Friday, September 28, 2007


Haggling with the clerk at the DMV this week who needed me to produce our marriage certificate (a post-September 11th requirement in this state for every married woman to authenticate the transition from her birth surname to present married surname) gave me an instant to ruminate on the whole idea of marriage. This dated piece of paper represents a powerful link to a culture’s rules of a legal union.

A variety of mysterious wedding traditions exist in many old world cultures, including the Jewish Chupah, African American and Romani peoples jumping the broom, Mediterranean wedding parties breaking glasses, Celtic brides wearing a braid and grooms in kilts, and so on. These past generations have left their footprints in the sand where they have tested the waters of their particular customs with their toes. Tevye wisely knew that tradition is a powerful bond.

But what happens when a young bride finds herself without a tradition? Our wedding certificate was signed by a Lutheran minister. That’s important because this bride came from a Catholic family, none of which were represented in the church on that day in November. Were the bonds of matrimony somehow weakened? Did the aura of bliss quickly evaporate? I’m certain it was more than an adequate celebration, in spite of any real link to the past. There has always been a nagging doubt in the back of my mind, however, that I had somehow missed a bigger blessing. I wrote this poem a while ago in response to an incredible and totally serendipitous experience I had many years later on an anniversary weekend. I think this about closes this chapter, except for an occasional epilogue installment.

Cannoli Man

She took to the road early, turning her face East
Away from the small railroad town where her immigrant grandfather
Sold groceries to cowboys and laborers
But no one recognized her name.
Arriving in her youth, she tentatively placed her feet down as divining rods
On the narrow cobblestones Paul Revere rode.
No one there had shared steerage with her family.
Dinner tables piled high with Sunday's best were long since covered with asphalt
in the city with broad shoulders.
Only drowsy, wine-soaked eyes met hers along the Chesapeake.

Bowing her head, she passed the old flagship church in South Philly.
True north she found his store at the edge of the market,
Falling out from the rest of the buildings like a torn piece of lace.
Shiny cannoli tubes, stock pots, strainers and randomly hung
Yellowing photos of boxers past their prime, Mussolini and the Pope
Her hand closed around his cigar stained, sausage fingers, his sweater's
unraveling cuffs
Comparing origins, he had, in fact, heard her name before.
Turning to her Irish immigrant husband, the shopkeeper asked,
Did you get permission to marry one of our girls?

A familial smile parted her lips as
The small Calabrian dove in her breast eased it's fluttering--
folded back its wings, and calmly closed its eyes to rest.

(for more powerfully delicious writing check out Sunday Scribblings)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

'Never get a mime talking. He won't stop.'

Today in Paris was the funeral for Marcel Marceau, the world famous mime of the twentieth century. He had been famous for his creation of Bip in 1947, his sad white face, striped shirt with a top hat with large red rose that hung over the brim. He said of Bip's character, "He is a romantic and burlesque hero of our time, and he is also my alter ego, struggling like Don Quixote against the windmills in the battlefields of life. . .alone in a fragile world filled with injustice and beauty." His obituaries stated he had been a French Jew who had been active in the French Resistance, especially helping to protect Jewish children. His father died in Auschwitz. Working until the end of his life, he also founded and taught at the International School of Mime in Paris in the 1970's.
Sadly for me, this is the passing of a distinctly romantic memory from my childhood. I had seen him once on the Ed Sullivan show. He was French, quiet, expressive, agile, and I was smitten. In my recent past the name of Marcel Marceau brings to mind a boy named Peter who was a first grader at the Montessori School where I worked. As is typical of the curriculum of Montessori, the students were encouraged to pick a famous person, research then write and illustrate a report about that person. Peter's parent's had recently taken him to see a performance by Marceau in Chicago and this boy couldn't quit talking about what he'd seen. He wrote a rather enchanting bio of the artist and the pictures he drew were not quite brilliant but very entertaining and enlightened. I enjoyed helping him with his research because it was heartwarming to know that a little bit of our culture would maybe be saved in the mind of a young boy who learned about famous artist on a live stage rather than from a Trivial Pursuit question.

' Do not the most moving moments of our lives find us all without words? '
Marcel Marceau

Friday, September 21, 2007

Seems like only yesterday

Settling in I am waiting for the darkness and the movie to begin. But they wouldn’t quit nudging me until I looked. Squinting so it looked as if I didn’t care, I casually glanced toward where they had been pointing. Across the theatre in our same row were as many young men’s faces as the ones I was sitting between, all turned in my direction. I leaned back in my seat and closed my eyes. Relentless, they begged me to just take a look. Slowly I placed each hand on the empty seat in front of me, leaned forward, turned and then that’s when I saw her. She leaned forward in her seat and turned her face toward me.
It did feel as if time shuddered as I saw another young woman in a small movie theater in Hyannis who looked exactly like me.
At twenty I had spent more time looking at aspects of my face than searching for glimpses of my soul. There was no doubt, however, that I saw myself in her face, and from her quick response, I knew she had seen herself in a mirror. She sat back, slunk down in her seat and hid behind the shoulder of the man next to her. When I left the theater I looked for her but she was gone. What would we have said to each other anyway?
A lot like dwelling on the details of our own eventual death, even though we’ve been told to be on the lookout for our twin somewhere in the world, it remains an unsettling desire. There just are so many faces to go around. Did she leave the Cape as I did? What about happiness and longevity? I only know what twists and turns my life took. I only know my own name.

Sunday Scribblings prompted us to write about the ever-present name tag, "hi, my name is..."

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Look, its Sunday Scribblings

The scene is set in 1955 and I’m attending Vacation Bible School in the basement of my grandmother’s Methodist church. There I am, the one with long braids and a furrowed brow, trying to decide on which magazine to choose. No matter, because from the moment I first cut out a picture from that magazine and opened a jar of paste, wanting to try a taste of it before finishing the project, I’ve collected images. Fast forward to today, I purchase art postcards and every leisurely shopping trip includes looking at each and every greeting card in gift shops for that perfect memento to take home with me. I know that some artists practice their skills by copying art. For me, its is all in the collecting, amassing the little paper treasures that make my heart skip a beat, into piles, boxes, tied in ribbons, or left on my desk as a reminder. The reminder is that I always need to look, mira, guardare, to see in order to live and breath an artistic life. Imagine my surprise in first grade when one of the first sentences I read, my finger under each word, was ‘Look, look. Oh look. See Jane.’
Certainly I am a collector of books, old photos, fabric, paper, yarn, cookbooks, buttons, feathers, pitchers, and rose hips that also add substance and a sense of belonging to my life. An important visual workout, these. But when I want to tie it all together, feel less lonely, know I belong on this earth, remember where I came from as well as the enticing smell of a fresh jar of paste, I only need to look at little bits of art, the ones that I’ve collected.

Our Sunday Scribbling prompt this week was about collecting. Look and see more here. Painting by German Expressionist Franz Marc who said:

Art is nothing but the expression of our dream; the more we surrender to it the closer we get to the inner truth of things, our dream-life, the true life that scorns questions and does not see them.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

wild geese above me

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over
announcing your place in the family of things.

Mary Oliver

My friend Anna says she always feels a relentless ennui when fall arrives. For me autumn cools off my bones and helps rearrange my brain cells in their original order. My clearer head usually then sees the landscape in poetry instead of prose. Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets and whenever I hear the geese fly over I'm reminded of these words.

Monday I found this book of children's poetry by British poet John Drinkwater at an antique store in White Bear Lake, the lake in the photo above. I had originally picked it up thinking it would be great for an altered book journal but when I brought it home and read it cover to cover, I don't think I want to change a thing. The illustrations by H.M. Brock are whimsical and very 1930-ish. (You can click on each scan for a easier-to-read view.) This poem, also called "Changes" really spoke to me regarding our abrupt change of seasons here in Minnesota as well as the 'window-wide' view of summer. Tonight I brought in the tender plants and covered the tomato plant I've been babying since May because we're expecting some frost. Like Julie said, she's barely mourned the passing of her flowers. Oh dear.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Up In Smoke

M.C. Escher, Liberation, 1955.

When she wrote her faltering cursive in her new pink diary with the tiny, tiny key, her hand was light. Later the ink from the cartridge pen stained her fingers when she’d write about injustices, boys, high-hurdles, belt buckles, and beer. She pressed so hard that she left holes in the paper, so when she turned the page she just drew a peace sign around the holes and moved on, filling another page. In spite of her need to write, she remained detached from the notebook. Seldom was there a tear-stained page. Sometimes she thought she felt another hand on top of hers carefully underlining swear words in red felt marker for her. Her shame rose like smoke.

Eventually she realized the pages she’d written in the past were trustworthy. In her final months at home she allowed her tears to spill as she wrote of her new plan to not let him see her cry when he hit her. Some days she fell victim to the tears before she had a chance to show him the rebellion in her eyes. She clung to her pen for clarity.

One day, just like that, she found herself moving in with a new family on a farm. While she and her new family drove up the gravel lane to the farmhouse, across town her parents were packing her belongings into a large empty box. Never did she suspect that of the few things they kept—mostly gifts she’d received from them—they would keep her diaries. Nor did she know that as she navigated the lonely, heady days in a foster home and new high school that her mother would light a cigarette in preparation for her nightly reading of excerpts from that diary to selected friends and family over the telephone.

The lesson learned is that you can tell a lot about one’s character by how they respond to an offer to expose a girl’s life to them late at night by phone. Would you tell the caller you’re not interested or would you be drawn in by all the hype?

More writing at Sunday Scribblings.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Zucchini today, cloudy tomorrow

Colorful sweet bell and hot jalapeno peppers given to me by my neighbor who has been growing them on his balcony, along with tomatoes and sweet basil. We've spent the summer sharing stories of woe about our rebellious tomato plants, uncooperative weather and trading stories of other growing seasons and marinara recipes. The balcony proved too hot for his tomatoes so they spent most of the summer vacationing in the more temperate climate in his dad's garden. Mine are hanging on for dear life and are looking pretty ragged around the edges. The pathetic fruit remind of how we must have looked the first few days of junior high seventh grade when we transferred from the 'unique' private Catholic school experience of the 50's--sweaty, dorky and very, very confused!

Indian summer and the abundance of zucchini, peppers and tomatoes always urges me to make Ciambotta, a meatless southern Italian type of stew.

"Ciambotta is a member of that hard-to-define category of Italian foods known as minestre, generally somewhere between a thick soup and a stew. It is related to the French ratatouille, typically made with eggplant, onions and tomatoes, and the Sicilian caponata, made with more or less the same vegetables, plus celery and olives. In southern Italy, ciambotta (pronounced chahm-BOHT-tah) may also be spelled giambotta or cianfotta, depending on the region."
text borrowed from FoodDownUnder

My grandpa Vito made it and put it up in jars every summer until his passing at 81. My dad made his version and in all honesty it never was my favorite dish. Luckily tastes change and with advanced adulthood I find myself willing to give up just about anything to have a bowl of Jimmy's made with salt pork again (he made his last batch when he was 82). So, here's how I do it, sans the pork:

1 onion chopped, browned in ~ 3T olive oil
several cloves garlic, peeled and chopped, added to the onions, stirring often (don't burn the garlic!)
1 lg. can tomatoes, cut up (San Marzano plum are best if available)
2 lg. bell peppers but in quarters
2-3 zucchini (med.) cut in large rings
3 baking potatoes, peeled and cut in large chunks
salt & pepper
fresh sweet basil
Mix, cover and simmer gently until potatoes are very done. Keep adding water or broth so it doesn't cook down too much. Just before serving add several leaves of fresh basil. (My family used whole stalks of the herb and pulled it out before serving.)

I've been known to add a can of rinsed chickpeas at this point to make it a complete meal but it wasn't traditional, especially in light of my dad's romance with pork fat. My enduring memory of this meal was that I always seemed to get more zucchini than potatoes (which I really wanted) and ended up with a huge piece of basil that was missed, (which I didn't want). So, if you make this delicious stew, I wish you all the potatoes you want!

On the subject of free, hand grown produce, the pepper grower, his wife and big dog Tucker are moving today to Coon Rapids. Just last week my friend Caroline, next door, moved to another part of town--'just a short bicycle ride away' she assures me-- as well as Tatiana, husband and baby Taszia moved to Ann Arbor, and the sweet Erin, kindergarten teacher and owner of a little black Cocker Spaniel named J.J. got a teaching job up-state.

Soooo, I'm not amused by all of this moving away stuff. Knowing I have separation issues I deal with on a daily basis doesn't change the fact that I've become quite attached to some of my neighbors in this building. Audrey says its because I've never lived in an apartment building before...except I do remember in a galaxy far, far away there was the dorm, various apartments and houses, neighborhoods and the like. Saying goodbye is just not one of my favorite things. And it seems to me that the more congenial, fun or mentally stimulating people continually move on leaving the ordinary folk like me behind. Sigh.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The great Minnesota get-together

August lingers in my memory like the flannel cover on the old heating pad--warm and flowered--but now autumn is sidling in with the also very warm first days of September here in Minnesota.
We made two trips to the Minnesota State Fair, once was for the food and the second trip to see a live broadcast of Garrison Keillor and the Prairie Home Companion in the very same Grandstand where Teddy Roosevelt gave his “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick” speech in 1901. The locals are known to go all eleven days but the average is three times.
I saw it with my own eyes!

The fairgrounds actually have paved streets, a huge carnival midway, politicians at the local DFL (Democratic Farmer Labor Party) booth including Al Franken above and local music. The food day was an adventure to see how many things we could find sold on a stick: pickles rolled in kool-aid, candy bars, pork chops, hot-dish, corn, and my personal favorite, the Pronto-Pup's cousin, deep-fried Twinkies. Audrey and I shared one on our way out of the grounds for the day; however, she didn't want me to put her photo on my blog. Sooooo, I think by using the block you will not know that it is my daughter, Audrey, holding a Twinkie on a Stick, o.k.?

We visited the various barns, caught a glimpse of the Royal Canadian Mounties' program in the horse arena, the art shows and the various and sundry commercial sites. Next year I plan to do my homework and devise a plan to see EVERYthing if it takes all eleven days. Do I hear myself?!

If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.

James Herriot

It ended before it began

I wanted to own a swimsuit like Joanne’s, white with splashy rosy-red flowers. My parents did not appreciate Joanne’s fashion sense, “That girl! She’s always prancing around half naked.” They didn’t want me playing with someone that much older than me, nor was I to go into her house, that being the mantra of the 1950’s. On our block no one was ever allowed in the individual homes of their friends, never privy to the family’s inner workings. The same went for leaving the block or scouting too far down the alleyway. Ditto the irrigation ditches.

Joanne wore no shoes with that suit when she led me down the wooden stairs to her basement. Looking up, the ceiling seemed lower than our basement’s. Her dad’s workbench was cleared, tools hanging neatly on the wall above. Doors to the other rooms down there were closed. By day her dad sold Plymouths with fins that reminded me of his hooknose. Her mom didn’t work; where was she that day?

That she had deigned to let me come over was unbelievable but to go inside her house made my stomach tumble. Usually we played horses outside, running around the perimeter of her yard neighing, stamping and probably prancing. The best part of that game was deciding which horse to be, usually a black or white stallion. The colors kept changing as we circled. My parents hated to hear me call myself a black stallion rolling their eyes when I asked why.

Hatboxes, shoeboxes and handbags were neatly stored on the opposite wall. “Don’t touch those! Look at this.” When I turned I was looking cross-eyed at the blade of a hunting knife pointed at my face. The August day was empty of air and sound. “Are you afraid of knives?” she questioned as I slowly backed away. “Well, are you?” A smile formed at the corners of her mouth and her dark eyes shone amber.

“No, yes. . .get away from me!” I ran upstairs. Laughter followed me, “Baby! I don’t play with babies. Go home!”

I never told anyone about the knife. I still wanted to look like Joanne when I got older. For now she only looked at me out of the corner of her eye as she pranced down her driveway.

She never asked me to come over again.

Experience more endings at Sunday Scribblings.