeeze and smile at every one of those grains as they pass through.  The perspective is the energy source to do so. Nothing more. Nothing less. Not a bank account; I am bombarded with lots of free things to see and do and I do and see.  Not excellent health; I drag a painful body part with me now and again as the pain in my brain from sitting idly in the suffocating silence is much much worse.

While the evaporation of the suffocation born of the silence of hostility brought a measure of comfort, its replacement with the fixated asphyxiation of the silence of a vacuum still leaves a measure of discomfort.  Do I fill the hours of the day and the minutes of the mind to flee the walls caving in?  Yes, but I am careful not to fill the silence again too soon so as to guard against a new silence turning hostile once more.  I prefer instead to draw outside the lines of the minutes of the mind; to set no bounds, no expectations, no results, no achievements, no rebuttals or rebukes.  I seek to simply fill the remaining minutes of the mind with the color of contentment.

 

January 2019…Adult Still Swimming

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January 24, 2019

I cannot believe that nice little old gentleman with the almost Speedos that shows up every day to swim around the same time I do at the Y, said to me today, “You swim like a dog”.  “I used to do that seven years ago when I started”, he added.  Really, Mister? So I suppose this is one of those times where practice does not make perfect.  I’ve been at this for ten months as you can see by my post below of last March.  Off and on. More on that off. That applies both to my swimming and the weight.  Yes, those stubborn, “I’m going on that damn vacation with you “ pounds won out and I had to take them to Italy with me. I was not happy.   On the bright side, the fascist foot pain disappeared on exactly November 6 while watching Dear Evan Hansen at the Ahmanson Theater.   Lucky me, it went right from my right foot to my right knee. A pain so severe when I got up from the chair to leave, I had to drag my leg along behind me a la Tiny Tim Cratchet to the car. Why? Why do you suppose the universe has kept me from walking like a Labor Day lad on Jerry’s telethon for a year now? The one thing that was my sure fire weight loss weapon for almost four years- my first thing in the morning daily 45 minutes walk no matter where I was in the world.  I have added now recently a 20 minute chair exercise. At least I get some upper weights workout.  But I miss the daily walking more than anything. It was my best time for writing think.  I would come home from the walks and go immediately to the computer to begin a piece.    Muses come in all shapes and sizes and that was mine.  I miss it a lot.

I have been to doctor pillar and post and no one is closer to figuring it out. It’s not gout or rheumatism or arthritis or any other “ism” or itis they can come up with. I have had every blood test known to man including bubonic plague at my request. Nothing. MRIs and X rays to the volume of I could produce my own slide show set to music. Nothing. The pain moves around like a demented game of hide and seek. One minute in my ankle. The next in a knee.

I’ve done holistic chiropractors, acupuncturists, and traditional physical therapy. The only thing left is an exorcist or a witch doctor, neither of which is out of my realm of possibility. But I chug along; I paced myself with an afternoon siesta every day in Barcelona. My travel partner expressed amazement at what we fit in with a bum leg. She would be too exhausted to travel with me on two good legs, she said Pain to me is an opponent that simply will not win. I will go over it, under it and around it if I need to, but I am NOT sitting around waiting for them to find some cure for this. I truly believe it’s the result of putting on near 30 pounds in 14 months, plain and simple. And so I keep at it. Sometimes it’s two steps back and one step forward, literally but I keep at it. I will overcome. And so to my lovely little old swim mate, I say ‘woof, woof’.

From March 28, 2018…..

A thousand words before I sleep. That’s the plan to keep this writerly muscle exercised, as my flipping fascist foot is not allowing any other type of exercise these days. I refuse to take one sixth of me to Italy this summer. I just am not but without the requisite daily movement in the way of a walk each morning, it is so difficult to lose it. Until such time as this heel pain heals, I am now going to give a daily adult swim a shot at the local YMCA. I hate public pools or any public water for that matter. My entire swimming career has been spent in my friend’s pool next door.   But since I cannot walk, Zumba, hop, skip or jump right now, the Y is the only wet game in town. First though, I had to find one of those cute swim caps so my very expensive dyed hair doesn’t turn a lovely shade of Trump-orange. I stopped just short of the pink, yellow and orange flowered one.   It is a public pool after all.

What I do to get from one end of this very long pool to the other can only loosely be called swimming. I never learned how to properly nor do I want to, frankly. I move my arms and legs in some fashion that seems to propel me just fine from end to end. I don’t understand the concept of putting your face in the water when you are swimming on top of the water. That to me is then just the same as diving way down into the water. I never took swim lessons. My mother barely let us near the water as kids, and I managed to do the same to my kids. We are just not ocean people. A pool where you can get out when you want irrespective of any moon-tide relationship and no sharks is good enough for this type of swimming. My kids never wanted swim lessons. Self taught they are in said pool next door. I have to remind them of their lack of formal training whenever they tell me they are going to the beach. Don’t go in the water, I caution, you really can’t swim. Never took a lesson, remember.   Not a clue if they listen when they actually get there.

The other time consuming thing about public pools I now need to address on a daily basis is things floating in the pool that don’t belong there. Now it is more likely that young children make these deposits rather than the two old gentlemen and water Zumba gold crowd I encounter each day, but still the thought crosses my mind.   I don’t like to go late in the day. I prefer very first thing in the morning so as to reduce the chances of pool pee accidents by my pool peers.   But I will persevere damn it! No other way to exercise for now.   This morning was interesting. As I was flailing from one end of the pool to the other some fire alarm sounding thing went off. I looked at the guy next to me and figured we don’t need to go anywhere. Best place to be in case of a fire, right? He agreed. Off I doggie paddled to contemplate how bad this chlorine is going to be for me on a daily basis.

I am also so not a ‘gym’ person. All my exercise was done at home. The first day I bring my towel, car key and hit the locker room only to stare at the locker for a few minutes and wonder what the odds are of me putting my stuff in here with no lock and someone coming along to try and use the very same locker. I figure 50-50. Ok I know there aren’t only two lockers in there but I still calculated it as very high.  So I just took my towel and sweatshirt and pants and threw them all on the bleacher bench near the pool and hoped the nice lifeguard wouldn’t yell at me for making a mess or  leaving my flip flops right near the edge of the pool.  I can’t stand walking barefoot and I could only imagine what kind of foot disease you could get from walking around a public pool.   So that’s what I was doing with my clothes and then today I notice all these nice hooks at the other end of the pool and that people hung their bags on them. That was interesting. I could pack my stuff in a bag, carry it in, put my clothes in it while I swim. Then take them out and then and then… I was exhausted just thinking about it, so no bag. I’ll just keep throwing my clothes and keys on the bleacher and hope no one trips over the flip flops.

It’s quiet. I hate the sound of quiet. I know most people love it; so relaxing, so peaceful, so dead. Sons are gone up north to visit their father and even the dog has gone with them. The two Japanese students must live on a farm in Tokoyama cause I have never seen kids go to bed that early.  I get jetlag but wow. They barely make it through dinner at 6, then a shower then in bed by 7. It’s a great hosting job. So the house is completely silent right now.   I suppose there are those that enjoy this. Not me. It is spooky. That’s what it is. You don’t hear the sounds of a creaking floor or the refrigerator hum or the house breathe when it is filled with talking. It’s like a constant pulsating effect all around you. I don’t like it much. Perhaps because it is so foreign to me as I have not lived alone, well ever really. I see no point in starting now, especially with a flipping fascist foot that will render me incapable of fending off any monsters under the bed or in the closet.

The oddest thing about this week is not having a soul to tell my comings and goings to. Even if it was just the dog at home, I would tell him to behave that I was going out for a while.   I find myself thinking I have to get back soon so I can- then stop myself and realize I don’t have to get back to do anything for anyone actually. Nor do I have to tell anyone where I am going. But then what happens if I don’t return. There is no one with ground zero information for where to start looking.   See this is what happens when it’s this quiet. The mind wanders and you go creeping quietly behind it on tiptoe with a flashlight and a prayer.   No, give me noise or give me death. Pretty much how it will end up.   My sons will come home and five minutes later I will be looking for this quiet. I don’t really want to find it but look for it I will again am sure.   Well that was 1187 words, so I suppose it is time for sleep as long as the quiet doesn’t keep me awake.  It has been known to happen.  When I moved to California from the Bronx, I drove cross country with a friend of mine.   One night we had to stop in a motel in some town outside Lincoln Nebraska because of a big basketball game or something that made it impossible to get a hotel room in the city.   It was late at night, the innkeeper answered the door in a robe and curlers and gave us a room.   It was the quietest I had ever heard in my life and it scared me silly.  I made my friend push the dresser in front of the door as I was sure we could be killed in the middle of the night in this quiet and out in the middle of nowhere.   The Bronx with the sirens going all night was no problem of course to sleep through.  And sleep now I must and to all a good night.

Merriless Merry Christmas

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Christmas doesn’t have to be merry. It just doesn’t. It can be annoying or sad or irksome or just a plain colossal mess of forced gaiety the likes of which no other holiday spurts forth. It depends a lot on your current lot in life, your attitude, your temperament real or imagined, your patience, your perspective, your relatives and your dead. There is no Christmas cookie cutter one-size fits all mood that anyone should be required to don at this particular time of the year. The half naked Christmas tree sitting in my living room for the better part of a week will attest to my less than festive mood this year. Don’t be afraid of your Christmasless feelings. As I said this week to a friend stopped by, “You can see by the lack of Christmas decorations that there is no husband nor daughters who reside here.” And that’s just fine with me right now, both the lack of the former and the latter.

Christmas, like it or not, belongs to children. It is through their eyes of wonder and belief that the spirit rekindles in adults.   O there are those childless adults, whether by want or circumstance, who manage to keep the magic for all their lives intact with a continuity not affected by the changes of offspring and steered by the lifelong habit of no Christmas transitions in their lives. My view, however, is through the prism of parenthood. It wasn’t always. I disliked Christmas in my teens and for a long time after. Longtime family quarrel ended the time with the paternal family closest to us. Maternal side was oceans away.   The first breaking away from the entire holiday time spent with my immediate family to share some part of the holiday with a boyfriend’s, fiancé’s, eventual husband’s family was not always easy or particularly merry either.   It took my children to truly reignite the proverbial Yule log of my heart. I wanted to give them the best and brightest and the most present-laden holiday I could possibly muster.   And I most certainly went over board many a year with them in that department.

In the early days we would alternate our Christmases between the grandparents, as many families are want to do. Harder though for us who don’t live near either set to pull off a proper Christmas for our kids in someone else’s home and state, for that matter. It was Christmas in New York one year with my family and Sacramento the next with his. I was a fond and fiendish customer of online shopping from its inception, looked at with fear by those who could not understand me actually giving my credit card information to the Internet. I had devised a system for my older son during these first gypsy Christmases of flying here and driving there. I would order it all online from Toys R Us. I would have it delivered to our current Christmas destination, see what he liked on Christmas Day, return it all on December 26 before leaving for home and then rebuy the ones he liked the best upon our arrival back in Los Angeles. This kept the schlepping of stuff through airports and freeways to a minimum. Looking at old photographs he has wondered why a particular present in the picture on Christmas morn ceased to be in the picture of his memory any time thereafter.

In later years and with another child in tow, I shifted the California Christmases south as it was easier for the childless adult relatives to travel than I with kids and also since the gifts got bigger.   I loved those Christmases at my home. But did I really show it at the time or did the disturbance of the image of parental perfection keep me from allowing my boys to put the ornaments on the tree willy-nilly? Was the fear of my unhappiness colored by the fear of breaking ornaments? Did I bark orders rather than extend kind smiles? Was the stress of making sure my kids’ Christmases were perfect detonating the success of it all? I don’t know. I have a don’t ask; don’t tell policy on all that. Eventually, we cut out the New York Christmases altogether. The gaggle of grandkids increased. The maintenance of present equality no more easily maintained. It was just too difficult as the rearing of sibling rivalry’s less than pretty head increased each year. Best to keep the Christmas competition distance, I thought.   I often wondered what life would be life if Christmas were just another day that a family got together for, automatically as families who live in close proximity often do. Perhaps one day I shall know that with my own sons, but familial histories do repeat themselves despite our best intentions. What we know, good or bad, is what we do, like it or not. It takes a sea change of courage to change the course of one’s disposition.

The children grow up and grow out of the Christmases you know. With late teenagers and young adults there is this nether land of holiday. Couple that with a recent divorce and it amplifies the state. Add in a dash of family quarrel and the recipe for Christmas is no longer as sweet as those past. Kids at this age, or at least mine, are somewhat into Christmas and somewhat not. It takes the forging of new relationships with girlfriends, fiancés and eventually wives to invent new Christmases. The transition period is most difficult, I think. As example, I am a firm believer in the Christmas tree as a living thing and did the lonely, childless schlepp to the lot and dragged the damn thing home atop my car, tied there by a few pubescent relatives of the owner, judging by their less than confident countenances as they tied the knots. I had no cause to be assured the tree would survive the trip. It does and I do and I ask the older son to take it off the car and bring it in, only to be met by “why don’t we have a fake tree?” The withering look I gave him was worthy of any post holiday withering tree. And this tree, as if it knew exactly what my state of spirit was, leaned quite a bit into the wall. I never had a crooked tree in my time of being at the helm of the family Christmas. I could not believe the tilt and so I called the lot and asked the owner to come fix the darn thing. He did and he didn’t. A social media post and a friend suggestion of a name for the poor dear and so Ilean the Leaning Tower of Christmas tree was christened. A fitting fit to my less than fitting spirit. Three days gone by and Ilean, still lit and naked, crookedly stands. Although this state is one many of us aspire to from time to time, I suspect. We do have a new ornament now adorning her, brought by said naming friend who visited last night. It is half elf -half Santa, the most appropriate of the transornaments, washing the hair of a hare. Nothing quite screams Christmas like the shampooing of a rabbit’s head. A short lull in my action a few days later, saw the accompaniment of more ornaments to the Santa Elf’s delight. With each one, a fond and distant memory floats; a memory we do not know we are making when first we hang that ornament. From my mother, Nonna Alda, there hangs the yearly Hallmark offering and from me, the silver and gold of Things Remembered.

This tree seeking effort all took place after I suggested to younger son, that perhaps this year we should start a new tradition of a New Year’s tree and presents opened under such on New Year’s day. Rather than traipse the lots of trees and spend a king’s ransom on one, we can simply await the days after Christmas when there will be a bounty of selections on the various curbs around our house to choose from. He looked at me with eyes so rolled and brows so raised that formed the thought; my real mother must be around here somewhere!

The lighting of the lights was another path to Christmases gone by and I tread lightly with this one to keep the forced gaiety from lighting us up this year. A task always done by husband and shared with younger son was not something I wanted to command my son to continue. I love twinkly lights. So does he. But I have no way of truly gauging what the memory of this will conjure up in his heart and mind this second Christmas going it alone. I left it strictly up to him this year and conveyed my peace with light or dark and left the decision to him rather than issue an edict that there must be Christmas lights or else.   He chose the lights, my boy, and contrarian spirit that he is and the definition of reverse psychology itself, he adorned our yard with more lights than we had ever seen in previous days.

I try to keep the apathy at bay as best I can on days the apathy does come. Society says no sadness allowed on Christmas day or thereabouts. No melancholy wonder at where one’s journey took them in the past year. No dwelling on people no longer here. No dwelling on those that are but wearing different cloaks. No wondering where you will be next Christmas. No wondering who you will be next Christmas. A jaunt through a jumble of memories past and a march through the holiday present is all I can muster this year at times. But as the holiday nears and the ornaments now shimmer on Ilean’s leaning branches, the spirit rekindles and by Christmas Eve, the eggnog will be flowing, the gifts wrapped and ready for the morn, the melancholy will dissipate among the pleasure, the pageantry and the purpose of it all. I don’t do sadness well nor long and that is a gift I now treasure.  And so from merriless to Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

No Sleep, No Chance to Dream

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PRESCRIPT: Writing is like a muscle. If you don’t exercise it enough, it becomes flabby and boring. Bear with me as I head back to the word gym.

How long has it been since I slept through the night?  I honestly cannot remember. I seem to think it began after the birth of my first child but even that seems a distant, distorted memory, as if I did sleep like the dead every chance I got.  When a motherhood infused brain must make the switch from the childless “Good night, see you in the morning” to “O my God, what if I don’t hear the baby crying in the middle of the night”, there is an irrevocable change to the molecules of said brain.  At that point my mind went into constant waking even when hearing phantom baby cries just so as not to miss the real ones.  Many nights of walking to the baby’s room thinking I heard crying is not conducive to the best night’s sleep. But that was decades ago.

As to how our babies sleep, it has always been interesting to me that both my boys gave me an indication of how they would be motion sleepers when still in the womb and in the kicking stage.  My older son Marco, the minute I started that car up, would immediately stop moving and kicking and be still for the entire ride.  My younger one, Max, the minute I started the car would go from stillness to kicking up a storm the entire ride.  Marco was a great one to take anywhere in a car as he immediately fell asleep.  Max rarely ever fell asleep in the car and took it as a good opportunity to chat with us incessantly when he was able to talk. Marco and I would look at each other with ‘O my God, make it stop’ glances asking what happened to our nice quiet calm car rides?  The only place that put Max to sleep immediately was the movie theater.  To this day, you can’t get Max to a movie very often. I digress.

I say I haven’t slept in 20 years, but the singular demarcation point for me was January 2007 when I was awakened at exactly 3:42 am with a call from UCLA Hospital that then husband undergoing transplant was in cardiac arrest and would I be so kind as to get the hell out of bed and drive up there immediately.  I have never ever slept through the 3am to 3:59am hour since.  In the beginning I used to wake at precisely 3:42am but over the years, it has moved to random times within that 59-minute window.

Some nights have been better than others. The waking only happens maybe two or three times a night and the sleep returns rather quickly. But other times, it’s a constant up and down like a demented clown in a jack in the box popping up every hour on the hour.  Or the return to sleep never comes for hours until about five minutes before it’s time to get up.  You need REM sleep to dream and I rarely get this other than occasionally right before I have to wake up.  I think because of that, my dreams upon awaking are so vivid and so real and I remember every bit of them as they don’t occur earlier in the night and then vanish. There is one, however, from a few weeks a go that has escaped me entirely. It was a powerful message that I still feel, but I do not know any of the details.  Yes, I have had a dream fascination ever since I read Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams as a teenager.

The time though has come to do something about the potential sleep apnea.  Sleep deprivation, while I am used to it, can take a toll. I certainly don’t help matters with the vicious cycle of coffee treatment for daily narcolepsy and my bedtime ‘drug’ of sleeping choice, a B&B before bed.  A lovely drink made of brandy and Benedictine. If it was good enough for the French Monks and the Rat Pack, it is good enough for me.  I detest sleeping aids of any type. I am of the opinion it is no good to sleep unless it is real sleep.  I don’t like the feeling of drug-induced sleep other than anesthesia, which is very pleasant, but certainly not for every day use if you want to stay alive in between sleeping.   I actually did break down once and tried an Ambien- the national sleep potion- borrowing one from a friend.  It did nothing. I believe I woke up after four hours rather than my usual two or three.  And at exactly 3:26am.  Nothing will keep me asleep during that entire transplant-witching hour, I guess.

I did the sleep studies twice. I actually enjoy them and sleep quite well during them, hence my diagnosis of you have sleep apnea and you don’t have it.  I like the hotel like room, always sleep great in them for some reason. Maybe the trick to cure my apnea is to sleep in beds that I don’t have to make in the morning.  I don’t even mind all the sticky things they put everywhere and then attach all sorts of wires to them like the Bride of Frankenstein and then tell you to go sleep now. It’s fun. Hey it’s a night away.

My second sleep study was for money. I decided to participate in a clinic trial for a new sleep aid. This was a good one. All I had to do was go there seven nights and I could make over two grand. Easy money. The doctor was a riot and we got along famously. He was an ex New Yorker with a Mafia fascination. I was an Italian from the Bronx. He was thrilled.  He complained he had to be so serious with his patients but not with me. We did have lot of laughs and not only over the cute pink cat pajamas I bought for the occasion either.   This was great cause when my apnea disqualified me for the study, the doctor told them to give me the first $300 anyway!!  Finally someone was paying me for the entertainment.  Great guy that doctor was!

My third sleep study was at home and not nearly as much fun or lucrative. They now give you a little box and a Velcro thing to put on your finger and it’s all computerized.   No fun at all. Same diagnosis, five years later- you have apnea and you don’t have it. The numbers are confusing.  Great.   This time I decided to try the CPAP machine. That lovely invention where they stick a mask like an oxygen mask over your nose and pump air into you all night long from a hose attached to the top of your head and machine nearby.  I knew this wasn’t going to end well with my claustrophobia, but I didn’t stand a chance. Apparently, they didn’t set it correctly and I didn’t know that the air wasn’t supposed to blow at you like you were in a convertible soaring through the Lincoln Tunnel.   And even better was that it just happened to hit that level every time I was just about to fall asleep which was always about an hour and half later with the damn thing on.  So I gave up. I did get it recalibrated, but by then the entire process was just so damn annoying I sent the whole thing back after about a month.

Now months later and sleep getting nowhere near better and because I tend to buy things I don’t need when I wake up at 3am and play with my phone, I am going to give the mouth guard a try.  If football players can get used to it, I’m sure I can.  It is a thing that goes over both the top and bottom of your teeth to hold the lower jaw forward so it doesn’t collapse on your airways when you sleep, cutting off breathing which is what wakes you up.  I am waiting for this lovely piece of nighttime attire to be ready. Because I am not scary enough when I wake up in the morning, I’ll now have an added mouth deformity to go with it.  We’ll see if it works, I don’t hold out any hope actually.

Sleep deprivation is something everyone has all sorts of antidotes for like stop drinking coffee so late in the day. Except that for some strange reason, I stopped drinking coffee altogether for three weeks last spring and it made absolutely no difference. My sleep doctor says not to take naps during the day. There are days I do and days I don’t and it still makes no difference at all at night.  Doctor also said, I’m spending too much time in bed. Really, Doc?  I think I don’t spend nearly enough time in bed these days, but that’s another story.  I’m retired and I can sleep if I want to or not.

Sleep is a tough one. I know I’m not alone in this. People don’t sleep for all kinds of reasons. I envy those that can stay asleep all night.  I often wonder what that would be like.  Let’s hope the Hannibal Lechter mouth apparatus is the answer.  Good night.

The Tuscany Wedding- Italy Part 3

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A hazard of living so far from family, both immediate and extended, is the rare occurrence of wedding invitations. There are those periods in life when everyone seems to be getting married: older cousins, yourself, your peers. Moving 3000 miles away at 30 years old didn’t lend itself to me attending too many weddings in the past 30 years. There were none too important to go back east for. My sister’s, of course, but that was decades ago. I missed my brother’s, as I was way too pregnant to travel. But the random long time extended family ones that my sisters attended often throughout the years were not available to me so far away. Weddings. Not a very popular word with me after two failures at this event.

This year ushered in the weddings of the offspring of some women very dear to me and so 2018 has provided me with two weddings on two continents. The first was in a beautiful old working farm in Tuscany outside of Siena called Tenuta La Fratta. My cousin Ginger’s daughter, Christine, was getting married to a superlatively fun and terrific golf instructor named Davide. Christine was born in Connecticut and moved to Italy when she was about a year old. I adore my cousin Ginger. She is Lucy to my Ethel. I wouldn’t miss this trip for all the world. Christine and Davide live now in Singapore and so many friends from there and elsewhere around the globe came to celebrate them. Their love of travel has given them so many great souvenir people.

Friday night the festivities kicked off with a full on dinner at the La Fratta restaurant for 120 or so guests, most who had arrived that day. Davide is from Brescia so his mother and family arrived on those buses while the Carisolo contingent arrived on theirs. Carisolo is our hometown in the Dolomite chain of the Alps. A lovely couple from Singapore who had recently moved back to London sat by me. The wine flowed and so did the music. At 2am we were still dancing and drinking and laughing and singing all the old Italian songs we grew up hearing our parents sing after all sorts of dinners and events. I could hear my dad’s voice in the din. He had a wonderful voice. My mother not so much and we all seemed to have inherited hers.   The fond memories that singing Quel Mazzolin di Fiore or Tutti Mi Chiamano Bionda brought back to us. We used to play cards with my dad and mom and uncle and various folks back in the Bronx. Whenever Ginger and I were losing, we would break out into these songs to annoy my dad. He pretended to be annoyed but his lip always curled up in a soon to be grin cause we sang so badly.   Memories don’t always have to be big. Most often it is the tiny but fun ones we remember.

Finally at a bit after 2am, I took my two nephew/roommates and off we went back to our suite. What a lovely old rustic place it was other than no door to the shower area, so I had to send those two for a walk each time I needed to use it. I love Joey and Matthew. My two nephews are kind and handsome and good and decent kids or rather young men now. I don’t get to spend nearly enough time with them so I was glad we were bunkmates on this trip. They double-teamed the strange Italian pronouncement of my name that Matthew came up with years ago and all the boys, including my son Max, use for me. It makes me laugh every time.

Saturday morning greeted us with a terrific brunch of all sorts of Italian and American delicacies including real bacon and eggs. It was hot and humid; so much of the party went swimming in the pool afterwards. I understand the groom even tossed his future father in law in. On the property was a small pretty chapel where the wedding was held. Most of us sat outside and heard it on speakers, as it was just too tiny. I liked the different touches and the mixture of American and Italian wedding traditions she incorporated. Christine had a set of bride maids and groomsmen, American style. Italians only have two witnesses usually. Pale pink was the dress color but each girl selected her own unique dress in that color. The boys were adorable in sneakers and polka dot socks. As they were lining up outside, my sister noticed that the maid of honor and best man were at the front of the procession not at the back in front of the bride as is customary with us. Well, helpful as we always are- yes, helpful, not controlling busybodies- she proceeded to move them to the back of the line much to the consternation of the wedding planner. I have that all on video as I was laughing pretty hard watching the maid of honor and best man move to the back as Rosalie instructed only to look confused when the wedding planner scolded them to get back to the front before the procession started.

The wedding was so lovely. Christine looked spectacular. Cream seems to be the wedding color of choice this season. It was worn by her and also by Patty’s daughter in September.   I loved that she had Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen sung, one of my all time favorites. So perfect. Next came the cocktail hour in all its Italian delicacy and Prosecco magnificence. I can’t even begin to describe all these delicious morsels put out for us.

The reception began at 8pm under a Tuscan rising moon alongside the glittering pool. So beautiful it was. All the tables and chairs and the settings were in white with centerpieces made of various woodcarvings that her father and brothers made, as they own the local carpenter business in our town. The cake was decorated with a gold map of the world to honor their love of travel. Barrels of their favorite beer, Corona, were flowing. I got a kick out of that. Another station was set up for cocktails like margaritas and mojitos and all sorts of Italian liquors. The food was wonderful and the wine at each table flowed and flowed. The DJ started at about 11 and did not stop until 4am. What a night!

Sunday morning brought sunshine and another brunch for the guests before they departed. Pastries and cheeses and eggs and meats and frittatas galore and Prosecco of course. It was time to say goodbye to family and friends and recent memories made. My sister and brother and families and cousins were heading back to the States. I was going on the Carisolo guest bus up to our town for a week with my sister who lives there and my niece/goddaughter. I was sad to leave Tuscany. It had been decades since I had been to this region. I rarely leave my town when I go to Italy. I have the dubious distinction of having been to Italy 18 times since I moved from their as a small child and I have never even been to Rome. Strange, I know, but I always imagined Rome as the other half of the relatives of all the people packed into Manhattan on any given day. I’ll get there someday.

So the first wedding of my year of marital bliss by other people is done. In September, I’ll attend the wedding of West Coast Patty’s daughter. I won’t get to attend the wedding of the daughter of East Coast Patty, my best friend growing up in the Bronx. I won’t get to attend a cousin’s daughter’s wedding in the Bronx either this September. Such is the hazard of living so far away from family, extended or otherwise.   I can’t help but wonder if I will ever get to be the mother of the groom. My 21 and 17 years old sons say “no”.   Let’s hope that changes. I am so glad I went to this Tuscan wedding. It was fun and magical and relaxing and engaging and to see two such happy people who will be together forever was just heartwarming! Ciao!

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Lucca Bocelli Siena.. Italy Part 2

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Wednesday morning began with a lovely breakfast set out by Locanda Francigena in their restaurant next door to the tiny, tony villa. No cereal or slabs of bacon here, just lovely fruit, pastries, cakes, brioche and tiny pizzas. Eating pizza for breakfast was not invented in frat houses, apparently. As a kid growing up, I loved cold pizza left over for breakfast and now I see I wasn’t weird, just breakfasting Tuscany style. This place was called La Rustichetta, just a local pizzeria/trattoria with lots of tables outside, a gazebo or two and a double hammock. And it was right on a main street at the roundabout. Tuscany and most Italian cities love those roundabouts. The running joke in our travels is when it says, “take the second exit,” it just means go straight on this street. My cousin picked me up and off we went again back to Florence Airport to retrieve my no longer lost luggage.   At this point, I am sure she was thrilled to be the designated relative and was pretty much wishing my trip in Tuscany was over.

I was happy to return to the Firenze Airport, if for nothing else than to use their snappy sink setup in the restroom. Italy is well known for its grace and beauty in design of all manners. And I say this not because I was also designed and manufactured in Italy. In this particular restroom, there were three shiny tubes sticking out from the wall above each sink. The center one was marked Water, the right said Soap and the left one, Air. No pushing people out of the way to get to the air dryer or towel dispenser. People had their very own dryer right at their sink station. No idea why this tickled me so, but it did.   Speaking of Italian bathrooms, no trip to Italy would be complete without a comment on the bidet, that invention of theirs to keep one’s arse clean as a whistle, which I have never been able to master. In fact, when we got to our rooms at the wedding site Tuscany farm, I asked my two nephews to show me how the hell it even worked. They squatted, pants on and tried to explain. It made no sense to me. My angles just aren’t conducive to the angle of that particular water fountain. To make things simple for my roommates and I for the next several days and so there would be no need for me to yell, “put the damn toilet seat down”, I hereby proclaimed our bidet would now be a urinal. The boys just shook their heads and walked away.

I have to wonder and, of course I did, how a country so consumed with the condition of the cleanliness of one’s derriere refuses to put seat liners in public restrooms. Mind boggling it is to me. Or is it simply because they assume everyone is constantly bidetting, that all butts are pristine and no seat liners are ever needed. I wonder, but I will have to wonder later as it was time to retrieve my no longer lost clothing.

We arrived at the airport in no time. For once the Italians behaved on the road and didn’t turn an hour’s drive into an all day event. One would assume I would just go back to the Lost and Found office where we filed our claims the day before right near the baggage claim area. Too easy for the Italians. First I had to go to some random office way the other side of the terminal and get a slip of paper which allowed me to then go outside, around the back of the entire terminal and into a garage type area where I went through a metal detector into a tiny little office. Why they would think anyone would even be able to find this place to do a dastardly deed is beyond me. We then were taken outside, across the tarmac and inside to the same Lost and Found office near the baggage claim. Once there, we were taken inside another large room and told to simply go find the luggage amidst a sea of lost and lonely bags. The thought did cross my mind to simply take a lovely large Louis Vuitton but then I knew all I would find would be size 6 clothing in it anyway. And so my saga of the lost baggage had come to an end.   We headed back to Lucca.

My siblings had gone to Florence for the day. My cousin had to get back to her horses and her work: she manages very upscale villa rentals in Tuscany. An extremely well known Los Angeles chef is one of her steady clients. Hence the badgering, I mean, the inviting of her to come visit him and me in Los Angeles soon.

I had the afternoon all to myself and so she dropped me in Lucca Centro or city center. What a beautiful city, enclosed inside walls built centuries ago with five different portals to enter.   As luck would have it, they were having a big music festival there for a month with all sorts of great acts. I was so sad I missed Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds the night before. I wandered around the stage a bit and watched them do some sound check. I talked to a security guard who said Nick was great the night before.
I wandered the spectacular churches and cathedrals, which in Italy are like Starbucks in the US, pretty much on every corner.   San Michele was gorgeous and even had its own dead cardinal buried there from eons ago, open for all to see. Nothing makes an Italian church like a dead saint on display. San Martino was under construction and amazing inside as well. I had lunch at Osteria delle Neni, down a tiny back alley, which was there since 1943- the restaurant, not the alley. That was there for centuries.  To ask if the food is good at any restaurant in Italy is a bit redundant.   You only measure one great meal against another and often it’s impossible to tell really.   I bought Brunello in a little wine shop to take home. I wandered into the Gelatarium which was as serious and as pretty a gelato store as you can get, complete with painted ceilings, swings for kids to play on while the parents ate and a wall of gelato spigots.

Puccini was born in Lucca. I know that because of the statue of him in the piazza and the big sign above the building where he was born. I marveled in the Puccini gift shop at all the stuff he wrote like La Boheme and Madame Butterfly. You can tell I am not an opera fan. Lucca was the home of the Lucchese family during the Renaissance, the wealthy bankers of the time. There were still lots of banks with old signage everywhere. I took a taxi back to my little slice of villa heaven to rest up for dinner with the siblings and cousins from America finally. Lucca is such an elegant city. The layout and atmosphere breathes its love of music and art. The yearly summer Lucca musical festival draws some major talent. It’s on the list for a return visit for sure.

Dinner that evening was finally a reunion with my brother, twin sisters and nieces, nephews and paternal cousins from New Jersey. By 10 pm we were seated at a lovely outdoor patio in Viareggio, a seaside town on the Aegean Sea. Fish for dinner, some wine, some catching up, some laughter, some missed turns and wrong directions and I was back in my pretty lavender and white room at Locanda Francigena.

The next day after another wonderful morning having breakfast in the garden of La Rustichetta, it was time to wind our way south towards Siena for the wedding. My sister had planned a lunch for us about midway at a little town called La Streza, which happens to be the hometown of Andrea Bocelli. We pulled up to his family’s restaurant near their vineyard for lunch. The sign on the place says Andrea Bocelli’s Food Court. What? I sure hope there isn’t a Blimpie or a McDonalds in there. Hardly. Thirteen of us sat at two tables and had the most spectacular four-hour Italian lunch. By the time we were done there were 40 empty wine glasses on the adults’ table thanks to the Prosecco, pink Prosecco, Chianti, San Giovese and a Brunello just because I had never had it before. The food was wonderful, simple and delicious.   The Bocelli family have been vintners for decades and all their products were for sale here and in the back was a store and wine tasting room. The restaurant was just quaint and so pretty. When you entered, it had books hanging from the ceiling, a lot of them school books from their youth. Andrea’s brother was there as he runs the place.  After lunch, we were treated to a tour of a small museum of Bocelli’s life and music on the second floor of the restaurant. It was so very fun and interesting. One wall was lined with all his grandfather’s old vinyl record albums, which got Andrea musically started. Terrific place, terrific talent and terrific treat!

Several hours and wrong turns later, we finally found our wedding destination, la Tenuta La Fratta, about 45 minutes outside of Siena. We checked into a centuries old still working Tuscan farm that was just magnificent. They have pure white cows called Svizzera cows that were surreal looking. They had pigs and hogs as well. We wandered the grounds that afternoon to acquaint ourselves. A restaurant on the premises, a lovely built in pool, a chapel, courtyards and then I came upon a woman sitting outdoors in an ornate and stately courtyard practicing on a grand piano. Chairs were set up and I discovered they do a weekly local music concert each week in July followed by a dinner for the attendees at the restaurant. A walk past the restaurant around midnight found the concert attendees still finely dining al fresco.  What a gorgeous house concert setting this was. I read up on the series and came across this passage that speaks volumes to the artistic and political times we live in today. It resonates.

“ This is a difficult moment for Music and Culture and we hold on to the dream that Italy and its artistic wealth (La Fratta playing its worthy part) can defend itself against the politics of ‘nonculture”.

I know we in the US right now can surely relate to the politics of nonculture that’s seeped into much of our country’s societal waters.

Later than evening the 13 of us walked a bit to another restaurant on the property and the kids were thrilled cause this one specialized in hamburgers of all types. Nothing like spectacular food to make teenagers miss a hamburger. They had so many variations but no cheeseburgers, or so we thought. At one point my nephew asked if they had American cheese. No, they said. One of the items that appeared a few times amongst the myriad ingredients they put on about 10 different burgers was a thing called ‘pasta rossa’. None of us new what it meant. None of us bothered to ask. We asked if they had American cheese. My brother had ordered one of the burgers that contained this mysterious ingredient and lo and behold he gets a cheeseburger with what looked like cheddar cheese. Now we know what pasta rossa is. Lots of grumbling from the cheese-less burger eaters.

The next day we went to Siena. Siena is not as a pretty a city as Lucca. It’s very hilly, which with my fascist foot was a bit tough to take. The Duomo was beautiful but under construction and no time to get tickets and enter. This was more of a marathon rush around the city’s main part, lunch and then back to the farm as the wedding officially began Friday night with dinner for the 120 or so guests most of which were arriving that afternoon. We did do a bit of sight seeing in a pretty church across from the Cathedral. We spent a lot of time in a handbag store where I bought a beautiful red leather embossed wallet. My sister, nieces and cousin went hog wild on the gorgeous handbags in the most stunning leather colors I have ever seen: baby blue, a caramel color and the red I got. After a lovely lunch on the main piazza in Siena, back we went to the farm to get ready for the evening’s first dinner of our three day Tuscan wedding weekend. Bon Appetit.

 

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Life’s Tapestry

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Prescript: Dedicated to Renee..

What a blast from the musical past weekend this is turning out to be. The theme of music past –mine- and music present- that of my son’s- runs rampant through the thought process. Last night those musical maestros, Andy and Renee, along with a host of Hard Rain band and guests, played Carole King’s Tapestry album at the Grand Annex to a room sold out and then some. If you were a girl in the 70s when it came out, you wore the needle out on your stereo with this one. If you were a girl in the 80s or the 90s you tore the cassette or scratched the CD.

To say that Andy and Renee did this album justice last night is an understatement. This album came out in the spring of my 8th grade year. My gift for 8th grade graduation, and the only gift I wanted, was a brand new stereo of my very own complete with an 8-track tape player built in. I was so excited when I got it.   Tapestry accompanied me throughout my high school years, culminating with 200 graduating girls in the Mother Butler auditorium in June of 1974 singing “You’ve Got a Friend”.   This album is a timeless masterpiece and Andy and Renee did it majestic justice last night. I dare say that no male singer that I know of ever uttered the words “You make me feel like a natural woman’ on stage before, but Andy and guest everything (drums, guitar, singing) Steve Craig, did it proud. Renee ascending from the rear of the venue to join Patti Orbeck and Susie Glaze on stage for that song was as velvety perfect as it gets. Some think that album is the epitome of a feminist anthem. But I don’t. For me it has always been the epitome of a feminine anthem. It explores our girlish heartaches and celebrates our triumphs and vulnerabilities without the shrill denigration of the male species. It’s a perfect girl’s album and we are proud of that.

I sat silently and listened last night, one foot in my bedroom in the Bronx and the other in San Pedro with the decades straddled in between. I have not much in the way of photos or footage because I wanted no distractions, but also because there are people with way better cameras than me. I have seen the play about Carole King’s life, Beautiful. It was just that. So many things of her life I did not know. As Andy was telling some of the stories and talking about how so many of the greats of her era died tragically at their own hand with drugs, and that he was so glad Carole was not one of them, a lady near me turned to her friend and said, “that’s because she’s Jewish.” It made me laugh. Another morsel I heard in my silence was a man behind me obviously talking to a brand new Andy and Renee initiate, say to the woman ‘they changed my life five years ago’ with their music. That, my dears, is worth all the gold records in the world. And this extraordinary musical couple has done just that for so many people for over 30 years.

Andy and Renee and Hard Rain delighted and astonished a jam-packed room with the next set from Woodstock. What a timely and fun choice to follow Tapestry with. I love the Woodstock album. I sneaked into the movie theater to see it when I was 13. Well, a much older boyfriend facilitated that. Growing up in the Bronx when it happened, it still holds a special place in my mind. So mad I was to be too young to go. We just couldn’t find someone suitable to take us. We watched it all develop vicariously on TV. Listening to some of those songs last night, made me look at them through the prism of a parent.   What would I have thought of the F>U>C>K song back then? Would I have been just as horrified as I am today listening to some of the things my son listens to in his mad obsession with all things Los Angeles rap scene? Was I really influenced by White Rabbit enough to go tripping the light fantastic with all sorts of magical, albeit, now dangerous potions? Or was it just a great soundtrack and great music to accompany you, but not demand your compliance? Did the morals and the values you were taught overtake the invitation to swallow some Purple Haze? I think so and yet as a parent today, where the ante of musical mayhem has been upped in these rap lyrics, you can’t help but forget that fact sometimes. Then you hear yourself sounding like most parents did on February 9, 1964 denouncing what they saw was the ruin of their offspring by four long haired chaps from Liverpool.   I asked my near 17 year old son point blank the other day, how do I know that what I taught you about respect for women and decency and things like that is not being overtaken by those insidious lyrics you hear on a regular basis. He laughed and said, Mom, of course I listened to what you told me. We don’t really listen that much to words in rap. It’s the whole thing: the music, the lifestyle, the story of the singer and how he got to rapping that’s important. The best rap singers only get there after overcoming something really bad in their life. It’s call trappin’ before rappin’.   And while comforted some by his retort, the fact is we just truly never know what sticks and doesn’t to our kids do we? It is life’s biggest crapshoot.

Tonight I’ll be going to see the Eagles at the Forum for the first time ever. I‘ve never had much inclination to go see them, not then nor now, but my friend Lorna wanted to go and I was curious, mainly because of the reviews that Glen Frey’s son was getting and also the fact that Joe Walsh was with them. I saw him a long time ago on his own. Not a clue where though, unfortunately.

This is another band from the same period of my life as Tapestry but very different. The Eagles were a background soundtrack for me, other than two very distinct songs: Tequila Sunrise and Desperado. The latter is a song that can still tear my heart apart in a million different ways. It is one of the most poignant and beautiful songs ever written. I first saw this song done live by Linda Ronstadt somewhere around 1975 in the gym at Queens College. We sat in bleachers pretty close to her and the place was near empty. What a great night that was as we were huge fans of her 1973 album, Don’t Cry Now, which had Desperado on it. It is still my favorite Linda album. Back in the early Andy days, I used to ask for this song all the time. Andy does a fantastic version of it. Nowadays, I love it circled back to the girl voice when Renee now sings it!! And tonight I’ll hear it in all its original glory. Yes, I Setlist.com peeked.

And so besides a wondrous trip down musical memory lane, it has also taught me a little tolerance, I guess, to allow my kids to find their own musical memories, no matter how much I may disapprove. Theirs are not my musical memories to manage nor make. I made my own and now it’s their turn.