August 25, 2005
The other day a story came to the forefront of my memory—a story quite worth the telling. But before I tell it, I should explain the reason for the remembrance, as it is a part of the tale as well . . .
Earlier this week, upon my return home from work in the afternoon, I was walking along my street, delivering community event flyers to my neighbors. As I taped the flyer to his mailbox, one of my neighbors came out to greet me. Seeing that I was an “involved” neighbor, he wanted my opinion about a proposal he had for our care of the communal park: we have an open grassy field in the center of our “crescent” shaped street, as all the houses line one end. It is a nice area, with trees lining a small creek, but has never been cared for terribly well. The city is nice enough to mow it periodically, even though technically we are all responsible for it, as each house owns a portion.
My neighbor was lamenting the fact that it needs better care: several of the trees have deadwood that needs trimming, and the area is low-lying and prone to flooding, so the creek should be cleared out somewhat. He wanted my help in getting everyone to chip in to an annual maintenance fund for it, which sounded reasonable enough to me—as long as we can convince some of the owners that they are in fact legally responsible for the land. At any rate, the point of all this is that, as we parted, he mentioned to me that my mother was active in caring for the park—a fact that I had actually forgotten, and that I was surprised to hear from someone who had not even been living here back when she did. But he pointed out the 2 thriving Cypress trees, noting that she had done well to plant such thirst-prone little seedlings. I grinned at the thought of Mom doing her planting, and then, more to myself than to him, I musingly replied, “Yep, that’s my mama!”
And that was when I remembered that strange evening back in elementary school . . . I know we were all quite young at the time, so it could not have been too long after we got settled in the U.S. again, in our own home. But it must have also been just long enough for Mom to get just done enough with her grieving in order to recover a bit of her tendency towards unanticipated nuttiness. Then again, who knows: perhaps the nuttiness was as much a part of the grieving process as anything else . . .
But here’s the way I remember the evening: I was “in charge,” along with my sister, while Mom went out for our groceries. The boys were being characteristically rowdy, especially since their more-rowdy neighborhood playmate was there with us. Helen and I bossily tried to mother them, sulking a bit, and eventually giving up, when they showed their clear disdain of our seniority.
After a bit, we heard the Buick drive up and the large door shut as Mom rolled in to the kitchen downstairs. “Kids, come help carry stuff in for me!” . . . and then my mother—my Missionary, Sunday-school teacher, wash-our-mouths-out-with-soap-for-swearing Mother—added, “I got us a six-pack—come on down!”
It seems that Mom had happened upon some “Non-alcoholic” beer in the store, and she was so amused at the idea of it—having never encountered it before—that she couldn’t resist a bit of practical joking.
Helen and I peered at the cans she held up proudly, and then rolled our eyes with an exaggeratedly mature, “oh, Mom!.” And the boys gazed wide-eyed. Each poured himself a plastic cup-full—with a flourish, and the three proudly bounded back up the stairs to the playroom. My brothers made tiny dents in their cups, throwing their heads back as they swallowed and attempting to hide their grimaces. The neighbor, though, took the cake. After a couple of sips, he began to take larger, slower steps around the room. And then he loudly announced: “Man! I think it’s getting to me a bit, guys . . . I’m getting a bit light-headed!”
At that point, I believe Helen and I returned to our room for some nice grown-up girl games, deciding for the umpteenth time that boys were such a pain . . .
Yep, that’s my Mama!
August 23, 2005
La Petite Marchande d’Allumettes [The little match girl], by H.C. Andersen/ translation by P.G. La Chesnais/ illustrated by Georges LeMoine
As the French librarian read this book to us out loud, in Paris, I cried. I was immensely moved by this retelling of Andersen’s tale, and I was rather taken aback at my own reaction. Interestingly enough, the language of the story is not what touched me the most. The tale is indeed a highly moving, and immensely sad one; unfortunately, though, I fear I have grown hardened to the original by merely being overly familiar with it.
For that reason, I love that La Chesnais and LeMoine have redone the story in a way that brings new poignancy to a potentially stale story. They have brought it to life by the ingenious parallel, via solely the artwork, of the original tale with the modern real-life equivalent of a little Bosnian girl stuck in war-time harsh reality. The truth, of course, is that life really can be every bit as heartbreaking as Andersen’s original story . . . and I am grateful for any way of communicating, in a manner that can cut to the core of the heart, such truth to often too-sheltered young people today.
August 17, 2005
alright folks–it’s done . . . i made a bit of a photo journal of my travels, keeping it relatively short and sweet, in that it does not include all the photos–just those that are, in my opinion, most illustrative, interesting, or just plain pretty :-) presuming i can link this correctly, you should be able to link on the right hand side to my name, which will direct you to the blog, called “from steaming springs to time for tea”
August 5, 2005
Another day of writing inspirations, lectures, and classes is nearing its end. I am struggling with feeling so intimidated by the genius surrounding me, but offer another instalment in my day’s free writing, all the same:
Assignment: Write a paragraph on “going to bed” however you want to interpret that. Paragraph 1 should be geared towards a child and Paragraph 2 geared towards an adult.
For a 6-year-old:
Now you lay on down to sleep. So don’t you fear—no monsters here. Just Daddy & Mommy & little sis Janie. And maybe, just maybe, if you lie real still, big Scraggles will come to cuddle with you. But before that, of course, he’ll circle and circle and circle about, wagging his tail & flapping his ears, until he has found that one perfect spot to curl right up with you and dream of slow cars.
For an adult:
Now I lay me down to sleep. To sleep, perchance to dream?
I lay me down, yet may not sleep. Though if I sleep, pray let me dream. To dream my way away from worries of the day. To sleep so deep away must creep the fears I fear to name. Away this weary-some, worry-some day.
Assignment, part 2: Now, take the child’s paragraph and remove the adults from it, however you choose to interpret that.
Now I lay me down to sleep. I sure don’t fear no monsters here. Cause me and Scraggles, we’re brave like grown-ups. In just a few minutes he’ll hop on my bed, to sleep here with me so he doesn’t get scared. But first thing, of course, he’ll circle and circle and circle around, flapping his tail & waggling his ears. And finally he’ll find one real perfect spot, plop down with a snort, and maybe a slobber, and dream all night long of . . . [at this point, again, I ran out of time]
August 4, 2005
After one full day of CLISS classes now, in London, I thought I would share a snippet from my assignments thus far. I am in the Creative Writing strand, and below is one of our free-write assignments. Our writing instuctor had us spend a couple minutes on several questions first thing this morning:
1. How do I feel about beginning this session?
Intimidated. Fearful. Thrilled. I am simmering over the prospect [could it happen??] of coming away from here with a focus for my writing. And I am terrified that I will end up, in the midst of all this creative genius, finding that in fact I do not have what it takes to be a writer.
Could I be so driven, and yet it be for nothing? From whence cometh this yearning . . .
That I could direct this force outwards, that I could create!
2. Reconstruct a childhood object, based upon the emotions described above.
Thrilled. I was thrilled when Mom presented me with that Swan Lake snow globe. She had thought of me, months earlier, on a shopping field trip with her physical rehab inpatient group. Passing it in a store window, it spoke to her of me, she said. So she bought it, thinking ahead to my 10th birthday, when she would be home with us again, when we would celebrate again.
Fearful. Shattered. My lovely, perfect globe. And I was fearful that in losing this precious gift I had ruined yet another piece of my broken mother . . . [at this point I ran out of time for the alloted slot :-)].
August 3, 2005
Thanks to a brief meningitis scare on our behalf, one brave soul amongst us experienced the French treatment for severe back pain and nausea. Here in Paris, it seems, la remedie is found in a 6-inch needle plunged firmly into the rear.
As her back pain had worsened, this student ended up spending over a day stuck in her hotel bed, unable to keep anything down. By midnight, we realized that her pounding head and sensitivity to light could also be indicators of meningitis, with its rapid onset and grave potentials. Rather than take that risk, we opted to go ahead and take her to the hospital.
Next came the task of figuring out just how that was done here. After a few redirected phone calls, I found a nurse who, thankfully, had clear enough diction for me to be able to understand her advice. [Had I had time to worry, I would have been concerned that my French experience has never provided me with a terribly solid base in medical terminology]. What I learned was that a trip to the Urgences would put us under 5,000 euros—approximately 8,600 dollars. As I gasped, she offered option #2: apparently, house calls are rather standard, so for a mere 100 euros, the doctor would come to us, to see if she did in fact need further treatment. The second option we accepted without great hesitation.
About 45 minutes later our medicin arrived. With a flurry of brusque questions and commands, he poked and pried while I tried to keep track of his queries and, hopefully, to relay translations while I could still remember his last order [and before he had time to throw out another].
It all seemed relatively standard until he told me to warn her about a picure. I questioned him to be sure, gulped, and told her that he was going to give her a shot—after, that is, he had me utterly perplexed for a moment by a request for perfume. The wise Professor Dean divined that this must be for the alcohol content’s sterilization. We happily obliged.
Perhaps before continuing (for the sake of any disturbed readers), I should explain that he had already told me that there was no suspicion whatsoever of meningitis. We did not, then, have to fear some bizarre form of injected medications; it turns out she simply had a virus that had affected her more heavily due to the back injury she had sustained earlier in the year.
Six inches of picure and sixty seconds, plus a few basic pain prescriptions later, we were well on our way to full recovery . . . and all significantly more experienced in and wizened to the ways of the world—or at least to the ways of this particular [and peculiar?] Parisian physician.
August 1, 2005
“Alors, vas-y–tu vas conduire en France!”
And with that, he idled the Pugeot into neutral, stepped out of the car, and came around to escort me out of the passenger’s seat and into the driver’s. In a slightly muted-by-exhaustion state of panic, I blurted out a halting:
“Mais non . . . ça fait longtemps depuis que je conduisse une voiture manuelle . . . je ne sais comment conduire ici . . .”
But the damage was done: when asked if I had one, I had answered that yes, I did have a permet de conduire. So yesterday I did what I had years ago assured myself that I was too scared to ever do: I drove in Fance.
Thankfully, we were in the outskirts rather than in Paris proper, but nonetheless, it did make for a bemusing beginning to my sejour with my friends in the French countyside. This family is one of those that I have, over the years, been severely spoiled by each time I have the delightful occasion to see them again. So it was a joy to be in their home with them for these past 2 days . . .