Picturing Life

As a magpie, I tend to make decisions based on what attracts me, believing that I’ll have a nice shiny time doing something regardless of my skill level. This is a practical point of view for someone who has not had much art education. One advantage of ignorance is that there is always more to learn.

However, with ignorance also comes frustration. Why doesn’t something come out the way I had hoped? Why are the directions so hard to understand? Why do these art materials want to thwart me? When the frustration mounts, I must find a class to take.

This past Saturday I finally took my first in-person photography class. I was nervous about this because a) it lasted all day and I don’t like to be confined, and b) because I knew good and well I did not know much about how to use my camera. Would the class be over my head? And what about when the teacher wanted to get into additional equipment such as zoom lenses? Because YIKES!!!! I had somehow LOST, LOST my zoom lens! What kind of a photographer does that?????

Saturday came, and once again the universe saved me. It turns out that what is behind photography is not fancy equipment, but the photographer’s trust in his own ability to see, and the patience to take many, many pictures until he gets it right. The day flew by as we looked at photo prints and photography books, learning about what makes a picture worth looking at.

I did learn some technical things which I have not yet tried out. I decided to get out my last set of pictures, those that I took last month when I went to Winston-Salem North Carolina for my nephew’s high school graduation and Eagle Scout ceremony. With what I just learned, would I find these pictures worth looking at? Look along with me now, and tell me what you think.

The three questions to ask yourself are: what do I see, what does it mean, and how do I know?

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Does the picture make you curious about the lady on the left? Here’s the story. We befriended her while waiting for our carry out order, and found that she had tried to donate her vintage LIFE magazines to Ellen’s library, and been turned down. But with Ellen to the rescue her treasures will now be accepted with thanks.

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Why photograph these guys? Because all of Ellen’s St. Francis statues have been decapitated through various means. A little too much of a coincidence, yes? Is it a curse of some kind? Sure, they’ve been repaired, but when will disaster strike again?

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My nephew’s Eagle Scout ceremony and combined grad/Scout party were on Sunday afternoon. Because of my sister’s graduate school schedule she had had to leave all the party prep to her hard working husband. What you see here are some of our efforts, before the party to turn an essentially male party into something civilized.

Imagine our horror when we saw on Sunday morning that the husband and son had lined up cloth camping chairs in a straight row across the backyard, blocking the bucolic view and reminding one of a Protestant wedding reception. The cloth chairs were banished by us, tactfully, and tablecloths added. In addition, we bought pillow cases to recover chair cushions and purchased potted herbs for natural centerpieces. Just then a Scoutmaster showed up to help. He allowed as how we should protect the tables from bird droppings, so he covered all our pretty work with hefty bags, weighted down with logs. Sigh.

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Here was the ceremony in a tiny country church.

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And here is the Scout with the beautiful soul. I would hope that his optimism and willingness to serve others comes through in the picture.

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I do not claim this as an example of a good photo, but seeing my salt of the earth brother in law moved to tears on Father’s Day was priceless to me.

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Then came the party. Above, my sister again tried to inject a little civilization with the relish tray. Note the implement being used to spear a goodie from the plate.

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In addition to simply trying to record the events of the day for the family, I also wanted to show through photos the way Ellen’s lifestyle differs from mine. She is fortunate enough to live a more rural lifestyle, while I am more of a city girl. Meaning that chickens would not be guests at my lawn party.

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But these girls made a day of it.

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As an out of town guest, I was paraded through the guests, and then allowed to mingle or simply observe as I chose. Folks came and went. Hilariously , some guests brought their OWN cloth camping chairs and lined them up in a row. Much meat was consumed my man and boy. The afternoon was unhurried and the weather glorious. DSC_0472

I was pleased to finally meet Ellen’s next door neighbor, Bonita who is an artist and photographer. She showed me a few camera tricks and took this photo of us, on manual setting, of course. When she left she invited me over to see her art studio.

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Later in the day I moseyed over to Bonita’s, opened the back gate and knocked on the door. She gave me permission to take photos of some memory books she has made, both of which have already been exhibited. Currently she is working on a photography book of vintage American movie theaters. Was I jealous? Yes.DSC_0517

When I returned from Bonita’s, most of the guests were gone. As the shadows grew long in the yard, a late staying guest built  a campfire. Don’t think this was not a thrill for a city girl.

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Those of us who were still there pulled chairs around the fire and put our feet up on logs. Fireflies swept past us as we listened to the calls of the owls and shared whatever stories came to mind. After a time fatigue and mosquitoes drove us inside.

I went to sleep to the sounds of the whirring attic fan, tired but gratified to have been a part of the day. I would have two more days to spend at my sister’s, providing moral support as she completed her end of the semester projects, folding clothes from the clothesline as needed, and taking night walks down her dark country road, wine glass in hand.

As I look through these pictures I ask myself the three questions. What do I see? I see a family celebrating a once in a lifetime event, surrounded by loving friends. I see a life made with love, humility, hard work and persistence. I see treasures in unexpected places.

What does it mean? To me it all means that life goes by swiftly, and we must tune in to get every bit of pleasure and whimsy it has to offer. It means I am fortunate to have these people in my life. How do I know? I know because I know, but does all of that come through to those who view my pictures?

I’m hoping you’ll let me know what you think.

The Book I Most Want To Read

As previously reported, I am in the process of fleshing out and editing my NaNoWriMo novel. I don’t have a consistent  schedule for when to actually sit down and work, but I think often of the miniature world I created, of the characters’  struggles and triumphs. Imagine my excitement when a couple of weeks ago L., an author and former editor, agreed to meet with me to discuss our mutual projects.

Moi?  Discussing someone’s writing project? I had a feeling L. did not specialize in fourth grade book reports or progress notes for therapy sessions, the two forms of writing with which I am most familiar. Nonetheless L. arrived at my home armed with two copies of the first chapter of  her current fictional work.  I was armed with only one copy of my first chapter, because I didn’t know any better.

Over coffee cake we shared our respective synopses. I learned that L.’s protagonist is a teenager living in a United States of the future, while L learned that my protagonist is a middle aged woman living in the present in a town which does not exist. Next we read one another’s chapters. I was immediately pulled into the life of L.’s teenaged heroine.  I had opinions on where she was going, and what she would do next. Clearly L. has the talent to write in such a way that the reader quickly develops  empathy for her characters.

The meeting made me feel so…writerly, because L was generous enough to take me seriously despite my lack of education and experience. Somewhere in there we talked about mutual challenges for our work going forward. My dilemma was that I had been advised to begin my book with more action. Should I do as I had been advised or should I do what I thought best?  And how could I think anything to be best when I had never written anything at all?DSC_0323

As we say in the South, bless little  ole Miss L.’s heart!! She absolutely validated my intention to write a book about a woman’s interior life, the world others do not see. Her advice to write the kind of book I would want to read myself was the most grounding advice I could have heard that day. I doubt I was of much help to her, but I gave it my best shot. I hope points are given for effort!

I did make the cake though!

I did make the cake though!

Two days later I arrived at the Monterey Aquarium, where some scenes in my book take place. I wanted to see the place for myself in order to write more realistically about my character’s day there. I was curious; what would have caught my character’s eye or mind at the museum? What, if anything, would stay with her, lingering in her thoughts  long after her day at the museum was over?

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Finally, an uncrowded spot!

I suppose we see what we need to see when we are ready, for though I was wondering what my protagonist would feel, I was quickly making observations of my own.

I was wearing the ones on the right.

See the photo below!

All my observations weren't deep. See how these two fish look just like my new shoes in the shot above?

All my observations weren’t deep. See how these two fish look just like my new shoes in the shot above?

As I made my way through the exhibits, folks were crowded all around the tanks, admiring the fish and taking pictures.DSC_0468

These sea creatures  inhabit  worlds we do not see, worlds that humans have been known to ignore or exploit.  Each species is  motivated by instinct to perform actions  we may may  not understand. Their ways of living and appearances are alien to us.DSC_0443

What are YOU lookin' at?

What are YOU lookin’ at?

In the tanks the creatures grow and change, each ecosystem interacting with and depending on one another.  For them it is business as usual  but the humans  are mesmerized. We cannot stop congregating, staring, watching, and eventually becoming hypnotized by the swirling colors and otherworldly life forms. DSC_0422DSC_1474It is as though we can see into their souls, if they have souls. As we stare we realize we are all interconnected parts of the same whole.DSC_1468

As I tried to sidle up to the tanks, camera at the ready,  I felt a thrill of recognition. Why, this was JUST like reading fiction. A reader opens  a book and finds an entire world, full of people and events that are strange to him.  Though the reader  may not agree with what happens to the characters, he  becomes entangled in their lives just the same.  Hopefully the author has used prose arranged so artfully that the reader, like one of those gathered by the fish tanks, finds himself compelled to read the words over and over, just to hear them or to see the mental pictures evoked one more time.DSC_0411

As we navigate the stories we read, we come face to face with ourselves. How do our inner lives correspond with those of the characters for which we have so much empathy? Would we respond as the characters have? What do their struggles have to do with our own lives?DSC_0454

It has been said that fiction exists for truth telling. Just as an endangered species takes us out of our complacencies, a work of fiction can disrupt our world. Characters can become permanent parts of our lives. While we may never meet Jean Valjean, Porfiry Petrovich or even Harry Potter in our actual lives, they live forever in our hearts. Raise your hand if you have ever pondered on characters and their predicaments long after you have completed your first reading of a favorite book!

What if we had to  live his life?

What if we had to live his life?

I left the aquarium feeling more connected to the unseen worlds of the ocean, and grateful that such quirky but gorgeous creatures are on this earth. I got a sense of what would have caught my heroine’s eye, and how she would have responded to her surroundings. But focusing on these unseen watery worlds gave me even more permission to write authentically about what interests me, namely, this particular middle aged woman in a town which does not exist.DSC_0387

One day in the future I hope to have my heroine’s story ready to share. Her world is compact,  but it is real, just as  the lovely blue tangs and angel fish inhabit a small but tangible space. In the grand scheme of things her efforts in this life may seem minor, but  her spirit touches many. Like the connections found in the world beneath the sea, like all the humans on this earth, she is a small part of that whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. That is exactly the book I want to write, because that is exactly the book I would most want to read.DSC_0416

 

 

 

 

San Francisco Sleuth

As though I were invisible I slid through the revolving door of my airport hotel and kept going  on foot. No need for the doormen to know my plans. Besides, the Millbrae Bart Station wasn’t too far to walk, even for a dame of my age. I was dressed to fit in with the population: scarf, stylish shoes, sunglasses, and dark jeans. I had an old Bart card with eleven dollars on it, so I went through the turnstile with the practiced boredom of a native. So far so good.

I was wearing the ones on the right.

I was wearing the ones on the right.

I could have sworn I used to take the Bay Point train out of Millbrae, so there was a bit of awkwardness when a Bart employee had to tell me I just needed to get on this Dublin train, but I don’t think anyone saw that. In just a few snaps of my gum I was at the 16th and Mission station, ready for some San Francisco sleuthing.

Why San Francisco? Because I was THERE, wise guy, because I was THERE. And a sleuth gets to sleuthing wherever she she may be. Haven’t you read Harriet The Spy?

Rising from the bowels of the 16th and Mission terminal I mixed in with the human flotsam milling outside the station. After a few purposeful turns around the square I found  the Fillmore 22 Bus stop just where I expected it to be, at the edge of the road.  I had just cased my fellow riders in the bus shelter when I realized I needed to be on the other side of the street.

I was just in time to board that bus, but  my intuition, borne of long experience, told me to  check with  the bus driver  who sent me back to the original spot across the street. With moves like these I  was confident no one could have followed me. At last I boarded the correct bus, blending in easily with the populace. My destination: Portrero Hill, where I was to meet a couple of operatives.

We saw each other the minute I stepped into Chez Papa Bistrot, the agreed upon  rendezvous. I’m sorry to say they were there first, but they had chosen wisely. Their table had a clear view of the entrance and exit. Mark was dressed in his customary black, while David, with his dark rimmed glasses looked the part of a hapless  professor. Well played, gentleman, I nodded to myself. These men could be at home in any large metropolis, watching, noticing, making things happen, with no one any the wiser.

There was no mystery here; the food was delicious.

There was no mystery here; the food was delicious.

When David left for the men’s room, I pulled a package out of my enormous black handbag and slid it across the table to Mark.  The package was an “Otter Pup” coloring book from the Monterey Aquarium, but inside were original childhood photos of Mark’s Dad, who also happened to be my Uncle Eddie, my mother’s little brother,  deceased now for many years.

The three of us put in some effort perusing the photos. Wondering about the people and circumstances in old photos, looking for clues to past lives – I am always on the scent of these hunts. Here was Uncle Eddie in the backyard of our grandmother’s house, cleaning a fish, while a curious cat looked on.  In a second photo young Eddie was angelic, dressed in a white  first Communion suit with short pants, accompanied by an older boy. They are standing in a church narthex. We could identify neither the  older boy nor the church. Yet a third photo showed young Eddie aboard a white sleigh, right beside Santa Claus, in some unknown department store. The last picture showed Uncle Eddie as a handsome young man in a letter sweater, posing with a pipe. A caption underneath, we think written by one of our spinster great aunts, read “The Pipe.”

Here is one I found after I got home. I believe that to be my mother on the left.

Here is one I found after I got home. I believe that to be my mother on the left.

Knowing we would not be able to answer all the questions raised by the photos, as there is no one left alive who knows the answers, we left the Chez Papa for some more contemporary surveillance. We  settled ourselves down the street on the patio of Farley’s to drink some coffee. Noir, of course. Though ostensibly we were deep in conversation about Southern mores, we all had our eye on the joint across the street.

Don't tell me there's no story here.

Don’t tell me there’s no story here.

Thankfully by now we had some reinforcement, in the form of Mark and David’s elderly black and white terrier Windsor. Windsor is blind, but he looked as best  he could, while scouting the area for edible clues.

Windsor evades having his picture taken from the front; he's security conscious.

Windsor evades having his picture taken from the front; he’s security conscious.

Maybe we saw suspicious activity across the street. Maybe we didn’t. Maybe the five year old girl and her mother sitting on the patio were plants, sent to charm us into giving up our secrets. That kind of gray area is  all in a day’s sleuthing. But one thing was certain: we three had to split up, in case we were made.

To throw watchers off the track we posed for some touristy type pictures. Meaning we were noisy and conspicuous. IMG_2884Then as if by magic, three adults and a blind dog disappeared inside a black Smart car and disappeared up the hill. David, displaying the spy craft for which he is well known, dropped me off by the Mission Street bridge, right beside the Portrero Hill Community Garden.

Source: sanfranciscodays.com

Source: sanfranciscodays.com

We’re professionals, so I didn’t ask their destination, but as an out of towner I did have to consult with them on one thing. Where could I get my nails done? Mark suggested a place in the Castro called the Hand Job, but also some other options. I took in his suggestions noncommittally, not recording them on paper.  The less Mark  and David  knew of my comings and goings, the better.DSC_0480

After crossing the Mission Street Bridge I found the streets to be curiously quiet for some blocks. But I kept my eyes open, crossing streets frequently, but not stopping except when I needed to examine native plants, which are another focus of my ongoing detective work.  Eventually I came upon what I considered to be the likely nerve center of the neighborhood- a yarn store, Imaginknit.

This photo proves I am just an old lady minding her own business...or does it?

This photo proves I am just an old lady minding her own business…or does it?

Maybe because I was hot and tired, I decided to just play it straight in there and not try any funny business. Was I ever glad of that decision when out of nowhere bounced what to my unpracticed eye seemed to be a brown and white miniature greyhound. Knowing the place was well policed, I simply chose a pattern, yarn and needle, and after purchasing same I killed a little time winding my yarn. Everything seemed on the up  and up there. The shop was chock full of  helpful salesladies, delicious yarns and knitted samples. That dog runs a tight ship.

Revitalized by my yarn purchase I ventured back onto Mission Street. Street traffic picked up around Dolores Park. I put away my camera after the passing the park so as not to arouse suspicion.

Dolores Park, under construction.

Dolores Park, under construction.

In a few short minutes I was in the Castro, looking for a nail salon. For safety’s sake, and also because I couldn’t find it, I did not go to the Hand Job Nail Salon, instead choosing the one right beside the Castro theater. The manager was kind enough to take me as a walk in, or else he was afraid to say no to me.  For a time my detecting efforts were slowed, as I could  only guess at what the nail ladies were  saying amongst  themselves. They seemed  concerned about the blisters I had worn on my toes from the up and down terrain of my reconaissance that day. Me, I was used to it. It’s the cost of business in this crazy trade.

Finally I was released from the salon, with newly bronzed nails and toes. No one who had seen me before could now recognize me as the same woman who had crawled in with overgrown cuticles just one hour before. I sat at one of the round tables at the top of Castro to ponder my next move.DSC_0481

DSC_0483Having made my thorough way from Portrero Hill to the Castro, my mind turned to plans for the evening. Truth was, there was a man interested in my company for the evening, and I was considering his offer. No, it wouldn’t be  as peaceful as grabbing a couple of cold brewskis with a meat and three at Mae’s Diner, but the plus side was I wouldn’t have to pay for my grub. I was torn, but then I looked down and found the best clue of the day. If it’d been a snake it would have bit me.IMG_2898

Well then. I decided if that man wanted my company, he would come to me. So I texted him,” Found a place at Albion and Mission. Meet me there.” I ducked in the place and sat myself at the bar. I had time for a Pilsner and a little eavesdropping before my companion arrived, if he arrived. Sure enough, before I could say “You  must have thirteen tattoos and body piercings,” to the hostess, the man in question arrived.

Fine. He could pay for the beer I’d already had. We decided the place was as good as any to eat dinner, as there was already a long line to get in where we were. We had each had a long day, his, lecturing  in a cold conference room and mine out pounding the pavement in the  golden sun, and we were each glad to sit down and relax. My companion knew better than to even ask about my classified work.

As the evening wore on I felt myself lose a little of my hard boiled edge. In the end I let the man  guide me back through the crowded street with the pupusa places and bars, back to the Bart Station. Turned out we were each going back out to the airport area, so I let him accompany me. As the Bart train pulled away from the station, I saw our reflection in the window. We looked just like an old married couple on the way back to their hotel. A perfect cover.

 

 

 

The Good Life

I’m afraid to even say this out loud, because I don’t want to jinx anything, but here goes. The last four weekends of my life have been as smooth as a bowl of fresh whipped cream. I started to call this post “Whipped cream weekends,” but realized that the title could have been misleading. My meaning of a whipped cream weekend would of course be one in  which every activity seems to be topped off with that extra sweetness, that light fluffy accompaniment that makes each dessert that much more sublime.

The situation called for whipped cream.

The situation called for whipped cream.

Why, and how has this happened, when I ought to be still worn out from traveling, allergies, and work? I cannot say for sure. But here is what I  would like to believe.

I would like to believe that because I have been nicer to my self lately, that my self is being nicer to me. I had a big reset a few weeks ago, and the time frame fits: when I decided to stop pushing myself to take care of outside matters and to allow myself to concentrate on some inside matters, my life became easier and sweeter.

Could the key  to increased energy, creativity, and peace have been this simple all along? I  can’t say because I’ve never been in this particular spot in life before, but I do strongly believe in the benefits of a developed interior life.

What I have noticed is that with more balance between the mindful and magpie parts of me I have  done many, many things while feeling relaxed and in the moment. In the past I have also done many, many things, but depending upon the circumstances there were always some unwanted feelings: dread, resentment, defeat, regret, ambivalence, because usually I had taken on too much. I would always follow through with whatever was going on, but there would be loud sighs, followed by naps and crankiness.

It was not that I had no fun. Hey. I’m a fun person. But I see now that by not organizing my own inner home team, I was using my energy struggling with myself.

Here is a  partial recap of the last few weekends, not that the actual activities matter.  Each weekend had aspects which in the past would have been triggers to angst or run-around-like a chicken – with your head- cut off- syndrome. But instead  each held felt  expansive, and unhurried.  Is this how other people have been living all along?

Weekend One: Youngest son’s graduation, oldest son in town for the occasion. Beautiful weather and beautiful times.

I had time to make a flower arrangement.

I had time to make a flower arrangement.

Mommy hugs the graduate.

Mommy hugs the graduate.

Weekend Two: Sit down dinner party for 17, decided upon on a Tuesday and executed on Saturday night. Made the main dish, salad, salad dressing and six loaves of bread.

Before the company

Before the company

Before the company

Before the company

Bread in the oven.

Bread in the oven.

Weekend Three: Memorial Day Weekend: Spent one day working on editing my little book, and another ( after the book sale)  on spreading many bags of mulch in my back yard while my husband power washed everything in sight.  Followed by a relaxing float in the pool.

I had plenty of time to commune with my flower friends.

I had plenty of time to commune with my flower friends.

And enjoy the afternoon sun on the magnolias.

And enjoy the afternoon sun on the magnolias.

DSC_1419Weekend Four: Had a great time at a rained out beer garden, and a leisurely breakfast on a patio the next morning. Then went to a farmer’s market, and spent the rest of the afternoon preparing my “booty” for dinner that night. Sunday after an early Father’s Day brunch, I went for a scrumptious foot massage.

Stir fried bok choy, green beans, with garlic scales from my own yard, seared scallops.

Stir fried bok choy, green beans, with garlic scapes from my own yard, seared scallops.

I don’t suppose there is much deep meaning to this post except that I may be on the right track to balance, at least for me. My way is not unique. It includes lots and lots of noticing, journaling, contemplation, and taking care of me first. I’m just so grateful to have stumbled upon a deep well of abundance.  I feel as rich as a bowl of whipped cream right now. Right now. Right. Now.

 

Overheard At The Book Sale

Hey everybody! I’m on my way out to the pool, but before I go, I know you want to hear about the  Friends Of The Library Used Book Sale. Because although everyone does not get to go, everyone SHOULD have the chance to go. Yes, I wrote about this last year. It was a popular post, but I know better than to try to recreate it.

I know you would have loved being there. I arrived at 10:00 A.M., accidentally grouping myself with the crowd waiting to be the first ones in. We streamed in when the doors were unlocked: the young, the old, the limping, the pony tailed, the bearded. Many thought to bring their own bags, for a bagful of books was priced at five dollars. And we early birds each had a game plan.

Mine was to head straight to the record albums. I did find a few, not as many as I had hoped, but I had to move on. Now I was free to drink in the heady air of the shelves. Nonfiction first. I already had a rolling cart, because as the pro that I am, I was not going to be held back by a handbag, despite its potential value as a weapon to procure the only copy of  Backyard Pests or Desserts From Around The World.

I would willingly fight for this Anthony Powell, but I already own it.

I would willingly fight for this Anthony Powell, but I already own it.

I found paperbacks to read in the swimming pool:DSC_0325

And some nonfiction that suited my fancy.

I'm in a World War I phase right now. Also I'm in a World War II phase. Double nerd.

I’m in a World War I phase right now. Also I’m in a World War II phase. Double nerd.

Though we were  a civilized crowd today, emotions ran a broad gamut. Would there be any decent classics left? And how about the selection of banned books? Endorphins and cortisol filled the room like a whiff of Midnight In Paris.

Hey. Scoot over and make room for somebody else.

Hey. Scoot over and make room for somebody else.

Tension was definitely in the air, but if one wanted to be sure, one could do what I did. I eavesdropped. Here is my report of the emotional scene:

Disappointment in the  the paperback fiction: “I been lookin’. But I ain’t found the first romance in here.”

Dang!

Dang!

Effusiveness, obsessiveness and  poor boundaries in the mystery paperbacks: “I’m a neat freak! Everbody wants to know how I keep my house so clean!”

I don't see the lady in question. She had clearly come straight from having her hair done.

I don’t see the lady in question. She had clearly come straight from having her hair done.

More obsessiveness  later from the same woman, apparently worried abut the effects of unauthorized reading on the populace, in the hardbacks: “Yes, but when you get started on one it really ruins your housekeeping, doesn’t it?”

Attitude of entitlement in the children’s section, from a middle aged woman, imperiously, to a volunteer,”Where are the third grade books?”

Affability and non competitiveness, or perhaps a pickup line  in the hardback fiction, from a man to a woman, Him: “I’ve seen quite a few Danielle Steeles in here. Aren’t you looking for those?”

Her: “Yes, I’ve got my list of titles right here.” Displays handwritten list.IMG_2836

Defeat, from the woman with a limp, to her friend in the science fiction, “Just take yer time, Charlene.  I’ve gotta take a load off.”

I feel her pain.

I feel her pain.

Hope, from one woman to her husband, over in the corner ” Let’s pay for what we’ve got and come back at 3:00.”

Determination, in the History section, from a little girl to her Mama, “Please just let me finish this row!” Mother agrees reluctantly. Girl finishes searching the row and grabs a book.

Mother,”Young lady, you have already got a set of Presidential biographies at home. You can’t find what you want so you just want to buy something.”

History girl is the one in pink. Is it so wrong to just want to buy something?

History girl is the one in pink. Is it so wrong to just want to buy something?

Generosity, from a man to his wife in the record department, “Honey, go ahead and get it. It’s got Cher on it!”

And from me, ambition to become one of the helpers at the sale. and not entirely for altruistic reasons. Me, to my husband, as we exited the parking lot, “I know that record volunteer was holding some records back. I saw him.”DSC_0323

These Boots Are Made For Walkin’

The day I left for Europe my hairdresser told me I was wearing the wrong shoes. “What?” I asked, looking down at the serviceable Merrill hiking boots which had accompanied  me on many a sojourn. “Nope,” she repeated in a definite tone. “You can’t wear those shoes in Paris.”  You don’t know my hair dresser, so I’ll tell you that when she says a thing she means it. As I was going straight to the airport from the salon, I could not rectify the situation until I got to Amsterdam.

On Monday while my husband worked I tried to turn myself into someone who could blend in with the Parisians. For the fashion mavens among you, I went from wearing these items:

IMG_2828 To these:

Check out the boots: they have memory foam in them!

Check out the boots: they have memory foam in them!

And the nifty black rain coat!

And the nifty black rain coat!

After our usual good time (mostly mine, while my husband worked) we departed Amsterdam for Paris by train on Wednesday afternoon. Neither of us had ever been to Paris, but we were certain that one way or another we would enjoy ourselves. After a confusing time at Gare du Nord we boarded the metro to the apartment we had rented.

We got into our charming apartment without a hitch, but we were tired, so we spent the evening in, and dined on items from a market down the street.

The apartment building.

The apartment building.

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The stairs leading to our apartment.

The next day I was ready to walk while looking smart and sophisticated. We soon learned that we were lucky enough to have blundered in on yet ANOTHER  national holiday : May 1st in France! The streets were thronged with tourists walking in the rain, looking to see what would be open that day. We set out  from the eighth arrondissement to see for ourselves.

Jardin de Tuileries? Yes. DSC_0475

Cafe in the Jardin de  Tuileries ? Thankfully, yes.

The Louvre ? No.DSC_1231

Notre Dame?  Yes, but who would even try to wait in that line? We satisfied ourselves by taking photos of the outside.DSC_1240

Bathroom outside of Notre Dame?  Thankfully, yes, although it smelled like a zoo.

Deportation Memorial?  No.DSC_0503

When we left the Ile  de la  Cite we turned toward the Eiffel Tower, the only definite destination of the day. Having been unable to purchase advance tickets on the internet we had opted for a behind the scenes group tour of the Tower. As we walked we talked about what other things we might see on the way and what photos we would like to take if we arrived early. And we did expect to arrive early, for we still had one and a half hours until our tour.

Somewhere around that time I started to suspect I had worn the wrong socks, for the soles of my new boots seemed to have become so thin that  I could feel every slap of my feet on the pavement. On and on we walked. At one point I realized I had my airplane socks in my purse. I sat down on a ledge and put those babies right on. Ahhh, for a few minutes the cobblestones didn’t feel so close to my skin.DSC_1236

And we walked and we walked. With my sore feet and bulging purse I was going as fast as I could. Even the fact that I looked smart and sophisticated was of little comfort. The Eiffel Tower was just so far away!  We kept thinking it would be just around the corner, but when we turned, no. Not yet. Eventually my husband started to worry that we couldn’t even make it in time. I did not mention that I was past caring whether I ever saw the Eiffel Tower or any other monument ever again.

The wea

You trickster, you!

We rushed onto the Eiffel Tower grounds with two minutes to go until the tour. What you need to know abut the tour is that we missed two hours of lines, and that when we rode the elevator up, sheets of rain were buffeting the Tower so that it was useless to try to go on the observation deck. We exited as soon as we could.

So much for all those artsy Eiffel Tower pictures we were going to take!

So much for all those artsy Eiffel Tower pictures we were going to take!

We trudged the streets again   in the rain to a sidewalk cafe which  served overpriced beer. I didn’t care; I was going to get to sit down!!!!  And oh, when I did……has anyone out there ever found the act of sitting down to resemble a sexual experience? I don’t want to embarrass my children any more than I already have, but that 14 euro beer was worth every last penny!

Ahem. Afterwards.

Ahem. Afterwards.

Once we were seated with our beers I had an announcement to make to my husband: under no circumstances would I walk back to our apartment. I didn’t know where we were or how we got there, but he was going to find me the metro to get back. Or else. Since he had had the big idea to walk all day, and his google map seemed  to have underestimated the distances, he deemed it politic to agree  immediately.  I did concede  to walk one more half mile  in the rain to where we had found a brew pub open.

The oldest peeps at the brew pub. Bonjour!

The oldest peeps at the brew pub. Bonjour!

We were the oldest people there, but again, aside from being as wet as a drowned rat at least I looked smart and sophisticated for my age! In time we left, on the lookout for the metro station. We walked and walked and somehow missed the first station. But lo, in the darkness was another one! There was yet hope for the two foreign waifs!DSC_1269

Back at the apartment, I allowed myself to look at my fitbit to see how many steps I’d walked that day. Are you ready for it???? Drum roll, please???????

29,000.      That is correct, my friends.

29,000 steps  and 12.45 miles for the smart, sophisticated girl in the new boots! I was tired, aching, wet and cranky. But oof, what if I’d had the same experiences that day  while  wearing those old hiking shoes?? Qui serait  terrible, no?

The Queen of King’s Day

I landed on schedule at  Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, after an evening flight from Minneapolis. In the week prior to leaving, I saw a record number of clients, went  to the dentist, sent in the first ten pages of my baby manuscript (incorrectly, of course)  for someone to read, remembered to call my credit card company, went to a professional dinner, and even, through a teeth rattling fluke, had to get my hair colored and cut the day of my departure. But I’d made it without mishap, and as I crammed my sleep blanket and eye mask down into my overstuffed purse, now all I had to do was get through customs, get to the hotel, and manage to keep my jet lagged body awake until a normal bedtime.

Oh, the indescribable crankiness I feel when, after three hours of fitful airplane sleep, someone flips on the lights in order to serve me a frozen banana! Oh, the cotton woolish roar in my ears while standing at the currency exchange, reading the words, but the words make no sense! Oh, the rising tears of self pity as I have to relinquish my luggage cart to go through passport control!  Sorry, I just had to add that little lament!

I suppose I was either overly jet lagged or overly task focused, for not until I was on the tram did I remember: AMSTERDAM WAS HAVING A HOLIDAY  THAT DAY!!!!!!!

It was the Netherlands’ First King’s Day, formerly Queen’s Day, a national holiday which some have compared to being in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, only a whole lot better. Yeeees, it dawned on me as I registered the un accustomed crowd on the tram, and the fact that every single person sported the color orange somewhere on their person. They were all on their way to the city to make merry until the wee hours of the morning.

Right then and there I decided this would be MY holiday. Since Holland no longer had  a queen, and I felt deserving of a reward, I could be the Queen of King’s Day and avoid jet lag at the same time!

After that bit of fast thinking, the tram deposited us all at Central Station. We wagged our selves and our luggage out to the front to discover… oops, no trams would be running that day. So down the main drag we went, my husband’s bag bump, bump, bumping along the cobblestones, my back just slightly bent with the weight of my backpack. ( We do not check luggage.) The long slow trek to the Marriott at Vondelpark gave us a good opportunity to appraise the cultural expectations of this national celebration. In particular, I needed to see what queenly behaviors I might need to exhibit, regardless of whether others were aware of my regal status.

After much observation we concluded that there were two major expectations, to whit: wear orange, and go wild. I took stock of myself. Orange hair? Check. Orange sunglasses? Check, and double check, because mine are prescription Chanel, not the plastic kiddie glasses for sale on the street. But orange apparel I did not bring, nor did my consort.DSC_1090

Take this woman for example. She sat right beside me, yet she seems unaware of my status. Orange attire was a necessity!

Take this woman for example. She sat right beside me, yet she seems unaware of my status. Orange attire was a necessity!

So first we had to fInd orange shirts drink beer, mainly just to have a place to sit and gather ourselves. We could see already that any available place to sit was not to be taken for granted. In time, we made our way almost all the way back to the train station, mingling and looking for the “right” shirts.

Good spot for people watching!

Good spot for people watching!

Hello, Boys!

Hello, Boys!

Rides at Dam Square

Rides at Dam Square

After finding our shirts we could proudly turn around and return triumphant to the Leidesplein. And the party rolled on!DSC_1098 DSC_1101We made it back to the hotel and hid out for a few minutes in the executive lounge before plunging back out among my subjects.IMG_2775

DSC_0346DSC_0337For some reason we thought we would be able to eat dinner at a restaurant, perhaps because for lunch we ordered the first thing we saw on the menu, fearful that our overworked waitress may not return for hours. The first thing on the menu was something fried in batter. No more information was available.

So we plunged down streets looking for some place to eat, I clutching my bag and camera close to my person and my consort hanging on to me lest we get separated. Life can be challenging for a queen. We came to one spot outside a club that was blaring out something like “I Feel Love.” The dancing crowd was like one giant gyrating creature. But we needed to get through. There was only one thing to do. That’s right baby; I DANCED my way through that sucker!!! And I am pleased to report that I was accepted by the crowd in just the regal fashion worthy of me. I’m not so sure about my consort’s experience.

I FEEL LOVE!!!!!!!

I FEEL LOVE!!!!!!!

A civilized dinner in one of our regular Amsterdam haunts was not to be, but after watching all the festivities we could handle, we were grateful for  a vacant sofa in front of a window at our hotel bar, where we could continue to observe all manner of goings on just beyond us. A burger and a grilled chicken sandwich, along with a couple of cold beers,  seemed  just the right refreshments.IMG_0805

As I rested, sated and drowsy,  on the couch, pillow behind my head and  feet propped up on the edge of a chair, I vowed not to forget the little people. As my husband signed our check I remarked to our waitress that I was sorry she’d  had to work on the holiday. Her professional demeanor softened, and she replied in a most sincere tone, “Thank you. Thank you very much.” After all, compassion toward one’s subjects is the truest sign of royalty.