Friday, November 25, 2005

Thanksgiving Plus One

it is the day after Thanksgiving that is always the hardest. I have come to terms with Thanksgiving being difficult and empty, a day of remembering how rich our Thanksgivings were when Don was here, and the children were still lovable and accepting, when even my son who took exception to the quality of my cooking ("Gourmet again! Why can't we have hamburgers like normal people?") took pleasure in my pumpkin soup in a pumpkin shell, Teriyaki Turkey with Chinese stuffing(almonds and crystallized ginger and turkey sausage, celery and beansprouts and water chestnuts, a festival all on its own.) And most unexpectedly and deliciously,Cranuberry Much, a side dish I'd learned when I visited friends in DC and went to cooking classes when Jimmy Carter was Prez. So instead of sweet potatoes there were grits, but I paid no attention to those. Ah, but Cranuberry Much! That was a dish to mollify the angels, espcially those who liked a good crunch.
I remember asking Paul, the doctor who was attending Don, his best friend who had failed to catch the bad cell in an early x-ray,if Don would be with us for Thanksgiving. Paul went a little nuts when he finally x-rayed Don in August and the whole right lung was gone-- he'd been giving him pain pills for his back, and in his crazed denial said"Which Thanksgiving? He'll be here next year and the year after that." But Don left us the 14th of November, so our warm cornacupia, the jewel-colored piled high vegentables and fruits, grapes dripping down the side.,with a brown felt 'Thanks,' that I'd bought at a street fair in Westwood, little embroidered Pilgrims in its center, sat looking at us merrily cartoon-like, as deeply into denial as Paul had been, and we would have been, too, except that we'd felt him dying.
But Susan came for the dinner,our sweet airheady friend we'd made in the course of our exploration of metaphysics,and she said at the table she'd been out in the back yard talking to Don. And because she was so divinely silly, or maybe so sillily divine, we accepted that she'd been out there with Don and that made us feel he was all right, and so we went on eating.
I have non-celebrated many Thanksgivings since-- when I was just on that wonderful cruise I realized that the 21st anniversary of his death took place during one of the impressive panels. But friends have been kind. I have celebrated with Sheila,and with the Boyarskys, and one time with my darling cousin Susie who made her Thanksgiving on the Friday, so because it was Shabbis, she being deeply observant because she thought G_d would save her if she was a good Jew, wouldn't re-ignite the gas as it was after the non-witching hour,so the turkey was little more than raw, but we ate it anyway, because we loved Susie,who died anyway.
Some Thanksgivings I have fasted, as my way of saying thank you, a custom I found out yesterday in an editorial in The Times might have been more to the point, that early pilgrims may have sanctified it as a spiritual observance, and so fasted rather than stuffed. As most of my true compadres are elsewhere, I decided to fast yesterday, and it was easy, really. But there were pieces of my soul that were splintered, because I wish i had a family that was real family, children, grown too big now to be considered children, who were nicer, more productive, less self-absorbed, grand-children I had real access to. None of this is larded with self-pity, as i have to cut down on cholesterol. But it would have been nice to wake up this morning with a sense of accomplishment, which fasting somehow gives you. Instead, though, I woke up with the feeling it was Sunday, and resented the fact that it wasn't. And that the paper wasn;t the Sunday paper, and people weren't easy with the day that it was.
It is bitter cold suddenly,and I wonder how I will make it through winter. I had a joyous day, truly joyous last Tuesday, when Julek blew in for a vsiti from France, and I went to the Gypsy run-though of Chita, the magnificent dancer from West Side Story who still tears a stage up at she says 72, but might be 78. The Gypsy run-through is when they do it for all the dancers in other shows, a special matinee so her peers can come and see. And cheer. My God, I never heard such cheers. The show is beyond exuberant. it is a paean to all the shows that were, when shows were shows and Chita was in them. And it made me weep for what isn't anymore in the way of theater: songs you can sing, music that thrills you, people you can root for. But I guess, in a way, that's the same thing you can feel about Thanksgiving.


Sunday, November 20, 2005

Ship of Smarts

It was my intention to go on The Nation cruise-- The Nation being America's oldest magazine, unfailingly well-written by the intellectual Left, that yearly offers its faithful subscribers a moderately costly voyage up and down some waterway during which journey panels led by its contributors, editors and bureau chiefs discuss the pressing issues of the day, in this particular day more pressing than ever, with stop-offs at various Mexican ports of call-- and afterwards write a wry salute to Katherine Anne Porter's Ship of Fools. At the end of my parodized odyssey, the ship, on returning to port, would be turned away by Cheney and re-directed to Cuba, as in World War II a vessel filled with interesting souls escaping the Nazis was sent back to Europe so those on board could meet their tragic fate.
But I found myself so touched, so opened, simulated and refreshed by all that had transpired, not the least of it connecting with these people, each of them, as a novelist would have it, with a story to tell, fierce opinions, not all of them reasonable, not all of the persons sane. But everyone on board was so deeply concerned, that I decided I could do nothing that might in any way minimize how great it was, how lucky I felt to be on board. My heart was as full as if the Bush administration were no longer in power
But alas, as the phonies in publishing say in the second half of the letter the first half of which has praised your work, we landed. At the San Diego Airport I was faced with the reality. Before me on the newspaper rack was only one publication, The Wall Street Journal, announcing in its lead, tight paragraph that that which we imagined on the cruise was transpiring, Bush's plummeting in the polls forcing congress to turn the stupidity around and start the troops coming home, not what had happened at all, but alas. As those of you who were plugged in know the opposite had occured.
On board ship we had only bright people who lifted our enraged spirits, the Times Digest in the morning, and some real newspapers mysteriously acquired by me in various ports and, even more mysteriously while at sea. I suppose I had fallen into the fantasy of thinking the world would go sane in honor of our cruise, so seeing the real news shocked my eyes, minus the awe. Oh, but it was a lovely dream, albeit a combative one, while it lasted. Great speakers,stimulating panels, like-minded people who want things like peace, health care, help for the destitute, responsible men in office, democracy as the Founders would have had it, Jeffersonian and Madisonian principles, spirited discussions to stimulate the mind. And every morning I swam for an hour just after sunrise, so my body was alive ,too. Sitting in the airport, though, motionless,I could feel the weight begin to settle into my legs and arms after all those days of working them. So I wonder if my brain, too, will experience withdrawal,and fall into a similar lassitude.
The one regret I had as the ship pulled into port was that i had done nothing the entire trip to nourish my soul. All those stars and tranquil seas and I had never meditated on them, taking time only one night to concentrate fully on the moon, rewarding me in kind.
I did, though,make one pilgrimage of a sort-of spiritual nature, getting off the ship at Puerta Vallarta,where we'd been once, Don and I, when Madeleine and Robert were little, I'd gone parasailing and they'd rented horses on the beach. After Don died I went back there to a beautiful hotel-- the name escaped me when I first landed on Wednesday, but I knew the general direction, that there were curves in the road, the sea on the right, ands hills to the left-- where I'd met Marty and Aileen. He was an appellate judge and she was a psychologist, kind, sharp people with a lovely sense of humor and,on his part, a sense of chivalry. Marking my aloneness he invited me to join them,and we'd become good friends. When I'd pulled my memorable coup of taking a group of friends gratis to the Cooking School of Umbria, they were part of the gang. Particularly fortuitous for us in Aileen's case, as we had among us a self-proclaimed Famous Person, whom our resident (and softly sensitive) shrink diagnosed as a Borderline Narcissist. For those of you who don't know what that means as I didn't either till Aileen explained it to me, it's like a tree that gets caught in a very strong wind when it's a sapling, so gets twisted and never grows the way Nature intended, The most you could do with one of those, Aileen said, was keep it out of trouble, or try to. There was no way it would ever get untwisted. We stayed very close till I moved to Paris.
I tried to find them again when I returned to New York, but their numbers in Michigan were disconnected. I found his son, who works for the city and Bloomberg,and he told me they had died, she of cancer, he of Lou Gehrig's disease, both still young. So I went to try and find the spot where I'd met them all those years ago. And looking at the map, I found a beach called Garza Blanca and remembered that had been the name of the hotel. But my taxi driver said the owners had run out of money, and the place had fallen into disrepair. I asked him to go there anyway.
Out of it all at least has come a pome.

Puerta Vallarta-November 16

So this is where my children galloped first across the sands
Exploring what there was of life in new,exotic lands
And here in later years I found a pair of loving friends
But tides swirled in to pound the rocks,and much that's lovely ends.
Once villas rose against these hills, now broken huts decay
And what was treasured in my life has mostly worn away
My husband's gone, my friends have passed, my country is demeaned
The chubby cherub I adored has morphed into a fiend
Ah, but the trees stand velvet green, umbrellaed towards the sea
Lush fuchsia flowers edge the shore, saluting God and me
'Amor por un rato' they are called, 'Love for a little while'
Better than'never was,' says I, as we go out in style.

But melancholic as that day might have been, there were unexpected joys on this trip. Besides the mental excitement, it was a Dutch ship, so the crew was in large part Indonesian. I was able to greet in their language, and felt that I was in my beloved Bali as well as on the sea. I wore my Milene necklace,(everyone admired and many coveted) and some of my Nadya clothes, so it also became a fashion adventure.
Sad as I was to be coming home, as much of a letdown as I felt, when I opened my door, Mimi jumped to greet me. The groomer had put her there, as a surprise. And I remembered that no matter how much love you might have lost in life, there is still some that is unconditional.