May 31, 2011

Passion Play.

-photograph elliott erwitt

Like a love affair, my feelings about Paris have gone through several stages. My first solo visit was a coup de foudre. Though I had read about it in novels, memoirs, histories, and though I had seen it in picture books, Paris still took me by surprise. I had never imagined that a city could be like this.

It was early summer. The streets and cafes were full of people, and I felt that they had all come out to meet me. Everything had come out to meet me, as if my unconscious yearnings had been living in Paris. I thought that here, for the first time, I might be myself. Paris introduced me to seeing. Until then, it was as though I had only thought of things, seen them merely in my mind’s eye. Now I realized that the real world was out there, shimmering. I became a voyeur, and looking became part of my life. Taking a walk was both an intellectual and an emotional activity, like reading.

The speech of Parisians was a woodwind concerto by Poulenc. When I spoke to them in my version of their language, it was the beginning of a translation that I am still working on. Strolling through the streets, I saw every building as a monument to civilization. I was just beginning to understand what civilization was.

Paris reminded me of things. I could not say precisely what they were, these things-the possibilities of life, the beauty of history, the consequences of cities-but they were thrilling and important. I was in the grip of grand nostalgia, nostalgia for life itself. As soon as I arrived in Paris, a longing for it seized me as if I had been trying to get back to this place all my life. Like so many other born travellers, I felt an acute homesickness, not for the city where I lived, but for the one I was thinking about.
                                                                                         -photograph elliott erwitt

Wandering through the city, I understood why so many French poets are called Symbolists: everything here was a symbol. I began to grasp the appeal of existentialism: in Paris, you existed. Simply to be, was a vocation here.

However, underneath my elation in Paris, there was anxiety. I had arrived too late - it is always too late in Paris, always fin de siecle. One always asks where is the Paris of yesteryear? Why could not history have waited for me?

In his essay “The City in Literature,” Irving Howe talks about “remorse over civilization,” a deep, nagging sense that history has gone wrong, that the cultures we have so painfully built up have been betrayed. As Howe says, “This remorse appears first as a powerful release of sensibility.” Nothing is as rich as the death of a beautiful civilization-it is the theme of some of the best nineteenth-and twentieth-century writing.

By the 1960’s Paris had recovered from its postwar depression, and prosperity was rearing its ugly head. Neon was appearing. It was just a small blemish, but it showed that, like power, prosperity corrupts. Prosperity democratizes taste, and democracy and beauty are strange bedfellows. Just as Parisians invented infidelity in marriage, they are the first to be unfaithful to their city. They think of their disloyalty as an independence of mind. Somewhere in his heart, nearly every Frenchman is a revolutionary taking revenge on history. Just as the French Revolution destroyed churches and palaces - the Commune left over two hundred important buildings in ruins in Paris - the Parisian destroys his traditions. He is tired, he says, of keeping museums for other people.

Histoire rhymes with pourboire,” a Parisian said to me. “Visitors will tip us for keeping everything intact.” “But don’t you do it for yourself?” I ask. He blew his lips, the Parisian raspberry. “Imagine,” he said, “being condemned to live forever with your grandparents and your great-grandparents-all the way back into time. No, life is a form of patricide - the new must kill of the old.”

For me, the cars were the worst thing - like another Commune - that happened to Paris. Neither Napoleon III nor Baron Haussmann could have imagined what their boulevards would lead to.

-photograph elliott erwitt

The Parisian has a passion to circuler, to go somewhere in his car.

While the Italian loves his car as a thing-in-itself-for its noise, its speed, its power-the Frenchman's car is a vehicle for his impatience. For the modern Parisian, the automobile is a tumbril that takes the past to the place of execution. Every car is a getaway car. While there is no environment more beautiful than Paris, its citizens cannot wait to leave it.

Visiting in the 1970’s it seemed that Parisians had ceased to care about their city. There was litter in the streets and bottles on the grass and in the parks. The Italians appeared to have taken the lead in women's fashions, and now Paris was a place where only the most unimaginative tourists went. Greece was all the rage. I was so disillusioned with Paris that I saw Malraux's cleaning of its buildings a few years earlier as a washing off not of dirt but of tradition.

As Donald J. Olsen says in The City as a Work of Art, "Urban renewal…is appropriate punishment for a city that has turned its back on history and sought its salvation in the social sciences.

The Parisian, who used to have a nostalgie de la boue, a romance with squalor, had developed a lust for a bright vulgarity-drugstores, fast food, and hard sell. Every country finds the grass greener on the other side of the ocean, and while we were sentimentalizing them, the Parisian was aping us.

When I walked up the Rue St.-Denis, I found that even the fabled sensuality of Paris was failing. One of the oldest streets
in Paris, the one through which kings' funeral processions traveled to the cemetery, the Rue St.Denis also used to be the street where ordinary prostitutes-as opposed to the more pretentious kind near the Opera-plied their ancient trade. There were hundreds of them, confined to doorways by a law passed in the sixties, crammed like flowers in a vase, or vegetables in a pot, laughing, calling, and making wisecracks.

By the late seventies, sex shops and pornographic videos were replacing them. As I walked up the street, I felt that the old, easy understanding between men and women had changed too in Paris.

With prosperity had come ressentiment. The Parisian drinks moral indignation like wine. I had begun by loving the bohemianism of Paris but in the seventies, I suddenly bumped against the bourgeois. (Every Frenchman is a closet bourgeois.) I had fallen for an idealized Paris, and now I saw the actual one.

I came to live in Paris in the early 1980’s. I came rather reluctantly, expecting the worst. I will get it out of my system finally, I thought. I will have it out with Paris. However, Paris fooled me by being seductive once more-and in a different way. The city was clean, proud, stirring with life. The cars were still there, and the neon signs, but Paris seemed less disfigured by them. The city had life enough now to neutralize or absorb its mistakes. There were revitalized areas, like the Place des Victoires or the Place des Vosges, which had been sad, shabby, and half-forgotten the last time I saw it.

Of course, there were new mistakes too, but because I no longer expected the impossible, I saw them in a different light. I now understood that every great city ultimately caricatures itself. At some point its spirit cracks and gapes open and the visitor sees its anxiety, its humanity, and its bad taste. For the first time, I relaxed and saw the humor of what was happening to Paris. No one is as humorless as an infatuated person, and that is what I had always been before. Now I was like someone looking back and smiling at her own absurdity.

Today, there is a tension, dialectic, between the old and the new in Paris. Before, there had been uneasiness, a feeling of spoliation. Now Paris' mistakes are grand enough to qualify as gestures. As someone said, the French are enamored of profound banalities, a naive attempt to be modern by a city whose talent is antiquarian and traditional.

Parisians have a remarkable talent for the disconsolate. Life in Paris is so congenial in so many ways that its citizens have nowhere to put their anxiety, no city to blame-and so they divert it into disconsolateness. The Parisian is so nervous that he needs disconsolateness to calm him down. In Paris there's a magnificent literature of disconsolateness, stretching all the way from Francois Villon and Restif de la Bretonne up through Baudelaire and Paul Verlaine to Tristan Corbiere, Jules Laforgue, Paul Eluard.

What had disillusioned me before was Paris's growing careless and going bad in vulgar ways. But the new flaws were serieux - they had some of the quaint dignity of philosophical blunders. It is touching to see Parisians trying to do modern architecture. Americans have been waiting for centuries to laugh at Parisians, to condescend to them.
…We are laughing.

To fall in love is to condescend to one's own self, to allow one to be silly and to accept another's silliness. Like all beautiful things, it is impermanent, changing. But to be an adult is to forgive your parents, and to be a true traveler is to forgive a city for betraying itself and you. There is no other way for a great city to go. It is inconceivable that it should grow greater.

For passion to survive it needs to be cooled by irony; otherwise, it burns itself up. It may be ironical that any of us - in the twenty-first century - are able to feel passionate about anything at all. That is how I love Paris now-ironically. I know that she is deceiving me, but what pleasure she has given me - and still gives.

Thank you dear friends for your hospitality. 

May 30, 2011

Ask S.

When Ms. Edna wrote the “You like Tomato and I like Tomahto” post, one of the commenter (thank you Google for ‘misplacing’ so many comments) asked if she knew what to do about an unsuccessful love life, and what could she tell about a man from his star sign.  I would have thought that after reading the post, readers had realized that Ms. Edna is the LAST person to ask this question. 
Alas, the question was pre-occupying her.  She consulted me, presumed savier about this topic.  Here then is my answer:
The problem with men is that one cannot often tell very much about them from first sight - really, they should be bar-coded and one should be able to scan them for quality and (emotional) price.  I expect someone inventive will soon have something like that for the iPhone, but in the meantime, we'll have to make do with the tried, tested and trusted advice of the stars.  I don't have any specific answers but the following is dedicated to you dear reader.  

…and take with tongue firmly placed in cheek.

How to spot one: he’s the sign most likely to wear a jacket: even if he doesn't look like a Captain of Industry, he'll have a distinct air of gravitas
Good at: Getting serious. Capricorns are rarely commitment phobic
Worst habit: Career will always be his priority – he treats his blackberry as if it were a tamagotchi that has to be kept alive with constant attention
Most likely to say: ‘Darling, I’m afraid I’m stuck in this meeting’.
How to play him: Don’t look too enthusiastic – he’s the one who you should treat mean to keep him keen
Reliability rating: ***** Accept his work comes first and you couldn’t wish for a more constant consort
Romance rating: **** If he sets his sights on you, he won’t give up until you’re his.  Buys extremely decent presents
Sex rating: ***** He’s determined to excel in every area of his life, including you.

How to spot one: He’s the one keen to get inside your head, rather than in your pants. Slightly odd fashion-sense – either out-there trendy or, well, just badly dressed
Good at: Creating a truly equal relationship – he genuinely wants you to be yourself (as long as your true self isn’t clingy and emotional)
Worst habit: Emotionally illiterate.  Even Mr Spock had more EQ
Most likely to say: ‘You’re just being irrational’
How to play him: Be challenging and ballsy, always phone when you’ve said you will.  Never, ever cry or sulk
Reliability rating: ** Does what he likes, when he likes.
Romance rating: ** Doesn’t expect to have to treat the relationship like some kind of kitten that needs nurturing and fluffy talk.  If he’s said he likes you, he likes you – why do you need to hear it twice?
Sex rating: ***** Inventive. Experimental. Unshockable. Don’t let him near the fruit basket.


How to spot one: Acts tough with the guys and sensitive with the girls, merging chameleon-like into his environment
Good at: Being sensitive and romantic – he’ll give you a spritz of Eau d’Empathy at every opportunity
Worst habit: Escapism – loves a romantic fantasy, not always troubled by telling the truth
Most likely to say: ‘I’ve found this poem that describes exactly how I feel about you’
How to play him: Trust him as far as you can throw him – Pisces is ruled by Neptune, planet of deception
Reliability rating:** Just as you feel the relationship might be going somewhere, he’ll drift away
Romance rating: ***** If you’re cynical, you’ll think he’s watched far too many soppy films. Otherwise, expect to be carried away by the sheer force of his poetry
Sex rating: ***** His imagination would make a Swedish porn movie seem tame. Book the chiropractor – he’s bound to put your back out.


How to spot one: Hunt one down at the gym, preferably playing some kind of competitive sport
Good at: Winning – once he feels you’re the prize, he won’t stop til he’s got you
Worst habit: Appallingly impatient. Won’t wait, even for five minutes. Not even during a tube strike
Most likely to say: ‘I love you’. Ten minutes after you meet.
How to play him: He loves the thrill of the chase, so always leave him wanting
Reliability rating: **** As long as you make him feel he’s number one, he’ll come back for more
Romance rating: *** Fantastic when he’s in pursuit, pretty pants once he’s made the conquest
Sex rating: *** Aries men will try anything once. And twice if they like it.


 How to spot one: Looks strong, handsome, manly. Rarely badly dressed.
Good at: Creating an entire shelving unit out of some mystery IKEA flatpack, unblocking the lav, cooking dinner, sex
Worst habit: Pedantic. Stubborn. Mulish.
Most likely to say: ‘I can bring my toolkit round if there’s anything you need fixing’
How to play him: Cook for him at the earliest opportunity – the way to a Taurean’s heart is through his stomach
Reliability rating: **** Oh God, so reliable. And tenacious. Taureans are like porridge – easy to make, nutritious, but a devil to get off the pan once you’ve done
Romance rating: ***** Believes in men being men, women being women, and is good at buying presents. What’s not to like?
Sex rating: **** A sexual gourmet with an insatiable appetite and earthy tastes. But once he’s discovered what works, he’s reluctant to alter the routine.


How to spot one: Simultaneous use of iPhone and Blackberry. Fidgety. Outrageous flirt. Constant checking of Twitter.
Good at: Making you laugh and being terrific company. Gives good email, and sends saucy texts.
Worst habit: Gemini men always manage to look single. Especially at parties.
Most likely to say: ‘What are you thinking?’
How to play him: Be cool and amusing. Avoid laying any heavy emotional trips on him. Keep him guessing
Reliability rating: ** Forget it. Learn to love his unpredictability
Romance rating: *** Great at Cary Grant-style flirty quips and compliments. Always texts to say he misses you.
Sex rating: *** All gong and no dinner. Unless there’s an App for that too.


How to spot one: By his kind look and shy smile. Loves his mum. Thinks animals are cute. At work you’ll find him sulking in the kitchen
Good at: Hugging, stroking, getting in touch with his feminine side. He’s sensitive, sympathetic and understanding
Worst habit: Extreme moodiness – one minute it’s raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, the next he’s giving you the cold shoulder
Most likely to say: ‘If you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you’
How to play him: Look after him – deep down he’s quite needy
Reliability rating: ***** A real catch (whatever you think of the above) – he’s the best star sign for commitment
Romance rating: *** Sentimental rather than romantic – but wouldn’t you prefer a great husband and father to a tough action hero?
Sex rating: *** Exceptionally good at the post-coital bit: think plenty of cuddling followed by a nice cup of tea.


How to spot one: Neat creases ironed in his jeans, bitten fingernails from all that worrying. Concerned look. Organised wallet. Nice manners
Good at: Evolving – he’s very big on self-improvement. You can train him not to leave the loo-seat up in less than twenty-four hours
Worst habit: Will also try to improve you. It’s quite tedious when someone wants to change you, particularly when they say it’s because they can see your potential
Most likely to say: ‘I’m only saying this for your own good’
How to play him: Listen to his advice and look like you’re taking it seriously. He prefers practical presents and gestures
Reliability rating:** Changes his mind as often as the weather
Romance rating: *** Very good at remembering when he said he’d phone. One of the very few men to believe in putting things in a diary
Sex rating: *** Ultra-fastidious, so not for the unwaxed. Someone who remembers that the devil’s in the detail. Expects you to write a letter thanking him for having you.


How to spot one: Always at the centre of the room, holding court. Tells anecdotes. Aspires to being a raconteur. Usually has good hair
Good at: Making you feel like the sun just came out. Bask in the warmth of his personality
Worst habit: Not noticeably liberated. Very keen that he’s the actor and you’re the audience
Most likely to say: ‘Oh yes, I’ve been there, but I stayed at the [insert name of eleven thousand star hotel]. I hear the [insert name of the crummy B&B you went to] is very nice though’
How to play him: Flattery will get you everywhere
Reliability rating: ***** Extremely loyal
Romance rating: *** Generous and keen to impress. Good at fancy cocktails in smart bars and pretty trinkets
Sex rating: *** Very performance orientated – don’t forget to applaud


How to spot one: charming and good-looking. Often to be found acting cool and cultured in chic restaurants and art galleries
Good at: long-term relationships rather than brief flings
Worst habit: Refuses to argue, which is plate-throwingly infuriating
Most likely to say: ‘If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?’
How to play him: Hire a stylist and a personal trainer, and always get up before he does to put your makeup back on. Libra men can be a little too appearance conscious
Reliability rating: *** As long as it doesn’t put him out of his way, and as long as you don’t let yourself go, you’re fine
Romance rating: *****Deeply, deeply smooth. The man for whom candlelit dinners were invented
Sex rating: ** Lazy, so makes you go on top, which then gives you massive anxiety about droopy boobs and remembering to hold your stomach in.


How to spot one: His X-ray eyes strip you to the bone: he doesn’t know it’s rude to stare
Good at: Sex – he’s very talented
Worst habit: Jealousy and possessiveness. He may be cool on the outside, but don't flaunt old - or current - flames
Most likely to say: Not much. He’s the strong, silent, staring type (no, don’t call the police)
How to play him:  He’s into power-games – let him think he’s in charge
Reliability rating: **** Exceptionally loyal, but if you break up, he’ll never forgive you
Romance rating:*** Big on brooding intensity and drama. Is it just me, or does that sound the tiniest bit tiring?
Sex rating:***** Oh dear. He’ll spoil you for everyone else. Too rude, too fabulous.


How to spot one: An endearing combination of optimism and clumsiness, he’s the one who knocks his glass of wine all over you
Good at: Adventure – he’ll encourage you to do mad things you’d never do off your own bat
Worst habit: Doesn’t know the difference between honesty and tactlessness
Most likely to say: 'Er, yes, actually, your bum looks enormous in those jeans'
How to play him: Respect his independence
Reliability rating: * A risk-taker who may not think twice about gambling with your heart
Romance rating: **** Even the most basic model is generous, cheerful and impulsive
Sex rating: *** Values quantity above quality. Enthusiastic, yet lacking in technical merit.

...cross dress: Aquarius - he can take his belief in gender equality a little too far
...commit: Scorpio - tops in the loyalty stakes
...jilt you at the altar: Sagittarius - 'they can't take away my freeeeeedom' at B&Q on a Sunday morning: Taurus - loves tools, but isn't one
...spoil you: Leo - loves to impress with expensive gifts a body fascist: Libra- break out the steamed vegetables a good dancer: Pisces - clear the dance-floor the housework: Virgo - bathrooms don't clean themselves, you know
...keep you in style: Capricorn - compensation for another dinner in the dog
...insist you watch the match: Aries - can't understand why you're not turned on by all the aggression
...take you for granted: Gemini - you're there to provide the entertainment, not him his mum more than you: Cancer - she's the most important woman in his life, and don't you forget it
miiii a u  ='o'=

May 20, 2011

Self center, and centered self.

Readers of my blogs know that I read voraciously, looking for instruction, comfort, company, guidance, diversion, information, enlightenment...all the things we want from one another, and from the books we read.

I have been thinking about the kerfuffle over a recent post at this blog. The responses were diverse and fascinating. Of course, sometimes I wonder what possesses me to write so openly. It has crossed my mind that perhaps writing comes from the same subconscious corner that led us to the idea of using leeches as a curative.

My friend Mona shared with me a lovely little book called  Awakening Loving-Kindness, by Pema Chodron. I started reading it, and came quickly to some passages that bear on the subject of the importance of facing fears or sadness and I thought I would share it.

"Going beyond fear begins when we examine our fear: our anxiety, nervousness, concern, and restlessness. If we look into our fear, if we look beneath its veneer, the first thing we find is sadness, beneath the nervousness... [Sadness] ...discovering fearlessness comes from working with the softness of the human heart."

I'm taken with the idea of softening one's heart. We've all felt that wonderful, lilting melt, at one time or other and it intrigues me to think, that we can actually learn to be in that heart state, rather than have it happen by accident. Charles said rather impatiently, in response to the comment about my post, "Relax, Ms. Edna” thinking about it, that's really part of this same message. Relax. Sit with it. Sharing it, of course, can help, and help others, too. Writing is often about not pretending (when it isn't about completely pretending!) There's no point, I think, if you aren't reaching for honesty.

My friend Mona shared a conversation she had with a grandfather who was worried about how harshly his daughter disciplined her young son. Mona told him what her mother had once told her, "Anxiety makes people stupid." Such a profound observation, so many traditions of thinking get to the same place, no? In our fearfulness, we lash out at others.

But it is easier to be calm, self aware, and at peace, when one is in solitude. Sometimes that may be avoidance. It takes going out into the world, tangling with other people, with life's messiness and the world's problems, to really get somewhere. We need both: self center, and centered self in the world.

Friday meditation, as we said goodbye to an old friend. Thanks to all for your kind thoughts...

Satie, Gnossiennes for piano No 4 Lent/Ciccolini/EMI

May 16, 2011

Enchant(ed)? ♪♪♪♪♪♪

This weekend Mlle.Guillotine sent me an album called Enchant. I was intrigued by the voice, violin and harpsichord playing, especially the What If? track, by Autumn. Her jarring violin and bold voice demand attention, let alone her apperance.
Autumn describes her music as “Victoriandustrial” and it is not difficult to understand why. Her songs are filled with tales of insane asylums, suicides, and stifled women.

…When I’m beheaded at least I was wedded
And when I am buried at least I was married
I’ll hide my behavior with wine as my savior
But, oh, what beautiful things I’ll wear
What beautiful dresses and hair…

She delivers these themes in a flurry of vitriol, backed up by her electric violin and hammering harpsichord.

From what I have seen online, her gigs are pure Vaudeville. This extends to her albums. The designs are lavish. I have read that despite her considerable gifts, she was often singled out and bullied for the way she dressed and for daring to experiment with music and seek her own style. Her success is probably the best revenge she could dish out.

Love what you will…


May 10, 2011

You like Tomato and I like Tomahto ♪

Warning, personal post. Please use“Next Blog” on top to escape this page. Thank you.

I suspect that the very act of blogging is firmly predicated on the self-conscious, and there is something interesting about my colluding with the whole conceit. Alas, in spite, or because of, the petty little remarks I shall make a heroic effort to do away with my Weltschmerz. I will cast off Werther's yellow waistcoat, whilst keeping my vest pulled firmly down over my navel, to discourage gazing at it.

So. Where were we? 
Ah, yes 2001*my Odyssey.
I have a sneaking suspicion that this is a prelude to 'all gong and no dinner' postings.

I was single. Two -possibly two and a half - serious long-term relationships have come and gone (I am of course excising from the record the episode with a scoundrel because it was more than 30 years ago and the Statute of Limitations has expired) and I consider myself in retirement.

Or, more accurately, perhaps, in recovery.

Next you find Ms. Edna in 2007*, swooning over a hot color & texture scheme and at the same time being interrogated by friends and family about why I'm so resolutely uninterested in being invited to ‘little get-togethers’ in the interest of being appraised. Because, I know going to ‘little-get-togethers’ is merely the thin end of the wedge: some poor man will be there, and the next thing I know he will be upset when I say, I am not interested in kitchen sink drama.

However, this being the era of 'alive after fifty' I was intrigued by the notion of gallivanting as distinct from kitchen sink drama. I surreptitiously watched people, purely in the spirit of research, and learned that gallivanting appears to come without obligations. Nobodies life will be ruined if you do not watch the directors cut of 'Last year in Marienbad' with them.

So I accepted an invitation from someone who could spell and demonstrate correct usage of the apostrophe (oh come on... we have to have some standards). Every Good Boy Deserves Favor. Or a coffee.

For several weeks, I became LAMILL’s best customer. I drank coffees, espressi, capucchini, and machiati…

It did not progress to cocktails.

Because in the midst of all this coffee drinking, an e-mail message arrived. “I had to look-up Nureyev it said, but I guess that means I'm not gay."
… there was little more to say.

Some men give better email than others, though this is, sadly, no guarantee of fabulousness. I met up and discovered, that whilst his body was designed by Apple, his mind was definitely Microsoft Windows 2000, and realised that Cyrano must have been helping him with the fancier elements of his on-screen wooing. Sigh.

Me being inexperienced, there followed a certain Austen-esque etiquette to the ‘you're not my cup of coffee’ process. So, after a farewell consumption of coffee - LAMILL’s baristas being every bit as assiduous chaperons as Charlotte Bartlett was for Lucy Honeychurch - things ended in a ‘you're not my cup of coffee’ email.

Perhaps I have attention deficit disorder, but after several weeks of caffeine overdose I realised that I have-worked-through-THIS-issue. I am a quick study. What came next?

Well, friends, it's late....

* happy boyzzz?

May 09, 2011


This in answer to a friends comment to my last post.

You said it was pointless to be writing about the minutiae of one woman's life in these turbulent and dangerous times, with North Africa and the Middle East in turmoil, and the forces of nature in wild tumult.

It is precisely for that reason that I do NOT add more doom and gloom to the world.

Therefore, friend, I skipped the opportunity to post that I am recovering gradually with the help of a friend that will be living with me until my trip to Paris at the end of the month.

However, this IS insignificant in comparison to the weeks dominated by the cataclysmic events happening around the world. As a friend noted, nothing in his previous experience of working in disaster zones could have prepared a staff for dealing with an earthquake, followed by a tsunami, rising radiation levels and a potential nuclear meltdown.

As I have watched these ghastly events with growing disbelief trying to find compassion in my heart but wondering what, sensibly and practically, I could do with it, I came to belief that the humorous take on the minutiae of one woman’s life might be an antidote. Perhaps I misjudged.

I DO know that people are going through hard and painful times. This weekend someone I love very dearly told me sad and distressing news and I have been wandering around in that place of ice and lead where shock dwells. Thank goodness for the balm of friendship, books, music and indeed a sense of humor.

In times of disaster and upheaval, I try not to describe individual and collective feelings by grappling to find words, phrases, or sentences that smack of clichés.


May 03, 2011

“May Day ! ?” * ♬

I spent last weekend staying in a lovely guesthouse. I rather enjoyed it. In the morning, it caught the early sunrise, and there were walls of books. I woke looking at books I have read, books I have loved, and books I have almost but not quite forgotten.

Saturday morning I spotted this on the shelf…

Haywire created a sensation when it appeared in 1977. In it Brooke Hayward tells the tale of growing up as the daughter of producer Leland Hayward and his movie star wife, Margaret Sullavan, how it went wrong, and her search to understand it. It's a book that I've been meaning to re-read for years. But what I remembered most vividly is near the end of Haywire Brooke Hayward confessed "I had begun to have the disquieting concept of myself as a spectator, not a participant, in my own life. I saw myself as the audience, leaning back to watch my future unfold like Greek tragedy. I already had presentiments of the ending." Ms. Hayward was referring to a youth in which her parents divorced, and both her mother and her sister died of probable suicides.

However, this was an interesting passage in light of Ms. Hayward's Christmas plans in the early 2000’s. On Dec. 28th., Ms. Hayward and her then husband, bandleader Peter Duchin, along with a group of friends, gathered at Palazzo Brandolini in Venice, where they enjoyed what Ms. Hayward billed as the "dress rehearsal" for her funeral: an hour-long concert of Vivaldi, Monteverdi and even Handel, performed by the Venice Baroque Orchestra. Then, Ms. Hayward who said she was perfectly healthy departed her funeral and went to dinner.

"It's a kind of fake dress rehearsal”, she said, “Because I've never have the slightest interest in being buried. When I actually cool, you won't hear a word," she said. "My intention, as clearly stated in my will, is that I am cremated and my ashes thrown to the four winds. I don't want any service and I never did. I wanted it while I was alive so it would be fun."

And so it was.

Not a bad idea.

Oh, and one more thing: Contrary to rumors, Ms. Hayward did not experience her dress-rehearsal funeral from a coffin.

Of course not.

Virginia Gregg, Milton Selzer, Alan Sues and Brooke Hayward (Twilight Zone publicity shots  "The Masks" 3/20/64)

(*Mayday is an emergency code word used internationally as a distress signal in voice procedure radio communications. It derives from the French venez m'aider, meaning 'come help me'.  From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)