Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thankful to be Home

The First Thanksgiving, courtesy of Wikipedia

Same time, last year.

Far away from my home, my family, my traditions.

You may have been envying me.  I was in Italy, in Assisi to be precise. I was envying you.

Last year, I bought turkey parts, made green beans with pancetta and brought it all, with a huge bottle of vino, to join friends, Americans who now make their home in Assisi.  Together, at a cold and dirty poor excuse for a "children's museum", we ate dinner.

But this year, it's a whole turkey and I'm warm, and my house is clean and my kids are coming and best of all, we have a toilet with running water.

Don't get me completely wrong.  I enjoyed my day last year.  I just am enjoying my day better this year.  I appreciate all that I have and most of all, the people who allowed me to wander away from them for a few weeks last fall.

So, today I am giving thanks for so many things, not least of all, for the family and the home that we have.
I'm thankful for the beautiful sunshine that lights the pond up as if it were a bag of gold nuggets when we sit down to our breakfast together.  I'm thankful for my friends, here and there, wherever " there" may be.  I have been so very, very blessed with a wide circle of friends who have shared time with me.  Every day of the week is special and I am surrounded by creative people who inspire me, non-stop.

Oh, and SPANX......I'm very thankful for them.  Very.

Thank you, thank you and thank you some more.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Grandest Central Station

I have visited a lot of cities, I mean a really lot of cities, here in the U.S. and abroad.

But, I have to say,without a doubt, hands-down, no favorite city is, always will be, New York.  It's home.  And Grand Central Station, it's the jewel in that crown.

Actress Cynthia Nixon of "Sex and the City" fame, said "Grand Central is everything that New York is. It's big, its loud, its functional, its dysfunctional, it's crowded, it's noisy but it is something that New York is too that we sometimes forget: It is so beautiful."

Photo of Grand Central taken in the 1930's showing sunlight streaming onto the marble floor below

I love this place.  It's so much more to me than a train station.  I holds so much history, personal and public.
Joe's father was once the Assistant Station Master, back in the forties, and he brought so many stories home to my mother in law.  He probably could have written a book.  I'm sure he knew all the secrets and met a lot of celebrities as they passed through.  They had secrets, plenty of them, and they were safe with Joe Guardino.

Once upon a time, I was a commuter.  Each and every week day, for more than ten years, I passed through the great big Main Concourse.  Completed in 1913, this appears today almost identically as it did when it opened.  We can thank Jackie Onassis for that gift, for it was she who led the pack when the fate of this beautiful place was on the mat.  Long story short, the wrecking ball was on its way, fresh on the heels of the destruction of Penn Station, the beautiful old bastion of the West side.  Jackie and a group of other prominent New Yorkers got together and with their clout, they managed to stop what would have been a disaster in the history of the city.                                                                 
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
The Hudson Valley and Harlem lines of the Metro North Railroad come in and out by the  hundreds every day.  The Terminal covers over 200,000 square feet at grade level with a series of passageways leading out from the center to the surrounding streets.  Each passageway is unique in character and some actually become part of the ground floors of buildings and hotels. Today, they are clean and well-lit, most of them lined with high-end retail and repair shops, similar to European arcades.  The walls and floors are lined with a soft shade of beige marble and a modern circulation system lends to the feeling of relief as one passes through after a walk from the office on a July day.  There's something about being in these passageways on those humid mornings that makes one want to linger.  The aroma of coffee and pastries from the bakeries and restaurants can easily put an end to a newly planned diet on a Monday morning!  

The sights and smells of Grand Central today are very different from those during another time in her history.  That time, during the seventies and eighties, found this treasure shrouded in grime, littered with remnants of a city that was out on a limb, struggling to keep financially alive.  Crime was at an all-time high and it seemed that leadership wasn't leading the way.  New York, the greatest city in the world, had become the "scariest" city and the station, a microcosm reflecting  much of what was feared.  Passageways were dark, dirty, stuffy and lined with people sleeping on the floor or begging for money.  The passenger waiting room, filled with mahogany benches, once a majestic hall, had become a free hotel for the homeless and the restrooms, off limits to anyone who sought a clean toilet and not carrying a nose plug. It became impossible to keep these rooms clean and safe.  Commuters were scared to take trains at night from what had become a seedbed for stories of petty crime. There were huge billboards, one at either end of the concourse, blocking light from entering and the once spectacular constellation ceiling was covered with black grime.  Hidden now was the Hewlett-Basing Studio treasure that happily would be revealed again in the late nineties thanks to the painstaking work of a team of conservators whose mission was to clean every detail of the heavens.  The cleaning of the celestial ceiling caused even the most seasoned of commuters to gaze upward when passing through the concourse. 

The waiting room at its worst.  It's been replaced by a lovely room on the opposite side of the station
 The vast renovation project went on for several years, one piece of history restored at a time. I was one of those fortunate to have had the opportunity to watch parts of  the restoration during the late nineties.  Many of the restorations, brought to completion by late-night work crews were completed in time for morning rushes of commuters. As the project progressed, it was thrilling to exit from the train, coming into the Concourse, to find a surprise unveiled, one that the day before, was under construction wraps.  During the earliest days of renovation in the late winter and early spring of 1990, the huge Kodak Photo company's sign that hung in the Main Concourse was dismantled.  Working  behind shielding drapery, piece by piece was taken down until finally, the entire sign was gone, allowing the morning light to once again flood the floor to the joy of the people on their way to work.  Changes such as this became a regular occurrence and each of us who frequented the station felt swept up in the anticipation of what would next be revealed in its glory.  A personal favorite memory is that of the day the newly constructed East Staircase was finally completed.  A majestic sweep of steps that led to the east balcony was built to match the renovated staircase at the opposite end of the terminal.  Its arrival was filled with excitement. This, also, was a site shrouded by the construction company and when the shrouds were removed, there it stood.  Beautiful.  Glorious and proud. On the marble wall at its base a plaque honoring Mrs. Onassis hangs today to remind all of her great efforts in saving Grand Central. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, I want to personally thank you for this, one of your greatest achievements.  You were one very classy lady and, as a native New Yorker, I thank you for adopting our city as your home.  I don't know what we would have done without you.


Dear Mayor Beame…is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud moments, until there is nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future? Americans care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters…February 24, 1975

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Friends to the......End?

There were very few places to sit while waiting for the train bound to Grand Central Station.  It was a pleasant day, unusually warm for November.  She looked around the tiny waiting room and made a quick decision to exit onto the platform and find a place away from the exuberant children and their parents who might be on their way to the newly opened Christmas Show at Radio City.  It seemed that one stroller held not one, but several toddlers, with tap-dancing siblings who She was certain were only just beginning. So, out, to the left, down the platform and into the morning air she bolted.  It felt good.  She immediately sensed her freedom and welcomed the time to collect her thoughts and review the day ahead.  Plans had been made to meet up with two good friends for a classic New York Saturday morning event, brunch on the Upper East Side, and then she would go on to a free class in fiction writing at the 67th Street library later in the afternoon.  She needed the time to review the whens and wheres before the train arrived. She had a feeling that this would be an especially crowded train with only a few Saturdays left before Christmas.
Ah ha!  A bench with one empty seat.  Perfect.  She sat down, slowly, knowing that the seat would certainly rock if she came down hard, causing the two other occupants to feel the movement and perhaps become annoyed.  This is a skill that one must acquire if one is to survive the rigors of commuting from the suburbs into the city and, after a number of years, she had mastered this and barely made her presence known as she sat down.  There are people who find the slightest movement, coming from a stranger, to be annoying and oftentimes, these, the annoyed, show or speak their disdain.  It's part of being a New Yorker just as much as rolling, never fully stopping, at a red light while driving.  So, when the Other Lady on the bench turned and started to speak, She was ready.  Here it comes, She thought, apology on the way....... But, instead of an expected admonishment, She got a hello.

"Hello, are you on your way to work today?"

A brief "no" and then "Oh, you're done with that?" followed.

"I'm on my way to a Jewish film festival at the JCC today" said the Other Lady.

 Immediately, the conversation took off and had a life of its own as they sat on the bench, exchanging bits and pieces of their current life, where they lived, how they got to the station on this morning, and what life could possibly be like on Cape Cod without a big Jewish population.  Tsk, tsk, such a shame, no JCC on Cape Cod.  They really got a lot in before the arrival of the 10:49 Express.  She appreciated the open conversation, the sharing, the warmth from the wrinkle-faced woman who just minutes before had been a complete stranger but was no longer. They were two new and good friends, sharing a bench, each on their way to a fun day in Manhattan. They exchanged names, "I'm Anita" "I'm Lynn".

The train arrived and they parted.  She was happy in the fact that they would not be sitting together on the train.  Her new friend waved and told her to have a good day and each found their way into separate cars for the thirty minute ride.

Arriving at Grand Central is always a thrill.  It's vast and beautiful.  She never tired of these arrivals, even after the many years of commuting back and forth before her retirement.  The sights, sounds and aromas coming from the food and bakery shops never wore thin.  As she walked from the train, through the concourse, she noticed the throngs of people.  Tourists staring up at the ceiling, guides pointing at the constellations in the painted blue sky above their heads, one of the big attractions in the station.  She weaved in and out of the crowd, glancing at the big brass clock in the middle of the concourse, the famous meeting place.  She calculated that she had just enough time to make it to her lunch date by walking up Lexington Avenue and then over to Second and 74th. She was looking forward to the brisk walk and to seeing what was new since her last visit the month before.  New York is like that.  One day a coffee shop on the corner, the next day it's  a shoe store. As She started past the ticket windows, there, in amongst the array of newly arrived passengers stood her new friend.  She told herself that Anita had been so warm and so inviting and that they had such a chummy conversation before leaving White Plains, she surely would be very happy to see her again so She waved.  It was a huge wave.  She used both arms, swung them high in the air as she called out "Hi Anita!"....... Blank stare."It's Lynn"......Still blank. ."From the train station?".......Blank stare and tiniest hint of recognition. "Oh yes, hello".

Clearly, Anita had moved on.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Life is a Cabaret at the Cinema Paradiso

Ah, what a nice week it has been so far. And, I do not mean the weather.  That's been nice too.  Cold, but nice, the way it is supposed to be in November.

But, such a nice week.  We've had fires in the fireplace.  We've started talking holiday plans, made some reservations for a weekend away with our best friends, and yesterday afternoon, I got to sit next to my dear sweet friend Miriam Kronish at our little Broadway Musicals class in Orleans. Together, we shared our love of the genre with a special treat of my all time favorite "Cabaret".  We both know it is so much more than an entertaining dramatic piece.  It's positively brilliant and loaded with metaphors.

Sometimes, I can't believe I'm even in the same room with Miriam.  She's famous.  A retired school principal from a huge Boston area system, she's won awards, given lectures worldwide, and there isn't anyone who's ever taught anything in this state who does not sing her praises.  She's the high priestess of education and there is not one thing that she does not know.  And she loves me.  She tells me that all the time.  My own Mrs. Rogers in my own neighborhood.  I save her a seat at the Broadway class and she, me at the Friday documentary class where we oftentimes look at each other, and raise and eyebrow or two when we hear a comment that shows traces of intolerance of prejudice.  We're both native New Yorkers and we find ourselves on the same page lots of the time.  Miriam is older than I but time eludes her. "Oklahoma" was the first show she saw as a child. She's a kid's kid and she won't sit down, especially when there's music in the air.

We met last winter in Ira Wolfson's (he's another of my super-heroes) class on Holocaust Literature.  There were three of us in that class.  I suppose the title scared a lot of other potential intellectuals off. When I told friends that I would be enrolling in the course, given by the Academy for Life Long Learning, I heard the strangest remarks. "Why?" was the overriding theme.  "Why not?" was my constant answer.  I was drawn and I followed and never regretted it for one moment. It wasn't long into the course that I realized that destiny had played her hand and my meeting Miriam was not a simple coincidence.  It was that part of my life that had been missing that she gave so generously.  Week after week, for three months, Ira, Miriam and I read, discussed and shared views.  Miriam knew the exact gaps that needed filling in my knowledge and understanding of that period in time.  It mattered not that I was raised a Christian, a Catholic girl who only knew one side of my family.  The other side, unexplored and mysterious.  I had a sense, and still do, that Ira and Miriam knew more about my heritage than I.  Someday, I'm going to find the answers.

Cinema Paradiso [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] [Special Limited Edition]

Last night, Joe's Italian Literature book club met for an unusual evening.  Instead of discussing their current read, they met at the home of one of their members for dinner and a movie. I was invited to join them.  This is a lovely group of people who gather once a month and share their views on what they have read.  They don't tackle easy reads, everything is a challenge, but they seem to love the choices.  After dinner, we sat down together and watched "Cinema Paradiso", another of my all time favorites.  Such a beautiful movie.  Gorgeous music and the best ending of any movie, ever.  I cry every time I see it.  A little boy, and his beloved mentor, Alfredo.  The movie house in the center of the town.The slices of lives, rich with meaning. The film is a collection of  perfect metaphors on life and times.  As I age, I "get" life so much more, just as did Toto, the boy who's life we view from childhood to age 48. In the end, we see him as the sum of the parts, a grown man who never went back, just as intstructed by Alfredo.

Life is filled with mentors.  People are out there, ready and willing to show us the way.  Sometimes, we get lucky and we locate our mentors and metaphors and figure them out before it is too late.  Tomorrow, I'm back in New York, taking another writing workshop, just adding to the mix, one ingredient at a time. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

On the Meat Rack

We had a surprise visitor yesterday.  An early season snowfall that started mid morning and left a nice carpet of white on the ground and trees.  It was just enough snow to satisfy those of us who find it incredibly beautiful and not enough to scare us. I don't want to ruin this moment, the one I am now enjoying so much as I look out the window and see that the lawn is still covered and there is a glow cast by lights from the apartments of other early risers.  I just don't want to think back to last winter's snowfall that left us without power for three days.  No, I'll not allow that to rob me of this pleasure, not yet.

Yesterday's weather was in sharp contrast to the day before's.  Monday was a holiday, Veteran's Day.  Joe had the day off from teaching his fitness classes and his suggestion of a trip up to Provincetown was met with total approval and anticipation of a great day out.  And, it was.  The sky was blue, the air was just a tad bit chilly and Provincetown was the place to be....for us.  We had lunch at our favorite place, Fanizzi's, and then we did our favorite stroll up Commercial Street.  We like to park the car in the east end of town and walk as far west as we can.  It is a great way to get exercise and, without the tourists, the sidewalks are easy to negotiate.  This is not the case during the tourist season.  We are so fortunate.  Every year, thousands flock to this tiny town, overcrowding streets, restaurants, shops and bars.  While the "sights" may be more entertaining during the Summer months, we find the sights of the real P-town after Labor Day to be much more so.  The air is clear and clean.  The architecture, stunning.  Most of the shops and restaurants are still open, and will be until Christmas.  There are sales and the people who work in the shops and restaurants are happy to take the time.  The frenzy of being in service to tourists has died down and oh, what a difference.

I have been a lover of Provincetown since my early adolescence.  My parents spent three weeks of every summer from the first time they visited until they finally bought their own beachfront home, in a rented cottage on Beach Point.  Provincetown holds lots of memories for me.  My brother's first successful business was, and still is, on Commercial Street where he and his partner brought the first "slice" pizza to town.  Today, "Spiritus Pizza" is a landmark  When I look at the benches in front of Town Hall, I remember hours and hours, sitting there with my friend Liz.  It was called the "meat rack" in those days and the Cafe Poyant and Gene's Bakery were next door.  Do you remember "beatniks"?  I sure do.  I wanted to be one so badly and did a decent job of proving that when I returned to school after my three week indoctrination course.  Those benches held many secrets.  Liz and I still can share many a laugh but we're not telling.  Just sayin' we managed to avoid serial killers, that's all.

So, on Monday, we walked Commercial Street and I was once again reminded of the past seasons and today, I'm reminded of the beauty of the current season.  I'm on a different meat rack now, watching birds in trees in my back yard  instead of boys on the street.  My beatnik heart is still alive and I'm exactly where I want to be, living less than an hour away from my beloved P-town with my very conventional husband who allows me to live the life I planned fifty years ago. Life is very good.

For more about vintage Provincetown:
And, if perchance you're under age 60:

Friday, November 8, 2013


Jean Pinkowitz "Ben and Emily After Soccer at ACT Day Camp, Summer 1986"
The announcement of Launch Pad Gallery's show "family" in November, 2009

The sweet photo was handed out in my Friday writing class last week.  It was one of a batch of photos that June asked us to pick from.  The assignment was to write about the photo after viewing it, write anything about it that you wish.  The technique is called "Ekphrastic" writing and it is one that can be a huge challenge.  Here is the photo I selected and here's my interpretation.  Of course, it  is best to not know the title of the photo beforehand but, credit goes where credit is due.

It's Christmas Eve.  I am a very young child.  My brother is almost two years older than I.  We are doing what we do every Christmas Eve.  We live in a duplex house, our aunt, cousin and uncle live upstairs and we, down.  My father is a New York City policeman who works shifts year-round, holidays included.   We are upstairs, in my mother's sister's apartment and, along with her family and my grandparents, we sadly say good bye to Daddy. After a series of kisses and hugs, he slips off into the early evening.  Poor Daddy, he always has to work the second shift on Christmas Eve.  He never gets to stay with us.  He always has to miss out on seeing Santa.  He's sad and so are we.  All the adults make sure that he is sent off with fanfare and a host of regrets as he has to leave  us on the one night of the year that he would most like to be present.  Mommy kisses him goodbye at the door and watches as he makes his way down the stairs.

The scents of that evening, the aromas of Christmas Eve dinner, pasta, fish and traditional baked goods, course through my memory.  The air of anticipation.  I can almost transport myself back in time to one of those eves and I see the glow of candlelight in a living room of greens and golds. I can hear Aunt Millie playing carols on the piano as we sing along.  I can feel my grandmother's soft arms wrapped around me, sitting in her warm lap.  My cheeks are rosy red and my eyes reflect the bubble lights of the huge Christmas tree.  A miniature train set circles the tree, surrounding a group of tiny skaters on a pond that once was a mirror. My brother and our two boy cousins, dressed  in their robes and Christmas pajamas, roll playfully around the floor.  I sit quietly and watch them. I'm clad in a  blue and red plaid robe and my freshly washed hair is silky and golden colored.  The mothers are in the kitchen with Uncle Augie, leaving only grandparents and children alone in the livingroom and I hear hushed voices.  Whispers.  And then, a loud knock on the door, bells loudly jingling. My heart starts to race and my eyes widen further  The adults jump to their feet, run to the window and look out as the children remain in place, stunned by the excitement.  Santa has arrived, and once again, Uncle Charlie has just missed him by moments.

I cried and kicked and had to be held tightly.  My fear of Santa did not leave me for years.  But, I always managed to reach an arm out to grab my gift before returning to the sofa and the safety of Grandma's lap where I remained until Santa went back into the night shouting "ho, ho, ho, merrrrrry Chirstmas".  The routine was played out in much the same fashion as we progressed through our childhood with  Daddy's return home from "work" to a chorus of "you JUST missed Santa!!" Year after year, one by one we would catch on and the magic would be diminished by one child at a time.

 We have finally managed to fall asleep after the excitement of the evening has worn off.   This year, he, the oldest of the family's children has "caught on" but he won't let his secret out, not this year.  His little sister still believes in the magic and, together they drift off.   His dream is of sweet satisfaction, he has a tiny smirk on his lips, his secret is safe, at least until next year.  Her lips reveal a sweet smile as visions of sugarplums waltz by.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

RIP Eugene Martinez

Eugene Martinez, second from the right, wearing a name tag

Today is the anniversary of my first day in Assisi, one year ago.  I've already written so much about my thoughts in recollection.  My memories are vivid, especially of the day after my arrival.  It was a drizzly Sunday and my friends Giselle and Mark Stafford picked me up for our trip to Umbertide.  We had all been invited to a luncheon birthday party that was hosted by an American woman who lived in a tiny but charming home.  Elizabeth, the hostess, was a native Californian, now a resident and an author.  Her latest book had recently been published.  She was not the only published author in this group of ex-pats. Nor was she the only accomplished cook in this group.  Not by any means I would soon discover.

The fire roared, the wine flowed, the guests arrived, filling the kitchen with food and the house with lots of conversation and laughter.  There were five birthdays celebrated.
Buon Compleanno
The final guests arrived, much later than the first wave.  Antonio and Eugene had made their way through the light fog, from their home near Florence, and now it was time for all to sit and enjoy the food and the company.  As the "outsider" I was lavished with the attention of the guests and made to feel welcomed, the greatest of feelings after having left my home, traveled so far alone, and anticipated a month on my own.  
Because of my friendship with the Staffords, so many of the new faces felt instantly familiar to me, almost as if they were characters in a book I had recently completed.  Here they were, coming alive.  They knew I was from America and that I was a friend of their friends, but little else.  I knew much more about each of them from Facebook postings and descriptions of previous times spent together with Giselle and Mark.  

Of all the guests with whom I felt an instant connection, it was Eugene Martinez.  He and I had been corresponding via instant messages for months, having been virtually introduced by Giselle.  Not only was Eugene American, he also was a New Yorker who grew up not far from my childhood home.  He was educated in America, having studied Art History at NYU.  He met his life-partner of thirty three years, the charming Antonio Alfani when they both worked together as textile designers in New York. Antonio was to become the cooking instructor for the company that they shared, Ars Opulenta.  Eugene,  gentle and soft-spoken,  became the premier guide to the art and history of Florence.  The region of Chianti, high in the Tuscan hills, was their home.  It was both a pleasure and an honor to share an afternoon with them.

Antonio's book, now available in the U.S. in English and on Kindle from Amazon

I kept up with Eugene and Antonio from time to time throughout this past year.  I have an amazing piece of Antonio's artwork, a beautifully decoupaged bowl, that sits on a table in our home, a place of honor that allows us to be constantly reminded of these lovely people.  I sent my friends Jenny and Bill to Eugene when they honeymooned in Italy and they fell in love with this kind and incredibly gifted man.  They told me that they would not have had as rich an experience in seeing the artworks in Florence had they not spent a day with him.  I'm sure that was true.

On Friday, I sent a birthday greeting to my friend Gisellle.  I would not be there to help celebrate this year but had her in my thoughts.  She was happy, enjoying her day and her life.  Not unusual for her.  She's the role model for how to enjoy a day and a life, always brilliantly happy and so willing to share, including her most precious gifts, her friends who love her.

Giselle and Eugene one year ago, in Umbertide

On Saturday, word went out and all who knew him, even as little as I, felt saddened.  Eugene passed from this earth almost exactly to the day that I met him.  

Life, death, both inevitable, both uncertain.  

RIP, Eugene.  And to Antonio, our hearts and prayers and our hope that you will get some of your life back in due time and you will continue to bring beauty and joy into the lives of so many others as you and Eugene did so well together.  A very special final thought.  On that day, at that birthday party, Antonio paid me a compliment, one I will never forget, one that has virtually changed my life. I hope to have the opportunity to repay him in person one day.  For now, I am, with my prayers.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Same Time, Last Year

On November the first, 2012, my friend Lois dropped me off in Barnstable for the bus that would take me to Logan Airport in Boston.  Over a cup of coffee during our wait, she handed me a book of blank pages.  On the cover of the book, the word "thoughts" repeated over and over.  With an understanding smile on her face, all she said was "write everything down" journey had only just begun.  After hours and hours, bus, planes and trains, I would arrive to the waiting arms of my friends in Umbria.

"Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts, thoughts, thoughts, thoughts, thoughts, thoughts"

Thank you Lois.

It's hard for me to believe that a year has passed since my journey.  Really hard.  My life has been altered in so many positive ways and I am aware of these changes as I pass through my current life.  I have stories and memories to fill a lifetime.  I've made new friends there and here and have spent countless hours reflecting on the roles that they play in my life and me, in theirs.  Hours now have new meaning.  I think about time a lot, visualizing over and over the hours that I spent in Assisi.  Walks that became for me, meditations. Walks that lasted for hours .Bits of my day spent watching other lives in motion around me.  I drew conclusions and made comparisons, all the while reflecting on my past, my cultural heritage and how all the pieces fit together.  Every little detail mattered. And I wrote all of it down.
On the other end of the ocean, my wonderful friends Giselle and Mark who met me at the train in Trevi and brought me to Assisi

 It occurs to me now, that the first meal that I prepared for myself while there, was chicken soup.  Without a thought, I cooked to calm myself, to "get better", in much the same way my grandmother and mother might have were one of us physically ailing.  How appropriate and how perfect a choice at the start or my journey. I often think back to the way each of those days had their start.  The adage that says no matter where you go, there you are, keeps resurfacing.  I'm an early riser here.  I was an early riser there.  My morning routine replicated what it has been since my retirement. One that has changed since my return..... Early up, followed by a series of preparations for the day ahead and always, tidying up  The routine was completed at the same time every day. I allow myself now to be surrounded by "works in progress" and find comfort in knowing that some things improve after sitting on my desk, that creativity comes when I least expect it and I don't want to miss it when it arrives.  Tidiness has taken on a different appearance. The new order puts my own needs very up front.  Gratefully, I have a husband and grown children who delight in and respect that idea.
The beautiful kitchen in my beautiful apartment

Looking out the window and to the left from #20 Via San Paolo

 I did not have a clock in the apartment on San Paolo. I moved to a natural clock.  I cleaned and kept house to please only myself .  Pleasing and gifting myself  have become parts of a newer me.  If my routine is interrupted it is at my personal command. A gift that keeps on giving.  From me, to me just as I gifted myself with special purchases over the course of that month. In honor of a new commitment, I just made another purchase from the shop in Assisi where I bought the perfume that I wear almost every day. The scent, called "Profumo D'Umbria"  is made up of beautiful florals that remind me of a special time in a special place. The scent called to me weeks before I left this country. After seeing a post on Facebook, I contacted the shop owner and we started a dialog. It was the first essential purchase made in Assisi.  Pietro, the owner, told me about Elna, the lovely artist who would eventually teach me that there was a reason behind my self-indulgences. Gifting, because I was happy with myself.  She is the person who also taught me what to do with seashells and I have been using them in little works of art ever since. There is something beautifully eerie about a Danish woman, living in Assisi, who works with seashells of the same variety found on Cape Cod. Here is one of her creations
On the wall in Elna's apartment

My "Madonna"


Pietro Mariottini, the lovely man who owns BAT Assisi

 My creative life is so much livelier now.  My thoughts in solitude were not vacant.  What I saw through my eyes and heard with my ears went to folders in my brain, waiting to be re-opened months later. The sounds of the angels singing Lodi in Santa Chiara at precisely six forty five in the morning, still deeply imprinted there. What I missed with my eyes, my camera, always in the palm of my hand, captured. That little camera became my best friend.  Not only did it serve to remind me of details I would later forget, but it reminded me of the kindness and wisdom of my daughter who first placed it in my hands. Her words, "Take pictures of the faces Mom"  like those of Lois' ran through my mind like clouds racing across the autumn sky.
                                     Early morning, waiting to enter Santa Chiara for Lodi


  In my bliss, I had little knowledge of the continuing saga on my homeland.  Words in the American press that told of loss after loss due to the power and strength of Superstorm Sandy.  Photos of places, once beloved homes of strangers, now reduced to rubble. In the little town of Assisi, I was sheltered from this news just as I was from any news.  Of importance was that which  happened in the moment, laced with parts of my past.  Peace and goodness filled my spaces.

I wear color now, with black as my underlay, all kinds of bright colors are now parts of my life.  My new friend Josie Comodi is all about color.  She's the silk artist I wrote about last year. Her wisdom, her tenacity and her life, so different now from her former life in the corporate world, inspired me and filled my life with hope. Her legacy to me....a painted silk, created for the Hope Hospice in Sandwich Massachusetts.  It was her special gift and I had the privilege of witnessing it from its birth as a piece of white silk to its completion as a beautiful reminder in colors and glitters.  A reminder that life is filled with joy, even when it is approaching an end.  The silk will be hung at the hospice as soon as their renovations have been completed. From Italy, with love.

Beautiful Josie Comodi

As I write this, I hear rain on the rooftop of our apartment.  The sun is having great problems rising.  The day does not hold much promise for the brilliance that the days of October delivered.  That's okay.  It will be nice to have some extra quiet time, to be with my husband all day and later this evening to meet up with our friends Lu and Joanne for dinner.  I'm sure that when Lu called to ask if we were free for dinner, she did not remember that we would be dining on this particular evening.  I think it is lovely.  Lu was one of those friends who understood and supported me during my mother's illness and death.  A memory on this side of the ocean sees me in my car, my cell phone ringing and her incredible response to my weeping.  I had just picked up my mother's ashes and now, had one more task to confront, finding a suitable container for the funeral service which would be the next day.  "Just come home" she told me.  "I'll help you shop".

I've come home.  My friends who cared, they all helped me.  They allowed me to tell my stories and never alluded to my having spent time on a "vacation".  The "journey" was understood and as good friends do, they shared this with me until I tired of the telling and they. of the listening. You know who you are, my friends and you know who you aren't as well - just in case you're wondering......if you haven't heard from me in a while, there IS a reason.

To all of you, then, who gave me the stories, thank you. And  to all of you who have been so incredibly patient and understanding by allowing  me to share them, thank you.

And most of all, to my husband who supported me all the way, every day, bless you my dear friend.

To my son, who I know understood and to my daughter who totally got "it", my heart overflows with love for you both.

It's been a very good year.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Halloween, Part Four.....and the Survey Says.......

In a manner most fitting, the Cape Cinema in Dennis had a Halloween showing of the National Theater Live's production of Frankenstein last night.  Produced in 2011, this critically-acclaimed version of Mary Shelley's classic was meticulously directed by Oscar-winner Danny Boyle. It was magnificent and thought provoking.

Along with the notions of good and evil, viewers were asked to think about the themes of scientific responsibility, cognitive development and the effects of parental neglect. The neurotic Doctor Victor Frankenstein created a living, breathing, nameless creature whose biggest desire was to be accepted as a human.  A scientist, and  man of great vision, Frankenstein used his intellect and  gifts in ways that, in the end, proved to be not only irrational but irresponsible.  After all, creating a monster who killed innocent people is not exactly a socially responsible endeavor.  The first twenty minutes of Boyle's stage play shows the creature  as he is born, bursting from what appears to be a huge amniotic sac. Incapable of much more than a series of  flips and flops on the ground, his brain an empty canvas, he must first learn to walk.  The birth of intelligence, with the rapid acquisition of cognitive skills astonish us as we watch the monster mimic and learn. We see the pathetic scorned creation of Victor Frankenstein, unloved and uncared for by his only parent after repeated attempts to gain his attention.  In the end, both father and son go off toward their mutual demise. Was it all worth it?

Hours before leaving our home for last evening's show, I read about a study which was almost as frightening as Mary Shelley's novel.  This study, by "Common Sense Media", a non-profit children's advocacy group, says that 38% of children under age two, have had experience with mobile media. Children, just learning to walk, have used mobile devices, including iPhones,tablets and Kindles.  The figures have skyrocketed  from a mere 10% in 2011. This statistic might not come as a surprise to anyone who has visited a playground, a mode of public transportation or a restaurant in the past several years.  Recently, I watched a baby, surely not even eighteen months old, holding a small touchscreen device which displayed a kiddie video meant to amuse as his mother grocery shopped.  We don't have to be told that children are using smartphones and tablets for longer periods of time, watching videos and playing games.  We witness this, every day and everywhere. In addition, we see parents, eyes glued to their own touch devices, seemingly ignoring their children.  Is this the new neglect? Or is this the new parenting?  It's scary either way.

I just can't help but wonder where all of this is heading.  True, the babies of today are growing up to face a world very different from their grandparent's, even from their own parent's.  We hear that schools are allowing students to bring their devices to school and, with careful monitoring, teachers who now teach in a digital age find this beneficial.  The Brave New World is here and the babies have so much to learn.  Or do they?  Will the future generations need to learn anything or will they have all the information they could possibly need, right before their eyes at all times?  Will they have to acquire social skills or will their connections be exclusive to the devices in their hands?  What will future hands actually look like? Will all digits be in use in the digital age or will we see hands with large thumbs and no others. When I think back to the report cards of our yesterdays, I see columns checked off by teachers.  "Plays well with others", the prerequisite to "works well with others" stands out in my mind.  I fear the total demise of social grace and skills approaching as the percentages laid out by the Common Sense Media report rapidly escalate.

Is science being irresponsible?  Perhaps Mary Shelley, back in the early nineteenth century had a message for us, one that we need to ponder carefully as our civilization progresses.  Is technology creating a nameless monster?   I find myself asking again, was it all worth it?

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