Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Room With A View

Perhaps Italy draws you to it, as a warm country does to the English.

When I saw A Room With A View when it came out in 1985 I thought to myself: I must have Helena Bonham-Carter as Lucy Honeychurch's hair or die, and I got a misguided perm and looked like a medusa with bangs. I wore my heart on my sleeve.

But bad hair is not the point. The point is a field of poppies overlooking Florence, and men with names like Giovanni, Niccolo, Bartolomeo and Tommaso packing Chianti into rustic baskets and putting their hands together in the gesture, "Mama mia!" and my first taste of romance, and I quote, "the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing."

How I understood Julian Sands as George Emerson in the scene from the movie where he climbs up in a tree and shouts, "Truth!" "Beauty!" "Love!"

Then, in my late 20s, I went to Rome and found a marble fountain that an artist had adorned with a perfect copper turtle, green with patina, and I further embellished the scene with myself, seeking shade, and a gelato made of hazelnuts.

That person -- what a frutti di bosco sylph was she! -- is long gone; she's probably by a stream somewhere staring at her own face.

I have cankles now. But I still have my mind is what I say, raising my fist (not going gentle). Research shows learning a second language staves off Alzheimer's.

So Io sono la donna in my 40s learning Italian from an app on my iPhone into which I must speak softly Giovanni, lui e l'uomo, while waiting to pick up the kids from carpool. I am corporeally in in this world, the sports camps of Baltimore County, but spiritually I am in Italy.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


It does not look like the above sunny happy La Jolla mom when it is time for my kids to put on sunscreen. There are frowny faces. There are shrieks. But my grandfather lost half his nose to skin cancer, and I walk with a parasol with sunscreen in the fabric.

"Don't slather me!" says my daughter, 7. My son, 10, hides under the couch uncharacteristically being SUPER quiet, therefore LOUD and OBVIOUS,  he must be thinking, Mom's dumb as a post before 8 AM, and glassessless, she can't possibly see my feet sticking out the other end of the couch.

When I haul him out by the foot saying, "You don't want to end up leather baggy like Mommy!" "You don't want to lose half your nose!" he splutters, "All your stories end badly."

"Just sit still, and let me get the backs of your ears," I say, "You're going to a pool party, honey. Intense sunlight. Reflected off the water." I grease him up; he complains that I'm messing up his hair, he whines like the dog when she sees the dog shampoo.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Patterns of The Mint Family

On my mother's side I am a link in the chain of dowager-humped, stooped, craggy women who suffer osteoarthritis early and whose backs, knees, fingers and toes look Golem-nobby.

My fingers have all started curving in one direction, like a field of sunflowers.  My grandmother's fingers did the same. Also just like her I've also started carrying a cardigan. Cardigans must be the part of my epigenome that begins to express itself after 40, cardigans and irritability, and the desire to shade garden.

I got really irritated with a potted plant yesterday.

It was not lavender that I was mad at. It was my body. The bastard ached after troweling in the dirt for not very long and I was in the mood to garden and it was a gorgeous high-blue Sierra Madre kind of a day and suddenly what I was was pissed off that I couldn't do what I wanted to do.  I stomped the yard having a sandbox tantrum. "Fucking delphiniums," I said.

I sat down on a lawn chair exhausted from the effort of untangling the thriving vine of my stinkin' thinkin' from the mangy shrubbery of my best self, or something equally purple. Metaphorical.

My gaze fell on the gregarious mint. It is so generous with itself that it is spreading across the lawn.  I'm going to yank it all out.

Monday, May 25, 2015


I consider my garden (though it is amateur in the extreme) to be an accessory to my person; is is as dear to me as  an emerald necklace. I'm yards from an English cottage garden genius and an ocean away from Keats and his vining fruit that "'round the thatch eaves run," but I do have honeysuckle that is doing very well and a bank of hostas that seem happy and would probably say so with their plump variegated leaves if they could speak.

I can count on the irises. The sunniest southern corner is a bed of lavender, and I like that. A bed of lavender.

And now we're moving and of course I care about managing my housewares through the transition, "all the plate," as clever Thomas Cromwell would have said of Henry the VIII's stuff, but what I really feel for are the plants and I'm uncertain about the etiquette of digging up perennials under the cover of darkness with only a sliver of a moon and trundling them up to the new house in a child's wheelbarrow.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

What I Look Like Wearing Lipstick

I have discovered the fish I most resemble when I try to put on makeup. It is the red lipped bat fish, a deep water fish of the Galapagos, seen above, in profile, and below, in full frontal glory.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

My Son Reads A Poem

I feel like a queen mother. My son, 10, is reading the last stanza of a poem written for his school's Memorial Day celebration. He has it memorized. He's got this. He's all that -- a reciter of poetry -- and a bag of chips with a side of chicken-product nuggets, which are his favorite food (a mother weeps) and the wearer of hair gel, with a nascent interest in deodorant "for my pits, Mom."

My question is, What should a queen mother wear? I have a bureau full of mom jeans, and yoke-necked t-shirts, and not a scrap appropriate for My Son Reads A Poem. Where is my all-feather ball gown? Where is my gilded shrug?

This -- the public reading of a poem -- is a rite of passage. Babies don't recite poems, they babble, therefore my son is no longer a baby. He's seeking the pale enchanted gold of the 4th grade. 

I'm capturing my proud and nervous (will my hambone recite it cowboy style?) queen mother tears in the old embroidered linen hanky I found in my great-grandmother's seed-pearl-beaded purse called a reticule that I inherited, and my dad said she had him reciting long passages of Shakespeare by the time he was twelve. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Muscle Bound

I'm as muscle-bound and stiff as a genetically modified bull. Run, Pamplona! But I don't run. Unless this very specific situation presents itself to me  -- raging forest fire behind me and pastry shop with a sale on cream puffs in front of me -- and it never has. 

I'm middle-aged with a host of early-onset osteoarthritis. I have a pit crew, and assistive devices. Yes, I've tried yoga, mostly for no other reason than because I like to say trikanasana. It sounds like a swear word and I get to say ass.

But yoga makes me feel sorry for myself as my drishti drifts to other people's heart-shaped asses, and taught triceps, and I get really whiney about my batwings, and I feel trapped not only in my degenerating body, but in my mind which starts to circle the drain.

Boohooo, I sniff to myself, assuming child's pose, my vertebrae are losing vertebral height, baa-waaah, Sheila over there in her Lululemon shorts looks like one million bucks. I bet she's gaining vertebral height. My judgements and fantasies slither and caress past each other like a pit full of snakes.

Monday, May 18, 2015


The mister and I have had an ongoing kerfuffle regarding A/C. He's pro. I'm like, "AC air smells odd. Muffled. Stale. Dead mall atrium." He's like, "Really? Dead mall-atrium? Must you always be so dramatic and precise?" 

"I don't like fake air forced through ducts a person can't clean," I say.  "Besides, 'ducts,' is a disturbing word. It is one of my least favorite words."  "And I love the sounds of summer. When all the windows are closed and the AC is on I feel removed from the entire world like a museum butterfly pinned on velvet."  

He face palms. "Sounds of summer?" He says, "You mean the early-morning bird racket? You mean the neighbor's forever lawnmower?" 

"No," I say,  "The sound of sunlight warming the pine needles and making them smell like the south of France. Like how I imagine the south of France smells."

We've reached an agreement. I stay outside, in the south of France, sweating, beads forming on the outside of my glass. He gazes out, inside, from Antarctica.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Miniscule Men and Fast Horses

Jockey silks (which I saw on my semi-seedy pre-#Preakness Pimlico Race Track tour, which is Number 1 on my Top Ten Things I Kinda Am Alright About Baltimore) are so beautiful and medieval and blindingly colorful.

The jockeys, those little men (and I'm talking directly to you, Victor Espinoza -- best of luck on #AmericanPharoah on the inside rail) remind me of knights atop their war horses if they had had a drab cinderblock locker room instead of a nice Round Table in stories that were swoon-inducingly read to me by my mom who, in the late '70s, had a King Arthur phase, as retold by John Steinbeck in his only work of fantasy literature.

 Uther Pendragon. How come no one has named a horse that?

Secretariat's 1973 run is still the Preakness track record.  I learned that on my tour. I also learned that racing saddles are as thin as a feminine napkin so those jockeys are going 45 miles an hour basically bareback (imagine the strength of their chicken thighs) with sand flying everywhere from the hooves of the bolting horses in front of them mucking up their goggles so they can hardly see, so they wear multiple pairs of goggles and as one gets dirty, they fling them off, and continue, mounting up with wings as eagles, and...oh good gracious, I've lathered myself into a Chariots of Fire moment complete with the soundtrack from Vangelis. Sorry.

The Triple Crown races are the best collective six sports minutes of the year for me.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Robin's Egg Blue

The lilac tree next to my neighbor's house is in full bloom and smelling like wonderful witchy dowager grandmothers despite being choked with the vines of upstart honeysuckle.

I walked up to it the lilac to take in a sweet lungful of violet-scented air and saw... three stunning robin's egg blue eggs in a robin's nest in the lilac's branches.

Their color is Colonial Williamsburg-y. Or Miami. Whichever suits you, old money or new, it is a totally American color. I think I had a pair of high tops in this color in 1983 (I know I did) which I wore while piloting myself in the direction of boys.

Robins! Spring! Renewal! Isn't it dandy? My heart feels like a candy box. The May clouds look like marshmallow fluff.

The mother robin, brooding as all mothers do, looked me in the eye, like, "Back off, you featherless two-footed clod," and I looked into the pissed off eye of the mother robin and said, "Tell me about it."