02 November 2008

A Chapter Closes

For 18 years, they were my constant companions, my first consideration, my beloved responsibility. Life was built around the framework of their needs. That framework has disappeared; life has lost its shape and strength to stand upright.

Not long after agonizing over leaving ChutneyWordsworth here with friends during HomeLeave, I knew no one could give the obsessive care I lavished on him. And the best itinerary for us came on Lufthansa, the only airline to allow animals in the cabin flying trans-Atlantic. So, the little old well-traveled man would go with us. At least then, no matter what, we would be together. He always enjoyed new places and would be seeing old friends.

But so soon after that he began to fade more quickly than ever. I prayed fiercely, continually, that he would be comfortable and not suffer, that I might be spared that decision one time. He was the thirstiest thing, and even as his appetite continued to decrease, what he did eat stayed down. That is surely a blessing to the renal patient. But every day he was thinner, even when there seemed nothing left to lose, and more frail yet still getting around.

Then one Wednesday, when I returned home, he mustered the strength and will to zip out the door between my feet. I scooped him up and brought him in; we both knew. But I would never let him go find a cold, dark corner to leave this world alone. He would have a hospice ~ heating pad and water bowl on the couch, sandbox and unwanted food on the floor. Even Thursday evening, he was conscious when I bid him "goodnight" and moved himself from blanket to heater. I slept on the other couch. At about 2:00, I heard a little hitch in his breathing. He hadn't moved. His eyes were open, but unseeing. The tenseness which had filled his little body for the last couple of days was exchanged for limpness. He was never one for laps, so I stroked him and rubbed his ears, talking and singing to him. Maybe he knew or maybe he was already crossing the Bridge. But 15 minutes later, he gave just a few little sounds, his jaw relaxed, one paw twitched, I felt the strangest buzzing go through his ears, and my little old man, reaching the end of his excellent life, walked out of mine. It was as peaceful as I had asked for, just him and me alone, at home. Apparently no pain, no fear. I miss him like my own heart, but God is good. He knows how much we can bear, what will make us stronger, and what will only break us.

When it was Mango's time to go, as much as she left gaping holes in her wake, Wordsworth was there to take up the mantle of "home is where the cat is." He still held down a cat's space on the bed, demanded my attention for cherished rituals, required primary position in any plans to be made. Life maintained its central character of being inhabited by cats. Suddenly, it is no longer bounded and supported and tied to my furry little wards. When my mother died, it felt as though someone had pulled up one tent stake, letting the canvas whip in the wind; the weather roared through. Now the tent is gone. The weather isn't roaring, but the overwhelming silent presence of options leaves me gasping, grasping for the anchor of those small creatures to show me the safe edge of boundaries.

But now is a season to embrace those options. After providing a lifetime for those I first took in, before I start over and give myself to a new generation who will need a roof and kibble and love, I will mourn and escape and become strengthened again. Some time unencumbered to travel with my husband, and perhaps discover a bit more of who I am, apart from being one owned by cats.

26 September 2008

Senior Moments

My sweet little baby boy cat is 16. That makes him an approximately ninety year old man. So, for that, he's been remarkably well. Three years ago he was diagnosed with chronic renal failure, a slow but incurable degeneration of the kidneys. It seemed like the beginning of the end. But minding his diet has kept his blood values reasonably stable. We lost Mango so unexpectedly to cancer before his condition began to change at all. The equivalent of fifteen years has passed for him since then and now is taking a little bit more of him away from me every day.

But life with a senior cat is quiet and gentle. He doesn't break things anymore. I do worry about him breaking a hip. He doesn't chew things up, but I wouldn't mind if he ate more. He sleeps even longer than young cats do, waking up to adjust his old bones or to go out and inspect the balcony, to sit in the sun. His little walnut brain is getting tired, too. He stops between rooms as though he's forgotten where he was going. He wants to be near me more than he used to. When he wakes up and I'm in another room, he calls out and comes looking for me. Any tender touch moves him to purring. He used to be more reserved. The aging process and a low protein diet are causing the flesh to melt from his frame. He's just a fur bag of bones and "Meh!" now. Until a few weeks ago, his movement and activity were unaffected. But his footing is less sure today ~the marble floors are a toss-up between becoming more difficult for him to get about on and a breeze for me to clean up the increasingly frequent urp~ and his jumps are more often a close call than an over-shoot anymore.

I am accustomed to my little old man, his occasional play, his serenity. Young cats look fat and crazy in their antics. I can't imagine a kitten in the house. They require so much supervision, so much guidance, so much vigilance. Exhausting. Sure, we get up in the middle of the night if he's hungry for meaty food and have a drowsy few minutes in the dim kitchen light, but then we're both back to sleep. No nocturnal rampages, bouncing off walls and tearing around. Maybe my sleep is lighter for keeping one ear open for the tell-tale sounds that I should immediately set him to the floor, but I remember the years of sleeping with that same ear open for little chewing sounds at the computer wires. It's very satisfying to provide a warm, safe place for a once-homeless cat to spend his retirement.


Right, everyone loves kittens, but providing love and comfort for a creature's declining years is that much the greater kindness. I've considered, for that time in the
future when my life again has a cat-shaped hole in it, adoption of a senior citizen. To take someone out of a shelter and provide a real home at last, what a benevolence. But now that I am once more watching a loved one walking toward the Rainbow Bridge, I don't know how I'll get through it, let alone ask to fall in love again, knowing it won't be for long. Even now it doesn't seem so long ago when he was new and we had his whole life together in front of us. It's been a good life, more interesting than I ever expected it would be. But that has brought us so far from everything I know about veterinary medicine and I fear taking him in that he might catch something worse in the office. Yet, in two months, I will have to leave him for six weeks. Taking him with us on Home Leave is out of the question. It would do him in for certain. But how do I ask someone to take care of a cat near the end of his 9th life? Every time I leave, I promise him that I always come back. How can I risk breaking that promise, to not come back soon enough?

20 September 2008

Living Experiment, General Observations

Waaay back in the day, God decided it wasn't good for a person to be alone. No surprise, He was right. But not only for the obvious reasons ~proof one isn't talking to oneself (cats give that, really), reaching top shelves and opening jars, or even being an economical heat source~ but having an other helps us to elevate ourselves beyond a base existence, living without accountability.

Craig has been gone 4 weeks and my consumption of fresh produce has been, within reasonable error, a pile of green beans, an eggplant (left over from the curry dinner I hosted for a few friends in hospitality repayment), and a carrot [aside: carrots will keep for a freakishly long time standing in a glass of water in the fridge]. Oh, and a delicious bowl of cherry tomatoes from a friend who likes to grow them, but not to eat them. I'm afraid that's it. When he is here, we go to Saturday market and load up on greens and other deep colors because he refuses to lay a carbohydrate base as the locals do and, with his support, I can't bring myself to face much dead animal. So, with a kitchen full of plants so perfectly ripe, they take priority. It guts me to see food go to waste. But without him loading up the shopping bags, I find myself living on beans, rice, and even pasta.

Right, accountability. My personal pleasures run toward quiet indoor games such as reading, sewing, wasting time in cyberspace with the excuse of "keeping up with the outside world," making art, doting on the cat. None of these do squat to burn off the previous paragraph or strengthen the heart or maintain bone mass. But when Craig returns, his early rising (admittedly, by our standards) will move me to quit the bed sooner and shamble off to the gym for a ready-made exercise class MWF.

Even socially, I find myself becoming more hermit-like. Without someone else here reminding me that it will be fun and giving me a reason to clean up and put on nice clothes, I'm happy puttering about in this home we've made. Eventually, people would stop inviting me ~which, of course, would hurt my feelings even if I didn't really want to go~ and I would never go out. There be the way to 100 cats.

The sleep research hasn't revealed anything useful, except that regardless of when I go to bed or when the ginormous jackhammers start up in the morning, I'm brain-dead until 10:00 a.m. Sleep for 8 hours or 11, it doesn't seem to matter. Ask the cat. He's been through a full wake cycle and back to napping before I cease to be so borink. If he's persistent, he might drag me out to make a meat breakfast ~only from guilt about his digestive health~ but it's a temporary verticality. I have a theory about the jackhammers: rather than keeping me awake, it feels like being pounded flat. Try to stand up under that.

At least I am finding my own housekeeping boundaries. I feared I might never care, but eventually the floor feels too dirty, the shower curtain gets slimy, the cob webs must go, and the dust becomes too much. It is my shame to be able to ignore what my mother would never abide, but there it is. So, my world is cleaner for sharing it with another.

Of course, this is an artificial situation, a 6 week experiment. But would I resolve to do these things for my own good? For his health and happiness, I cook the vegetables, make social commitments, and abandon the covers to wish him good day. Perhaps, were it my life rather than my vacation, I would take a longer view, a more responsible and healthy perspective. I hope it never comes to finding out.

28 August 2008

A Living Experiment. . .in Living

6 days ago, Craig left for 6 weeks at sea. What's a girl to do with a month and a half on the Italian Riviera? Without job or other major obligation ~beyond the cat, who is, as you may guess, a little fur sack of bones and MEH!, more demanding than most roommates and to whom I am boundlessly devoted~ it could become The Lost Weekend of epic proportions. Or just a big fat waste of time. Or, just maybe, a personal experiment of peeling away expectations, examining just what could make my life tick and flow rather than stutter and stagnate. How often, if ever, does one have such an unstructured block of time to pursue occupation only as inspired, eat whenever but only when hungry, to sleep when taken by it?

What a luxury it is to be able to put my life under a microscope for no one's dissection but my own. And every time I do, there are artifacts, things from which all practicality has drained, and they remain as awkward souvenirs better pasted into the scrapbook of memory. It was so liberating the day I rolled up all of my linens. Understand, my mother kept a beautiful home and her linen closet might have been set with a T-square and plumb line. So, that was my template and for years I tried to keep her standard, never succeeding. When I realized she did it that way because doing so pleased her, and failing to do so certainly didn't please me, and.... here is the best part... there are other ways to organize the sheets, I was free to leave Little Peg's perfect linen closet in the house I grew up in, with all the other precious memories of those years. Every time I discover another one of these artifacts, be they habits or ideas, that I can set safely aside and replace with something different that works for me, it is growth. Each of us as individuals is molded throughout our lives by so many people and forces, we are constantly becoming. . . what we become requires vigilance and care.

So, it is an exciting responsibility, to know myself better and thereby have been productive during this marvelously free time. By the time Craig returns, I hope to have not only physical proof of my productivity, but also a perceptible improvement of myself. I've begun a list of things to do, and one of things accomplished, dated. Every day I intend to be able to add one to the latter, if only to justify the day's passing. Honestly, it doesn't matter how big or important the project has been, only that some mark has been left on the day, something happened.


I'm curious to see the things I do or do not do because he is not here. And why. How many expectations do I place on normal days without just cause? The things I do not do now, I should note and ask if he values them or if I've imagined their need to be done. And things I do now, which I must believe would make him crazy, perhaps would not.

But perhaps also, in order to live peaceably with another, what one does not mind of one's own does give offense to the other. My dirty dishes are familiar to me; this smear is ketchup, this dish was cat food, this sludge is coffee from days gone by. But anyone else's? I don't know what lurks in the bottom of that big bowl of murky water! Also my shoes, I know where I've left them. But in the dark, were he here, they would become a hazard.

So, upon identifying the habit, the first discernment is whether one could abide it, or the lack thereof, in the other.


Ahh, good work for today. Add "philosophizing" to the Accomplished list.

04 August 2008

I'm Not "The Crazy Old Lady with 100 Cats"

Putting my time where my mouth is (see previous post), today my art is a line of designs for clothing and accessories. It's called 97 Cats...More or Less, because, you know, people always talk about the crazy old lady with 100 cats. Most of the pieces have this name on the outside somewhere because Italians love English writing on their clothes and bags which makes no sense.

It began with my general inclination toward buying plain clothes, solid colors, basics. But I bore even myself. I was tired of my clothes, but if it's in good shape, why get rid of it only to be buying something else? However, if it's already too dull to wear, that gives me absolute license to do something to it. Its fate couldn't be worse than neglected in a drawer.

So out come the Jones Tones (fantastic fabric paints available at Dharma Trading) to meet with old T-shirts for a second chance at love. Starting with simple, iconic (yeah yeah, I've heard the word has been banned by newspaper editors as over-used to the point of homeopathic dilution, but literally, how cool would it be to see 97 Cats in a desk-top theme?) line drawings, the first pieces were born:



Now, doodling on old or inexpensive clothes is one thing, but it would take more confidence to lay out my brand new $50 PacSafe purse and put the paint to it. This bag is awesome for wandering cities, uber secure (as described in detail on their website), and I wouldn't carry another ~except my larger version when I just can't go without a sweater, water bottle, umbrella, phrasebook et al~ but while its stalwart character is deeply embedded, the poor thing lacked charisma. Jones Tones comes through with... dare I say it? flying colors. It took to the nylon like brown on rice and is so flexible, not stiff and cracky at all.

What's in your closet that isn't really "you"? Giving to charity is always a great option, but if it's still a keeper, you could make it fabulous, dig it for a while, then circulate your art to the less fortunate. Who wouldn't love finding that one of a kind, hand-made piece in the thrift store?



28 July 2008

Kenneth Baker is an Elitist Snob

"I don't know what I like; I just know art." Okay, he didn't say that, but the San Francisco Chronicle art critic did say:
...In today's culture, people need not merely critics to tell them what art is, but also artists, curators, art historians, art dealers, collectors - and the viewers' own education and sensibility...
It is this very attitude that crushes budding artistic spirits. A child makes something to help her understand an experience or to express an idea for which she has no words or simply to create something from her mind which no one has ever seen before. Could be art, but how will she know if there are no "critics, artists, curators, art historians, art dealers, [and] collectors" to tell her so, or more likely not? If we need all these experts to tell us what art is, who would dare encourage that expressive child to believe that she made any?
...Most of us would prefer to believe that "art" is a quality inherent in or infused in certain things, but the history of modern art, and of its enveloping social reality, has left us in a much more complex and ambiguous position. Those who refuse to acknowledge this are the very dupes that the culture industry banks on...
Well, he started a little better here, if demeaningly, and then spiraled into exclusionist jargon and plain insult. If art can only be authentic in the context of art history, how were those historical pieces validated themselves? At some point, someone made a sculpture, did a dance, painted on a wall and knew it was art. Someone else saw it and agreed. Somebody else looked at it and said, "Horse feathers!" (or something to that effect). Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder... and the creator. Some is just more popular than most and only the artist knows if it was art when he made it. Now, if a piece is created without heart and mind and soul, it isn't art. But if a stranger experiences it, is moved by it, finds it worthy of consideration, it becomes art. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, cloth and fluff and glass eyes from a factory, experienced by a small boy he became real.

This particular Chronicle critique, which I had not cared to read but came back to because of the furor it generated, was a flat denunciation of the new Chihuly exhibit at SF's de Young Museum.
...Political philosopher Hannah Arendt defined artworks as "thought things," that is, things that materialize thought, things to be thought about and, in rare cases, things to help us think...

...Perhaps dreamy color, glossy surfaces and flamboyant design - the signal qualities of Chihuly's work - should be enough. But in a culture where only intellectual content still distinguishes art from knickknacks, they are not...
I propose what is failing in this whole evaluation is Baker's narrow ability to "materialize thought" for himself. The human mind is a wondrous thing. It can be fertile, stimulated to great thinking by almost anything. Or it can be dry, locked down, and fearful of having a thought which doesn't meld with what the experts currently extol.

So, if you've carved up a block of soap or taken chalk to your driveway or started humming a tune no one has ever heard, call it your art. It still may be unpopular, but if you made it from your heart and mind and soul and say it is so, it is art.

15 July 2008

Obama Family Dog

Whether the man becomes President or not isn't the issue today. The whole world is watching and he's promised his daughters a dog. What an opportunity to speak out for millions who cannot speak for themselves. . . Of course it could be career-limiting to tell the AKC what they can do with their pure bred snobbery. But the positive action of going to a shelter ~press in train~ with those little girls to lift a life out of despair would show the world what it means to be powerful and compassionate.

Even as "just" a father, he will be instilling in his daughters a message: either we value a life by the prestige placed on it by men or by the dignity placed in it by God. When we have the opportunity, do we save the life already pleading for a chance or do we contribute to the demand for more? How can any humanly tender heart look into the faces of those who may die tomorrow for lack of space, and then ask that another life be created for their own satisfaction?

Please, follow the title link to the Best Friends Network website. The petition is simply to show Senator Obama that his potential constituents are watching and we care. While you're there, click through to the Best Friends Animal Society's main page and see the fantastic work they're doing in Utah and around the country.

06 July 2008

All in One Day!

3:45 falls between 3:30 and 4:00 nearly everywhere in the civilized world, which is why I had no reason to expect that my new washing machine would arrive anytime before half past next Friday. But let me back up to the old washing machine.

It has been trying to kill me. But for thick-soled shoes, brushing the metal cylinder would put a tingle in my fingers. (Remember, we run on 220v.) If the clothes were wet, just touching them would give a little zing. If, to balance while bending over to the front-loader's door, I carelessly put a hand to the metal drain board on the counter and touched the metal cylinder... ZAP... and a strong reminder to be more careful in future.

But I had good reason to believe a resolution fell squarely in our court. We would have to buy a new washer. The electrocution was just the last affront in a series of malfeasances from this wretched machine, which Craig had ably addressed as they arose. So, when I went to Flavio ~the real estate agent through whom we pay rent and bills~ on Saturday with the pile of cash, I casually asked if something were wrong with the washer, say it's trying to kill me "zzt!" , what to do? Oh, he'd call Franco to come out and have a look. Hm, and who would pay? The proprietor, of course. It's normal wear and tear. Note to reader: "normal wear and tear" is frequently the renter's responsibility, as are mandatory inspections of various kinds. I still feel a bit guilty for dodging the water heater inspection on the last flat, but not more than the owner should for not repairing the bad plumbing in the wall before we moved in. So, back to Flavio. He called up the electrician and while making the appointment ~I'm pretty sure I heard him say, "She is American, so that is a problem."~ the concept of simply replacing the menace arose. Oh yes! That would be much better. I held my breath as Flavio rang the appliance store. Then we walked up the street, talked to the man, and made an appointment for delivery.

Which is where I had left you in the first paragraph, agog at the promptness and preparedness of said delivery men (on time, with all the tools they'd need). The poor fellows had to haul the thing on a dolly up four flights of stairs. But when they were finished, it worked and hasn't attempted murder once. I am ecstatic over the whole inconceivable process. This very fact reiterates that we do not live in what is conventionally accepted as Europe.

And that's not all. On the same day, Craig managed to work out a ride in the van going to Camp Darby to retrieve not one but two big shiny American Weber gas grills. He and a co-worker have been ogling these behemoths for weeks/months. So a brand new washing machine on the landlord's tab and two wondrous grills were acquired in one day.

The excitement was only beginning at that. Not long after the washer was merrily agitating, I went to dump the mop water down the drain. A beach ball was resting there, and plucking it out I found. . . a scorpion in my bath tub! We live in a seaside 5th story flat. Why is a desert floor dwelling arthropod hiding in my bathtub? Well, it's not anymore. Currently, it awaits transport to a budding young entomologist... in the freezer. But I'm left spooked: there was one, there could be infinitely more, sneaking around in the night when all I want is a glass of water. I've spent 80% of my life with the vague fear of drinking a spider after my aunt told me she'd found one in her cup in the middle of the night. Must I for the rest of my life put on slippers for sleepy sojourns and rinse out the bathroom cup?

So, if they aren't skittering about my feet in the dark, they are cruising through at eye level in the light. Yes, Heavy Attack Wasp is next for The Day When Too Much Happened. We have had bees like B-52 bombers thrumming through the place, but now I don't mind them. They are just big, lumbering, and loud. The HAWs look like something out of that particular style of science fiction where ginormous hyper-advanced insects take over the world, stinging and crushing humanity like the pathetic flesh-bags we are. They are long, almost an inch, obviously wasp-waisted, with creepy dangling legs when they fly and a curved stinger visible to the naked eye. They set off my personal perimeter alarm, as in if they get too close I emit involuntary shrieks.

Could it get any worse? Yes. "Local knowledge," to be trusted only as much as "what some guy down at the pub told me," says the HAWs are really a tricksy variety of fly; the horrific stinger is not, but rather the other thing. They are harmless. Mm hm. And the scorpion? Its sting is no worse than a standard issue bee sting. Great. So now I'll become complacent, allow the Raid canister to rust out of usability, and my last words will be, "See, that's what I thought." Also, "Aaaaaiiiii!"

Now I must go have a lie down. It's been a busy week today.

19 May 2008

Fig Newmmmmmmans

With sincere appreciation and on-going gratitude to the powers that be, I enter the Camp Darby Commissary. As NATO affiliates, the good people in Livorno allow us to shop in the American grocery store, among other sanity-retaining perks. A serial e-missive posted several months after our arrival explains the deep sigh and lighthearted strolling I enjoy there. It's not that I need a Safeway or Kroger to fill my kitchen. It's just nice to browse things I recognize without needing to translate every label. There are only a few very specific items which I would really miss. You can guess good peanut butter (Darby even carries a nice organic brand) and anyone who has come to visit should be thankful that we do find fish sauce there (rather than in your suitcase). Of course, cheddar, tortilla chips, and refried beans are all too exotic for local stores, so Darby subsidizes our Mexican nights.

But for tea today, I nibble Fig Newmans. Our commissary is award-winning: it isn't large and, as it should, focuses on middle-American families and soldiers, but the variety they manage is impressive. 1st with the organic crunchy peanut butter, then Amy's Vegetarian Refried Beans, a nice selection of Morningstar Farms faux meat products (Hello, my name is Molly and I love corn dogs.), and even Newman's Own
Organics The Second Generation Fig Newmans. I do my best to show support for such products, but especially Newman's Own. You see, I've met Nell Newman. The down-home, folksy image on the package isn't entirely marketing. Sure, Pa is a Hollywood movie star who has given more to charity than most people see in their lifetimes. I don't know where or how he lives, but Nell has a home in a small town in California where I used to live. She came into the store where I worked to look at some ecologically responsible clothing. As we were wrapping up the transaction, she commented on needing to get home. Her chickens had to be brought in for the night. Predators, you know. I was floored. Paul Newman's daughter not only keeps chickens, but actually cares for them herself. We spoke briefly about an early coop which failed tragically, but she has it worked out now and once inside, her chickens are safe. Happy walkin' around, bug-eatin' chickens tucked in for the night: what a beautiful scene. Now, one more fig Newman and a bit of meditation, and I might be able to face the world again.

16 May 2008

But I Like the Big Brother My Parents Gave Me

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Look familiar? If not, don't you worry your pretty little head, because evidently it is no longer in effect. U.S. citizens returning home are being searched in airports and at border crossings, having their electronics ~laptops, PDA's, and cell phones~ confiscated, tampered with, and retained without Warrant, cause, or explanation. [see title link]

Of course we can speculate as to the nature of the classified protocols for selection. The individuals being targeted have certain types of names and may go to certain places. But some
are U.S. citizens. Let that sink in for a minute. Wait, I've been to Morocco, a Muslim country, in the last year. I go to Columbus, Ohio regularly... where there is a large Somali (Muslim) population. My name is "funny." Now I've gone and put "Big Brother" in a blog title and posted the 4th Amendment (r.i.p.) in the first paragraph. You may never hear from me again. Just in case, be aware, people. Use it or lose it.

08 April 2008

Plastick

It's right there at Epcot, Fantastic Plastic. And truly, it's invention was life changing for the world. Plastic protects food and holds clean water. It is lightweight and strong, yet flexible. Dish soap and shampoo bottles don't shatter after slipping from the hand. Technical undergarments are crazy warm, even when wet, and then they dry quickly. Look around. Stores are full of plastic, regardless of what they sell. And it's cheap. Disposable. Reusable? Sure, if you can manage to be living in that kind of place. Recyclable? Sometimes. But where does it come from? And more disturbing, where does it go?

Short answers: it's oil and once it becomes plastic, it never goes away.

Plastic is one more side of our multi-faceted addiction to petroleum. Every container, tool, chotchky, CD, you name it is one more demand for oil; foreign dependence or domestic pillaging.

Rethink~Reuse~Recycle is a great motto, to be followed in that order. Think about your choices before you make them. Take the canvas bag to the store (tip: keep them by the door or in the car). Is there an option with less packaging? Don't fool yourself that it all gets recycled. Can you find it in paper, metal, or glass? Do you really need it?

But what of the stuff that escapes our careful plans? Doesn't it wear out, break down, dissolve? Yes, to a point, but it will always be plastic, just very small pieces. Like much of what we discard, it will end up in the ocean. Bags look like jellies and are mistaken by turtles for food. Birds eat a variety of plastic items, starving to death with their bellies full. According to the UN Environment Programme, plastic debris causes the deaths of more than a million seabirds every year, as well as more than 100,000 marine mammals. Beginning at the bottom, looking like zooplankton, up the food chain it goes. Maybe someday an industrious bug, like the termite, will manage to begin digesting it, but for now, it's just a killer. But out of sight, out of mind, right? So, after you read the wiki in the title link, read these:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7314240.stm
http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/the-worlds-rubbish-dump-a-garbage-tip-that-stretches-from-hawaii-to-japan-778016.html

The genie is out of the plastic bottle. What happens to it now is every consumer's responsibility.

06 April 2008

Doing the French Mistake?

It could be that 18 months in Italy have substantially altered my expectations, but I have just found Parisian clerks and shopkeepers to be pleasant, helpful even. No, really, one walks into a store and someone says, "Bonjour." At the counter, after realizing I've exhausted all of my three French phrases, they smile and find some way to conduct the transaction. Remember, it's not uncommon to walk into an Italian shop and find no one, maybe overhear conversation in the back room, but be left with the feeling that they just don't care if they sell anything, ever. The French waitress who said our chocolat chaud et p√Ętisseries were going to take a looong time barely registered on our rude-o-meter, but our friends who live in Paris were dismayed by her demeanor. True, she brought the wrong size drinks, but the bill reflected that. And it took only half as long as she had threatened. It was a chilly, drizzly day and we had tucked ourselves under the awning. She probably would have preferred to remain inside. In her position, so would I.

But, yes... gay Paris! The Tower has taken up sparkling again, there is art and inspira
tion for art everywhere, women go about in (reasonably) comfortable shoes. Le pain et les chocolats sont fantastiques. Even in a quiet little park there was an inspiring cat. It was thoroughly grey and rounded. Maybe there was more cat on its frame than needed be, but its lines were beautiful. It was so friendly so as to make photography difficult, constantly approaching the camera and playing with the wrist cord. It caused Craig to think that, perhaps, Chutney Wordsworth has been trying to emulate the drawings I've been doing, very linear. He's trying to be string-and-stick cat. I must draw this round grey Parisian cat and maybe my own little grey cat will attempt to become more three dimensional.

Then there is the transit system. Uncle John is right in that even the natives must carry guides. But that is no disparagement. The system is just so complex that to be most efficient carrying the maps is essential. Joe has even attached a little magnifying glass to his booklet for times of suboptimal illumination. Speedy, convenient, efficient, and economical: what's not to love? Yeah, sure, it's a subway and sometimes smells like it. But it takes my fond memories of San Francisco's Muni/BART system and sends them packing. As much as I love my City by the Bay, the City of Light has caught my eye. Nay, she's turning my head.


11 March 2008

Reaching Out

Language. Culture. Fashion. Tradition. Other landmines. There are so many ways to blow it here. It's a small community and Italians love to talk, so the straniera with the odd clothes and even odder ways must make for good gossip. Some people know I give gifts to cats and wear rain boots that look like frogs, complete with buggy eyes. But there is a freedom in knowing I'll never blend in. I don't even have to try. Still, I don't want to be offensive, even in my ignorance. The clarity of intent matters. Most people will give the benefit of the doubt if one appears to be trying. So I smile a lot, more than anyone else on the street. I say "please," "thank you," and "I'm sorry." Maybe it's enough to keep me innocuous, but if we're going to be here for years, it is no way to go through life. It leaves me outside and unknown. To know any other and be known, I must reach out.

But do these people who have lived in this town for generations and known their cohort since they were pushed about in prams even want to bother with a new friend who tortures their language, has no children, and has never said a rosary? Can't know until I've tried. The lady one floor down on the other side of the stairwell ~our balconies are within range of conversation~ seems nice, as does her husband. They also have pets: Titi the cat, Nina the ancient d
og who is deaf as the proverbial post and will flop and roll for a belly-rub just as soon as she sees a likely subject, and a small furry rodent I cannot identify (looks like a tribble with beady eyes, hello CuteOverload.com). Carla has also taken in someone else's cat who needs medication and special care. She and I may have some sensibilities in common. I saw them on the balcony, Carla wiping off Duca's face, Duca minding only a little. The scene was so tender and moving to me that I couldn't let it go. I sketched and doodled for a week. But then Duca hadn't appeared for days on the balcony for sunbeams, fresh air, and intensely interesting birdsong. I feared the worst as he hadn't been looking too good the last time he had been out. Just the same, I finished the charcoal and framed it for Carla.

Would she like it? Would she get it? Would she think I was intruding, either to make it or to give it? And what if he had crossed the Rainbow Bridge? I could be calling bad luck to give a picture of the dead or just being cruel to remind her. With a gut full of insecurity and a tentative smile on my face, I rang her bell. Good afternoon, how are you, well thank you and you... how is Duca?
He was so-so, sleeping. Still with us! I gave her the frame. For you for helping Duca. She was pleased to have it, that I made it for her, impressed with the likeness. I could breathe a sigh of relief. Then Nina saw me, hauled herself up from her bed, and shambled over to plead into my eyes while she leaned ~some dogs are just leaners~ down my calf so I couldn't miss her entirely free belly. Carla popped into the kitchen to show the drawing to her daughter. I bid them all Buona giornata, Carla, Federica, Nina, and Titi observing down the hall.

It's no big deal, but it might make up for inadvertently running my washing machine during siesta or putting my garbage where other tenants do (that earned me a nasty-gram taped to the door, lesson learned). And just maybe it can be the little unexpected good deeds that build a friendship here.

09 March 2008

If Home is Where the Heart Is...

Some companion animals here have a status which I haven't seen in the US. Maybe it's a small town convention, but there are cats and dogs who have no roof of their own, yet may have several humans who know and look out for them. In some cases, there just isn't anyone who can take them in.

Silvano came from the pound as an old man, a biggish blend of a dog. He has no padrona (literally landlady) and lives in a fenced area attached to the public works storage building. His arthritis saves him from wanting space to run and he has at least three different people who take him for walks every day and fill his bowls. Last fall he had a small dog house and a nice hammock bed under a patio umbrella. Before the rains came for winter, someone built him a larger house with his name on the door, moving his hammock inside. Another woman takes him into her house at night. He's a friendly dog with a gimpy gate, rheumy eyes, and a grizzled muzzle, not the one a child would choose to take home. But given those prospects, he has landed well. Like many pensionati, he sleeps a good deal, sees a few friends every day, and gets out to read the news around town.

Then there is Micia. She's an old black cat who lives near the piazza. I don't know where she spends her nights, but days are spent on warm pavement when there is sun or on satin cushions inside the coffee bar when there is not. The bar's proprietor has spoken of her refined tastes, what she will eat and what she disdains. Someone, including the pizza place two doors down, must provide enough suitable foods, as she is none too scrawny. There is always a dish of milk set out for her. She, too, is a friendly creature who enjoys her quiet retirement.

And some wouldn't deign to be "let in." Some, like Ricky the Red, keep more on their plates than morsels. They have business to take care of, things to do. Ricky was one of my first friends here. I saw him sitting in the middle of a ~much coveted~ parking space like he owned it. I suspected right then that he had some protection racket going on. Ricky was huge, pulled upright on his back feet, he was as tall as my legs, a long-haired marmalade tabby monster. He'd lost both canine teeth on one side (you should see the other guy), which allowed his little pink tongue to slip out, ruining his tough guy persona. His voice didn't help either, such a quiet mew, a lover but evidently an accomplished fighter. He'd earned quite a territory, which included a piazzina, a private parking lot, a Vespa on which he napped away siesta, and a shop where he had hired a nice lady named Angela to run while he sat in the entry to keep an eye on his street. He made his rounds, the pasticceria, delicatessen, seafood restaurant, and various shops, being greeted by name and fed generously. Angela told me that he'd had his picture in the paper once, so loved and popular he was. But he was no one's cat.

So when Ricky became ill last fall, Angela went out of her way to have the vet stop by and spent much time and energy getting medicine and food into him. He came through it, but wasn't the swaggering cat-about-town I'd met a year before. He decided having a bed inside mightn't be so bad. He was getting tired. At Christmas, I brought him tins of kitty delicacies to celebrate his regained ability to eat. I also gave a plate of cookies to Angela for being so good to him.

When I returned after a vacation last month, I stopped in to see him. He was fading, but not suffering. Knowing he wasn't long for this world, I sat down by his cardboard box bed to talk to him and cry. I overheard Angela telling her friends how I brought gifts to Ricky at Christmas. Crazy cat lady. There are worse reputations to have. When I went back the day after next, Angela said, Non c'e piu. "He is no more." The day before, he'd called out to her, not in distress, but perhaps to say "Good bye" or even "Thank you," then slipped away over the Rainbow Bridge.

Homeless? People care for these creatures and they go about their lives freely. Those lives are shorter and colder than they would be indoors, but some prefer the freedom and I'd wager they all prefer this to the fate which awaits those whose options are more limited. Living on the streets is not the answer to over population ~spay and neuter, people (spay and neuter people being a topic for another day)~ but it is a solution, after the sterilization, for some right now. I think it is good for the human soul to recognize other beings who share our spaces, to remember those who are smaller and look to the more powerful for a bit of kindness.

03 March 2008

Coming Out of Retirement

Last week, a neighbor and co-worker of Craig's talked me into doing an AquaGym class. More exercise is good and it would allow me to see how the public pool is organized. But there were real swimmers in the other lanes. My ego shamed me as I ran in place wearing a foam belt. Also, it was boring, almost as boring as swimming laps. Then a guy walked out of the locker room wearing water polo headgear. I nearly cried. It was like seeing someone you haven't seen in ages, having no idea how much you missed her. There, loping around the pool on a stranger, was my old sporting companion. A hundred hockey moments flashed through my mind. There is no hockey in our area. He was there for polo. Maybe I could play water polo. It did feel good to be back in the water, even if it was with a bunch of women riding their invisible bikes. But Italian women don't play sports. Still, it couldn't hurt to ask. So, when we were finished kicking and punching, I asked one of the waiting polo players if girls play. He said, "Si" and which days. I was floored. And Eek! Polo really is much more rough than UWH. Am I talking out of my cap even to consider it? Well, turns out only little girls get to play. I don't know what they expect them to do once they're hooked. Our high school players would be furious if they started playing hockey, then were told, "Just the guys now. Ladies don't play hockey."

But that recurring affliction was burning inside me again. I went home and asked Craig if he wanted to go to Bologna and play hockey this weekend. We went. It was groovy. The players were friendly, the water wasn't too cold, and the bottom. . . oh baby. Big, fast tiles like we never see in the States. So the only thing in our way to a fantastic game was us. Several years out of the pool, not to mention crossing the fearful threshold of 40, had left us both somewhat less than prepared. But I have the tiny Torquemada who leads my ladies' exercise class to thank for the surprising level strength and fitness which did attend me last night. Which is not to say I was eager to get to said class this morning, creak, groan. But Craig rode his bike to work, so I would lose much face if I skipped class. In fact, last night was encouraging in that it was clear how much those classes are holding me together.

Now, the really exciting news. Bear in mind it's 2+ hrs drive and a hefty highway toll to go to Bologna, as welcoming and friendly as they are. (We have a place to stay now any time we come to town. Hockey people are just like that.) But there is a solid rumor of [drum roll, please] underwater hockey in Genoa! The Bologna leader gave us contact info for a woman who has in recent weeks secured a pool and declared it hockey. That means half the drive. Still a harder gig than SF to San Jose, but doable. Now on to European tournament hopping! There is a handful of expats of various ilk spread around hockey forsaken lands. F
or tournament going purposes, we have proclaimed ourselves to be the Swiss team , since one player (just one) does live in Switzerland, but we've yet to play together.

Sticks up: Go!

01 March 2008

What I'm Into Now

Digital animation is amazing. I remember back in the day when Star Wars was the coolest film... evah. But now? Quaint, precious even. I love what the studios are producing today, even if the target audience is several decades behind me. Sitting down with a dvd and my laptop, hand poised over the pause button to catch those moments of sheer artistry, is something I relish.

But it's not today's topic. Sure, I enjoy taking in digital art, but creating it is not my bag, baby. I like making a mess. If it doesn't require the play-clothes or threaten to stain my fingernails (or nefariously attack my liver or nervous system), it's just not satisfying.

So, the Silk Painting interest group convened through the International Women's Club (yeah, I know, it might be the Stepford Wives) caught my attention. For the first meeting of the club year, in the fall, Isabelle drove me to the woman's house where we usually gather. It was over the river and waaay up the hill. Someplace I'd never be able to find on my own. But her studio was so inspiring, just filled with her work in many media. The silk pieces they showed me were stunning. I even thought I could fall in love with the process, as opposed to (just) falling in love with the product. This concept was instilled in me by the potter George Dymesich in Santa Cruz. He is as an excellent potter and a dedicated instructor, but he sets high standards for success, and students pay at the wheel for their future excellence. I tried back then, but the early parts of process gave me much trouble, a disappointing student. Gabriella's help in this was more gentle, and encouraging, than George's. She simply suggested that I look at my early work as experimental and not expect too much from it. So, with a plain piece of silk in my purse and ideas swarming my brain, I went home to sketch. In four weeks, I would return for the next meeting with a suitable design drawn in pencil on my fabric, and maybe a color scheme in mind.

So I did. But my ride was unavailable! GPS to the rescue. Our
talking, planning, course correcting (marriage saving! absolute necessity for driving in Italy) little palm pilot led me there like a dream. It was just Gabriella and me, so she was exceptionally helpful with each step: silk tacked onto frame, outlining completed in latex-based gutta resist, each section tested with clean water for proper isolation ~any break in the gutta and dye will escape into the adjoining section, thus altering (not ruining! but giving opportunity for further creativity) the design~ and enough time to begin the coloring. Then home with a care package of several colors of dye.

At home, Craig and I built spare IKEA shelving into a serviceable and adjustable frame for my new tartaruga and future projects, too. Per Gabriella's suggestion, I basted scrap fabric to the sides of the silk piece to avoid pinning the silk directly. Then she was ready to go under the brush. Note to self: do not paint in direct sunlight or strong heat. By good fortune, the speed drying, and resultant boundary definitions, created a reasonable facsimile of turtle shell ridginess. She's beautiful and looks almost three-dimensional. At our next meeting, I filled in the background and fiddled with some other texturizing techniques. There is one more step to go before it's finished and ready to wear or hang, a steaming/boiling/cooking process, with which Isabelle, who lives nearby, will help me. But in case it fades dramatically, or ~gasp~ scorches, I'm posting this while I'm still ecstatic. The photo is the piece still stretched on the frame, easier to see this way, too.




29 February 2008

Leap Day 2008

Today is a bonus day. Artificial it may be, but 3 years out of 4, we don't get a February 29th. People born on February 29 are generally happy to count their age by the number of birthdays they've seen, so today is special (Happy Birthday, all you youngsters out there). What are you going to do with this "extra" day? Sure, you could spend all day thinking it's just another Friday. Or you could totally drop out, do absolutely nothing, because Leap Day is bonus, like it doesn't count toward your 24/7/365 (technically, it wouldn't). Me? I'm feeling good, productive. (Although that 2 hour cappuccino has sucked some of the get-up-and-go out of my day.) So I'm going to leap into something new. And if it doesn't work out? Eh, it won't even count. It was an extra day anyway.

Welcome to my blog. Now, some of you are all tech-savvy, avid blog readers and writers, and may be thinking, "She's doing it all wrong." Others of you have never heard the word and are thinking, "What is it?" To the best of my nascent understanding (I got a wild hair yesterday), a web log (weblog -> 'blog -> blog) is my journal/bulletin board/soapbox/sounding board. I post what I'm doing, thinking, thinking about doing and as many as I allow access are welcome to comment... or not. It will replace my increasingly sporadic serial installments of our adventures in Europe. Being very public, I will go back and possibly retro-censor the previous installments, then place them in archive here. At least I hope that is something possible to do. I Call It My Art is very much an experiment and I expect it will remain so. Onward.
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