Archive for March, 2006

Mar 31 2006

Travels With Dad: Venice, April 1984

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I dreamed about Dad last night. We were sharing a bottle of Clos du Bois and laughing while we made dinner. Buddy (my cat who died in 2000 at the age of 18) watched us in his Buddy-way: as if we looked silly, but something good might come of it. In my dreams, Dad and Buddy are never dead. A friend once told me that dreams like this are visits. Maybe they are.

April 16, 1984

It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day & when we caught the “bus-boat”, as Dad calls them – the vaporetto – it was the most beautiful time of day, the time before the sun sets.

We sailed down the Grand Canal in the golden sunlight, past the palazzi where Browning lived and Byron died; past little alleys that are rivers, bridged with tiny arched bridges of stone, marble, or wood, with trees and bushes hanging over the water; walled, mysterious gardens, houses with balconies, elaborate stoneworks, & everywhere, plants and flowers in pots on windowsills. The “garages” are for boats, below the houses, or steps leading to the water, where you moor your boat instead of your car. The street lamps are very art nouveau-looking, in wrought iron, with pink glass!

The hotel was a minute’s walk from the famous church of San Marco and the piazza thereof [Really! I sound like a wannabe lawyer]; the Doges’ Palace & the famous clock tower, built in 1497 [It still worked then, and probably still does]. We went to San Marco the next day, with its amazing mosaic and gold screen, studded with jewels. The words “beautiful” and “old” have lost their meanings for me here, since everything is so very new where I come from. We climbed the marble roof to see the lovely, ancient bronze horses, green with age, still, you can almost see them breathe.

Next, we went to the Doges’ Palace, which has a marvellous facade, pink & white marble, very oriental looking. In one of the large conference rooms, the famous Tintoretto had been removed for no apparent reason, but there were portraits of the first 45 Doges around the edges of the walls – one, a traitor, had a black curtain where his portrait should have been. We went through the Bridge of Sighs – it was very pretty from the outside, white stone elaborately carved – but horribly dark and claustrophobic inside, leading to even more horrid dungeons, where there was a remarkable collection of arms and armor from the 12th to 16th centuries. [I don’t seem to have heard of a run-on sentence then!]

The following day, I visited the Guggenheim collection alone, since Dad had dismissed it as “rubbish”. [He was never a fan of modern art, and was pleased when the Tate Gallery in London moved all the “rubbish” to the Tate Modern down the river.] I loved it. I enjoyed it more, I’m afraid, than the ancient, venerable things. The garden is very lovely and peaceful, walled, and full of sculptures. There Peggy herself is buried, along with her beloved dog – a simple stone marks the place. Her house itself is beautiful and plain – all on one level, in white marble; facing the Grand Canal, with a small garden also facing the canal, full of flowers. She had a remarkable eye for art. If I had to choose one thing, it would have been the wonderful silver headboard, made for her by Calder.

It was again a beautiful afternoon as we left Venice; it is truly a city of enchantment.

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Mar 28 2006

Too Many Pints = Memory Loss?

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My one and only nephew, Ben, works as a bartender at his local pub. Though I may be accused of bias, I think Ben is pretty memorable, being over six feet tall and with the Scandinavian coloring* so rarely bestowed on girls who are not of the Nordic persuasion. (My brother also has the bright blonde hair and blue eyes, and is equally unimpressed by it. Just another one of those bad jokes made by the mistress of them all, Mother Nature.)

I think Ben is a classic name, short and easily remembered. But apparently not, since according to Ben:

“Names I have been called while bar working:

and I think once Steve

I dunno why people can’t remember Ben”

I don’t know either, unless bar math dictates that too many pints equals memory loss. It’s certainly not because Ben isn’t memorable!

*Yet he’s always trying to convince me to return to my naturally mouse shading. I remain unconvinced, though blondes, in my case at least, do not have more fun.

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Mar 24 2006

Travels With Dad: Florence and Pisa, March 1984

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I thought it might be fun to post some excerpts from the diaries I kept on my trips with my father. They go from 1984 to 2000. Keep in mind that I was 22 in 1984!

I spent part of 1984 with my father, mother, and younger sis (who was all of 13) in Siena. Dad was working at the University there for a few months, and the rest of us just came along for the ride.

[Notes in square brackets are from the current version of Me.]

March 4, 1984

The courtyard of the Uffizi [in Florence] was covered in graffiti, almost shockingly so. There was really too much to take in at the gallery itself, but the unforgettables for me were the Botticelli “Spring” and “Birth of Venus”, which were breathtaking & could make you cry, they are so exquisite, and the wonderful 5th century BC Venus, which looked so alive and so beautiful you could fall in love with her. There were also two wonderful self-portraits by Rembrandt, one 30 years after the other. In the older portrait, he looked very dissipated indeed!

Florence is quite small (600,000 people) & all the historical buildings and art galleries, etc., are close together, so just walking around is an experience and you get a feel for the city and its people. We explored the market in the Piazzo San Marco, which was a great deal of fun and full of lovely things – lace, scarves, shoes, jewelry and gloves all jumbled together.

It was a long drive to Pisa, but it was a radiant day. When you leave a town in Italy, they have its name on a sign, crossed out! We drove through the chianti wine-making country, through groves of trees and up & down hills. You seem to climb imperceptibly in Tuscany, and then you look down on a splendid view of the country beneath: farms, vineyards, houses.

I can’t get over the way they still live in these medieval structures; they just shove in new windows & that’s it. Sometimes you see an ancient crumbling building that no-one could possibly live in, and then you see the inevitable line of laundry hanging from a window. Yet this doesn’t seem to indicate poverty, just a fidelity to the land or the house itself.

Some delightful details en route: two carved wooden dragons over a doorway; a forsythia tree in full bloom at the base of a palm tree. One English word the Italians seem to have taken to is “Jolly” – there are Jolly hotels, cafes, restaurants, even garages!

In Pisa, the only thing to see is the [Leaning] Tower, which was much smaller and prettier than I imagined. 60% of Pisa was destroyed in WWII, so most of the town is new and not very interesting. The Tower is white and grey, and Dad, Meg, & I climbed it – Meg even went up the part you had to climb a ladder to reach. [Megan has always been completely fear-free.] You get a token and go through a turnstile to get in, just like the subway.

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Mar 21 2006

Miz Suzy and her D-Clines

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For reasons beyond my control (read: the mail), I received my new bank card approximately three weeks after the old one had expired. Now there’s a reason to go postal.

My bank card doubles as a Visa card, and since my only other Visa card was rudely and summarily sold my Pacific Heights tenement, but I couldn’t get any, since I didn’t have the bank card.

In the immortal words of the immortal A.A. Milne, “He could see the honey, he could smell the honey, but he couldn’t quite reach the honey.”

Having been assured that the card was on its way, I haunted the post office where I get my mail to the point that the guy behind the counter now thinks I have a crush on him. I began to think of alternate ways to get money. Rob a bank? Too risky. Set up myself as a charity? Too much work. Find a sugar daddy? Way too old.

In the immortal words of the immortal A.A. Milne, “Piglet lay there, wondering what had happened. At first he thought that the whole world had blown up; and then he thought that perhaps only the Forest part of it had; and then he thought that perhaps only he had…”

I had come to the end of my rope when the card magically appeared. I reinforced the crush illusion by hugging the post office guy. I skipped away to activate the card and start using it. Yay!

I really should have known that my happiness would be short-lived. Have I learned nothing in the past few years?! Apparently I have equal amounts of optimism and bad luck. The card was declined. “Declined” is now my least-favorite word in the English language. It’s even worse than “work” or “boredom” (these are synonyms in Suzy vocabulary).

I called the bank, filled with righteous indignation. It had taken my card forever to reach me, and now they wouldn’t let me use it, even though their very own automated systen had given me its impersonal blessing to go ahead and spend with impunity.

The bank informed me that the card had been flagged for fraud detection, given that it was almost a month between their mailing it out and my using it. Bankers appear to be even more impatient than I am, assuming death if you don’t pay your bill for two months, and fraud if you don’t use your card for a whopping three weeks. They assured me that they would decline to decline my card now. Yay!

I bought enough groceries for the Brady Bunch, gloating over a stocked refrigerator (including wine).

I really should have known that my happiness would be short-lived.

I got an email from the incomparable Candi, the hostess with the mostes’ over at the aptly-named No Hassle Hosting, telling me that my card had once again gotten a D. I once again called the bank. Guess what? They had put the fraud tag back on the very next day after they took it off. They were at a loss to explain it (how scary is that?). They were so apologetic that I considered asking them to come on over and clean the house for me, and maybe pick up a pizza on the way. They promised me earnestly that I would never again get a D as long as I lived.

So far, so good. But I’m just waiting for the next bad grade. See, it’s like this. I really should know…

With thanks to my father, who told us Pooh stories so often that we nicknamed him Pooh. And apologies to the divine Miz Cline.

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Mar 19 2006

Designated Dresser

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I spent a lovely Saturday afternoon with my fab friend K.

First, we had a late brunch (Eggs Florentine for Me; cheddar & broccoli omelette for Miz K), over which K floored me (it was good that I was sitting, but I did splutter quite a lot) by admitting that she had eaten a roast beef sandwich – au jus, no less – for lunch one day that week. Now, K has been a vegetarian for many years, so this admission shocked me much more than the news that the sandwich had been followed by a snogging session in the car of a most unsuitable suitor, thus rendering K late for a meeting at work. Possibly beef is an aphrodiasiac. Who knew? Maybe all those mad cows.

Following the scandalous revelations, we repaired to a Grand Hotel. Not, as you might think, for a scandalous snogfest of our own, but for a Worthy Cause Fundraiser K was attending that night. I must say I envy her all those galas and fashion shows she always seems to be attending. Anyway, I was the Designated Dresser, as I was soon to discover.

As soon as we got to K’s room, I immediately sprawled on the bed, because I love hotel beds so much. Actually, I love hotels so much. I told K I wanted to live in one, and she said that her grandparents had lived in that very Grand Hotel for many years, many years ago, back when her family had money. Then she grabbed the bedspread and threw it on the floor, claiming that the hotels, even Grand ones, rarely clean the bedspreads. I thought they cleaned them between guests, but no. I tried not to think of all the bedspread cooties I had sprawled on in the past.

To help avert the horror, I explored the mini-bar and started reading the Room Service menu while K was prepping in the bathroom. I kept calling out to her: “Canapes! And hors d’oeuvres – hot and cold! Aren’t canapes & hors d’oeuvres the same thing?” and “Look, there’s a water menu!” (There was: it listed and defined artesian, mineral, and spring waters. Educational.) The list for the valet laundry included arcane items like housedresses and tuxedo shirts. So retro! I tried to interest her in the Bath Sommelier, where they would bring you a tin of bath salts and essential oils and other bathing goodies, but she got exasperated and came out of the bathroom and informed me, “Of all the people I know, you’re the one who really, really needs to be rich.”

Truer words were never spoken. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

At this point, I learned that I was her Designated Dresser, and was told to focus on helping her look fabulous, but not as if she were trying to look fabulous, which we all know is the hardest look to pull off. With the help of wine from the mini-bar, we selected a short, flirty, silky skirt, high heeled boots, and a top that was just boobalicious enough to be alluring, but not sleazy. I applied false eyelashes to K’s baby blues for the first time in her life, so her eyelashes were like flirty butterflies. If I say so myself, she looked gorgeous. And I love it that she put on her nail polish as we were leaving the room.

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Mar 17 2006

Dad’s 75th Birthday

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My father was born 75 years ago today, in Croydon, England.

Here are some of my favorite memories:

  • Waiting for Dad to come home from work when I was a young girl and he was a young scientist. In those days, he’d come home in his white lab coat, smelling faintly and comfortingly of chemicals. I’d watch for him from the living room window, and when he came through the door, jump on him, yelling delightedly, “Daddy! Daddy!” He’d ruffle up my hair, ask “How’s my pixie?” and proceed to shake me upside down, in a fruitless effort to get the nonsense out. It’s still in there.

  • Dad was never much of a swimmer. He had an almost pathological aversion to putting his face in the water, so he mostly swam (when he did), in a modified dog paddle (the Dad paddle). More often, he lay on a towel on the beach, soaking up the sun and reading the Herald Tribune (also his newspaper of choice when we were in Europe). I’d emerge from swimming in the Atlantic, off the coast of Maine, blue-lipped and shivering, and lie down, cold and dripping, on his sun-warmed back, nestling my wet head into his neck with my towel over me. He never complained!

  • He loved to recite Shakespeare while making dinner, especially the Witches’ speech in MacBeth which starts, “Boil, boil, toil and trouble”, which he’d recite with gusto while putting in ingredient after ingredient. He also liked intoning comic gems such as:

    “Harry was a chemist’s son
    A chemist’s son no more
    For what he thought was H20
    Was H2S04” [the formula for sulphuric acid]

    “Oooey-gooey was a worm
    A mighty worm was he
    He stepped upon the railroad track
    The train he did not see…

    To get the full effect, picture a distinguished English gentleman with matching accent, reciting nonsense with the same enjoyment he gave to Shakespeare.

    Although tone-deaf, he’d happily sing, too, mostly from the oeuvre of Gilbert & Sullivan. I can sing most of HMS Pinafore, almost as well as he could. The cats used to flee from my impromptu performances. If only I had inherited his math and science abilities instead of the singing one!

  • I believe that Dad’s telling of Pooh stories sans books started when travelling with us kids in England by train when we were all very young. In order to keep us under some control while waiting for trains, he’d tell us Pooh stories, using different voices for all the characters. The storytelling never lost its appeal, and fortunately, my sister Megan convinced him to put the stories on tape, so we have them still.

  • When Dad retired to his native England in 1991, I promised him I would visit once a year, and I did, sometimes twice. Once I had cleared Customs, I’d almost run to the Arrivals hall, where Dad would be sitting, reading the Times (he read the Guardian on Sundays to get a different point of view) while he waited for me. He’d look up over his reading glasses, and his face would light up at the sight of me. He’d jump to his feet and reach across the barrier to hug me and kiss my cheek. I can still feel the rough tweed of his jacket and the joy of his hug. When I came round the barrier, he’d hug me again.

His last words to me, and mine to him, were “Love you lots.”

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Mar 13 2006

(Up) Right On!

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I am pleased to report that I can now stand upright, and look slightly more evolved than I did sporting that Missing Link look over the past few days. I have a sudden and profound sympathy for anyone playing the roles of Igor or the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It’s not as easy as it looks. And a pain in the back is a real pain in the butt.

So now I just have muscles bitchin’ about the Bitchin’ Backache, a renewed resolve to get stronger at the gym so this doesn’t happen again, and an unimpaired love of libraries and their books (not to mention librarians! Go, Cas!). And a slight cough as a reminder of the Fiendishly Fierce Flu, gone, but not forgotten.

Recently, I admitted to my niece that I am guilty of Sloth. Actually, I indulge it, as can be seen by the paltry 6 posts I managed in February, which is the shortest month of the year. I’d say I’ll try and do better, but I’m not fooling anyone, least of all myself. Anyway, my niece pointed out that Sloth is considered the least sinful of the Deadly Sins. In fact, it’s Sin Lite. So I’m even lazy about sinning. Still, deadly, right? That’s got to count for something.

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Mar 09 2006

It’s Official

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Yesterday, I ventured out of the house for the first time since the Fiendish Flu attacked. I wobbled weakly to the library, where I picked up a delightful armful of books. When I attempted to stand up again, I discovered that I had tweaked my back so badly that I now look like a greater than or less than sign (< or >), depending how you look at me.

Karma must be telling me not to gloat over the misfortunes of others, however well-deserved.

If I can’t think something nice, I won’t think anything at all.

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Mar 06 2006

Saturday Night Fever

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Well, that was not fun.

What I thought was a simple cold turned out to be a Fiendishly Fierce Flu. It included such unlovely symptoms as:

  • The Red Hot Chills. I huddled in bed under all the blankets I could find, also wearing a fleece and a HAT, and I was still shaking like a 6.0 earthquake, and my teeth were chattering more than everyone on the Red Carpet combined. The alternative to the Chills was the Red Hot part, with my hair and t-shirt soaked with sweat like the least attractive contestant in a wet t-shirt contest. In Appalachia.
  • The Eponymous Fever. In an effort to bring down the fever, bathed burning face with cool (for about 5 seconds), damp cloth, looking like an extra from a hospital scene in a Civil War epic made by Ed Wood.
  • The Volcanic Vomiting. As if its mere existence wasn’t bad enough, The VV liked to make sudden, surprise appearances, when its Victim was as far from the salle de bains as possible. Its sense of humor is as sick as I am.

Add to the mix lungs that sound like a dying bagpipe every time you breathe and a savage dose of monthly girl grossness, and you have a perfect recipe for perfect misery.

I’m now experiencing the Exhausted Aftermath, with aftershocks of coughing and baling out my nose, which just keeps refilling. No word on the transplant yet.

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Mar 02 2006

I feel like complete shit, Ferris.

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I coughed myself awake this morning, and that’s even worse than being woken up by the phone* or someone snoring, or, say, a noisy older sister barging into a house for coffee (I know who I am). I have progressed to the achy-breaky bod (even my fingers – practice for arthritis! Awwwriiight!) and chills.

However, I have a project due at the end of the day tomorrow, so it’s drippy nose to the grindstone. Maybe that will get me a nose transplant. I’m thinking something retrousse. What do you think?

Speaking of work, I was delighted to learn that all the folks at my last job who laid me off were laid off themselves. I couldn’t help a wicked little snicker and a passing thought that maybe they just couldn’t make it without Me. Hope that doesn’t bring bad karma my way. What do you think, Earl? In my mind, their dastardliness definitely deserved the snicker and thoughtlet.

Once I knock off for the day, I’m going to try my father’s cold remedy: whiskey. Though in my case, it’s bourbon, bein’ the Yankee Do-Little that I am. I remember being awed when I was a kid by Dad’s ability to swill gin (shudder) and codeine immediately before a lecture (medicating a toothache until the dentist’s office opened the next day) and doing a great job. What a role model!

*I am reminded of a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon in which Calvin asks his father why they don’t have a computer, so they could be connected to the whole wide world. His father replies, “Because it’s bad enough we have a phone.”

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