Sunday, November 17, 2013

Folks you meet at Starbucks…with apologies to Lee Cataluna

“Miss…excuse me, Miss…”  Oh, he’s talking to me, I realize after the third “Miss…” breaks through my little coffee shop solo thought bubble.  ”How do you spell Patricia? P-a-t-r-i-s-h-a?  “Yeah, you could”, I reply, though most people would spell it …P-a-t-r-i-c-i-a”. A pudgy young man sitting nearby at one of those little round rocky wooden tables squints in concentration as he stores the name in his not-so-smart flip phone.  “How’s the arm?” I ask him, glancing at a bandage on his totally tattooed arm. “Oh, yeah!” he exclaims, “You were there! You the one… “ 

On a previous day at Starbucks, I honestly can’t recall how long ago…was it 6 days or 6 weeks ago?… I was, of necessity,  sharing one of the large square tables with a couple other patrons,  trying to get some work done during my lunch break, when this young baby-faced fellow sitting at our communal  table looks at my name tag and asks where I work.  When I tell him, he shows me this wicked abscess on his arm “from a burn” and asks if he can come to our clinic. He actually has Kaiser but he asks - over and over - what the doctor will ask him about how he got this ugly red inflamed looking wound.  I tell him – over and over - I’m not a doctor, but he really should see one soon, and to not worry about the questions – unless it’s a gunshot or knife wound from an assault, they won’t report it.  A Queens ER tech at a nearby table joins the “Go to the ER today, man” chorus.  But the guy is ambivalent, mired in some inner turmoil about what to do next.   When I gather my things to return to work, he goes back to making calls from his cell in search of antibiotics. 


“I had really bad staph, I got dialysis, they said I almost lost the arm…” he effuses, filling me in—or possibly spinning a tall tale, one he surely now believes.  He reports visiting an ER that same day and if had he waited “they said I coulda died, I almost lost the arm…I wouldn’t have gone if you hadn’t told me to”. “Hey, it was you, not me, man.  I didn’t drag you there – you’re the one who decided to go”.  He kept shifting his locus of control, insisting if not for me (and the Queens ER guy) he would have been armless or dead by now, and so we eventually settled on the “God works in mysterious ways” theory.  Then he went back to working his phone, working the system: “What! I gotta come in?...”  I packed the un-read papers, picked up my coffee cup,  and returned to work.  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Lost and Found

My mother
is losing her mind
the keen and creative intelligence
the fluid conversationalist
the sly distractor
the determined actor
are becoming history
my history
For her
there is a new reality
the here and now
this present moment
Oh, Fate
you cruel robber
why steal such precious past?
Must so much yesteryear 
disappear
in the same fog
as hides what we talked about  
15 minutes ago?

And yet…and yet
after years of struggle
of running away
of holding one another
at arm’s length
mushrooms
are sprouting in the rain
beneath an ancient canopy
beyond words
a healing of the whole
What we both needed most
as children
we somehow
now have found
in each other’s arms 
unconditional love.

water

Mom brought me a glass of water
this morning
slow as a snail
sure as a swan
a remnant from the fabric
of her former self
the hostess…the mother

She asked
and I remembered
to say yes
to accept something
from her still strong hands
some small cup
of nourishment
and it tasted good.   

Sunday, August 11, 2013

United We Stand

We were returning home to Hawaii after attending the graduation of our daughter at Humboldt State, the northern most outpost of the California university system.  It had been a glorious week of ceremonies and socializing with her friends and colleagues in the lovely eccentric small town of Arcata;  a time of meeting (and liking) her boyfriend and his family;  active days of hiking high above dramatic rocky sea coasts, visiting towering redwood forests, and exploring beaches, bays, marshes and wildlife sanctuaries.   Before boarding the 20-seater prop plane in tiny Eureka/Arcata airport, we passed through the world’s shortest and mellowest security line – and quite possibly the most thorough: the TSA guy chatted up each one of us – out of friendliness or to a purpose, we could not be sure.  As the small plane flew south, I gazed out the window watching the long California coastline pass far below under a bright mid-day sun and ruminated about the fascinating people we had met in this progressive college town.  As our plane began its descent into sprawling San Francisco airport, I recalled an after-grad party conversation with a retired airline pilot who mentioned this particular airport was not his favorite.   What was it he had said? The runways were built too close together, planes could only land one at a time and this tended to back up operations … or something like that. Ah, well, we had landed with a thump but safely, so I dismissed this line of thought and focused on strategy for finding our connecting flight to Honolulu.  As we deplaned near Terminal 1, helpful airline staff and clear signage directed us efficiently to shuttles going to Terminal 3… whereupon all efficiency terminated. 

When my college graduate was a child of 4 or 5 years old, our household experienced periodic blackouts. Despite living no more than two miles distance from the biggest power plant on our island, we occasionally had inexplicable lapses in electricity. Ultimately minor inconveniences, when it happens, such experiences can leave one feeling…well, powerless.  When the lights and household robots shut off with that dramatic low whir followed by sudden silence, my husband and I would begin speaking in low reassuring tones so the kids could find us in the dark as we got out lanterns, stopped cooking, and looked outside to see how many neighbors were affected.  It was not unusual to look down and see our tiny girl standing next to us holding up an enormous flashlight, trembling with adrenalin, determined to be useful in the crisis.

It helps to have a job during a disaster.  So it was when our United airlines flight delay went from bad to worse to nightmare.  Your heart always sinks when they announce flight #123 is delayed - our scheduled 4:30 pm lift off was moved until 6 pm - but you allow yourself to be heartened by the fact that a new departure time is announced.  Surely this means they have identified the problem and are taking appropriate steps to remedy it.  You actually become hopeful as they begin boarding those needing extra time or paying extra money.  

Once on the plane, you settle into your seat, even begin watching a movie –one that your husband never wants to watch - on the cool little individualized screen at your seat, until you begin to wonder at the continuous lack of moving scenery outside the window.  After a long time on the tarmac comes the dreaded announcement. It is phrased in the vaguest of terms:  a mechanical issue is being checked out. Uh-oh, not a good sign.  Some time later, passengers are given the option to deplane for 30 minutes, and about half choose to do so.  Peter and I stay on board, escaping into our respective films to keep troublesome thoughts at bay.  The movies soon halt for a brief announcement that they will close the front door, power down the aircraft and start it up again.  We later hear that no such explanation is provided to those who deplaned, setting off archetypal fears of abandonment.  I guess hitting the reset button proved unsuccessful because before we could finish our movies we are told the flight is definitively delayed due to mechanical difficulties and are instructed to leave the aircraft and go to a designated location for complimentary meal coupons. With a collective groan, we head for “Customer Service” where the first of many long lines await us.  From here on out, conflicting information and mixed messages abound.  In the vacuum created by an absence of accurate info, rumors run wild.  We hear and spread to our fellow travelers news both accurate and totally false as it turns out.  Gate agents, Customer Service reps, and the United flight board seem to be on totally different wavelengths and as a result we march back and forth between gates 82 and 86 like toy soldiers.  One agent came out to a queue by Gate 86 to tell us we can sit down and they will bring hotel and meal vouchers to us.  As she seemed to tell only one portion of the crowd, we helpfully pass the word down the line, whereupon some gullibly find a seat, while others stubbornly stand their ground.  As it turns out, either this was an agent gone rogue, a local San Fran anarchist masquerading as an airline rep, or her common sense approach was subsequently over-ruled, because we are soon all back in the queue. 

As I waited by a window in a patch of sun charging my cell, a crew member sat next to me with his mobile, charger and plastic-encased Starbucks salad, so I casually grilled him for intelligence. He said there was no identifiable mechanical problem, but an indicator light had come on, and they can’t fly over the ocean with that light on, so they either had to find someone higher up who would ok a flight over the water, or find a new aircraft. Even if they got the plane cleared for flight, the crew was going on “illegal” (aka overtime) and they’d probably need a new crew.  He thought there was still a chance we’d get out tonight.  He was right on all counts, except the last. We did not get out that night and the small cadre of beleaguered United airline agents had to book all 300 of us, one at a time, into various hotels in the wider San Francisco area.   
  
While standing in the line speculating wildly with our fellow former passengers, I noticed an attractive blond woman wearing fashionable dark brown glasses who said nothing, unlike most others in the vicinity. Peter later said he watched her eyes begin to well-up with tears just before she asked if anyone spoke Italian or French.  Like Kelly with her flashlight, I volunteered that I spoke a little French.  I was not being modest.   Je parle francais mais un petit peu was perhaps the very first phase I learned to speak in high school French class some 40 years ago, and have not studied or spoken much since then, aside from dusting off the cobwebs for the occasional Tahitian visitor to Hawaii and two marvelous but brief visits to Paris over the past decade.  I credit my francophilia and less-than-abysmal French accent to students who lived in our home and taught me songs and words as a child.  Alors, the tongue is willing but the memory wanting. 

The blond woman indicates she is Italian; her husband speaks some French and is nearby with their young sleeping sons. She dials her cell a couple times before a portly man grumpily answers the call and we begin our exchanges in pidgin French, Italian, English, plus poor-man’s sign language.  Her name is Nadia, the family organizer and communicator, focused and upbeat despite their 30+ hour journey thus far from Milan to Frankfurt to stuck in ‘Frisco.  It is Nadia who dragged husband Amadeo  and the boys half way around the globe to attend a wedding in Waikiki, and he expressed in multiple languages his fervent wish to be back at his house,  his bed,  his country,  eating his food,  hunting truffles with his dog (Je voudrais revenir a ma maison! a mon pays…avec mon chien).   Throughout the ordeal, his mood ranged from dour cynicism to exhausted exasperation.  “Anywhere I go it rains on my head”, he exhaled at one point.  When it finally looked like we might actually get to Hawaii, Amadeo curbed his enthusiasm, predicting, “If I am in Hawaii, it will rain.”

In the midst of the debacle, many fellow travelers remain remarkably good humored, having decided that la resistance is futile. Others are outraged and take it out on the front liners who have the thankless job of fronting for a totally dysfunctional system.  One man can be heard yelling into his cell phone at some faceless United agent he’s managed to reach, probably in Mumbai, apoplectic with impotent rage.  Others try end runs around the endless lines and their own sense of helplessness.  Like buzzing flies, they dive bomb the agent desks from the sides, pressing for attention to their special needs, wanting someone to hear their righteous indignation.  Occasionally these anti-social tactics do yield short term results as the staff, like harried mothers coping with a horde of children, make the calculus that it’s faster to first deal with the hyper-activists, before returning to those quietly smoldering next in line.   But these selfishly got gains are mostly illusory, in much the same way that switching lanes on the freeway makes me feel as though I’m getting to my destination faster…until I notice the cars I  just left in the dust are now passing me by. 

I am no Mother Teresa.  I have had my share of affecting assertive behavior in the face of the unreasonable and unresponsive, of refusing to take absurdities lying down, of tilting at windmills because I hate indignities and injustice.  But really, once you get that your entire foreseeable future is squarely in the hands of an under-staffed, sleep-deprived, stressed out crew; that you are a prisoner in their weird little world, the reality begins to dawn that it no longer matters who is right. The question simply becomes what survival strategy is most effective, wastes the least energy, gets us safely home and out of the alien hell-hole into which we have innocently tumbled.

Talk calmly and politely to the guards, take deep breaths when your fellow inmates try anti-social tricks, laugh at the absurdities that abound.  When bored, chat casually with fellow travelers- they may later prove useful.  Form alliances with the more like-minded (or least obnoxious) ones. Trade information, theories, pool survival gear.  Take all announcements from airline staff and crowd-sourced information with a grain of salt.  Ask several different people in a line what they think they are lining up for – seek triangulation.  Watch folks’ faces as they leave the front of the line: smiles of success? frowns or tears of frustration?  Let a few people who really need it go ahead of you.  All these things remind you of where true control lies, and can feel oddly empowering.
    
Still, everyone has their own coping strategies. "Basta! Basta!!" exclaimed Amadeo cursing the indignities as he stood by the United counter waiting for a distracted agent to acknowledge his existence, knowing no one understood precisely what he was saying. “Positivo” comments Nadia to me, as the shuttle wends its way through the darkness to some nameless hotel on the outskirts of the city.  She has been gamely pointing out freeway signs that read “San Francisco” to her sleepy boys, trying to peak their interest and optimism.  It sounds to me as though she is saying “Look, see we’re really here, in the US, in San Francisco, the adventure has begun….”

"Positivity, dear mama," advises my son via text, as we sit eating an 11 pm dinner in the hotel sports bar.  And Peter and I were in fact actively enjoying a comfortable in-between moment, suspended between worlds, to sip our wine and beer and reflect on the bizarre day.

“As your hands give hope, you have hope to hold”, reads the barely poetic message on a lotion bottle in the airplane bathroom, however hope was short-lived as only a wee bit could be coaxed from the pump.  Since when did travel toiletries start carrying self-help messages?   If we needed more evidence that terrible travel has become the norm, it can be found in hotel and airline bathrooms where toiletries are full of unsolicited advice for the weary traveler.  The soap wrapper in the hotel bathroom reads “Relax” and I almost had a fit trying to tear it open with wet hands.  It took a towel and scissors to complete the operation, and by then my calm quotient was diminished.  The shampoo and conditioner also carried words like “calm, cooling, relaxing...”  They obviously know their clientele: stressed out travelers, booted off airplanes and herded like sheep to graze at the hotel sinks for a few hours.  In fact, upon arrival at our nameless hotel ready for a late dinner and bed,  we again found ourselves in a check-in line witnessing  yet another drama unfold, this one unrelated to ours, as an angry Asian American man and his girlfriend argued with the immigrant Chinese hotel staff about lost luggage and who had it last.  As the yelling escalated, I turned once more to our perplexed Italian visitors.  Mi dispiacie, I apologize in Italian, shaking my head, and turn to French to assure them America is not always like this: Ce n’est pas toujours comme ca ici…or is it?   

At the crack of dawn, we arranged to meet our Italian family in time for a shuttle, and once they had us all herded into our pens at the airport gate, our flight was promptly delayed.  After the short night’s sleep, the boys, Filippo and Tomasso, were transformed into balls of curious energy ready for a nutritious American airport breakfast.  Amadeo wants to treat us to breakfast with his courtesy meal vouchers, but there is another line to stand in (new boarding passes are required for the rescheduled flight to replace the ones they gave us last night), so Peter and Nadia take this shift while Amadeo, the boys and I go off in search of eats. We end up at the food court eating Japanese food because it is the first thing they see that they can point to.  This proves to be yet another cross-cultural adventure in which 5 Asian staff are trying to help by all talking at once in heavily accented English,  asking repeatedly and at escalating volume  questions such as whether they want white rice or fried rice. Aside from asking “how much?”, Amadeo has given up and is just talking to them in Italian.  I’m trying my best to interpret but do not recall most useful food words, such as sushi, rice bowl and teriyaki sauce.  They end up eating plain chicken, white rice and steamed vegetables covered in catsup.  Nadia expertly shows up with green tea, yogurt and granola for her breakfast and the boys eat most of it.  Over our meal, we women exchange business cards with email contacts and I learn that Nadia is an avvocato – a lawyer.  Amadeo sulks until Nadia informs us in the tri-lingual pidgin we have fallen into that her husband’s “passione” is truffle hunting with his dogs, and his face almost lights up as he speaks of it.  The boys are now intently trying to speak to us in English, motivated by the belief they will actually get to Hawaii and do some of the stuff they point to in their guide books. The elder of the boys is a reserved, cerebral, dignified boy of 12 who understands more English than he lets on.  The 9 year old is a pistol; active, impulsive, emotional, and a constant irritant to his father.  He is determined to communicate with us about the size of tiger sharks and demonstrate how he can “number to 100” in English –getting as far as 25 before his cool-head brother stops him (in perfect English) with “ok, we get the idea”. Both boys enjoy fishing near their family farm in northwest Italy and hope to do so in the Waikiki jungle.  We are not encouraging.
  
We did eventually arrive in Honolulu, an outcome never truly in doubt, simply forgotten in the furor over unmet expectations.  My last advice to la famiglia Italiano was to walk with us to Baggage Claim rather than wait for the famous “Wiki-Wiki Shuttle” – a name I declined to translate given our recent run of bachi luck.  As we walk outdoors onto the breezeway,  I feel the first touch of Hawaii’s nahenahe trade winds on my face and my heart fills with what can only be described as aloha. A gentle, moist, plumeria-scented breeze envelops us, hydrating breath, plumping up dry skin and bringing curl to limp hair.  Feel this air, I motion, there is nothing like this in the whole wide world. 

The last time I saw them, at Honolulu baggage claim, Nadia was gathering up the luggage and Amadeo had his hand cocked hoping  to give his fleet-footed youngest a swat in punishment for some expression of exuberance at being released from the confines of a 60 hour journey. For us, this transitory international relationship made the travel travesty more adventure than adversity.  True, we lost a day we might have spent comfortably sleeping in our bed, eating our food, doing our laundry. Instead we arrived home richer than when we left, my notebooks stuffed with fabulous writing fodder and with a standing invitation to visit the family farm near Savona, an Italian Riviera port town, known as the birthplace of Cristofo Columbo (Christoper Columbus) and reportedly for, yum, fresh truffles. 

More than once on this unexpected  journey the sardonic travel humor of David Sedaris came to mind, including one essay in which he claims flight attendants confided to him about  a practice known as  “crop dusting”,  purposely passing gas as they walk down the aisle and attend to the more demanding irascible passengers.  Further proof, as if one needed it, that what goes around comes around; that in the surprising twists and turns of life, fellowship and fortune are often found in the most unexpected of circumstances. 


Saturday, May 4, 2013

Last legs

Our dog is on her last legs.
Last night we found her
behind the backyard ti leaf plant
unable to hoist herself up
on those arthritic hind legs
calmly prepared to camp out for the night
so we carried her up
to her soft dry bed on the back porch

Sweet wild puppy of our children’s childhood
Doggie discipline school drop-out
Part and parcel
of our over-extended
two-kid, two-pet
working parent household

Now age 15
an elderly animal
constant companion
in our almost as busy
post empty-nest lives 
a link to our shared past
she may soon be gone

Lilikoi Matsunaga, faux beagle extraordinaire, passed peacefully from this earth on Friday morning, April 12, 2013. The end of life experience was blessedly brief but made for an intense and dense last week as she took a turn for the worse.  For several months we watched the old girl markedly slow down. The usual nighttime walks, previously relished, nose to the ground, grew shorter.  Soon she was unable to climb up stairs without help.  In the last few weeks, she would go down the back steps to do her business but be unable to climb back up onto the back porch without a boost, and so spent long hours underneath the house where it was cool and dark – and where we think she picked up a flea infestation – the first time in years we had seen any fleas on her.  Last weekend, she grew weaker and no longer wanted to move much from her towels on the back porch.  Within days she was so weak she could not stand and her breathing was labored.  On my day off, Wednesday, I carried her into the animal clinic where we agreed to blood tests, but declined an x-ray, a 6-hour blood transfusion, hospitalization with I-V fluids, and further testing for conditions suggested by the blood test results.  It was a long and stressful visit - for both of us.  As we waited, I continuously petted and talked to her, and when we were alone in the exam room, for the first time I did Healing Touch with a non-human.  Surprisingly, as we did so, I could feel her labored breathing quiet and heartbeat slow.  Once out of there, Lilikoi was so happy to be home that she rallied a bit that day and evening, struggling to her feet briefly, wolfing down food and lapping up water when put right in front of her nose, raising small hopes of recovery.  I tried carrying her out on the grass to see if she might like the feel of the earth (and to pee or poop in the process) but it soon became clear that being moved was stressful for her.  So, I did lots of laundry, removing soiled towels and rinsing her hindquarters with warm water. She valiantly raised her head when we came round, but would soon lay it back down, all energy spent.

Peter and I both had to work Thursday and Friday, though I was able to make a quick trip home at lunch time. We enlisted a kindly new neighbor who came over during the day to spoon-feed water and attention.  On Friday morning about 11 am a call come in on my cell phone from our neighbor’s number.  Hearing the pregnant pause before she spoke, I whimpered.  “All dogs go to heaven, Doris” she said.  I took an early lunch break and drove home, calling Peter as I walked to my car.  I found the dog lying still, and still warm except for her cool wet nose. I placed 2 hands on her body… and sobbed.  Still dripping, I began to clean up from her final eliminations, to wash and wrap her in clean towels.  For a few surreal moments my mind played tricks: is that a heartbeat? I wondered, putting my ear to her chest; I had to shake my head, reminding myself that no, Doris, there can be no heartbeat without respiration.  I couldn’t quite convince myself to cover her nose right away…just in case… it could wait till I had to go back to work.  Rigor mortis had not set in and the body was soft, as if in deep slumber. 

I texted the kids in Waikoloa and Arcata that she was gone.  After a quick lunch, I walked next door with a box of Big Island cookies to thank our sympathetic neighbor for her kokua (help).  Returning to the back porch, I covered Lili with one last towel - now covering her nose - lay my hands and a few salty tears on her soft body, said a quick prayer, and headed back to work.  

That evening, Peter rolled her up in 2 blue tarps as overnight protection from scavengers till Saturday morning when we would take her for cremation.  Over dinner, we reminisced, laughing as we recalled how our over-extended working parent household failed doggie discipline school, yet realized a lifetime of love with this not-so-smart but ever-so-sweet canine wild-child.  Even in the darkest moments of our human children’s teenage years when it sometimes seemed we had almost nothing in conflict-free common, we could always laugh and bond together over the antics of the family pets. 

As we talked, I felt mostly relief that the suspenseful caregiving days were few and that our dog had died quickly with little apparent suffering.  I found myself reflecting upon this time, noticing how  conversations, even at work and unrelated to this event, were often deep, meaningful encounters, with unexpected confidences disclosed and emotions expressed; almost as though I was wearing a sign that read “wearing my heart on my sleeve”.  I found myself providing Healing Touch for two people at work during those days.  Indeed, this was similar to other times of illness, crisis and death I have known, a time when unimportant stuff sinks to the bottom and what rises to the top is what we value most,  what really matters, infusing everyday discussion and encounters with greater depth and higher meaning.  The days of Lilikoi’s passing was one of these rarified times, with all the sorrow and gifts such times can bring.  

Later that night a spontaneous virtual memorial erupted on Facebook.  Kelly, 3 hours earlier in Cali, was the first to post. Soon we were all commenting, posting and re-posting, instantly surrounded by an oddly comforting community of “likes” and “comments” from friends and family.

Kelly: Her favorite thing was Kleenex  
  

 Joel: I first saw her in a box in a park in Kaneohe. her brothers and sisters were all brown and she was twice as big, black and white, and dominating. I said “I want dat one” and my dad shelled out a couple hundred bucks for a hyperactive pure breed “beagle” w/no papers. I then named her “lilikoi” because she had the same color scheme as the Hawaiian sun “lilikoi flavor” juice can. Known this dog most of my life and she will be missed.

Kelly: Hahaha, Joel, I was just telling my friend that story. Yah, I wanted the ugly runt and you wanted the big weirdo jumping on all the other puppies

Doris: Joel, you, Kelly and Dad brought her home on Jan 2, 1998. I know the date because that day I was watching Rell Sunn’s memorial from Auntie Shelly’s balcony overlooking Makaha Beach. Yup, Lilikoi was the pick of the litter.

We miss her now in the thousand small ways she was woven into our everyday lives. As a friend said of her departed pet, “I still see her out of the corner of my eye, and it’s been a year now”.  This is the best description I have heard of how Lili happily hangs around haunting us; it is almost as though we catch a disappearing glimpse of the white tip of her tail each time we open the door, glance out at the back porch, open the refrigerator to feed the cat, and go about our daily rituals in the kitchen where she kept us company as we cooked, ever hopeful that scraps of food and attention might come her way.


I even sorta miss cleaning up after her.  In the style of a long married couple, our division of labor extended even to feces.  Before a walk, Peter folded one of his inventive origami newspaper cups which I lined with a plastic bag and then employed for dog doo-doo pick-up and transport.

After-dinner moonlit walks will forever remind us of Lilikoi, her beagle nose close to the ground, grunting like a pig, intently exploring some fascinating smell, as we laughed indulgently or gazed up at sprays of stars spread across the vast night sky. As Peter posted on FB: "We lost our beloved doggie today… This morning she was quietly resting up before she took off for the great beyond. This evening I saw her star burning bright over a setting Ku-kahi moon. Bye bye”  Bye bye, Miss Lilikoi pie!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sei (#6): Life imitates Art


The bus! Where is the bus?! I stared at the parking lot, panic rising in my throat.

Our tour bus, en route from Volterra to Rome, had exited the highway and pulled over at an “Autogrill” rest stop for a scheduled 20-minute bathroom break. I downed a caffe (espresso) at the standup coffee bar and then headed for the ladies room. One of the toilets was clogged, so I joined an amicable line, and engaged in mostly pantomime conversation about the situation. Once in a stall, some euro coins slipped out of my pocket and slid into the toilet bowl.  Gingerly fishing them out, I was reminded of a scene in a favorite Italian film, Bread and Tulips (Pane e Tulipani) where the main character, a traditional housewife on vacation tour with her family, accidentally drops her wedding ring into a rest stop toilet. The comic retrieval scene which ensues costs her so much time that the tour bus (and her oblivious family) hit the road without her… and thus the plot advances. 

As I stare out at the bus-less parking lot, I begin to wonder if I have entered my own Pane e Tulipani alternate universe. I must have made a mistake… did we come in another door? Rushing from one Autogrill exit to the next and finding no bus, I feel trapped in a surreal nightmare.  I’m not sure just what happened, but some organized person must have dispatched Peter from the still stationary vehicle to retrieve me. Suddenly, he is standing next to me, and with his superior mental GPS, our bus magically re-appeared in a parking lot I had earlier scanned in panic mode.  

If I had truly entered the movie Bread and Tulips, I would have been left behind at the rest stop and a flashy trashy but friendly young woman would have offered me a ride to Venice, and on impulse I would have accepted. One thing would lead to another and I would find myself working in a Venice flower shop owned by a grouchy Socialist poet and living with a new set of eccentric but loyal friends. But let me not be a spoiler for this funny, charming film directed by Silvio Soldini. It has become one of our favorites, meriting multiple viewings, along with another Soldini film Agatha and the Storm- Agata e la Tempesta - which stars the same delicious lead actress, Licia Maglietta, and an engaging supporting cast. The Tiger and the Snow (Tigre e Neige), directed and starring the energetic Roberto Begnini, is a surreal film that takes place in both Italy and Iraq at the outbreak of the Iraq war. We watched a panoply of Italian films via Netflix in the year before our Italian vacation, including older films with Marcello Matrioanni and the incomparable Sophia Loren. In addition to drop-dead gorgeous, Sophia Loren was a talented and hard-working gal, starring in close to one hundred films. The ones we watched, such as Marriage Italian Style, and Yesterday Today & Tomorrow, offered a surprisingly good slice of culture from the 1960’s. Nothing like American movies from that era, they portray poverty, unwanted pregnancy, adultery, and alcoholism as facts of life.  

Mi dispiace, I say as I climb aboard the waiting tour bus, hanging my head in mock shame and real relief. This apparently disarms or at least distracts tour guide Nina who, rather than scold, launches into a language lesson about the meaning and utility of that universally appealing little phrase: I’m sorry. Settling into my cozy seat on the roomy bus, I gaze gratefully out the window at the scenery, pondering how life imitates art.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Backyard blessing



Here it is
a gorgeous day
on a long holiday weekend
and here I am, still recovering
slowly
way too slowly
from a nasty cold
wondering
am I blessed or cursed?

I sat outside on an old chair
in the sun-dappled shade
next to my house
overlooking the golf course and Pearl Harbor
soaking up the warmth
of some afternoon rays
a box of Kleenex, glass of water
and assorted reading material
close at hand. 

I seldom just sit
and watch a day unfold around me
as it did today

Under a serene baby blue sky
white clouds promenade by
A chaotic overgrown pink and orange bougainvillea hedge
grows diagonally downhill
keeping watch over golfers on the green
like some giant comic caterpillar
or perhaps an enormous caterpillar sushi roll
covered with orange tobiko fish eggs

First a small white butterfly
then a large elegant yellow and black one
visit the bougainvillea hedge
and flutter away  
A fat black bee buzzes reconnaissance
flower to flower
A lime-green lizard scurries along the metal fence towards the hedge
dodging a big brown one twice his size
who is left inflating the bright red air sac
in his throat, triumphantly

As usual, the many tiny dark green leaves
in the monkey pod canopy
sparkle and dance in the breeze
like a chorus of small shimmering stories
sung over and over and all at once

I try in vain
to capture the bougainvillea caterpillar critter
on my smart phone
but it is way too dumb
to see inside my imagination’s eye

And then
suddenly
it began to rain
A blessing
in my own backyard.