Friday, April 29, 2011

No Encore

On the occasion of the Royal Wedding which stirs up old memories of the front yard re-enactments of the Patricia Nixon and Princess Anne weddings from my childhood...

No Encore

This production is over.  Curtains down.  The audience can go home. The story has played out and we can all go home and read the reviews in the morning.  As a child all public weddings (Princesses Anne and Margaret, Trisha Nixon) were re-enacted in the neighborhood front lawns.  Sheets as wedding dresses, dandelion bouquets and daisy chain tiaras, recruiting little brothers into the roles of reluctant grooms, as we took turns as bride, re-enacting the rituals that made our mothers wives and mothers, perpetuating a dream so ingrained in our psyches that we always knew it would be our future.  Allowances saved up for the latest issue of Bride Magazine so that we could design the set long before the cast of characters had been hired. 

What we didn’t know: the endless rehearsals; the failed backdrops and missing props; the lack of support from the supporting cast; the nasty adlibbing that wasn’t part of the script; the effort it would take, the price we would pay to pull this off.  The cost of admission to our self esteem and faith.  The strength our role would require to survive.  How love dies, replaced by fear and pain, hate even.  How love lets you down and throws tomatoes at you while you are still on stage, trying to keep up with the script, follow the stage directions, doing the best you can.

In the end, after the final curtain call, no matter how spot on the decision to close the play before the tour was over, the end hurts.  Why?  A sense of failure in making it through the play to the final act of drama that was started in the front yards so many years ago.  The end that was to be growing older and closer to each other, caring for each other as the costumes, our bodies, become worn and faded with each repeat performance.  The final act of seeing each other through bravos and booing, forgotten lines and miscues, to the last death scene as one protagonist breathes the final breath in the arms of the beloved.  A sense of failure to our children for not being able to create that dream life for them that we drew on as dreams as children ourselves.  The white sheet gown replaced by a straightjacket.  The dandelion poesy: a costly bouquet of dead roses.  The daisy chain tiara replaced by a crown of thorns. 

But as the clerk submitted the certified papers, as the judge blessed the closure of the play, I break.  I gulp.  I involuntarily bathe myself internally with tears, fighting hard to not let them seep out.  I fear if I do I won’t be able to stop them, ever.  I have failed.  My husband failed me.  My dream failed me.  The curtain has gone down on the front yard play, Final Act.  Time to go home.  Single.  No more alone than I was in my marriage.  No bravos.  No standing ovations, no encores.  But alone.  Gulp.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Something to look forward to

Judy and Steve, Italy 2005

Judy and Steve are doing all the trip planning for northern Italy (trip starts May 12).  We have a few cooking classes planned, a day or two in Venice.  We will be staying in Bologna for one week and in another place for another week.  The birthplace of Risotto and where this special rice is grown.  Also, while in Bologna, a special tour which is described below.  I am already stowing away liquor bottle wraps in order to bring back balsamic, olive oil and wine.  Just thought you'd enjoy this teaser. 

Typical Schedule:
- 7:30 a.m. : Departure from your Hotel in Bologna or the Bologna train station and we will be back around 4:30 pm

First visit is to the cheese factory, where you will see all the working steps in the production of the Parmesan Cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano) - from the untreated milk until the final product. At the end of the visit there will be a cheese tasting at different stages of maturity accompanied with a good Lambrusco Wine

Second Visit is to the "Acetaia" where the owners make the famous "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena" (Balsamic Vinegar minimum 12 years old) and where they will reveal to you the secret to the art to making traditional vinegar from wine, as well as the history of the Balsamic Vinegar through the centuries . Afterwards there will be a tasting of an "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale", which has matured for 4-15-30 years in special barrels. We will also have the chance to try a nice ice cream topped with Balsamic Vinegar Tradizionale .. mmmm : )

Afterwards we will get a special tour of the Liberty-Style Villa where the owner of the Acetaia lives and where in 1976 the movie "1900" by Bernardo Bertolucci , with Robert de Niro, Dominik Sandra and Gerard Depardieu was filmed! Inside the Villa is a Stunning private collection of glass vases by Gallè and Lalique, as well as many prized paintings and a private collection of bronze animals from the best Austrian and French school...An incredible glimps into the History of Italy!!!!!

Last but not least we will visit a Typical Italian Wine Cantina (winery) in a XVIth Century monastery that is currently a wonderful Agriturismo with fantastic views of the hills, here we will have a fabulous wine tasting and a light lunch all while enjoying the beautiful view of the Valley...

After lunch we will meet a family that for over 3 generations has been committed to the production of “Prosciutto di Modena, A Prosciutto equal to the more famous Prosciutto de Parma, however it is produced in the city limits of Modena instead of Parma!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Fitting Piece

Trying to dust off my creative writing muse, dusting off an old piece from a writing class assignment on "teach people something they don't know."   Hope you enjoy.

The Fitting

I truly am all grown up now.  I can no longer fool myself into thinking that I am a young girl.  How do I know this?  I have had a bra fitting.  It’s one of those things that I was in denial about having to do for a long time.  I have slowly been approaching that milestone for some time now.  I started down that road years ago when I had to start buying my own feminine products at the store.  This was followed by being responsible for making (and showing up to) my own dental and doctor appointments, eventually the mammograms (and yet further down the road my first colonoscopy, though I am not there yet).  I knew the need for a real bra fitting was coming.  Every woman knows it, sooner or later.  My final facing of the fact was brought on by a combination of sudden loss in weight and a realization that my breasts were migrating outward and downward, soon to be in danger of being mistakenly shoved into my sleeves in short order if I didn’t find a way to contain them and put them in the general area in which they were intended to be. 

I don’t know about you, but until now, my decision on what bra to buy has always been dictated by what’s pretty, on sale and shows the least through a t-shirt. Giving little, or no, thought to whether my size has changed since I was twenty years old.  It is now twenty-four years later.  The opportunity to get a good assessment of proper fit with ten seconds in a dressing room, or none with a fussy child in tow, makes it difficult to really know what works well, to figure out what I like in a bra.  I am aware of what I don’t like.  I don’t like underwires that try to reshape something that isn’t naturally shaped the way the wires want you to be; underwires that burst out and stab you in an attempt to pop your personal balloons, or get twisted so that they are really out of line (both figuratively and literally).  I don’t like the half shelf ones that my spouse has so flatteringly selected from the Victoria’s Secret catalogue that look great as long as you don’t move in them, but throw themselves under the breasts as soon as you move your upper torso in any direction other than straight ahead.  I don’t like lumpiness revealing itself through sweaters or scratchy lace and tags.  I don’t like it when nipples announce themselves under business wear, mine or any other woman’s.  Thank God for the invention of T-shirt bras: bras with a thin lining, enough to replace the need for well placed Band-Aids, the trick we all learned in college, but not so much as to require a larger size of clothing. 

So I will admit that the thought of having a bra fitting terrified me.  My first concern was humiliation.  Like getting up enough nerve to walk into a support group meeting or asking your doctor a difficult question, I was afraid of being embarrassed, overheard, laughed at or worse.  I hesitantly and exploringly asked a few friends if they had ever had one.  With one exception they all said no but they’d like to find out about it if I ever had one.  (Apparently I am not alone in my naivety and curiosity about the procedure).  I consulted with a friend whom I admire for her bravery and adventuresome spirit.  She had done the deed and said it was one of the nicest things she had ever done for herself.  I trust this friend completely so I decided I would be a big girl and face my fears and get the darn thing done.  Sometimes you gotta just face the monster. 

The monster I had in my mind was a large mustached  older woman, size 43-triple dee (like battleship bows), black shapeless dress, knee high nylons (tops showing), black orthopedic shoes, peering out over reading glasses lashed on with a chain, wielding a stiff leather tape measure, snapping it on the floor like a whip.  I would be cowering, trying to figure out if it would be better to lie when she asks accusingly when my last bra fitting was than to admit that I had never had one.  That feeling similar to anticipating when the dental hygienist asks how often you floss.  I imagined her clicking her tongue and shaking her head disapprovingly as she saw me strip down and observed the ill fitting, well worn best bra I own. 

In an attempt to avoid humiliation at all costs, I asked another friend, who knew I was contemplating this big step, to ask her mother about how and where one goes about this.  Do you need an appointment?  Do you need to bring anything with you?  Does it cost money?  Where do you go?  It is times like this I miss my own mother in the rawest way.  She died over 12 years ago.  And while I can sometimes feel her watching over and trying to help me, these practical matters must be much more difficult to communicate from out there.  I found out from the surrogate mother that Nordstrom is a good place, you don’t need an appointment, you aren’t charged for the service and that it’s not a big deal.  OK.  I can go with that.

I asked this same friend to come along for moral support and to help me laugh about it if anything embarrassing should occur. We tentatively approached the lingerie department.  Found a nice looking clerk and waited until there were no other customers within ear shot (did I tell you I was embarrassed and scared?). 

Me: “I need a bra fitting.” 

“Let me get someone” She wanders over to the next cashier booth. 

I’m thinking “oh great.  Now they will all know I have a problem.”  I am sure they will all turn around and look at me at once, melting me into the floor before I can run out the door, never looking back.  There is a matronly, older woman among the crowd there who, though not as bad as the monster of my mental image, I am convinced must be the one who gets to torture me.  Instead, the clerk on the search goes directly to a younger woman, petite in size, who comes over and asks me to follow her.

I leave my friend, my life-line, among the robes and slips and jogging bras, and follow my fitter into the dressing room chambers.  Close up I do note that she has ever so slight a moustache, her breath a bit stale.  In some ways I am glad she is not perfect.  After all, she is getting a good look at my imperfections (well two of them).  I have on a thin sweater and she asks me to lift my arms so she can get around my rib cage.  She runs the measure around my rib cage.  Says my measurement out loud and adds four inches, then glances at my chest and says “looks like a C.”  After asking what I like and don’t like in a bra (see the above) she asks me to take off my sweater while she goes and selects some choices for me.  While she is gone, I sit, somewhat chilly in my bra and jeans, waiting to see what she will arrive with. I take a big breath and tell myself this isn’t near as bad as I was anticipating.  I still find I am fighting the urge to put back on my sweater and sneak out.  The feeling is much like waiting in the small curtained booth at the mammogram appointment.  Waiting for the assistant to come in and tell me either good news or bad news.  I fantasize about the comfort of naivety. 

In a few minutes she comes back with about a dozen new bras in a variety of colors and finish.  They are stacked cup in cup as the sizing has them nicely molded in a pre-wash salute.  She asks me to put one on as she leaves the room.  She’s back in a minute.  This one doesn’t contain those migrating breasts as well as I had hoped.  She hands me a slightly different one and now, beyond my shyness, I whip off the first and put the second one on with her in attendance.  She adjusts straps and hooks and stuff and says “I think I got the wrong size”.  Grabs them all back and tells me to “hang tight.”  I laugh to myself at her choice of words.  Soon she is back with an equally large stack but in a bigger cup size.  I am a bit stunned: I have lost weight, how could my cup size be bigger?  Well if you think about not changing my bra size since I was 20, except for the pregnancy bras, it should be understandable.  I express my curiosity and get an interesting lesson on the importance of the measurement around (too big and it migrates up the back) and also learn that cup size goes up and down proportionally to the measurement around.  That is why a 42C cup looks like it can hold four breasts the size that will fit in a 34C.  Just in case you wanted to know.  She leaves me to try the rest on and find the ones I like best.  “Don’t worry about color; we’re just going for fit now.”  I find three I think will do but ask her to check me out in all of them to make sure I’m not just imagining that they fit.  I have come a long way, haven’t I?  While I am trying things on I overhear the lady in the next booth talking to her fitter.  She is raving about Oprah’s T-shirt bra.  I imagine that my fitter has been holding out on me, so when I come out with the three I want in hand I insist that she show me Oprah’s T-shirt bra.  She told me I already tried it on and I didn’t like it.  I ask her to show it to me on the rack anyway so that I can have first hand knowledge of what the Oprah bra is.  You know, in case I need to impress someone at a cocktail party or something. 

My fitter helps me get the colors I want and at the register instructs me on the care and feeding of my very good bras.  My friend, who has just about given up on me (allow yourself a half hour for the process) sidles up to me at the register.  I am talked into a special washing bag (which will also save my nylons from the Velcro closures on my son’s jacket) and think ahead on how I will need to instruct my son on the care needed in doing the laundry.  He is great at doing the laundry.  As long as all colors can go in one load and every thing can go in the dryer and socks are happy in the single world.  I think to myself I’ll just wash these myself.  I have too much invested: my bravery, my maturity, my embarrassment, my research and my money, to mistreat these special purchases.  My experienced friend was right: it is a nice thing you can do for yourself.  Now I can focus my dread on a future colonoscopy.  Oh joy!  Any advice?

-Jennifer Lowe

Saturday, April 23, 2011

It's not the Farmer's Market...

We've bypassed spring and are straight into summer (not that there was any kind of a winter really). The temperatures are into the nineties during the daytime and already I am thinking about how any outdoor activity will soon be relegated to the hours between 9 PM and 7 AM.  But missing spring I am thinking longingly for the opening of the farmer's markets at home.

I've lived here nearly ten months and, though I've enjoyed many meals from it, I had yet to go to the Abu Dhabi fish market. Or vegetable market. Yesterday was my virgin voyage, taken by my veteran flatmate, Melissa. More than actually buying fish and vegetables (the supermarkets here have a good selection already) I was excited to get some good photos and try out the new camera. When I travel I always make it a point to get to the local markets where the produce and people are so colorful. Yes, the smells and stares are often uncomfortable, but those are always outweighed by the energy encountered there.

I had visions of a third world fish market: braced myself for some pretty nauseating smells and panhandling. I had forgotten this is Abu Dhabi. Not a third world country in the least. It's a new country (younger than I am). The market was as clean and cool as the fish markets at Pike Place. The fish market is indoors in a climate controlled facility which helps keep down the stench. Yes, there are scales and bloody colored puddles in places on the floor. And yes, it definately smells like salt and a bit fishy. But no flies. No gagging stench. No questionable quality.
 The two blondes in the building did stand out a bit and we were the target of the fish vendor's attention. "Madam. Prawns. Hamour. Beautiful for you. Fresh. Come, come, see." We really were only hungry for fresh calamari, which we purchased from one of the first tables. One kilo for 20 dirhams (About five-and-a-half dollars), which was bagged up for us. I took some pictures of the tables of fish.

 Lots of small sharks, fish of all shapes and sizes (well except salmon), small softshelled blue crabs, prawns of several sizes (except small). The most favorite local fish is a Hamour which we often order grilled in the local restaurants. While the fish were quite photogenic, the people were a little less so. I've mentioned before that we are careful to photo people in the UAE. Many Muslim's are not pleased to have their pictures taken, especially the locals, and we have heard many stories of cameras being confiscated if this is not respected.

While I didn't see alot of women in local dress at the market there were many men in dish-dash (the traditional white gowns and head dress sported by the men here) so I was pretty careful not to take too much. We did see some small clams wich we snagged as insipiration to make some clam chowder (now if we could only procure a good loaf of SanFrancisco sour dough). Other lovely fish I will have to come back for at some later date.
The next stop at the fish market is in an adjoining section where there are several small shops that will clean and cook up your purchases.
 In these small shops, through the order window, you see a Pakistani or Indian at the back with the lowest job of cleaning the fish. Then the Syrian's or Iranians or other middle class middle easterners are at the cook stations working hard. Most of the fish are opened up, seasoned and put between two racks to be placed on the grill. Other items (like our calamari) are tossed in seasoned flour and fried.

 The heat coming out of the kitchens is incredible and we marvel at the cheerful moods and clean color coordinated shirts of the men who are working in that heat. Most want to pose for me when they see I am taking pictures. As I am taking pictures in this area, if there are women around I leave the camera hanging stomach level and point and shoot in the general direction hoping to get something nice: still just taking at their backs as I don't want to get their faces without permission.

While our calamari is waiting to be cooked we wander into the halls and find the dried fish section.
We buy a few bottles of water and look at the limited vegetable stands here. There are some very small, hot and crowded cafes where workers can get a good fish meal for little money. These aren't the kind of places where women would eat, especially two unaccompanied blonds, but we are VERY content to have been able to pick out really fresh lovely fish and have it all cleaned and cooked for us.

It's Friday morning when we are here and the major Mosque prayer starts in a few hours. Lots of men are shopping and getting bags full of fish which they drop off to be picked up around 3:00 for a big family meal after the service. Once we have gathered up our lovely fresh Calamari (where Melissa has impressed the whole cook shop with writing her name in Arabic for them) we head out of the maket.

As I am walking out I hear shouting behind me "What are you doing here? What are you doing here?" I realize that this shouting from a male speaking in Arabic accented English is becoming intense and directed at us. I'm thinking "shit. It's the camera and I am in trouble" so I keep walking without turning back. Finally Melissa turns around to see it is Ali F, a client at our government job. He has a reputation of being rather difficult and though my encounters with him have always gone fine he does tend to make us all nervous. But he seemed genuinely impressed to see us there and happy to find us out of context. When we explained that we had come to get fresh calamari and had it friend up and were ready to go off and eat it he asked rather increduously "now?" Apparently we are doing things a little out of order. He will come back at 3:00 to pick up his cooked fish. But other than that we did the encounter OK.

Next stop: fruit market. Same part of town as the fish market but not within walking distance, especially given the traffic and heat.
The fruit market, like the fish market, is clean and orderly. Not many people here at all. We are looking for onions and potatoes for the chowder and lemon for the calamari.
The fruit is all imported (too hot to grow things locally) and too neatly boxed and arranged. We talk them into showing us what they are hiding in the back and in the refrigerated sections. Also in the back men are assembling lovely fruit baskets (100- dirhams each, about twentyseven dollars).

 Of course we end up with other things not on the list. The dill lookes especially lovely: (I have no idea what to make with the dill I bought).Some rambutans and some new fruit we try and then buy: small fuzzy green pods, not too sweet, that you dip in salt before eating. 

In just a few weeks I will be perusing the olive markets of northern Italy. There I will not stand out as an exotic foreign visitor and I will feel free to take camera shot after camera shot. But I am glad to now know the markets of my temporary assignment. The ability to take the fish straight from the vendor to the cook and walk away with a fresh fish meal all ready to eat is fabulous. I'll be back.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I Am Fruit

I am fruit
Before the picking
Hard and sour
Hanging on to the branch
That will hold me
Until I am precious

I am grass
Reaching up to heaven
Until cut
I love the smell of cut grass

I am a pillow
Lay on me

I am glass
See through me
You will only know I am there
When I am dirty

I am a secret
What I keep
You can’t have
Like a liar
If I tell you I lied
Then I am not a liar
If I tell a secret
Then it is not a secret
I need the power of secret

Bones, hair, toenails
Skin, lips, a navel (pierced)
Blood and breath
Fat and muscle
Tongue and eyes
All around
This soul
And damn tired of it
I open up the outsides
Just to make sure
It’s still in there

Camino Street Bomb Shelter

I remember the cellar so dark I am afraid to move. Jars stocked on shelf, bright colored, full of canning. 300 year old peaches and, God forbid we should ever be forced here by missles sent from Cuba, pickled beets. Mushy pale pears. I would rather die from nuclear caused alien growths, oozing green, than eat those pickled beets. Mother says it would be like camping. We would be in the room, the nuclear shelter, a home accessory included in every house plan of the early sixties. I cannot imagine being stuck with my father for God knows how long in a small cement room, amongst the camping gear and pickled beets. (I love him very much but he has a need to fill the quiet with his own voice). I would surely snap after just a few hours of his talk with no escape. I remember that house on Camino Street. Life contained to the upper floor until my brother grows old enough, maybe Junior High, when he moves to the basement, with the spiders. The spiders in the bomb shelter/ camping room, pickled beet emporium, abandon their body shells to the bottom of empty canning jars. Empty pots. Every container seems to contain the skeletal remains of what once must have been a gargantuan spider. Crisp. Obviously dead and still so threatening. I had nightmares about that bomb shelter. In the time of day I would dare myself to enter that room. Thrilling in the terror just a little, if only to run in, past the blind entryway, to face the empty, mocking echo that repeated back the thump of my own heart. Why do we dare ourselves to go into unsafe territory? The thrill I remember, the terror of these self imposed ventures into horror I feel again, in this life, as I venture into a painful, self inflicted verb.