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Sunday, May 30, 2004

I was in a strange mood, last night.

A friend emailed me, saying she hoped we might meet for coffee sometime. I emailed back a suggestion we could take advantage of her regular shopping trips to my neighborhood, where I know she stocks up on organic staples. Then, she emailed me to say, great idea, but I'm going to be too bizzy for the next month or so, is that OK? Well, yes, it is OK.

For a lot of people, let's face it, that's what it's all about. "Do you really like me?" Once you have reassured them, they move on. It's the personal version of the politician's "How am I doing?"

My Holey Ghostliness was about to slump into, not a rant, but an unholy mo----o-----o-----an, when it occurred to me to nip it in the bud, and I fished around my drawers until I unearthed a large rayon thinggy printed with zebras of all stripes stotting across a savannah. And I felt much, much better. And I went to bed early.

Irene called a few times. She is job hunting these days and she has given my name as a personal reference. Nobody has called me yet. I have told her I would let her know when they do, still she calls to make sure.

"Gotta go!" she announces brightly before hanging up, "Eh... How are you doing?"

"Fine, just fine." What is there to say?

Irene hasn't actually seen me once since the party at Sabrina's early this year, where I made the shrimp toast, etc. I have told her about my news, my condition, but I would bet my last dollar she has no idea what is really happening.

Hey, kiddies, guess what? One of these days, my URL is gonna change for good, without my prior approval, or even much advance notice, to me or from me.

My friend Gil up in Canada has been somewhat upset and scoldy at the way I talk about the perceived failure of my life. It's her conviction that we all bring to the table everything that we have, at all times, so that it's never "nothing", but always "such as it is".

She said something like "You made me your assistant librarian in school, and I couldn't read. Then I became full librarian, and I still couldn't read. Then I came to Canada, and became a teacher, and I still couldn't read. Then I became a special Ed teacher, and then a school principal, and so and so on..."

"...And you still couldn't read!"

We both laugh.

That is practically the truth, because Gil is blind in one eye and her good eye is on her "wrong side", if you know what I mean.

Gil read my post about Suzanne B. She comes from the same kind of background and she knew Suzanne well until her marriage. She did not know about the death of her parents though, only about her adoption by some other couple.

"Isn't it funny," says Gil, "How people with a common experience always find each other?"

On Suzanne, the notable thing was she was not Doom and Gloom, by a long shot. She was full of fun and high spirits, a radiant, energetic, laughing slip of a girl. Gil thinks I am probably the only person she ever told her story.

Gil told me her own story too, once upon a time.

I have heard so many stories in my life, is it any wonder sometimes my heart feels like it's been kicked by a 40-mule train?

On my mother's side of the family, there is a large family which doesn't speak to each other because of one family feud after another. It goes back to a Dragon ancestress whose name was Olympia.

What distinguishes this particular Olympia from the others was the fact she wore the pants in her marriage, she despised her husband, who built a chicken run in the back of the castle in which they lived, where he took refuge with his hens and had himself a nice, quiet, peaceful time, keeping out of her way.

They had two children, a boy and a girl. The Dragoness called the girl Olympia, after herself, and despised her. She married her off as soon as possible, very advantageously and very far (there was a huge dowry came with the girl), and thereafter was able to devote her affections and energies to the only thing that interested her, the apple of her eye, the light of her life, her son, my great-grandfather.

Down the pike, it became a tradition in each generation for the first-born girl to be named Oympia after the Dragoness, unless a suitable alibi could be found to name a girl something else (for instance, something like the threat of disinheritance by some other member of the family). When came my generation, the custom was discontinued as the Dragoness slowly relinquished her grip before passing on to her just reward.

I met her just once, when I was about two years old and my mother taught me a little song to sing for her name day. I can still sing this little song, it's in Breton and I don't know what it means anymore. But if ever a tune gets stuck in my head, all I need do is sing this little song and it clears everything.

I also remember being carried into the Dragoness's parlor in someone's arms for the event, and seeing the grand piano in front of the small-paned french windows, through which streamed shafts of afternoon sunlight, speckled with golden dust motes dancing as if alive, splashing bright stripes of vivid colours across a beautiful persian carpet. I never knew what I was remembering so clearly until 1986, when my Aunt Marie in California, as I told her the story of my little song and described the room, exclaimed: "You are describing Granma's parlor at 5 rue d'Orleans--Oh, yes, but that was a beautiful carpet!"

Anyway, all the Olympias on my mother's side hated their name, and they all went by their middle name "Marie". None of our Maries were real Maries, they were all of them Olympias, incognito. Aunts, cousins, second cousins, whatever. Past a certain age, no matter what the relationship, we children called them "Aunt Marie".

So there was an Aunt Marie who actually was a first cousin of my grandmother's--or rather, actually my grandfather's. She had a house at the seashore, and she would lend us her apartment in Paris during the school holidays sometimes, when the weather was fine enough to go to the seashore. Afterwards, I continued visiting her, whenever I came to Paris. She held an open house on Saturdays for young people, children and young grownups of all provenance. She was married to a famous French general from World War I and the old codger would be stuck deep in an armchair in his carpet slippers (he suffered from the gout), surrounded by young graduates from top French engineering schools and military academies, who were dragged in by Aunt Marie as fodder to play chess with the General.

Parenthesis: In my family an Uncle would never be called Uncle Henry, or Uncle Daniel, or Uncle Augustus, but specifically: "The General", or "The Captain", or "The Bishop", etc. I only know of one exception, cousin Robert Lhuillier de Laon, who went missing in action during World War I, whose body was never recovered, and who to this day is referred to in the family as "Robert the Disappeared" ("Robert le Disparu"). End of parenthesis.

When you arrived for lunch on Saturdays at Aunt Marie's the elevator would usually be stuck upstairs on some higher floor, because the last person to use it had not closed the door, and it would not ever move again until you slammed it shut as you walked past. You would have to start up the six flights of stairs, and after the first landing, you would start coming across various packages: a few stray oranges, a french baguette, a cardboard container of sauerkraut, miscellaneous cheeses, a carton of gooey cakes, jars of pickles, packets of cold cuts, tubs of salads, etc., etc. By the time you rang the doorbell with your nose, your arms were full of goodies, and Aunt Marie would open the door and beam at you: "Oh, thank you soooo much for bringing lunch!"

The charm of her luncheons was in part due to the fact you never knew who would be there, and then, there was no menu. You were pretty much a bunch of kids around the huge dining room table, and every kind of food was available, you could eat whatever you liked. It literally meant that if you were so-minded, you could stuff your face with nothing other than "choux a la creme". Aunt Marie definitely saw no merit in the meat and two veg regimen.

Drinks were the same too, and yes, there was wine, if you so chose. You were deemed to be grownup enough to decide for yourself whether you wanted some or not.

At the end of the meal, Aunt Marie made her incomparable coffee, in an oldfashioned drip pot with a sock. It was always worth it to "help her" in the kitchen, you could learn a thing or two.

Her incomparable coffee contained: two varieties of coffee grounds, roasted chicory, salt, sugar, a few grains of rice--and instant Nescafe. Yeah!

"I don't give anyone my secret recipe," she told me, making it sound like a conspiracy of significance.

Aunt Marie had raised three daughters, about my mother's age. They were all three of them artists, I believe two of them married artists and I think the third married some American drug manufacturer in Salt Lake City.

Aunt Marie's little apartment had original art on all the walls, gifts, I gathered, from her daughters and sons-in-law. We were doing a walkabout one day, admiring the art. There were quite a number of paintings representing kitchen cupboards, opened wide onto empty shelves: it must have been a phase of one of the donors. I noticed someone had cut out and pasted onto the shelves various cans and sauce bottles from glossy magazines, and here and there, a bright green pepper, a ripe tomato, a bunch of fresh bananas.

"Uh...." I said to Aunt Marie, "Did the cupboards come empty, or did they come fully stocked?"

Aunt Marie swung around to me and hugged me, laughing: "You are the only person who has ever asked me!" Then, she said: "Yes, I put all this stuff up--Those empty shelves were downright depressing."

"So, who did the paintings?" I asked, "Maryvonne?"

"Yes."

"And she doesn't say anything when she comes over to see you?"

"No. She just thinks I've lost my marbles, but she doesn't say anything. It embarrasses her! So, I don't say anything either."

"I think it's funny!" I said.

"I think it's funny too," Aunt Marie said, wiping the tears from her eyes.

"You know," she murmured, "We are all of us not very much at all, not so very much at all." Pause. "I raised those three girls..."

I waited.

"The other day, Josephine Z. came to lunch on Saturday. Now, she is just sixteen. She came over to me and asked me: 'Tell me, Aunt Marie, how exactly are you related to me, I mean, how is it you are my aunt?'
I had to say to her: 'My dear little Josephine, I am your grandmother.' Can you imagine it? She comes to lunch regularly on Saturdays, she didn't know who I am..."

I couldn't find words: all I could do is hug her, and hug her.

And slowly change the subject to one of joy, when I told her that I had discovered her pet field mouse in the kitchen, years earlier, when she had lent us her apartment for Easter once, and how it would come into my hand to be fed and I had not told my father about it, because for sure there would have been a mouse trap the very next day if I had. And we were able to enjoy the shared memory of that sweet little tamed wild creature, lost from its country home in the sixth floor kitchen of a Paris apartment building.

The wymin of my family, my very own Olympiads, are precious and wonderful to me--as in "full of wonder".

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Scattered pickings . . .

The little weeds in my window boxes are beginning to form a small apple-green hedge.

The email message I had sent an old friend asking for a medical referral has sprung comet tails and been forwarded, forwarded, it's Chinese whispers in spades, three people are now committed to dining together some evening soon. Does this have anything to do with me? I am giggling helplessly.

I am the catalyzer, the touchstone. None of my life actually has much to do with me personally.

Did I ever tell you the story about hocking all my valuable belongings, when I was down and out in Paris in my youth and needed a sudden spurt of money for something? No? Well, one of these days I threaten to tell it.

Today, the story is about crystallization: how time and space pulls together events, and a shock of a single moment manifests some phenomenon which appears as if out of nowhere.

I went to school in Ramsgate, England, and we had a biology teacher called Miss Bates. Biology also included botany and chemistry, it should really have been called general science.

One week, Miss Bates announced that we were going to make crystals. There were enough Bunsen burners in the lab for every one in the class, and we each had our own beaker and proceeded to cook up our individual solutions.

"Now put your names on your beakers," said Miss Bates, "And put your beakers very, very carefully down on a shelf in the cupboard, and next week, you will all of you have a crystal in the bottom of your beaker."

The next week, everyone had a crystal except me. I was furious. "Come look at this!" I cried to Miss Bates, "How come I have nothing in my beaker? I did everything, just like you said. I measured everything, exactly as you said. I cooked it, just like you said. I set it down carefully, just like you said." I was indignant.

She was a cold fish. She took my beaker from my hand, without a word. She lifted it up to her face, and looked through it. "I don't know..." She mused. The whole class was watching.

Then, she took a pencil, and tapped hard three times on the side of my beaker. Suddenly, a HUGE crystal materialized.

"OOOOOOOOOOOOh!"

I had the biggest, bestest, crystal of them all. "How did that happen?" I wanted to know.

Miss Bates explained that there had to be a shock for the crystallization to take place. "So, why did you say to set the beakers down so carefully?" I wanted to know.

"Nobody is THAT careful," Miss Bates retorted.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

The vicissitudes of gold. . .

The gold standard was abandoned some years ago by everyone. Still, gold counted as something and the price of gold would be set in London twice a day by the Rothschild Bank. This practice was terminated only just a short while ago--Not worth the bother any more? Maybe. Maybe just a case of other fish to fry.

Now we have a situation, as a result of the moneys borrowed by the U.S. for the permanent wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., where the Dollar is being bolstered (protected) by the Asians: the Chinese and the Japanese, for instance, who buy our Treasury Bonds. This enables the American public to turn a blind eye to the economic reality of perpetual war, because the note will only become due down the line, not in "our" time, and as long as someone else takes up the slack for us, why should we worry our little minds on something like that? When the time to pay comes, we'll think of something else, heh? (Just as when the time comes, we'll think of a way to solve the nuclear waste problem, or the Gulf War Syndrome problem, or the depleted uranium problem, or the climate change problem, and so on.)

Unfortunately, the Dollar has now become weakened a little bit extra in relation, say, to the Euro, because of the skyrocketing price of oil. So all of a sudden, the price of gold has become relevant to the market place once again, and the price of a single ounce of gold is almost at $400. Wow!

This is the window of opportunity for Russia to auction off one of its richest gold mines in Siberia (where else?). Very large reserves. Expected price (non-negotiable bottom line) upward of $150 million.

Cost of future exploitation? Well, don't worry your pretty little heads about that. You already know about that kind of thing: the mines of South Africa and their workforce, the open mines of Brazil. . . Can't afford to be too squeamish or sentimental about such things now: where would it leave us?

How could we ever again give anyone a diamond ring as a token of our undying affection if we ever, ever faced the horrific human cost of production?

* * * * *

My situation is becoming daily more tenuous. It might concern me more actually if it meant more of an actual loss of something that I could claim to own in reality. I don't as a matter of fact have much hold on anything of substance. I am more of a wave than a particle.

When I was a young woman, there were environments where people would be introduced to me as much as--nine times, before recognizing that they had already met me. On one infamous occasion, a man who finally recognized me had me confused with someone else and I could not convince him that I was not that other person. How can you prove a negative?

I used to joke that I was not so much a wallflower as "wall colored", a human cameleon that always hit humanity's blind spot. Was I really colorless, or was I merely transparent? One day that I laughingly said that nobody was interested in my opinion, one of my co-workers gave a little smile and retorted: "To interest people, you should try becoming interesting."

Ah, well.

It reminded me of a lecture someone gave at my school once, where she started out by saying we looked like a bunch of turnips, we were totally uninteresting. After the lecture, during the questions and answers period, I was the first to raise my hand and I asked:

"When you started out, you said that we were uninteresting. Could you please give us a hint as to how we could become more interesting?"

The whole school had laughed, but of course there was no answer.

Could there be room in society for such as I, like: "They also serve, who only stand and--bore?"

Some years ago, when my friend Gil was visiting New York, I told her I was full of regret at not having married and had children "to pass on the flame", as I put it. Her only question was "What if there was no flame to pass on?"

She was right, of course. The flame my parents tried to pass on, the reason they wanted to have children (I have the proof in writing, their letters from the early 30's before they married), was to bring "useful human beings into the world."

"Useful human beings?"

And what would that look like, pray?

My own inner tendency was not so much into usefulness as into doing the best I could at whatever it was I was doing. Not because of pressure from outside, but according to my own drive, according to my own evaluation. After all, who would ever know as I might whether or not I was giving my best effort to anything?

The first time I stood up and experienced this direction was as a boarding school student, where I was consistently first in class but knew I wasn't doing my best, because I didn't do what I hated: learning the weekly passage of the Gospel by heart and properly researching my science homework, neither of which interested me at all. Since I was always in first position despite these failures, no reproach was ever made to me. I looked good on the surface but I knew in my heart that I was not giving my best, and one day I decided to push myself to the unpleasant tasks, to tackle them before all else so as to get them out of the way before enjoying what pleased me. It didn't do me much good with my fellow students, it just widened the existing gap between us, and it certainly did not change the outcome of my life either, but I got an unexpected and valuable bonus for the effort: I discovered science was exceedingly interesting, and it became one of my favorite subjects.

I also realized that interest was often a matter of attention, which is always a choice.

Invisible me, transparent me, colorless me, uncertain me. Am I like a vampire whose reflection does not show in the mirror of reality?

Does it matter? If so, who to?

Ah, its Cui Bono, all over again. Thank heavens for
residual familiarity, we may proceed to have another glorious laundry day!


Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Mighty Mouse did a lot of laundry yesterday, folding sheets and such, and was in bed exhausted by 8 p.m. There's more of the same planned for today.

In the middle of the day, I went for a small leg-stretching around the block. The sun was boiling hot on my face, the breeze cool. Very comfortable. One of the restaurants on Ninth Avenue has decorated its terrace with three fuschia colored bougainvilliers, my favorites. It was the treat of the day.

Bougainvillea always touches my N spot, my Nostalgia spot: East Africa, Ibiza, Majorca, the French Riviera, and beautiful small white houses on tiny Greek islands--how I dream of living in such a whitewashed house, set off with such bright, beautiful flowers, with the sea off to the side, peasant bread, goat cheese, tomatos and olives, and a jug of local wine to share around a sun-dappled table, in the company of good old friends.

Not much to rant about today. The news is exhausting in its own kind of way, I have no energy to spare on tragic events. Besides, I am fully dressed and ready to return to my mission.

Mighty Mouse, all over again, until the mission will have been accomplished.

Monday, May 24, 2004

In the U.K., a top secret Foreign Office document has been leaked to the London Sunday Times. It says:

"The security situation in Iraq is difficult."

We can all stand at ease now: finally, the whole awful truth has been revealed.

I heard this morning that the cocoa bean harvest from Ivory Coast was the bumper crop of all times, in spite of the civil war, which means the world price for cocoa beans will go down, which, therefore, also means that Ivory Coast stands to be the biggest loser as a result of this bountiful windfall.

Recently, in Madagascar, a huge tropical storm virtually destroyed the entire vanilla bean crop, which means that the world price for vanilla beans will shoot up. Since I came to America, I don't bake, so I have a small bottle of vanilla extract drying out on my kitchen shelves, all gooky and sealed, which I would have to bring down to my doorman if ever I needed it ("Could you please open this for me?"). When I lived in Paris, I baked a lot, but I never used vanilla extract. I had real vanilla beans, which I kept in the sugar canister, so that all my baking sugar was perfumed to perfection with real vanilla. The dreadful news from Madagascar was the source of happy nostalgic memories for me, as I remembered the parties and dinner parties for which I baked in my socialized youth and the friends who surrounded me then.

In Dafur, the humanitarian aid workers are worried about the survival chances of some million refugees from Sudan. The photographs on the Net are splendid of these people, walking in dignity through the hot desert sands in their little rubber flipflops and their colorful clothes, carrying huge bundles of whatever they could salvage of their pathetic possessions, camels all snooty and tall besides them. If the story was not there to describe the reality, it would all look like some beautiful, quaint, parallel world of a simpler, harder life. The reality is scorching days and freezing nights, with no shelter from either extreme, very little food, no security, rape and violence, fear under a huge sky from horizon to horizon, and so little available water that people are going as long as two months without being able to wash themselves just once... It is estimated that a possible 350,000 human beings will die in the desert if no emergency help is delivered soon.

After all the brouhaha about SARS last year, followed by the smaller SARS alert this year, where the whole world trembled at a handful of deaths and numerous disruptive quarantines, the AIDS epidemic of Africa, with its millions of infected, millions of dead and dying, millions of infected and abandoned orphans, etc., is still pretty much on a back burner for the rest of us.

I don't see much concern being voiced either over the hundreds dead in South Sudan recently of Ebola, or the fact that a new, even more virulent, Ebola strain has been identified in the same region.

I'm not saying we shouldn't be concerned about SARS, or that we should get hysterical about Ebola: I am saying that instead of waging wars on each other for spurious reasons (greed, anger, stupidity, revenge, religion, power) we might exercise our common sense and wage peace for the common good, so that the whole world might become safer for all of us.

* * * * *

Midtown is noisy with construction these days and it is starting to get hot, so the windows are open to all that banging and all that dust. Summer is here.

I was treated to a splendid breakfast by my old friend Bill the other day. I only see him every two years or so, and it was great to hear of the exploits of his three grown-up children. He also treated me to a copy of Paris Match and Le Monde, so I was fully equipped to loll about, all Tilly Losh, for most of the day. I am still shook up from my fiasco last Wednesday, plus I am taking antibiotics that have me nodding off at the drop of a pin, and this is not exactly the best combination to start up new projects, or reprise old ones. Thank goodness, the antibiotics are over now and I should recover some of my energy.

And so, to work!

Sunday, May 23, 2004

The other day, I was on a cancer site which listed the progression of patient reactions to the news of their cancer diagnosis and prognosis. It was interesting to me inasmuch as it clearly set me down as "not normal".

The greatest change in my behavior is that I have "gone fickle". Example?

I've mentioned before about my conversations with my Evil Twin, the left-side of my brain, the one that says "Why can't we have flowers NOW?" when my usual right-brain has announced "we" can have some fresh flowers on the desk after clearing it of all the papers and spent-out pens.

So, yesterday I asked my Evil Twin what she wanted for breakfast, and she said she didn't want the healthy Ezekiel bread (there was none left), she wanted the trash french baguette of dead white flour, with rosemary ham and butter. Which meant that "we" had to get dressed earlier than usual to hop off to Girstede's and bring it all back home, and then "we" could hardly swallow any of it because quite frankly it didn't taste that good after all. What the Evil Twin probably had wanted was real baguette, and real "jambon de Paris", that incomparable fresh french ham that nobody has ever equalled. Evil Twin was very fickle about it, didn't even give "us" credit for trying.

On Saturday nights, I don't go anywhere. I hover over my computer and cruise the Net. I watch the BBC Newsnight programs on a diminutive screen, in particular the always entertaining weekly Review, which pleases me so much I sometimes replay it several times. Last night was no exception.

Germaine Greer on "Troy": "It's a piece of schlock!" The retort came so fast I couldn't catch who said it: "It's a very expensive piece of schlock!"

Then, again Germaine Greer: "Peace is a series of dishonorable bargains."

* * * * *

Michael Moore wins the Palme d'Or at Cannes. I think it's a measure of the world's frustration with the poor behavior of the Bushists across the world screen, it sure can't be about art, but could sure be a political commentary.

The most venerable High Priest of the sect I practice with once said about the truth, that sometimes on the darkest night, all we have to reveal it is a candle, but in the bright sunshine of High Noon it will be fully revealed for all to see.

When will High Noon come for all humanity?

* * * * *

Some time ago, my friend Irene said something like: "The trouble with you is that you always take the side of the underdog."

To be honest, if I were to list my faults, I don't think this would be the one that should rank highest.

My father, I imagine, was of the same bent. He told me once how his boss in Aden had reamed him out on his method of handling some personnel problem by saying: "There are two kinds of people in the world, Bill, those who choose to act as shields and those who prefer to function as swords. You, Bill, are always for the underdog, you choose to act as a shield. I prefer the role of the sword."

My father received this pronouncement as an indication of a disfavorable judgment against him, a decision that he had somehow failed.

When I was a kid in my convent school in England, the mother superior decided to start a sort of mentoring program, where the sixthformers would be held responsible to watch over a certain number of students in each of the lower classes, all the way down to the little itty-bitty juniors, some of whom were hardly seven years old (yes, kids used to be sent to boarding school very early in my time). This system was loosely modeled on the one in effect at Eton, we were told.

It was decided for the start-up of this new system that each sixthformer would select her "team", one choice at a time, down the forms, until all the kids were allocated, and that thereafter the teams would be inherited by the fifthformers when they reached the sixth form, so that continuity of membership would be assured.

It was clear to me, knowing my fellow sixthformers, that the star students would be grabbed first, everybody loves a winner and all that jazz. I made my choice right away and chose all the lame ducks. Nobody complained. I'm not sure anyone even noticed, they were so busy making the "right" choices.

Even as a child, it was my opinion there could be no losers. A difficult child, a slow child, a hurt child, was just a child that would require a little extra effort to bring into the winner's circle.

The realization had flashed into my mind all on its own one day, in connection with the most difficult disciplinary problem in the school, Suzanne B. Nothing seemed to work with this rambunctious girl, threats of being expelled, punishments, deprivations, nothing. One day that Suzanne and I were chatting about our war experiences in Europe, I found out that Suzanne (a little Polish aristocrat, only child on the run with her parents) had stood by in a courtyard and watched as German soldiers shot both her parents dead against the wall.

I don't believe for a minute many of the so-called grownups who wage war can know the feeling of a child experiencing this kind of loss. Let's face it, when we grow up, most of us distance ourselves from our very own childhood feelings, we forget even the commonplace. That's the only way I can explain any mother standing over a child who hates spinach and insisting that the child eat something he detests. There are other ways after all to get your greens, your vitamins.

There is another aspect to all of this, and that is that every child coming into this world has to retrace the whole evolution of life on earth before reaching maturity: from the simple life form of a single cell to the Nobel prize winner in physics. It's fractals, all over again, little microorganisms that mirror the macrocosm. The newborn who looks at you with such wisdom has brought into his new life the accumulation of knowledge and experience he took with him in his previous life when he died last. Because he is starting on a new path, he is granted a fresh slate to work with, with a goal to reach further than he did the previous time, and you, the parent, are part of his karmic load, both his impediment and his fortune: you are going to impose restraints, to refuse or offer opportunities, color his perception of both good and evil, etc. Little by little as he proceeds up his path, he will lose more and more of his past wisdom, until he reaches the wonderfully zany stupidity of teenagehood. This is necessary if he is to outdistance himself from his past, if he is to become his own pioneer, as it were. He will have his choices to make, to conform or rebel, to overcome or to drop out. His nature might be one that functions best with encouragement, and yours might be one that prefers to offer challenge and resistance, and who knows but that might not be the very life lesson the child needed to learn this time, to decide what he wants most of all for himself, without encouragement from anyone else? And yours, as a parent, might have been to learn the lesson of empathy and compassion, the one of stretching your selfish, self-centered complacency to understand someone whose natural inclination was so different from yours.

I once knew a man whose eldest boy was having trouble learning to read, to the great disappointment of the father. I asked him whether he ever read to the child before going to bed.

"Of course, every night, yes," he answered.

"Who picks the books? I asked.

"I do, or my wife," he answered.

I burst out laughing.

"There is nothing wrong with your kid," I pronounced, "You are just boring him stupid. Let him choose the books. Maybe he just only wants to read about cars, or airplanes, or boats, or animals, and he is not at all interested in whatever it is the two of you think appropriate for him."

I suggested he invite his wife and kids into the office for lunch one day, and then take them into a local bookstore and let the kids pick their own books. "Give them each a budget, like 'you can each of you have one, or two books'". It worked like magic and the kid was reading fluently in record time.

My father always said the purpose of education was not diplomas, but the turning on of insatiable curiosity, and the revelation of the mutiplicity and variety of subjects available to human study.

This just flowed as I wrote: my point actually was that if we want to change the world of the future, we should all of us be a little more concerned with the examples we are giving our children, and the circumstances we are creating and allowing for them.

A war environment, a war economy, is definitely worse for a child's development than any physical handicap.

I have spoken, Harrumph!


Saturday, May 22, 2004

Hard to catch up and make sense, so much is happening, so fast. Maybe I can control it somewhat by sticking to a historic dateline.

My meeting with my Surgeon held few surprises. I was right in my diagnosis.

"Has anyone spoken to you yet?" he asked across his desk, my "Gone With the Wind" file open before him.

I told him about my new Urologist, and the happy news of the planned removal of my stent. I did not mention the fact I knew bout the avulsion fracture of the lesser trochanter, I just told him the Radiologists had waffled and told me they would look over the pictures very carefully and report the results to my Surgeon.

He started with the famous fracture, and we had some light banter about it, where he told me how it works and I confirmed that, Yup, that was exactly how it had happened in my case.

"There was also a bone scan..." I reminded him.

He pulled apart my file and started fanning out the reports across his desk.

Then, he went straight to page two of the bone scan report and read it out at top speed.

Confirmation: metastasis to the bone, not just the lesser trochanter, but throughout the spine.

I couldn't help myself. As he looked into my eyes across the desk, I smiled and shot him my "woman" thing: "I told you so."

"Well," he said, "Nobody can be surprised."

"No," I agreed, "The surprise is it took so long. It's been years now that everyone thought I was metastatic, and I never was until now."

He then went on to say he would like me to consult with an Orthopedist.

"The trouble is..." he added deadpan, "...It's going to be difficult to find someone you like."

He's quite right about that one. He has given me two names, one I don't even want to look at. Call me superstitious, I think it's more like six times burnt, finally shy (careful?). Every doctor I have ever had whose name began with a K has treated me shabby, one way or another.

Professor K in 1944, who had his staff abuse me.

His wife, Simone K, who in 1954 put 1200 cc's of air refill into the wrong slot in my belly, and for weeks I was pushing these great big bubbles of air around under my skin, all over my body, from my arms, to my thighs, my shoulders, my thorax, I could just push them around like some Peking Duck freak. The sheer pain of it, until it was all resorbed.

Dr. K, my Gynecologist, who missed the diagnosis of my first primary cancer in 1980.

Dr. K, the Radiologist who participated in the irradiation of my pelvis in 1982, and who failed to warn me of the probability that I would within five years or so develop another cancer.

Dr. K, the Urologist who couldn't get a biopsy of a tiny, hard-to-reach tumor in my ureter, and who thought it would be an acceptable option to remove the entire kidney, the ureter and part of the bladder, "in order to be able to send the whole thing to the lab and get a diagnosis."

Dr. K, the Gastroenterologist, who allowed his partner to recommend the placement of an experimental colonic stent, without any reservation at all that I was told about, and who allowed one of his students (the same one both times) to perforate me on two separate occasions, necessitating an emergency laparatomy and being sent home, wide open like a gutted fish, and who then had the cheek to say during the post-op visit, "I wouldn't have recommended it, I don't think those stents are sufficiently developed" -- Excuse me! You did recommend it, neither my surgeon nor I had ever heard of the new procedure, and I was the first one, and maybe the last one, done at that particular hospital. This same Dr. K put me to sleep for a routine colonoscopy, when I had specifically told him I didn't want to be put to sleep, and had also told the Anesthesiologist I did not want to be put to sleep, and they had both agreed and confirmed to me that I would not be put to sleep and then they proceeded to put me to sleep, as I lay helpless, unable so much as to move a little finger, watching one syringe after another being pumped into my IV.

I don't know whether this would make sense to anyone else, but I'm done with the Klebers of the medical profession. Let's say for the least...I think, although I recognize I may be wrong, they are "ethically challenged".

Anyway, when I called the second Orthopedist, the receptionist asked me why I was consulting. I told her. She interrupted me abruptly, and said, rather rudely I thought, "Well, you can't see him. He only does shoulders and knees."

Ah, well!

I went back to my Surgeon and left him a message reporting the outcome and asking for another name. So far, no return call.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday I showed up for the joyful stent removal, the one that was going to be so easy and fun. The place was a surgical clinic, super squeaky-clean and attractive, black/grey/white tiles, with all accessories and uniforms a very attractive blue. They have a very hard-working, pleasant and energetic staff of about thirty, two OR's and they are extremely busy. I was there at 7 a.m., everyone had already arrived for duty. By all reports, they usually leave to go home around 7-7:30 p.m. Those are long days!

Well, the super 5-minute deal, in and out and home free, didn't work out that way.

There was an Anethesiologist on hand, and he decided he wanted to put me under. All of a sudden, I was being wired for an EKG, etc. When I asked whose instructions these were, when my Urologist had announced none of this would be necessary, just a little local Novocaine, it turned out it was just the Anesthesiologist's idea. I made a fuss, drew my Urologist's attention and asked that the process be reversed.

"You told me Novocaine would be sufficient," I said, "I agreed, because I've had a stent removed before with just Novocaine and it's fine with me, no problem. If I need sedation, I want 25 and 5, I don't want to be put to sleep."

The Urologist confirmed that in his opinion Novocaine was sufficient and so the decision was arrived at to stick to the original plan. The EKG wires were removed from my body.

Well, well, well! So much for the plans of men and wymin. It turned into an absolute nightmare, with yours truly almost screaming in pain as the Urologist wheedled and tweedled and yanked in vain, the stent could not be budged, and finally, he gave up trying.

So I went home, all shook up and rather disappointed, bleeding like a stuck pig but otherwise OK.

I have to say about the Urologist, "Mr. Geller" of "Friends", that he came out of the whole fiasco with flying colors, if that's not too much of a contradiction in terms.

I am now doing what a Dutch friend of mine, Yoka, a very New Age person, called "putting it out to the universe", that I am looking for appropriate help.

Which is, and only is: quality of life and quality of death. As far as I am concerned, I've had my surgery, I've had my irradiation, I've had my chemotherapy, I've served my stint in experimental this, that and the other. I am not a potato in a bin in the kitchen being prepared for cooking by some grunt with a sharp knife, "This is an eye, take it out; this is a soft spot, don't need that; this looks uneven, straighten it out; this is unbalanced, slash it off; this is hopeless, discard the whole mess."

Enuff of all that.

Last weekend, we had the annual International Food Fair on Ninth Avenue. I didn't have my annual Italian sausage hero this year, or my annual Kilbasa sandwich either. But I did have two smoothies, papaya, banana, strawberry. And I bought my annual "Gardener from Hell's Kitchen" T-shirt. And a $10 cotton batik skirt that I could not try on but that fits like a dream.

On both days, I went to sit on a bench in the 48th St Community Garden, which was at the peak of perfection with masses of giant irises almost as tall as me. Mauve, bright blue, buttery creamy yellow, buttercup bright yellow, and then those yellow ones with outer petals dipped in caramel, and those caramel ones with dark velvet innards promising of deep mysteries. There were pinks, pansies, bleeding hearts, white impatiens, columbines, real roses (not very distinguished, the soil is not good for roses), foxgloves, pyracantha, rose mallows, snapdragons. The American cranberry was in full bloom (virbunum trilobum, rather sickly sweet smell), and the red trumpet honeysuckle (lonisera seperviren, practically no smell), one of my favorites, and the blue wild indigo (baptisa australis). All the peonies were almost there, except one which was in full bloom, smelling of pepper.

They have a website: http//clintoncommunitygarden.org, but the photography really does not do it justice.

Last night, I went to Carol and Larry's for Friday night movie. The "boys" came home very late, but the "girls" started the show on time. Carol let me choose the takeout and I chose Thai ("I knew you would, Carol said).

Carol asked me whether I wanted a glass of wine. I told her I had read all the labels, and they said: "If you drink more than three alcoholic drinks a day, consult with your physician", so I rather thought I could accept just one glass of wine with the food. She agreed that's when she wanted hers too, as she had hardly slept at all the night before.

When the food arrived, the three girls" set up side by side on the couch and when we each of us had food on our plates, we started watching "Ocean's Eleven". When finally the "boys" came home (separately), they joined us and ate our leftovers, and watched the end of the movie.

It was a beautiful peaceful evening. Everybody crashed early and I took a cab home, Larry's treat to me.

Last night, I gave Lydia a beautiful Limoges pendant that came to me from my mother. I told her my father had given it to me when I was about her age, that I wanted her to have it because it was precious to me, as she was to me, and that since I didn't have a daughter of my own, bla, bla, bla. Then I said something about the pendant itself, how old it probably was, it was probably something my mother's grandmother had given her, and I added "That makes it quite old, because even if my mother hadn't died when she did, she still would be dead now because she had her 105th birthday just the other day." Both Lydia and her mother thought this was funny. I think Lydia liked the gift.

I feel very happy at having started the giving away of the things I care about--although, as I laughingly told Carol, I'm not quite ready yet to give it all away and live in a zen-like, empty apartment. One thing at a time, one day at a time, with consistency if at all possible.

I also want to be a better blogger while I'm about it. At some point, it may be of interest to me actually to focus on the evolution of all this, if only because sometimes it feels as if nothing is changing and it's only noticeable that change occurred when you turn around and look back. With a written record, one can become more aware of the glacially slow process of the... continental drift?

Ihath has a wonderful post: "Losing Enlightenment". Thanks, Ihath!

Doug's Dynamic Drivel has a funny one: "Post Turtle". Thanks, Doug!

Friday, May 21, 2004

This is just a test. My blog seems to have disappeared. Just checking in.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

My blog may be the image of a tub sailing across a stormy sea but it actually is more like a spider's web, with a tiny money spider at its centre, as opposed to a great hairy tarentula that would freak out the arachnophobes who come across me, and this vast vibrating web is periodically slashed by someone with a stick, or a blowtorch, and when I take up my central positon once more, some part of the web has shrivelled beyond recognition, and I must needs repair it by spinning some more, and I must needs reconnect to the outer reaches so that it may vibrate once again, good as new.

This has just happened and Doug of Doug's Dynamic Drivel gave me the hitch. Everything is in the name of the thing, we all know that, and so, thanks to Doug, my real name is:

"Tootie Girdlechunks"

Ah!

My "little brother", Alain, is:

"Poopsie Girdlechunks"

Ah!

Now that puts a somewhat different light on things, dunnit?

Yesterday, I went to see the new Urologist for the results of my renal scan. I spent, by my best estimate, all of three minutes in the chair in his office.

"I have great news for you," he beamed at me, "Your left kidney is completely shot and not functioning at all, so we can remove the stent!"

"Great!" I approved, "This might prevent me from getting those recurrent infections!"

"Yes. The other good news is that I can do it in the office, with just local anesthesia, you don't even need blood work, you don't even need anyone to pick you up afterwards, you're home free."

A short discussion followed on making appointments, taking a prophylactic course of antibiotics, etc. Then, still smiling, he said:

"The bad news is, the stent might be draining "something" after all, and if there should be some buildup of fluids, I might have to put another one in after all."

Well, my thinking is, Le'ts see what happens, Let's be optimistic. The renal scan also mentioned an avulsion fracture of the lesser trochanter, indicating a high likelihood of bone metastasis, so I shall just cross my bridges only when I come to them, let's not get ahead of ourselves here.

Last Sunday, I spent some time with Larry going over my living will and health care proxy. It was painful. Larry, and Carol his wife (who was not present except by way of jottings on the draft), appeared concerned that things should not be set in concrete such that someone, at some point, could not decide and authorize, as I was moribund and unable to express my wishes, to say "Yes, try this new experimental whatever, she did one day, as I remember it clearly, indicate that iffenever a new procedure was discovered, bla bla bla."

I don't know why the idea of a natural death is so repugnant to everybody. Everybody dies, so far, and if that is not a fact set in concrete, the least I can say is that since I do accept the inevitability of my death, indeed it's probable happeningness, I am not likely to be the first human being ever to avoid it.

All I want, well, like the song says: "Girls, they just want to have fun!"

I want to continue living as well as I can as long as I can. I don't want, if I have, say, just one month to go, to spend a single week of it in a hospital being worked over in any way by someone whose idea is that it would drag out the dying process a little more.

Being in hospital,in my view, is the least comfortable situation possible, you are just a piece of meat on the block and they don't even feed your body, let alone your soul.

The little spider has spoken: she wants to remain on the Net, she wants to hobble out of her bed, to fix herself coffee, and hobble back into her bed, have breakfast in bed, Yeah! as long as possible.

She wants to be at home near her Buddhist altar, to be able to get up in the middle of the night if the spirit moves her to chant. Right up to and including the end.

In my view, there is nothing should be considered sadder about dying than about being born: it's only the other side of the Coin of Life, heads you live, tails you die, on and on. Energy (Life) never dies, it just goes somewhere else.

Enuff for today. I need to do laundry. Tonight, I go to Temple to do toba memorial for little Yasu, who was pushed into a swollen torrent by one of his little playmates and drowned a year ago today, shortly after his fourth birthday. I love you Yasu!

"At the moment of death, even though a person who believes in the Lotus Sutra neither prays to the Buddha, recites the Sutra nor enters a place of Buddhist practice, he shall obtain the benefit of unconsciously illuminating the universe and soundlessly reciting the entirety of the sutras. Though he does not reach to pick up the scroll of a single sutra, he shall receive the benefit of having taken hold of the entire eight volumes of the Lotus Sutra."

This is a quotation from Nichiren Daishonin's letter "On Protection of the Nation".

Talking about chanting, I chanted seven hours at the Temple on May 8, the sixtieth anniversary of my mother and my grandmother's death, and the fiftieth anniversay of Dien Bien Phu, when the French colonial army was beaten by the Viet Minh, thus giving America its opportunity to have its own Vietnam war against the Viet Cong. We know where that went, and the Sons of that war are now going, going, going, to Iraq and Afghanistan, and to all those "lilly pads".

And that is evolution, as far as the eye can see. Harrumph!

Friday, May 07, 2004

I was going to post my own post, but then I decided to switch and quote from Riverbend:

"I sometimes get emails asking me to propose solutions or make suggestions. Fine. Today's lesson: don't rape, don't torture, don't kill and get out while you can--while it still looks like you have a choice...Chaos? Civil war? Bloodshed? We'll take our chances--just take your Puppets, your tanks, your smart weapons, your dumb politicians, your lies, your empty promises, your rapists, your sadistic torturers and go."

Tomorrow is the 60th anniversary of the death of my mother and my grandmother. Six hundred civilians were killed and hundreds more maimed in less than thirty minutes.

This is also the 50th anniversary of the end of the battle of Dien Bien Phu, where the French were beaten by the Vietnamese and pulled out, giving the USA their chance to go in for their own war.

It's also the 50th anniversary of Roger Bannister's exploit, running a mile in less than four minutes. It was believed impossible until he did it, and now just about anyone can. Which just proves that most human beings can only accomplish what they believe is possible. Same thing happened with the sound barrier: nobody could do it, they all crashed or turned back, until Chuck Yeager did it, and nowadays just about all jet planes do it on a daily basis.

Tomorrow, I am planning to spend my day at my Nichiren Shoshu Temple, chanting all day. My contribution to what the tribal people are doing throughout the sacred places of America. Something has just got to change!

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Watching Alias with Janna Sunday night. Isabella Rosselini bounces in as a Colonel in full uniform of the new KGB (I forget what they call themselves now). Surprise, surprise! It's Aunt Katia! She barks out some orders in Russian and shoots two new KGBists dead in their tracks with a CIA gun that happens to be lying around.

"How good is her Russian?" I ask Janna.

"Terrible!" laughs Janna, "I can't make out a word she is saying. She must have been raised in Italy or something."

Half the fun of watching Alias with Janna is in the asides between the two of us.

"Who's that?", she will ask suddenly, for no particular reason that I can see.

"That's Sark," I answer, "The Russian agent of the Covenant."

"But Sark is not a Russian name," Janna protests.

"Maybe, but that's the name he goes under. Remember, his father had a different name, a real Russian name."

"Who was his father?"

"Remember? The guy Lauren shot from the roof as they were taking him to hospital."

"Who's Lauren?"

"Vaughn's wife, the one you always knew was a double agent."

"Who's Vaughn?"

(Can you believe this?)

"The hero of the series we have been watching for months. The one Jennifer loves, though I can't see what she sees in him."

"Ah" Janna gets it. I don't have to remind her "our" Jennifer is the Sidney Bristow of the series.

"What movie are you watching?" I sometimes ask her.

"I watch my own movie," she answers.

Don't we all?

* * * * *

Monday was pouring heavy rain and I took a cab to the bone scan. Still got very wet, impossible to get out of the cab and it took a while to establish my balance on the crutch before finally opening the umbrella. So I spent most of the day in damp clothes in an environment which is kept cold on purpose for the benefit of the machines. Result is a humdinger of a head cold, with one very weepy left eye and explosive sneezings in great long series. Too bad each sneeze connects directly to the sciatic nerve--I still can't figure out how that works.

* * * * *

Who can adequately express the shame of our behavior in Iraq and Afghanistan?

It is a fact that Mankind living in the world of Animality has always behaved this way. It is nothing new.

When I was a teenager, my father sent me to spend a few weeks during the school holidays with friends of his in the south of France. Mireille was the only daughter of a very famous French Resistance heroine during World War II, who sacrificed her life resisting the German occupation of France. I don't suppose there are many towns in France too small to have a street named in her honor.

Mireille was a teenager at the time of the war, and she participated in her mother's resistance activities, even though she was excluded from the riskiest actions because of her age. It was never made clear how her mother got caught, was it luck or did someone snitch, but Mireille was arrested by the Gestapo at the same time as her mother, and they were taken into custody together although they were then separated.

Mireille told me that after a few days, she was moved into a different cell, where there was already another human being, a mass of battered bones and bruised flesh, with a broken face dark with clotted blood. She was horrified. She did not think it could get worse, until a raspy voice addressed her hoarsely from the depth of this trembling heap, and she suddenly realized (she could never have said she recognized her) that it was her mother.

The Gestapo had tortured her mother to make her talk (the usual term used is "to soften her up"). She did not. They were sure that the girl would talk, without their having to so much as touch her, out of fear of what they could do to her if she did not. Mireille was young, but she was not stupid, she saw through the trap and she was damned if she was going to allow her mother to have endured in vain. She too remained silent: she just went catatonic. She shamed the shameless men. They finished her mother off the next day, although Mireille couldn't imagine how her mother was able to stand up to the firing squad. Mireille was eventually released to medical care.

What am I saying?

I am saying that when torture exists anywhere, it is only because it has not only been condoned, but implemented, approved and organized by those in power. It is part of the system in place to obtain control and power.

Don't anyone fall for that crap: "These pictures are unacceptable, they are despicable, they disgust me!" Don't be fooled.

Our leaders have created a system which in part acts as a Chinese wall between official policies and the criminal acts which are being committed in our name. Those "security" forces are part of the war machine, the Brown & Root and Halliburton companies. The difference between their behavior and that of the official armies is they do not have to respect the rules of engagement, the code of war, the Geneva Convention, the use of only "acceptable" weapons and methods. They can use with impunity bullets that enter a body and don't come out again, which explode inside so that a man dies a terrible death from a random bullet in the buttock. They can use taser guns and belts, water, electricity, whatever they want, any of the terrible things which exist and which leave no trace on the body. They are not doing it in America, in England. There are actually schools which train people in these methods of "information collection".

Do you really think this kind of thing will encourage anyone to admire America and Britain, let alone love our "democratic " ways? Are you seriously convinced that these people "hate our freedom"?

Now our President, whom some say really wanted to become an actor, gets his chance to go blockbuster, on Al Arabiya, no less, leaving Condi to Al Jazeera (the one we are always saying is not about news, only about propaganda).

What will they say? "Justice will be served?" Will they also tell us about the checks and controls which will be set up to prevent the same thing from happening again?

Gotta watch this one! In my humble opinion, the whole thing is on the skids before it starts because our fearless leader doesn't have time to grow a credible mustache. Maybe Wardrobe can help fix things. Suggestion: sackcloth and ashes?

Let's face it, kiddies. It's all happening Behind God's Back.

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