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.

Living La Dolce Vita Loca-The First 30

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Wood. There isn’t enough of it in the world, especially if you are Italian with a huge superstitious streak on your way to Italy and just made some outlandish proclamation on the state of your traveling luck. And so this is where I found myself on a midday Monday in July at Los Angeles Airport’s Tom Bradley International Terminal. I had just sent a message to my friend, who had dropped me off not ten minutes before, to say that I was seated at the gate eating bad airport food. Already, he asked? Yes, I lead an extremely charmed traveling life, I replied. No sooner did the words leave my lips than I scrambled around looking for some wood to knock on. There was nary a tree born surface to bang my fist on in this sea of vinyl, plastic and metal. I was horrified. I knew better than to tempt the travel gods. With apprehension, I made my way to the gate when they called my name. Apparently, since I checked in on line I had to show the gatekeepers my passport. This was not a Delta flight despite the fact that was whom I had booked it with. This was a code sharing Air France flight to Florence, Italy with a connector through Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport. I had spent considerable rolling of clothing time the night before to fit everything I needed for this two week trip to Italy for a cousin’s Tuscany wedding and a visit to my home town in the Alps, into one red carry on pilot’s case. I was so proud of my overstuffed little bag. The Air France lady was not. You have to check it, she said. No, I don’t, it’s the perfect size for the overhead bin. She eyed it suspiciously and lifted it.   Yes, you do, she said, it’s very heavy; it will hit someone in the head.   I have travelled at least a half a million air miles in my lifetime and I have never seen overhead baggage come hurling forth and knock someone in the head. Well, not without me gingerly pulling it out of the bin first. Nope, she said, we are checking it and the feeling of dread of no wood and no carry on just pervaded my entire being. This trip was on such a good fortune roll up till now.

The night before at check in, I did not want to keep my row 92 seat in the upper deck of the plane.   Years of trapaphobic traveling have made me an expert on aviation seat configurations for all sorts of planes. What was the point, I thought, of cramming all that stuff into carry on just to be the last to get off the plane. I checked the available seats on the first floor. The plane was packed, but oddly enough there were three empty seats in row 15 about three rows back in coach. They had some weird yellow lines and a red x in the center of each. I clicked on the aisle seat and a pop up said- $32 for this ‘get off the plane first seat’. Huh? This was a new one on me. I have purchased plenty of “extra room for your legs so you don’t turn in to a flying pretzel” seats in my time, but a seat where you pay to get off first? Does this mean that they will push people out of the way for me as I go up the aisle instead of me having to do so? A bargain, I thought, at twice the price and so I took the aisle of that bank of three. A jam-packed plane, a ten hour flight and three seats to myself to not get any sleep in! I was the envy of all the other travelers. At one point the stewardess tried to put some elderly lady next to me. Did she pay her 32 bucks to get off the plane first, I asked? No, well, move along then and they did, especially since the woman wanted the aisle seat only and it was already mine.

I forgot about my failure to knock on wood as we made our way across the country and the Atlantic. The two hours I thought I would spend at Charles De Gaulle Airport shopping for lovely French perfume and a baguette were barely enough to make it from my arrival gate to the Florence departure gate. Up and down stairs and escalators and hallways. It never seemed to end. The one thing we do better than any European country is to design airports. That’s for sure. This was not fun since I had taken my plantar fasciitis or fascist foot, as I like to call it, a painful knee and 40 extra pounds with me on this trip. And I am not talking about my fat carry on luggage either.   Then there is the obsession by Europe with passport control.   We had to show it like four times in Paris. At Italy’s Milan Malpensa Airport (why you would name an airport ‘bad thoughts” is anyone’s guess), we had to show our passports no less than six times from when we set foot in the airport to when we took our seat on the plane. The last two times were at the beginning of the jet way and then again at the door of the plane. This is about a 10 second walk. What exactly does the Italian government expect us to do with our passports in that span of time and distance?

The flight to Florence was uneventful and on time. The plan was for me to take a train to Pistoia, Italy where my second cousin, Fedra, would pick me up. She is the daughter of cousin Luana, who is the daughter of my Zio Eugenio (my mother’s deceased younger brother) and his wife, Zia Lola (my last living aunt or uncle at 90 years old). I was to visit these maternal Tuscany cousins before heading to the wedding of my paternal Dolomites second cousin.   Christine and her husband to be, one of the funnest guys on the planet, now lived in Singapore and came home to be married. Rather than do it in our home town, this very smart, tasteful and generous couple decided to have a three day Tuscany wedding for 120 of their friends and family, which is how I came to be in Italy this summer.

My plans had altered a bit. I was to have stayed at Fedra’s home for a few days before connecting with my siblings for the drive south to Siena for the wedding.   A few days before departure, I got a message that my aunt was in the hospital with heart trouble and could I stay in a hotel instead. I found a lovely house at the last minute with one of their four rooms to rent about a half hour away from Fedra, but near the Best Western where my siblings were staying in Lucca which had no more rooms left for me. All was set for Fedra to pick me up at the train station, take me with her to feed her horses, take me to the hospital to see my aunt and cousins and then off to my temporary Tuscany bed and breakfast that evening. Feed the horses? I can barely get a cup of kibble into a bowl on a daily basis for Moe Moe, my tiny dog, but I’m game. What could go wrong with any of this plan?

We get to the baggage area in Florence. The plane is packed. About maybe 20 or so suitcases come down the chute and nothing else.   We are done, no more bags, says the Italian baggage handler to a room full of bewildered passengers. Sorry, the rest of the bags are still in France. Why, I innocently asked? Who knows, could be a strike, could be no more room on the plane, could be lunch time and everyone let go to eat rather than finish loading.   Get on the line over there at the Lost and Found and fill out a form to report your luggage missing. Again, why? You know it’s missing, I know it’s missing. You even know where the hell it is, but we have to fill out a form telling you that? Some of the more vocal passengers with me, OK, the Americans, began demanding that we speak to an Air France representative. Can’t do that, no one will come down and talk to you. They have no time to do that. What we do know is that there are three possible flights the bags could come on; two that evening and one in the morning, none of which do us any good tonight because the Lost and Found office closes at 8pm anyway so even if it showed up no one gets their bags till tomorrow. Now remember, my baggage was to be carry on, meaning I had fully expected my new pajamas and a change of underwear would accompany me to the hotel that night. I was dejected and deflated and most of all annoyed at the lack of wood in this world. In 53 years of air travel, some several times a month, I had never had luggage lost or not arrive with me. Me and my big gloaty mouth at LAX!

I call my cousin and tell her I am on the line to fill out the lost baggage report. This is not a short line since literally half the plane’s luggage didn’t arrive and there was no way for me to catch the train to her town. Fedra tells me to just stay put and she will pick up me up at the airport. This is about an hour and a half away, which in Italy driving is the equivalent of about five Los Angeles driving hours. I fill out the form and of course my bag can’t be delivered by the airline to my bed and breakfast because Lucca is too far away and it would take three days for that to happen so I will just have to come back to Florence when the bag arrives which I won’t know until I get an email telling me so. Great. By now I am up to about 22 hours with no sleep, despite the virtual bed I nabbed for myself on the plane, because other than maybe an hour here or 20 minutes there, I simply cannot sleep on things that are moving.

Fedra shows up and it was wonderful to see her again. Are you like 30 years old now, I ask? Forty-four, she says. She is aging wonderfully. I apparently refuse to age at all. So why didn’t you ever get married, I ask, like the most annoying relative you can conjure up in your mind. I got married five years ago, she says. My husband lives in Dubai now.   Nice catching up with you and way to go on the long distance husband, a new goal of my own, I tell her.

We wind our way back to Pistoia now. The plan was to go to her mother’s house, which was next door to my aunt and uncle’s home, relax a bit and feed the horses. Fedra had turned the property into quite an equestrian center complete with a sand filled jumping area. She competes in jumping over things with her horse events. It was so great to see my uncle’s place again. She has three horses there with a barn and a corral. The house is as I remembered it from my last visit 18 years ago when my older son was three.   It was wonderful to see her mother Luana again. We are a year apart cousins and although we grew up in different countries, we have a fondness for each other born from the days our parents dressed us alike in scratchy wool Tyrolean outfits when we were two and three before I moved to America. We saw each other occasionally over the years as teenagers and young adults before the busyness of adulthood set in. I adore her and her brother, Gordiano a few years younger.

We now had to attend to the dilemma of my missing bag. I had zero clothes with me on the plane. The goal was to have ALL my clothes accompany me on the plane not in the cargo hold. Luana had a nightgown or two but as far apart as we were geographically that’s how far apart we were in clothing size as well. Fedra and I had stopped at a few stores before we got there to see if I could pick up a few basics to last me at least through the night and the next day. Clothing in Italy is made for size six women, not for my size. And after going up several staircases in every store, I can see why. Italians love their staircases. They are everywhere and very long. I was tired, in pain from both feet and knees, and sweaty from the hot and humid Tuscany weather. And I had no way of changing any of those things at the moment. I struck out at every store we went to and this included the men’s department.   Luckily, Luana remembered that right across the street from the hospital was a clothing store, which catered to fatter women than is the Italy norm. Bingo! I managed to buy a nightgown, a blouse, a T-shirt, three pairs of socks, two pairs of underwear and a bra, all like Macys quality for 75 American dollars. Now one thing I have always loved about Italian T shirts over my many years of visiting, is that they will write any kind of random American phrases on a shirt that only the creator could possibly even venture a guess as to what the hell it means. And so that is how I have come to be the proud owner of a black T-shirt that says “CHANGES IN PINK STORY” in sparkling little rhinestones.

The hospital was in lovely little Tuscany town called Pescia where my cousin Gordiano lived. The plan was for Luana to relieve her brother and then Fedra, Gordiano, his wife and I would go to dinner.   No sleep, no shower, no clothes, no problem. Let’s go. We got to hospital and saying her room was on the second floor was just a suggestion perhaps to the Italians. We walked up and down several flights of lovely marble steps before we got to her room. Zia Lola was in bed and the first thing I noticed was she was still dying her hair at 90! I loved seeing her with her black full head of hair. I harkened back to the times as a teenager coming to visit them with my mom and siblings. My uncle was a chef. Here in the states he would be a 5 star one and my aunt was no slouch in the cooking department either. Back then she had chickens and rabbits on her property and would take us with her as she snapped the neck of our dinner. She was a tiny, feisty lovely woman and we all adored her. She was from Tuscany so her accent was much different than that of we Northern dialect folks.   She was a lover of beauty, my aunt.  She dressed well and loved to dance. Zia also didn’t stop living just because her husband died years before. She knew the secret of a life continued to be well lived. I’ll leave it at that.

By the time I got to hospital, the morphine needed to keep her heart calmly beating awhile longer had taken its toll. She didn’t speak but chattered her teeth. Her eyes didn’t really focus and if you touched her skin she jumped. Luana told me to go around the other side of the bed as she was turned more towards that side. She told me a few days before that her mother kept asking them when I was coming. I leaned down and told her I was there. She opened her eyes wide, looked at me and pursed her lips into a kiss. With a few slight tears so as not to instigate a deluge, I said goodbye and we left.   That was Tuesday night. By Wednesday we had heard she was no longer responsive in any way and the doctors told my cousins it was the end for her. She died on Saturday. I am not sad. On the contrary, I am so happy I got to say goodbye. When the dearingly departed is 90 and above, having seen so many buried at a fraction of that number in recent times, to me it’s just a rejoicing of a live well lived.

We left the hospital at about 9pm or dinnertime in Tuscany.   Fedra, (my lovely chauffer and spirit guide), Gordiano, his wife and I went to a great little trattoria in Pescia not far from the hospital and his house. We had a lovely meal of pizza and frizzante (a sparkling Italian white wine) followed by dessert and espresso. One must never order them together in Italy. You have dessert first then you order coffee. Then the owner sent over a few complimentary items to finish the meal. First, there were lemon sorbet shots with Limoncello. It’s a delicious Italian liquore made with lemons, alcohol and sugar. He then sends over glasses of Vin Santo with a few biscotti for dunking. Vin Santo is an amber sweet dessert type of wine and one of my favorite Italy drinks.   Wonderful evening and meal despite the less than happy occasion of our meeting. It’s a testament to the spirit and culture of this country and these people really. Gordiano and his wife then took us to his house for a nightcap. I had never been there, as he did not have this house last time I was here. What a great place, complete with a small built in pool on the second level. Another round of drinks and it was near midnight and I had to move quickly to get into my room at the pretty inn for the night. A bed and breakfast is not like some big hotel with a front desk going 24 hours. The night before I left, I read the fine print and it said check in was only from 3pm to 7pm. Panicked, I called the owner to see what could be arranged, since I knew even before leaving there was no way to make this deadline. No problem, she said, they owned the restaurant next door to the villa and it was open until midnight and I should just come over to get the keys. And so I did and what an adorable place I was to call home for a few more days. It was beautiful and charming and so was Laura the owner.   I loved it! I had a few new clothes. I saw my aunt. Reconnected with my cousins, had a great meal, fed some horses or at least watched, and got an email around 10pm from the annoying French airline people that my bag had arrived in Florence. I was no longer stressing about having to clothes shop again among the size sixes. I took a shower where you had to pull on a string tied to a switch to get hot water. I have no idea. All I know is the water was cold unless I pulled the string. And so 30 hours after I left Los Angeles, I crawled into bed in a lovely lavender and white room. Buona notte.

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Only Time Can Tell

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I looked down into that space in the corner of Andy’s kitchen where two cabinets would join, but because of the limitations in design nothing with purpose could we give it. The cabinets were in, but no countertop as yet. That big empty space would beckon to me as I walked about the room doing this or that remodel task.   It is such a waste of space I thought more than once. And then close to the time when it would be sealed up forever, a thought occurred to me. What if we use the space to talk to the future?   Kitchens last for decades, some for 20 to 30 or more years before anyone is so dissatisfied with it that they undertake the grueling task of a another remodel.

I began to imagine that future family and wondered about them. Who would it be? What would they be like? Would it be a family just starting out or someone entering their sunset years?   And if it were a family, what would its composition be? Would it be a return to the traditional ones so long gone in our times of a mom and a dad and a junior and a sis?   Or would it be some other manifestation of the familial concept?   Let’s do a time capsule for your lost kitchen space, I said to Andy. Let’s let the future know about this home that now belongs to it. And so we did. In a pretty silver box we put a few CDs of Andy’s original music. We put a Dylanfest postcard. This was the 28th year Andy and Renee put this annual homage to Bob Dylan on via an all day concert of music by them and their band and their musical friends. Would this future have a Dylanfest? Andy put some American and Canadian coins in, I believe and another Canadian artifact or two. Time was of the essence. I wrote a quick letter to the future. I wish I had more time to do a better one. I wonder who will read this letter. Let’s hope it’s not us!! Or maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing either. And with Andy’s permission, here’s to the future.

“Dear Future Owner of 17411 Delia in Torrance CA,

Today the kitchen you are tearing out decades into the future is brand new. I am the current owner, Andy Hill’s, friend. The year is 2018. The day is June 9. I hope you all can still read in the future. This is a great house. A little history: Andy and I and my husband all bought our first house together. In December of 2000, we split and I found this house for Andy to move to. He has been there ever since. The kitchen was old when he bought the house and now 18 years later it is finally going to be brand new.   My role in this was to help him through the final design and remodel stages. So this week we finished it and this space here where you have found this silver box had to be left as an unavoidable void so I thought let’s talk to the future from it.

I hope you still feel the sound of music in this home. Andy is a singer/songwriter and a wonderful musician. He had lots of concerts and musical events here at his home. He is the one that turned your garage into a music studio. A little bit of the times we live in now. Turbulent and fractured, something that has been common to our country unfortunately for decades. I so hope you all have solved these differences by the time you read this letter. Donald Trump is president, and don’t believe ANYTHING good history may re-write about him- he was nightmare.   I don’t know much else to tell you about popular culture other than we have a horrific school shooting problem right now. Kids are going into high schools and shooting up the place. The gun issue in this country seems insolvable. Common sense things like outlawing assault rifles can’t get done thanks to the National Rifle Association’s power that prevents any progress in this area. It is sad. I sure hope you read this letter and think wow what an archaic way to live and that the gun problem in this country is solved forever. Homelessness is another major problem in our times. The policy of the Republicans- (the other political party is the Democrats) to cut social services for those most in needs and to build prisons rather than institutions to help the mentally ill and house them problem is a national shame right now. That is another wish I have for your future, that compassionate institutions are built for those among us who can no longer take care of themselves.

Music and theater are my passions. I can’t tell you too much about the popular TV shows, but the plays right now are Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen and School of Rock and not sure if you are a music lover but Bruce Springsteen is currently on Broadway in an extraordinary show he did. I flew back in November to see it.

I am retired from the US Customs Service so I don’t have much to report in the work force arena.   We didn’t get our woman president in 2016 as we had all hoped. Hillary Clinton lost the election, I so hope by the time you read this, we will have had a woman president and perhaps even a gay president. Parts of the world seem to be slipping back into intolerance of people who are different. I so hope you read this letter and think- wow that is a thing of the past and glad we are no longer there.

I am a fledging writer and who knows perhaps by the time you read this, even a published one!! Look me up, LOL! That was an acronym devised for the proliferation of texting that we all do on our phones that means Laughing Out Loud. The most overused thing we have today. I hope your future has gone back a bit to the more personal exchange between humans. Today all we seem to be able to do is stare at a tiny screen to communicate with anyone. A humanistic backlash to that would be great. I wonder what technology you will have to listen to music or read books or get your entertainment from in your time? A little observation, no matter how far we go with our technology there is NOTHING like live entertainment. Think of it, in Shakespeare’s day in the 1600’s all there was were live plays and hundreds of years later in my time today, it is still the best form ever. I hope that doesn’t disappear in your time.

My sons are 16 and 21 right now. Their names are Max and Marco Bowers. We live at 16431 Illinois court, not far from you. Who knows they may still be there and with a bit of luck, maybe so will I by the time you rip out this kitchen for a new one. If I am, please come and say hello.

Well this has been fun talking to you and I wish you and your family/occupants of this home, a wonderful and happy time here. Thanks for reading.”

Sincerely

Maddalena Beltrami

26

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2018 PRESCRIPT: Happy Heavenly 26th Birthday, AJ. I would write you a new blog but I am too busy going to the plays and concerts you keep helping me get great tickets for.  We love you and miss you every day you are gone, so today isn’t any more special or different other than it’s one of the two happiest and best days in your mom and dad’s lives.   Take care AnJel and be heaven happy always as you were down here!

I’m not putting this on Facebook . Well it will end up there cause it’s the only place my internet writing can be shared. But that doesn’t matter cause it will still only be read by the few and fiercely loyal. I appreciate them and love them. Tomorrow AJ will turn 25. No, I cannot say would have. It doesn’t resonate nor feel right. There is something about this number. I can’t put my finger on it yet and hope I can by the last sentence.   Tears just keep flowing and so the words must as well. It should be over. That is the phrase that runs through my brain in a loop of not understanding. He is 25 now. He is no longer a child or an adolescent or a young adult. It is the age of male mental maturation. This I have been told by a few experts recently when so ready to pull my own hair out over the teenage/young adult angst and antics of my two sons ages 15 and 20. The magical number I am told. Just wait, boys brains are not fully matured until then. You will see such a difference. The magical male mental maturation age. Not fully understood by us females who are pretty done with our own mental maturation at 15 actually, give or take a year or two but no more.

And so it only feels right that his death should be ended as well. Time’s up. Time’s up for the pain and anguish his family and friends and I feel. Time’s up for the stoic and incredible strength and bravery and courage endured and displayed by his mother and father and sister. Time’s up. It should be.   Full blown adulthood begins. That should be enough to end it. But it can’t and it won’t and all the magical thinking in the world won’t change that. It doesn’t get better. It gets different. There are wounds that time will never heal. This is surely one of them.   I believe in the afterlife. I do. My computer geek of a boy has sent me a few signs along his journey in that afterlife. I believe it. I received one today. I won’t share it. Only with his mother. I believe he has reached his angel status in the afterlife now. Perhaps the equivalent of adult status in the here and now. It’s a nice thought and one I shall keep. That’s the beauty sometimes of things that require a leap of faith and not logic and facts. It comforts me to believe he is now a guardian. The two boys he grew up with need one more than ever right now. And so do I. Happy Angel Day, AJ!

 

 Rest in the Light Of Eternal Youth, Magic Boy…

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How are you doing, Magic Boy? I often began my morning or end of night check in with this salutation. It was about a year or so ago during a rough patch in Brian’s life. A mutual friend suggested I talk to him as he liked me and perhaps I could lift his spirits some. I did both I like to think.

Yesterday he died, suddenly, unexpectedly, the ultimate disappearing act for this masterful magician. Today the online eulogies, memories, tributes, near and far in time and place and connection abound. We covet the dead, or at least the great ones. We want to touch the shiny fabric of that coffin and say we were a part of that greatness, no matter how big or small or close or far.   It is the silence of the service performed to miserly memories of mourners that dictates a life not well lived.   Not the case with Brian. He was mentor, friend, lover to more than a few in his time. His art was magic and magical was his art. I called him friend and here is but my tiny presence in his large life so very well lived.

I saw Brian for the first time at a house concert at Andy’s in 2005. I was with my two small boys at the time. I have no idea what I was doing there as I was not one to go to many of Andy and Renee’s gigs back then, being secluded in my motherhood and motherly duties of PTA and football. But for the special occasions I did venture out. Brian and his mentalist partner Sisuephan did their act. I remember nothing of it other than the fire-breathing wallet. I talked to Brian a bit afterwards asking him to do the wallet for my boys again and he said, “I hate kids”. I was taken aback and thought what a jerk! Took me awhile to see he never meant that at all.   He especially showed me in June of 2015 when he played my son’s Grad night for North High for a fraction of his worth as a performer as a favor to me.  The kids loved it and he must have, too, as he stayed way past the allotted time.  But no matter what magic he did, it was always the wallet that never failed to amaze me.  Over the years we would run into Brian at a restaurant gig of Andy’s occasionally and I never failed to go over to him and say, do the wallet, please? Usually my boys were with me and they would just love it.

Fast forward to late December 2014.   I had come to know Brian a bit better since now attending a lot of Andy and Renee gigs on my own in my re-entry to the musical world I loved so much pre-parenthood. Enough that I could ask for a night at the Magic Castle for my friend Val and I. Brian was playing the ‘big room’ as I call it as I could not keep all those rooms straight. It meant to me he was the star and the show was all him. We stopped at quite a few of the Magic Castle bars that night before the show began, sampling Prosecco along the way.   The venue was really crowded and we had standing room only against the wall when a person in the very first row got up for some reason and I took the seat while Val stayed at the wall.   A woman next to me started talking to me and I have no idea what we talked about but I started talking and she couldn’t stop laughing at what I was saying and then a few more joined in. Brian comes out, the show sort of starts but this lady next to me is still talking to me and laughing and I am answering her but trying not to. I know I am in trouble cause Brian knew me by now from various events we were at together and told me I had better behave at the show. I promised, sort of. Next thing I know, Brian stops the show and says, “Let me know when you are finished with your show, Maddie and I’ll do mine” and looks right at me. I was amused and horrified at the same time and needless to say I shut up for the rest of the show. Afterwards we met Brian in the bar for a drink and I just kept apologizing like crazy. I said, what can I do to make it up to you? Well, he said, there is a magician’s code that when you ruin his act you have to buy him a drink whenever you see him for the rest of his life!! Done, I said, done, just forgive me!   He laughed and ordered a Pinot Noir with a glass of ice on the side. A short time later, we were at the first Title Tracker show in Silverlake and Brian was there. I went right over and asked what are you drinking? I brought him his Pinot Noir- a few of them and we had a good laugh over it. It got to be that no matter where we were the minute I saw him I would say, “I know I know I’m going to get your drink.” And I did every time. Yesterday we shared a good laugh over this, as I said to Lorna and Andy, we should go get a bottle of Pinot Noir tonight and toast Brian and they both said, why, his favorite wine was Merlot. No, not possible I said. I have been buying him drinks at restaurants and clubs for three years now and he ALWAYS ordered Pinot. That’s cause it was more expensive and you were paying, Lorna said. Well played, Brian!!

For the dinners he attended at my house he usually got a bottle and I got my magic wallet fire every time and often a great impromptu magic show for the dinner guests. This fire breathing Aries LOVED that wallet. I never tired of seeing it and to me it was brand new each and every time he pulled it out.   I’ll never forget that night in Silverlake sitting next to him and having him do these magic tricks that would send me screaming during the Title Tracker concert. The one with the spider crossing my hand under the cellphone in particular made me jump out of my chair. I think he reveled in the idea of me ruining someone else’s show with my screeches.

Time marched on and we became what I like to think of as good friends. We were age appropriate, Brian and I. We talked a lot over these past three years about life and love and relationships and mostly aging in all those things. He hit a rough patch a little while back in his personal life and I would text or call every morning to check on him and then at night to see how his day went. I was honored to be invited to the Los Angeles premiere of the documentary done on his life and that of three other magicians at the Vista Movie theater. It was a kick to sit with him and watch his reaction to himself on the big screen. What a magical night that was as we then got to go to the Castle see him and his longtime partner Sisuepahn perform.

I brought friends to the Castle over the past several years a few times. He was always gracious and always made room for us. I never ever wanted to go there though unless he was playing the big room and doing his full act. I did go once when he was in the WC Fields Bar downstairs, but it wasn’t the same for me. That night I took my friends Case and Chuck. They went off to see the shows in the main parlors but I preferred to just stay down there with Brian. We ate and drank in between his time at the bar. Yes, of course, the Pinot Noir was on me. When Brian went back behind the bar, I entertained myself by clearing glasses from the tables. The Castle for some weird reason always felt so familiar and home like to me. I used to think I had to have been there in some previous life.   I didn’t go see too many other magicians. They bored me compared to Brian’s show. I preferred to just roam around taking pictures where I wasn’t supposed to like in the fun phone booth with the ghost or sitting by Irma the piano and watching her play herself.

I was supposed to go the Castle a few weeks ago. My sister was coming to town again. It was a wonder that Brian was even going to let us go since her less than stellar performance at a dinner at my house the year before, but he was so gracious. I called and said I wanted to go on maybe Monday the 25th of June.  I asked if he was playing the big room that night. He said he wasn’t but he would come down anyway if he could because of surgery he was scheduled for on June 18. I said OK, but I’m not going unless you are there. What the heck is the surgery for, I asked. Heart, he said. What the hell? But he didn’t answer that text. The following week, I texted him and asked how the surgery went. He said it’s next Monday. I was confused and thought they just postponed the same thing. Well then are you coming to the house concert on Saturday, I asked. No, I can’t, I am so weak I can’t move, he said. What exactly are you having done? Triple bypass he said and a valve repair. What the fuck?? I went into my Brian “what you need, whenever you need it” mode. What time, where, do you have lift there, do you need anything? He said, no he’s fine. Sisuepahn is driving him to Torrance Memorial at 7:30am. OK I’ll call and come see you as soon as I can and left it at that.    Monday came and I thought about him all day. I asked Andy in the afternoon if he had heard anything. He got word the surgery went well. I knew my way around an ICU having spent three weeks there 11 years ago during my husband’s liver transplant. I also knew it was difficult getting in if you weren’t family but I also knew I could do it. But it was late and I was leaving for Palm Desert on Wednesday and knew how out of it he would be anyway. On Tuesday morning, I figured I’ll just call the ICU and see how he’s doing but the ICU nurse put me through. Hey, I just wanted to call to make sure you ain’t dead, I said. He said No, but I am in a lot of pain. I can’t really talk. OK, get better, love you. I’ll come see you soon. He didn’t and I didn’t. A call with a crack in her voice from Lorna at 4pm and I knew it before she got the words out of her mouth. For a week now I could not let go of the thought of where he would convalesce. My mind kept going over logical places. Would Sisuepahn take him in? Would Craig his manager/caretaker have a place for him? Should I offer my house if needed as I am close to the hospital and doctors? Where would his beloved dog go? These thoughts would go round and round but I never saw him in recovery anywhere. I kept thinking how strange that was that while I was fretting about where he would go another part of my brain would say it doesn’t matter at all it’s not relevant.

We got to let our proverbial aging hair down at times, but none so much as that night at Avenue A in early April of this year. I was on my way there when I got a text from Brian saying, where are you, I’m at Avenue A, come down. On my way, I said. We shared a few secrets that night. We would compare some notes on things that made us laugh sometimes and sometimes made us sad. We were age appropriate friends despite the everlasting search for the fountain of youth. We talked that night about a lot of things. He shared quite a few stories with me. At one point, I was about to respond to a text on my phone. He said, put that down, I can’t believe you are going to text during the most important part of my story! OK, OK. I said, but don’t think I am going to buy you food now for the rest of your life just because I interrupted a story of yours. Not the same as a magic show. He laughed. I put the phone down and listened. The conversation ended for good yesterday with Brian. It feels interrupted. The thing I wanted to talk about most with him next was the healing of the heart in all its manifestations, a subject near and dear to my heart right now. It will have to be one-sided now or perhaps this very last act of his speaks volumes to the subject at hand for me.

We don’t get to choose the impact people have on our lives or our connection to them or what they mean to us. I am a firm believer that all sorts of people come into your life for all sorts of things. Impact or connection is not measured in time. It’s measured in space. It’s measured in what occupies the space you share in the time you share it. This was just my own little time and shared space with Brian Gillis, the best magician ever and Johnny Carson’s and my favorite one, too!

ME2

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U2 has never been very high up on my current concert dream-wish list, dislike the word bucket list- reminds me of barfing. I thought about seeing them last year at the Rose Bowl but I avoid stadium concerts if at all possible. ColdPlay was the Rose Bowl exception and it was very good. I got in on the presale for Ticketmaster verifieds and I got the code, but did not get the tickets when they went on sale for the two May Los Angeles Forum dates. No matter, I told my partner in concert crime Sandi, we are going to go if we want to. I was ambivalent about not getting the tickets. I don’t consider myself a U2 fan. I like all the hits and that to me is really not high on fandom status. I respect the man and all he’s done, but honestly, after Tracker Dave took over as Bono with the Title Tracker shows, he’s now become Bono to me. The Title Trackers is a group that writes songs for albums that have no title tracks and then performs them in the artist’s character. In the hands of lesser musical genius this would be a mess, but it is handled with such dynamic dignity by the three Trackers: Andy, Dave and Russell whose brainchild this is. They are truly the best songs never written. I digress. Go see a Tracker show and you’ll know what I mean.

A week ago I began the search in earnest for U2 Tickets at the Forum on Tuesday. I just had to see this show. There wasn’t any ambivalence left this week. The feeling that we MUST see this show got stronger and stronger, to the point where I even settled for upper level seats. I just don’t do bad seats at a concert. I am too old to settle for less. These, however, dropped into our collective laps. I was on the text with a man who was selling his seats, three rows up and one section over for $250. He paid $325 and Ticketmaster would not let him re-sell them for less so he went to my favorite ticket place, Craigslist. Let’s hope the morality cops don’t shut down the ticket scalping portion of this website. While I was on text with him negotiating, I was also on Ticketmaster and found two aisle seats, one section over and 4 rows down from him for considerably less than his tickets. He was not happy when I told him it was a “no” and why.

So we went last night, Sandi and I, Ubered by our offspring. Her daughter dropped her off and my son dropped me a few blocks away. The walk was well worth the no parking fees and no parking lot gridlock at the end. The first thing we see upon entering the arena is this humongous two sided screen that ran the entire length down the middle with a huge stage at one end and a smaller one at the other and a long walkway in between just below the screen. What on earth could that be, we wondered? Well it provided the most amazing visual effects ever to be seen on a stage, at least by me. They played in the screen while on the walkway. It was astounding.   When he turned it into the street where he lived and had it move as if you were looking at it out of the window of a car was just breathtaking. He walked along, as it moved and sometimes stayed still and in between the houses were relics of his past. Homage to David Bowie for one thing and so much more. It was just indescribable gorgeous.

I expected Bono preachiness, as is the stuff of legends, but what we got instead was Bono teachiness and the baring of his familial heart. He did a mean intro of Sympathy for the Devil , intertwining words of current American events like Charlottesville coming from a horrific Devil’s mask special effect on him as he spoke on this gigantic screen. Politically potent was when he showed footage of the KKK racists and white supremacists demonstrations today and then followed them with the civil rights marches of yesteryear.   A powerful reminder of the backslide we see today in those areas. And when he was done, U2 raised the American Flag behind the main stage to cover the entire side of the arena. It was just perfect.

The most poignant part of the entire evening was the homage that Bono played not only to the women in his life, but also to the women of the world. He thanked his wife for being his other half. He thanked his daughters for what sounded like keeping him on his toes. They then displayed a lone woman in a black combat helmet and a sleeveless black dress, so pretty with the hash tag or number sign to me, with the word WomenOfTheWorldTakeOver and PovertyIsSexist   I don’t know that I quite believe that in its entirety.  I think we need people not genders taking over who are intelligent and honest and have integrity and that just plain care about the world we live in enough to make a difference and let nothing stand in their way to do so. But the most special of all tributes he paid this evening to the women in his life was to his mother. What a beautiful and loving and painful tribute it was beginning with the song Iris- her name- whilst they showed her wedding clip and then an old home movie of her running in the sand.   It ended with the house and a light on in only one window and a light bulb that swung towards this window and turned into a noose right before it. Sandi and I, too busy enjoying the show to bother with actual facts, came to the conclusion that his mother committed suicide. Glad to say this morning, Sandi googled it clear in that his mother died when he was 14 years old of a brain aneurism. Not a whole lot better but still. To have him open that pain up right on stage for all of us to share with him was just so moving.   Interesting the artistic greatness that ensues from the depths of despair of losing a mother so young as we have seen with other artists like John Lennon.

Musically it was perfect for me. As I wasn’t a huge fan, I had no great set list desire or expectations. I started listening a few days before the concert to the new album “Songs of Experience.”   I love, love, love the album. It’s got this feel of going back to 60s and 70s groove music at times mixed in with such beautifully written love songs. So getting to hear most of this live now was just great for me. Yes, I loved Bloody Sunday and One and In the Name of Love of course. Who doesn’t? For me, though, it was great to see these new songs played sometimes the same as the album, sometimes different. Moving from the large stage to the intimate small one at the other end of the huge runway for various songs was spectacular and so well done. The visual effects on that screen during every song were spellbinding. The one thing I loved the most was no monitors anywhere. When it was just them and no big screen special effects, then that is what you looked it and nothing else and it was so much better than the distraction of all those screens.

Bruce, the very top of my concert list, takes you to church when you see him perform. You are in a local parish church in a little Jersey town or a Baptist church in the Deep South. You come in jeans or a summer dress and you collectively throw your hands in the air and shout and shout as the Spirit of the Night grabs hold of your heart and soul and takes them on a ride you’ll never experience again. Bono takes you to a cathedral like Notre Dame in Paris or 5th Avenue’s St Patrick’s, where you come in your best dressed and it is your mind and your senses that are captured and set to wander and wonder at the majesty of the edifice with its stained glass and sculptures and all that amazing architecture. That’s the ride U2 takes you on, musical magnificence. There was so much more but sensory overload makes it difficult for me to describe it in any great detail that would do it justice. It was an experience in song we will never forget.