The Show-Off

I was Suzy the Culinary Exhibitionist this weekend, for the benefit of friends (a show-off must have an audience).

Saturday: Really excellent Eggs Florentine, with hollandaise sauce made from scratch, fresh spinach, free-range eggs, and whole-wheat English muffins. Mmmm, death on a plate.

Later, it was sour apple martinis and a screening of Reform School Girl (1957), starring no-one you’ve ever heard of. The eponymous heroine takes the rap for a delinquent boyfriend, and gets sent to, you guessed it, reform school. If the movie was meant as an Awful Warning, it was a total failure, since reform school seems to consist of gardening with no supervision (allowing for flirting with local boys through wire fence), playing volleyball and ping pong in tiny shorts, supervised dances with local boys (allowing heroine to meet Mr. Right), learning about the finer points of the Civil War while wearing tight sweaters and skirts with stiletto heels, with the occasional cat fight thrown in for good measure. I wish someone would send me to reform school.

Sunday: Thai dinner for tonight – everything made by Me except obvious things like meat. Grilled beef salad (not for my consumption, I hasten to add), chicken in green curry sauce with fresh basil and chicken, and to use up the leftover cilantro, chicken marinating in a paste of cilantro, garlic, fresh mint, and sesame oil, which will be grilled. All to be served with rice and salad.

Now that everything’s under control in the kitchen, it’s time to lounge on the couch and fantasize over the real estate section of the New York Times. What will it be? A house in the Hamptons? A perfect pre-war apartment overlooking Central Park? A magically unscathed antebellum plantation house? All of the above?

Travels With Dad: Italy to Paris, May 1984

My, what a slackerbaby I’ve been this week! No readin’ (of blogs), no writin’ (of blogs), and you know there hasn’t been ‘rithmetic, either. If it weren’t for inflicting my juvenilia on you once a week, I’d probably still be doing nothing, and lots of it.

In an effort to overcome my writing sloth, I’m going to try 100 Words in May. It’s a writing exercise where you commit to write 100 words a day, no more, no less, for an entire month. Wish me luck!

And now, back to your irregularly scheduled program.

May 9, 1984

The taxi came at 8:45 sharp and we drove to Stresa to catch the train to Lucerne. It was a very nice modern train but still with compartments. We had one all to ourselves. The scenery was very impressive: very high mountains, the Swiss chalets that you never think really exist, fields of cows, quaint villages, fields of mustard.

At Lucerne, we changed to TGV without much time to spare [hardly surprising, since the Italian train arrived and left when it felt like it, and the Swiss train was a model of efficiency and left exactly on time. As I recall, we barely had time to get all the bags on before the train started pulling out of the station.] We’re becoming world experts at moving our considerable luggage. The train was supposed to go 200 miles an hour, but only went 150 between Dijon (hence the mustard fields) & Paris.

May 10, 1984

Megan and I had coffee (me) and chocolate (her) for breakfast. We also had croissants, which were absolute heaven, & Meg had a strawberry tart (all from Chez Nous, near the Republique Metro stop) – all this came to about $4. The subway is 10 tickets for 24 francs.

We went to the Louvre. We enjoyed the Egyptian exhibit very much, while Mom & Dad explored the furniture and objets d’art (I was enchanted by Marie Antoinette’s incredibly elaborate and heavy necessaire de voyage). There was an especially lovely red granite Sphinx & an interesting 10th century BC interior of an Egyptian temple.

We went for a wonderful lunch at a patisserie & salon de the opposite to the Louvre door to the Egyptian exhibit. [This was long before the IM Pei Pyramids.] Meg had croque monsieur for the first time (she loved it) & Orangina – a discovery for Meg & a redsicovery for me. [I first had it when I was an au pair in Nice when I was 17. Everyone laughed at me, since it was considered a kids’ drink, like Kool-Aid. I still love it.]

After lunch, we visited the Winged Victory of Samothrace (breathtaking), the Mona Lisa (no-one was impressed), the Venus de Milo, some very nice Rembrandts, and the world’s most horrible Rubenses. The Orangerie is closed for renovation, but we visited the Jeu de Paume where Meg was delighted with Degas’ bronze, dressed ballerina (tutu and pink satin hair ribbon). It was wonderful to see the Van Goghs, Lautrecs, Renoirs, & Degas again.

Travels With Dad: The Italian Lakes, May 1984

May 8, 1984

A beautiful day visiting islands in Lago Maggiore: Isola Bella & Isola Madre. Isola Bella has a very grand palace – also historical, in which Napoleon & Josephine stayed (in the best bedroom, overlooking Isola dei Pescatori). The gardens are spectacular, and I saw my first white peacock, who put his tail up, just before we left!

Dad, Meg and I made a cursory inspection of the house on Isola Madre (not as grand as the one on Isola Bella with its risque tapestries) which has an impressive collection of antique dolls. However, I agree with Flaubert that the gardens are more beautiful than those on Isola Bella. [!!!] There is also a wonderful bird sanctuary, where we spent most of the time. There were white-backed pheasants with babies, fan-tailed doves (busy making more fan-tailed doves), and white and blue peacocks, both putting their tails up. I’ve never seen peacocks before, and the colors are just astonishing.

We leave Italy tomorrow. Things I will probably forget after leaving Italy: the signs that are crossed out to show when you leave a town or city; the old fashioned trains with compartments; juice in boxes and cartons (Dropy, Santal, Billy); the shutters on the windows; stores closing at 1:00 and reopening at 4:00 or 5:00; the way you punch tickets on buses & the inspectors who check them; the light in Siena and Venice and Florence in the afternoon; that bars are where you go for coffee, a chat, billiards, stamps, school supplies, cigarettes, and french fries [Similar to the French tabacs. In Intra, you brought an empty pot to the bar and they filled it with french fries for you to take home.]

We were sent on our way with two bottles of “precious wine” from 1966.

Errant Errand Girls

Rita and I ambled some errands together this weekend. Remarkably, there are stores which do not enjoy Rita’s presence, even though she is better-behaved and sheds less than I do. It may have something to do with how she, like the Queen*, rarely carries cash.

I left her outside one of these biased establishments, and when I came out, she was barking at two guys who had stopped to pet her. I apologized, and Guy One said, “She must smell my dog on me.” Guy Two said, “Nah, she just doesn’t like him. I don’t, either!” and they walked away, laughing.

I think she’s just getting choosier these days. I mean, I’m not too crazy about strange guys walking up to me on the street and petting me, either. Rita and I also share an aversion to small, yappy dogs, though this does not extend to puppies. Puppies are always good.

*Imagine how weird it would be to carry around money with your face on it? And do her kids have to do it? If they did, the money would literally be a note from their mother.

Travels With Dad: Milan & Beyond, May 1984

At the end of our stay in Siena, we went to Milan to stay overnight with Dad’s friend David Calamari (amusingly enough, he is a marine biologist: David Squid) and his family, before going on to the Calamaris’ place on Lake Como. My experience there was not at all like George Clooney’s, I’m willing to bet.

May 6, 1984

Claudio [one of Dad’s colleagues at the Unversity of Siena] drove us to Florence with all our luggage (!) and took us on a little detour to PIazza Michelangelo for a last look at Florence (although it was a bit hazy) & then to the train.

Our train was the old-fashioned compartment kind, & very crowded. We shared a compartment with a tired-looking young man reading a comic book & a bored, pretty girl. When I fixed my lipstick after lunch, I was observed and imitated by a group of schoolboys, who applauded in glee until scolded by one of their teachers. When they got out, they opened the compartment door and said, “Bye-bye.”

By the time we got to Milan, it was absolutely pouring incredibly, and Meg & I had to walk because the luggage took up the whole taxi. [Italian cars are small, and Mom did not travel light.] Fortunately, it was a short walk to the Calamaris’ apartment, which was built in the 1920’s. The foyer is all marble (I was unduly impressed until I learned they use marble for everything), with the concierge behind glass and a tiny elevator. You had to close the doors by hand, and only three thin people could fit into it at one time.

The next day was horrible. Meg has the ambition to climb the three tallest cathedrals in Europe. She’s climbed St. Peter’s in Rome, & St. Paul’s in London, and Milan Cathedral was next. So I took her up. It was pouring buckets, & the roof of the cathedral was all wet slippery marble rivers. Megan & I, with my bright blue umbrella and pink boots, were pursued across the roof by screaming Italian boys. Very scary. Check off cathedral #3.

Took the subway to get to the train station to go to Intra [on Lake Como]. I liked it a lot; it’s very high-tech, black, anthracite, and orange. At Laveno, took the ferry to Intra. It was still pouring, and the taxi was there, but the driver wasn’t. We found him in a bar. We finally arrived at the Calamaris’ house, which is very weird.

It’s 200 years old, and nothing has changed. There are: no central heating, dirt floors downstairs, no hot running water, no bathub or shower or coffee pot [even then I was a caffeine addict!]. In fact, it’s completely uncivilized, and a nightmare that could have been designed especially for me. [Still camping-averse, too.]

The Davids [both Dad & Calamari had the same first name] arrived around dinnertime – Dad was speaking at the University – & we had a great dinner. [An on-going joke between the two Davids was that they’d open a restaurant one day and call it Il Due Davide – the Two Davids. I wish they’d had the chance!]

The next day, some of David’s friends & relations (he has as many as Rabbit in Winnie the Pooh) came. We managed fairly well, in spite of the language problems*. The friends & relations had seen Dad on TV a few years ago and were duly impressed. One of them, Ephraim, is a keen bird-watcher and they pointed out birds to each other in a book.

We have gone through 20 bottles of wine since we got here – beautiful red wine. There are shelves and shelves of it in the only room with a fireplace – the dining room. David has lived here, on and off, since he was a child. The view from the back of the house is remarkable – the lake & the high mountains, some with snow on the upper slopes. Much prettier today in the sun. However, I can’t wait to get out of here.

*I never progressed much beyond “Where is the train for Florence?” and menu. Dad refused to try and learn a foreign language, on the basis that if you tried out a few words, you’d get a torrent of nonsense back which you’d have no hope of understanding.

Travels With Dad: Tuscany, April 1984

April 20, 1984

Went to the little mountain village of Monterchi to see a fresco by the famous 15th century painter Piero della Francesca. Monterchi was charming, although we did find a charming church & a nice memorial to some Anglo-Indian soldiers killed during WWII, we simply could not find the fresco. Finally, we found it [I seem to have failed to mention that the quest in question was to find Madonna Del Parto], in a little chapel next to the Monterchi cemetery – & it was worth every effort. [My original ticket cost 250 lire, or 15 cents!] It is so very beautiful, & the Madonna’s face glows from the painting, her expression a little perplexed, yet serious & serene, wondering, yet certain.

[I believe it was the only Renaissance painting to show the Madonna actually pregnant. Certainly it’s one of the only ones.]

April 22, 1984

Visited the island of Elba, where Napoleon was imprisoned for a year or so. We drove to Piombino, & then took the ferry to Elba. The ferry was ship-sized, and had a very odd system of boarding: cars & people all went on from below, at once, and then you climbed a ladder and onto the deck. It was a very nice ride, and took about an hour & a quarter – quite cold on deck, although it was a hot, radiantly sunny day.

Elba is mountainous, a wild, sparsely populated subtropical island in the Mediterranean. There are cacti, and big, beautiful flowers that smell wonderful – the air is perfumed. Dad and I climbed to the top of the Medici fortress – turned into a PLAYGROUND on one level – while Megan played with a German dog called Astra and Mom rested. It was a lovely view, the sea an incredible blue, little white boats, tile-roofed white houses, the wild mountains. Actually, the harbors look much like Marseille.

Napoleon’s “house” closed 10 minutes before we got there; but we saw the outside, which was very grand, with a line of “N’s” which went right across the facade, & big “N’s” in the wrought-iron gates, too! Some prison! One wonders if they were preparing for his arrival in advance. Yet it must have been a very lonely place for an emperor, in spite of his brave claim that “Napoleon is happy everywhere.”

Mom’s Birthday


Today would have been my mother’s 74th birthday. I guess it still is; she’s just not here to see it. It’s her first birthday since she lost the good fight in August, so it’s natural to be thinking of her a little more than usual.

Instead of thinking of her ravaged by cancer and pain, I like to think of her as she is here, a lovely young woman. She’s standing outside her parents’ house, a big, white Victorian near Rochester, New York. I believe it was built by the sheriff at the time as a wedding gift for his daughter. The sheriff’s house is right next door, and was built by the same architect. I remember seeing his initials carved into a roofbeam in my grandparents’ attic (a wondrous place with stained glass windows and trunks full of ballgowns and old books – I was equally entranced by both).

In this picture, Mom is holding my older sister Beth, who is a pink and white confection of baby-ness. I can see why my father “felt quite sorry for me”, as he put it, when I came along, being considerably less attractive. However, my babyhood ugliness (I like to think I’ve outgrown most of it) did not deter my parents from forging bravely ahead and having two more children after me.

Mom is about 30 in this picture, but to me, she looks much younger: almost like a teenage girl who is taking care of a friend’s baby. She looks so happy, as if she didn’t have a care in the world. I hope she doesn’t have any now, and that she knows her children are thinking of her, today and always.

[Update: My sister Megan tells me that she showed this picture and post to all the staff at the hospital who took care of Mom. They were so happy to see her healthy and happy. And to all of my readers: thank you for your support and caring. Special thanks to JS of 12 Frogs].

Lovely Rita

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”* – nor dog guardians, even part-time ones, from walking their charges. Fortunately, the rain had stopped by the time I took Rita to the park.

Rita is really very attractive. Not only did she get the attention of the Meet Cute guy and his dog (sadly, I haven’t seen them again, though I hope that they’re still together), but today she literally got a follower – an adorable brown Labrador puppy!! He was so darling I could hardly stand it. He came bounding over to Rita and sniffed her enthusiastically, tail wagging madly, bouncing with puppy joy (the most joyful kind of joy).

Rita, being a grande dame at approximately 70 people years**, was not as enthusiastic about the puppy as the puppy was about her, or I was about the puppy. She walked majestically off, and the puppy followed her faithfully, trying to charm her with his antics. She remained un-charmed. I didn’t. The puppy’s guardian let me pick him up (the puppy, I mean, not the guy) and cuddle him. This didn’t last long, as the puppy wanted to play with Rita, not me.

Finally, we went our separate ways. I want to get a puppy and name him/her Taxi. Then I’ll always get a Taxi when I call for one, whether there’s rain, heat, or gloom of night. But only if Rita approves.

Update: I was having a bath when it started thundering outside. Rita came into the bathroom to hide from the thunder (she hates it as much as I do), while I contemplated the advisability of having a bath in a thunderstorm. Rita and I both got through the storm unscathed.

*I thought this phrase was the motto of the US Postal service, but according to the Big Apple, it’s actually a bon mot of Greek historian Herodotus, who wrote it before the birth of Christ or the Post Office.

**Another misconception: one dog year equals seven human years. It’s more complicated than that. You can calculate your dog’s human age here. Warning: it doesn’t go beyond 15 years, which is quite depressing when your part-time pooch is 11.