Archive for the 'Love' Category

The perfect meal

September 13, 2016
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A french farm-to-table setting

Many, many years ago, I worked as a bartender on a US and Danish air force base in Greenland–miles away from civilization and one very long treacherous dog sled ride to the nearest Inuit village. Food was functional and almost always thawed. In fact, most foods were brought in on US cargo jets either canned or frozen. There were three restaurants and a chow hall on the base, and the one constant you found on all four menus, for breakfast, lunch and dinner was pork. Pork chops, pork and beans, pork patties, pork bellies, pork sausage, pork meatballs, pork roast…you get the point. The reason for pork wasn’t so much that the Danish love it, or the Americans for that matter, but rather, it freezes better and longer than any other meat, and when you’re shipping rations to the arctic you need something that will last…and last and last and last. And so,  along with 300 other US servicemen and a few civilian employees like myself, I ate so much pork that when I returned home, I swore it off for the rest of my life (OK, save the occasional slice of sausage pizza).

This got me thinking of how impossible it would have been to have a good meal, let alone a perfect meal in that setting. Greenland was remote. And frozen. And lonely. And aside from the extremely rare arctic hare or caribou that was served fresh from the kill, it was slim pickings. Your choice was reheated pork and canned somethingorother. The sad truth is, the same can be said for a huge swath of America, despite our access to better quality, fresh ingredients. It’s so hard to create a meal (and I mean, a real meal) from shoddy, conventional, factory farmed and frozen food stuff, let alone fake food. Do you realize that over half the “cooking” that people think they do includes some form of processed or pre-packaged food (let me open this box of instant potatoes and add water)? And according to a Forbes article, while our obesity rates soar, we spend less time eating and less time cooking than other nations.(1)

You see, I’d been reading Michael Pollan‘s  NYT best-selling “In Defense of Food.” And I was preoccupied by the way we eat. On the one hand, I was horrified that some consider a microwaveable Lean Cuisine to be a healthy meal. On the other, I was intrigued by the simplicity of Pollan’s underlying message: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. But more than this simple message were his “rules” for eating–rules that could bring us back from the wasteland of processed and fake foods we’ve created for ourselves out of convenience, but that have actually removed us from a more real experience of eating. So, what were his rules? They were practical and straightforward things like: “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food,” “Eat at a table,” “Eat slowly,” and of course, “Try not to eat alone” (and a few more).

I figured, if I could achieve as many of these things in one meal, I could essentially create the perfect meal.

And so,  one afternoon,  it began like this: I called my new neighbor and said, “Let’s get together and eat.” I wanted to eat with friends. Doug and I typically don’t do that. We eat with family, which is great. But I wanted to branch out. I also wanted to eat with people who deeply appreciate food like my Italian-American family. That’s hard to find. Most of my American friends get more excited over a craft beer than a fig with feta. I knew that the Lombardos–our new neighbors– would definitely appreciate good food. After all, they own and operate a high-end, award-winning Italian restaurant  in Collingwood. So, as Marisa and I talked about it, we figured let’s just go out. This way, no one would have to cook or clean up. Right?

Wrong.

Nonsense, said her husband. I’ll cook. 

A chef, cooking in my kitchen!? Two thoughts: Lord, what did I do to deserve such luck! And, Lord, help me if I have to prepare food to impress a chef and his family.  As with most gatherings among friends, it’s the collective responsibility of the group to bring a dish. What the hell could I bring? I didn’t feel as though I was up to the task. Sure I know my way around a kitchen. But I’ll never win any awards. What’s more, Shepherd’s pie doesn’t exactly shout “gourmet” or “perfect.” Suddenly, I felt performance anxiety.  I felt as though my “perfect meal” could potentially turn into a perfect disaster.

But that didn’t happen.

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Marisa Lombardo, owner of The Artemisian

Try Not to Eat Alone As with all perfect meals, preparation actually begins well in advance. In this case, it began a year prior, when our new neighbors moved across the lake from us. Doug and I would sit out on our back porch, or on the dock, overlooking the lake, lazily watching contractors come and go over the many months it took to renovate the house that faced our backyard. Until one day, in late spring, the new owners finally moved in.  And before I could wrap a bow around a bottle of Spanish Rioja and deliver it to their doorstep, I received a called from Marisa, a total stranger to me at the time, asking if I wanted to join her and a few others for a yoga session on her dock.  Although the yoga never happened–at least not then– that very night she and I and Doug were sipping top shelf whiskey in my kitchen telling our life stories. This was not going to be any average neighbor. And as I secretly rejoiced in that fact, I simultaneously recognized that I was experiencing one of those rare coup de foudre moments that can only be explained by the alignment of stars, or more realistically, shared commonalities between a group of people who hit it off.

The yoga and whiskey were just the beginning. There were impromptu lunches and bike outings with kids; stop ins to bitch about gluten intolerances or work frustrations; recipe sharing, art outings, and one rather successful attempt on her part to teach me how to make real Italian espresso in a macchinetta. And when her husband and Doug were thrown into the mix, talk expanded to travel, motorcycles, grills and how to build an outdoor shower. And thus, the first ingredient in the perfect meal hadn’t exactly been found or bought, rather created from scratch: friendship.

Adding a few others to join in the “perfect meal” was essential too. Jan, Doug’s sister, who is a class or two away from becoming a sommelier is a definite foodie and a regular at all our gatherings. She offered to bring wines that perfectly paired with our meal. Who else would know what goes so well with oysters, pork and pasta but Jan? And Marisa’s and Franco’s long time friends, Juan and Lisa were a must too. I met Juan, who is Spanish, and Lisa, whose family runs a Spanish Imports business, at one of the Lombardo’s parties and we hit it off instantly. The Spanish connection could not be denied (on her annual trip to Spain with her parents when she was 14, Lisa ending up meeting Juan. It was love at first sight and they were married at 19. For those of you who don’t know, my first husband was also a Spaniard. We both have two boys around the same age, and we both love all things Spanish). It’s no wonder they compare friends to food when they say friendship is the spice of life.

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Franco Lombardo, owner of Sapori Restaurant, and his daughter

Eat at a Table After some discussion of the menu, we decided to leave the main course to Franco. Wheph. And so, I was off the hook and didn’t have to offer up my crock-pot American Chop Suey.  My marching orders were simple: set the table, make dessert. Easy. I could handle that. In fact, desserts are my speciality. When I was young I spent hours with my grandmother, who was a Pennsylvania Dutch baker, helping her make apple pies, apple dumplings, shoofly pies and funnel cakes in her tiny kitchen in Ambler, PA. We’d load up her stationwagon early in the morning and haul all that goodness down to Union St. in Medford where she and my dad’s second wife Jenifer ran a little bakery called The Upper Crust. Whipping up a fruit tart with a buttery flaky crust was in my genes. And because it was summer, peaches and blueberries were still relatively easy to find at a NJ Farmer’s Market.

Setting a table was also something I divinely enjoyed. There is an art to it, as well as a tradition. The colors, the fabric, the centerpiece, the dishes…I wanted them all to reflect a French provincial farm-to-table feel that was at once elegant and understated. I’d choose a basic blue and white linen tablecloth, blue and white plastic (yes, plastic!) plates on top grainy, dark wood chargers from Sur la Table and a bouquet of wild flowers. On subsequent dinner parties I stole Marisa’s idea of cutting a few sprigs of basil or thyme from my garden and placing them in mason jars.

Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food The night of our soirée was a Tuesday in July. The table was set, the guest arrived, and Edith Piaf was belting out La Vie en Rose in the background. Franco started us off with fresh oysters and tuna carpaccio with wasabi salsa. We all lingered by him at the island in the kitchen, standing, drinks in hand, scooping up an oyster, biting off a chunk of baguette. Laughing. Chatting. I don’t care how big or exotic your house may be, if you’re a foodie, there’s no other spot for you but the kitchen, near the person cooking. You will stay there the entire time until you’re told to leave, which happens often, right before food is about to be served. I remember my mother  yelling at every Christmas dinner, “Everybody out of the kitchen!” including the adults, and we knew it was only moments before dinner would be served.

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The grilled pork belly

The tuna and oysters would have been enough. I would have been completely satisfied. But, it was only the beginning. Following the antipasti, Franco prepared sautéed shrimp & cuttlefish squid ink pasta. He plated and served the pasta for seven adults and seven kids and we finally took our seats at the table. More wine. More talking. And the slurping of the squid ink pasta, which turned our tongues black. At this point, we ate nothing else. Just pasta. In Italy, true tradition is to never serve a “side” of pasta or a meat over a mound of pasta. Rather spaghetti, pasta, risotto and so on are the primi piatti, or first plate. Then the main course, which, in our case (coincidentally), was Pennsylvania Amish pork, is served with a small accompaniment.

Eat slowly. While the photo of the grilled pork belly I’m sharing here exists, it does it no justice. And to say that this one piece of meat changed my perception of pork forever is an understatement. I assure you this dish was so divine it threw me into a state of temporary nirvana so profound and so celestial that I became speechless for moments after I had first tasted it (my eyes may have also rolled back into my head; honestly I don’t remember). I kid you not. Because the second bite was just as mind-blowing as the first. Tender. Mouthwatering. Succulent. Cosmic. Franco grilled the pork out back on our little grill–an outdoor appliance that never cooked up anything fancier than a burger or a dog. He topped it with a light salmorigano sauce of lemon, olive oil, garlic, oregano and fresh parsley. He believes food should be simple. It should speak for itself. Marisa made baby kale and watercress salad with dates, goat milk ricotta, figs and balsamic pearls as a side.

But here’s the question. Would this meal taste as good on its own? Does any food have the ability to taste divine in a complete vacuum?

The answer is complex. While “delicious” food can be and is often prepared, cooked and served by a pro (or not), the experience of the meal can be deeply enhanced when shared with friends who participate in the story of that food. We ate together. We ate slowly. We ate deliberately. We talked about the food. We talked about cooking. We talked about ingredients and farms and animals. By the end of the night, we all knew which ocean the oysters were pulled from, what the pig had eaten, and that the pasta was made with cuttlefish ink and semolina flour imported from a tiny village in Sicily. I want to make it perfectly clear that every part of this meal came with a story.

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A summer berry & fruit tart

And just as a storyteller weaves a tale and transports an audience, the perfect meal does the same to those who sit down together and eat it. There’s a symbiotic relationship between people and food, and to make a mental and emotional direct connection to it– where it comes from, how it’s made, what it means to you –is to achieve as close and intimate an experience as you can possibly ever achieve from something you ingest. And, that’s when I realized that, Greenland aside, I had had many perfect meals in my lifetime. I grew up with a family that bred me with a keen sense of food not only as sustenance, but as a story. Our Italian heritage, our identity was connected to nearly every recipe my mother made. My great grandmother’s raviolis. The red gravy a top every Sunday dinner. The Italian cookies that were made on my great-grandmother’s pizzelle iron. If food is love then the perfect meal is the story in which that love is told.

The dishes were not cleared from the table right away. If you are Italian, Spanish or Greek (maybe even French), clearing the table too quickly is sacrilege. Plates remain on the table a long time. This is a distinctly Mediterranean tradition. We pick. We eat more. We eat off someone else’s plate. We take our time. We talk. We drink. We digest. Whether you are right off the boat or third generation Italian-American, these are the kinds of traditions that are not so easy to shake. They last for centuries. Sitting at the table a long time over a good meal is in your blood.

At some point, someone asked for an espresso. I cheated. I whipped up a few in my more modern Nespresso maker, not yet a pro at using the macchinetta. I didn’t know this, but, Italians apparently never order a cappuccino after 10 in the morning. After dinner, you have an espresso. And then you have a Passito Di Pantelleria, which is a sweet dessert wine. Or chocolate.

A slice of  homemade fruit tart isn’t so bad either. The next thing you know, it’s close to midnight and your friends are helping you with the dishes and you’re completely spent. You’ve experienced the perfect meal.

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Friends: Tracy Shields, Jan, Juan, Doug, Marisa, Franco and Lisa

I often wonder if the pork they served us in Greenland would have tasted better with friends. I imagine it would.  And yet, there was no story to that pork. No one knew where it came from. In fact, we were so remote, I often imagined that we received our food by way of some humanitarian-like airdrop, where cargo planes would fly overhead and boxes of frozen pork would be dropped by parachute onto the frozen tundra. Actually, we’re not so far off from that imaginary scenario when we go to the grocery store. Where does all that stuff come from? Who knows. Michael Pollan writes that your best hope for real food from a supermarket is around the perimeter. That’s where the produce, the dairy, the meats are. All the aisles in between are processed food airdropped from corporate America.  The best story that comes from a bag of chips is that you located it on sale in aisle seven. I’m not sure that makes for a very great story. Or a great meal.

 

 

 

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Life goes on…

July 23, 2011

It’s been a while since I’ve written, why with all the changes that have occurred recently and all, I simply haven’t had the time or the inclination to sit down and write. I have also been putting a lot more focus on my other blogs, and so this one has somewhat fallen by the wayside.

But aside from the big news in my life that D and I now live together, the bigger news is that the world didn’t end on May 21st and…better yet… we’re still not paying the price for our unraptured souls.

In fact, D and I have been  celebrating. Not the end of the world, but the beginning of ours. We finally went out last night (sans kids) into the city. We talked about sex and confessed our deepest darkest secrets. Mine, of course, always a little deeper and darker. We ate tuna tartar, halibut and octopus, margaritas and martinis. And stared up at the high domed ceiling of the Ritz Carlton which was glowing pink with lights from the bar. Nothing compares to a warm night in Philly, dinner and a pear martini  at 10Arts, and then hobbling along tipsily on heels across Broad, down Walnut, and zooming back over the bridge towards home with the top down…

On the way home we  talked about a trip to Sedona for his birthday. There’s a spa out there to die for called Enchantment Resort. It’s booked and we simply cannot wait. Oh the desert. It’s calling me. In fact, I hope our desert adventure reawakens my desire to write. I’ve been so lazy lately!

The day after we actually went back into the city to have lunch at Beau Monde for some stuffed crepes and champagne. Walked around. Got coffee at a little indie place off South Street and then headed home. End of fantasy; back to reality. And reality lately has been a little tough on me, why with all the newness of my new life. All the new dynamics in my household. I can only hope that I adapt to the change as easily as I used to. With weekends like this, all things are possible. I have hope. I am excited about the future.

This is the thing about the end of the world. Despite there being a future, we die every day. And every day  we are reborn. It’s a solo journey, despite having someone along for the ride.

Boob job

May 11, 2010

I’ve made peace with my breasts. This happened about five years ago in an Indian dress-shop in New Hope. I was flipping through a rack of Bandhani skirts, when I noticed my then two-year-old son groping the plastic bust of a naked mannequin. I whisked him away, a little disconcerted that I had given birth to a boob man. Not another one, I thought. Until I realized then and there, that an attraction to breasts is as inherent to the human psyche as food, water and shelter. And whether they be for the sake of sex, symbol or sustenance, I was blessed with the ability to provide all those things, not only to myself, but others. This realization, however, was a long time in coming.

A girl, who materializes Cs at age eleven, then Ds, then DDs at such a rate of growth as to portend alien-like peculiarities doesn’t look down one day and say, “well, hello there, aren’t you perky?!” Double Ds aren’t perky. And they don’t feel like the “gift” that smaller-chested women make them out to be. They’re cumbersome, they’re heavy and they draw far more attention than they should. They set their owner up for an existence of dodging spit balls to the cleavage, darting random and unexpected gropes and nipple tweaks in the hallway and bearing the unbearable when it comes to name-calling. “Nice rack,” I could handle. “Look at the jugs on her,” I couldn’t. Not to mention that bras are almost impossible to come by, especially if you’re only a 32 or 34 back. And running is completely out of the question. My survival in high school, for the most part, was therefore reliant on baggy clothes and walking around hunched over so as to avoid drawing any unnecessary attention to my so called “gift.”

Adult-life wasn’t any easier. I had my years of being overly sexualized because of my size. I suppose I let society define me, which can easily happen to a twenty-year old girl looking for approval. And then again, they were right there in front of me, unable to be ignored. So, why not make the most of them? When they were perfectly round double-Ds that hovered midway between the bra-line and my upper chest, I have to admit, I could look at myself naked in the mirror and say, not bad. I could cup them in the palms of my hands and they’d pour over my thumbs and forefingers like a push-up bra from Frederick’s of Hollywood. I kinda looked like a porn star back then. And when breast implants had become all the rage, I didn’t have to worry. There I was, naturally curvy and well-endowed with these, dare I say it, cantaloupes.

In a sexual way, I felt like I had been blessed, instead of cursed, the latter of which I normally felt. But the truth is, I was insecure. I didn’t have much confidence or self-esteem and so, I easily identified myself as a sex object- not because I believed I was sexy, but because I believed others expected me to be sexy. I mean, let’s face it. Big breasts do have their benefits. One tight little V-neck sweater with appropriately placed cleavage goes a long way. Never any speeding tickets. Never turned away from pretentious nightclubs. Never lost an opportunity to flirt my way out of a variety of trouble. You can’t beat that. And that’s not to say that big breasts gave me carte blanche, but I am a firm believer that they got me a heck of a lot farther than my flat-chested counterparts.

But imagine a lifetime of white, thick-strapped, old lady bras, (forget about matching panties); or bending over only to have a nipple pop out at a rather inconvenient time; or not being able to run or jog. Forget about jumping up and down in an aerobics class without proper support. And men, young and old, and even women rarely look you in the eye or take you seriously. Worst of all large breasts have a way of making horrible first impressions. Why is it that chesty women are automatically assumed easy, dumb, sex-crazed or superficial?

After my own personal sexual revolution, I segued rather clumsily into the other alternate purpose for breasts: breast feeding. My double-Ds turned to triple-Es overnight after I had my first child, and started doing insane things: leaking, spouting, spurting, turning lumpy, bumpy and veiny and other unspeakable things. I felt like a cartoon character; a tiny host of a body attached to and dragged around by these two massive life-giving blobs that just kept getting bigger and bigger and seemingly had minds of their own. I was trapped. Imprisoned by the cycle of supply and demand. Forced into the hard labor of lactating. It’s no wonder women are so tired after giving birth. It has little to do with the baby.

And God help the hubby if he approached me in any kind of sexual way or wanted to touch me. What are you, nuts? Back off. Go to hell. My breasts were for one thing and one thing only: food. There was nothing sexy about lumpy, bumpy and veiny. And while the act of feeding my newborn was a miraculous and beautiful affair, and I did feel rather delighted at the thought of sustaining a life, I was at times quite fearful that I would smother the poor child with the breadth of my bosom.

Shortly after I divorced, and long after breast feeding, and after experiencing my mother fight breast cancer and win, and after experiencing my friend’s mother fight breast cancer and lose, and after turning 40 and accepting that gravity and life had done more than their fair share of vitiation, I had come to the sad conclusion that my breasts no longer had any purpose. They took on the aura of two weather beaten domes upon a rocky shore and I figured their future was a decidedly catastrophic one: they would either sink below my knees like stretchy, warm silly putty, or they would succumb to a cancerous fate whereupon they would ultimately be removed, thrown in a red plastic bag and sent to an incinerator.

With such a fate before me there was but one option left: I would have a breast reduction, or a lift, or some sort of plastic surgery. I would avoid the inevitable, or maybe just postpone it. Isn’t that, after all, one of the perks of contemporary American culture? If you don’t like the way something looks, augment it. With that being decided, I began my plan: interview doctors, make appointments, look for new B cups (how exciting!); and then, start the process of saying goodbye to the two objects that, like it or not, stuck with me, through thick and thin.

What was inevitable was that I wouldn’t or couldn’t go through with it. And the reasons were quite simple: For one, I loved bragging that my breasts were real. OK, so they were never perky and they were starting to droop. But I hated fake-boob culture and prided myself on being au natural. Why anyone would want to go big was beyond me! And even though a reduction wasn’t as superficial and offensive as implants, in my opinion, augmentation was superficial all the same (save in cases of disfigurement). It was glaring and expensive proof that I hated who I was, and that simply wasn’t true. Frustrated? Yes. But I believed (and still do) that many who undergo surgery to permanently change the inherent structure of their bodies do not particularly like themselves, or perhaps they have been misled to believe that “once this aspect of me changes, everything will be wonderful,” which is rarely the case. I didn’t want to be branded as having subscribed to either of those beliefs. Above all else, I wanted to be able to accept myself as is.

Second, what message would I be sending my sons? That Mommy is superficial? That I wasn’t capable of growing old gracefully? Or that it is conscionable to spend $10,000 on a nice rack when there are children living in squalor all over the world? And I couldn’t forget my youngest son, groping the mannequin’s breasts in New Hope. What message would I send him who seemed to have a penchant for mammarian protuberances? How could I instill in my children the idea that breasts are beautiful, of all shapes and sizes, and that healthy sexuality, if I had any hope of fostering it in my children, meant that as a woman and a mother I have a responsibility to celebrate my body, not condemn it or try to change it.

My breasts have placed me on a pedestal and they have knocked me off. They have given me great joy and have caused me back pain, embarrassment and unsolicited attention. At times, they’ve been fun. They have fed two human beings, got me into a couple night-clubs for free and have given hours or pleasure to one husband, two fiancés and numerous boyfriends. And despite the fact that, for the most part, they’re retired from having to “work” as laboriously as younger women’s breasts do, they are all mine, they are very much loved and they are still (yes, I’m about to brag) one-hundred percent real.

Summer

August 18, 2009

Bedroom Window


It was late August. She lay down in bed for a long while in the morning with Henry, feeling the start of the day already heavy with heat and humidity. The cicadas were singing their summer song in a woosh through the trees. It was a perfect day for the cicadas; still and warm, and laden with the quiet tick of timelessness. Hers and Henry’s bodies tingled with the reverberations of the night before as they listened to life through the open windows. “I love the sound of the cicadas,” she said. “I wait for it every summer.” Henry smiled back. “Me too,” he said,  ”Year after year.” He crawled closer to where she lay, kissed her softly and said,  ”I love you. For whatever it’s worth. For however long it lasts.” She looked up at him tenderly and nudged his warm skin with her arm. It was early, but it was hot enough that if they lay too close, they would stick together.

A year ago she sat at a table out on the lawn with a man named Jack that she’d been dating for several months. They talked about Hindu “pain religions,” elephants, monkeys and the Temple of the Rats. She had experienced her own religion of pain back then but didn’t realize it; chanting Om to the numbing sensation of shallow, pretend love; the kind of love you force upon Ken and Barbie when you’re a kid. That simulated, dress-up love that feels real and fun at the time, but then one day just disappears when you grow up and stop playing with toys. She had had a conversation one night with him. She asked him to tell her the truth. “I only want to know the truth,” she said. But he looked at her like she had asked him the mystery of life. The truth, it turned out, was something as illusive, if not more so, as the love they were trying to create with their plastic, doll parts.

A year before that she was following George around his front yard, watching him water and mulch the trees they had planted the previous year. She felt connected to the seasons then. She knew when the blueberries would ripen on the vine. She knew when to expect the abundance of the harvest in the fall.  And she knew that when the frost of winter came nothing would grow and George wouldn’t be able to water or plant anything until spring. She knew that they’d lie stale and frozen too, until something came along and thawed their cold, tired selves. Something extraneous and fleeting, that neither of them could grasp on their own. When the tall grass was cut, they tried to make love under the shade of the big maple, but it didn’t work. It never did. She would kiss him and he’d push her away. And his response was always the same: “The love between us is so much deeper than that, baby.” And so she wrapped her arms around herself in frustration and believed him.

She thought of the past as if it were something she possessed, whether she liked it or not. It was part of her. And she kept it with her, despite Henry asking her if she wouldn’t enjoy life more if she let it go and live in the moment. But it seemed to her that if she did let it go and move on, she would not recognize herself. And that scared her. And yet, she was certainly not content knowing that over the past five years there was no permanency to her life whatsoever. She hated the fact that she had several different lovers after her divorce. She hated that there were no patterns created, no traditions built upon the previous years, nor anything remotely related to Time to convince her that she was secure in this life, with this man, or that she would be.

By noon, while she and Henry lazily fumbled for their clothes, the cicadas stopped chirping.  She wondered if the little bugs went to sleep, or if they were like those insects that only live for a day. Temporary. Only on earth to serve the menial task of chewing up deciduous trees. Or to mate. Nothing more. This thought seemed to disappoint and leave her feeling empty. What, if anything, was the purpose and beauty of a life if only lived one day? By late fall the cicadas would be gone.  All of them. Lovers, friends, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. Someone new would crawl up the trees to take their place. The singing would start again. But the song would be the same. Carried by voices that grew into summer for only a season.

She shook out the bed sheets to cover the bed and fluffed the pillows, ambling around the room so as not to create too much energy in the early afternoon heat. Henry collected his things from the floor; his shoes, his shirt, his suit and tie, leaving behind, as he did each time he’d visit, another piece of clothing for her to wash and place in the spare drawer she had offered him when he first started spending the night. It became a sort of running joke between them. The first time he slept over he left behind a t-shirt, then two, then three and so on. He said to her one night, early on, “It’s all a part of my master plan!” and she laughed at his quick and lighthearted sense of humor. But after she finished covering the bed, she eyed the undershirt and socks he had placed atop the hamper, well knowing that they were two more items of his to add to the growing pile.

“Not sure if you realize this, baby, but you now have two drawers, not just one.”

He turned to her and looked in humorous disbelief. “Two drawers?” His mouth was agape as if in shock. She laughed and opened the dresser drawers for viewing. Each of them was filled with Henry’s socks, underwear, t-shirts, shorts, books, CDs and so on. Seven months of stuff.

“Two little worlds,” he said, “That’s all.”

“And expanding,” she added.

She walked him to the front door and kissed him goodbye in a playful, housewifey way. Her children would be coming in soon from their father’s and she had lots of mindless tasks to do.

“If it makes you happy, I’ll clear some of that stuff out of here when I come over next,” he said.

She paused and looked at him; searching for something less irreparable to say than simply yes or no. “Why don’t we wait till the cooler weather,” she said. “It’s too hot to bother with that now.”

The anniversary

July 1, 2009

Doug’s “We left our watches…” reminded me of an old piece I wrote about five years ago called “The Bed,” that I’m posting below.  I’ve renamed it “the anniversary.” It was written as a tribute to Faulkner and an imitation of his writing style.

photo__Hotel_Room_by_silentmagician2001

Photo by: ~silentmagician2001 (deviantart.com)

THE ANNIVERSARY

A man and a woman stood at the foot of an old bed in a small, lousy, creaking  hotel room, with hardwood floors and the smell of staleness and closedupness. It wasn’t a king bed, not even a queen. It was a double, deceitfully grand, and covered over in one of the proprietor’s chenille bed covers- over a mattress dipping down noticeably in the center.

“It won’t be much effort in us falling close together, you and me,” he said, touching her shoulder, and her eyes opened and closed with excitement and shame. His face had been dreamed up so often by her that now, it seemed different. Not the same.

The sheets were cold, but white; the pillows sadly pulpless, deflated by a long history of faceless faces buried in them. Its one redeeming quality, the room, was the window with its openandclose shutters and transparent yellow drapes that caught the west wind in summer and the cool and renewing salt of the ocean breeze in winter. An old confederate wicker-back chair sat there at the window at a sideward glance. Its placement revealing secrets of previous guests.

The woman smiled at the man, not feeling false or untrue, and began to undress. There wasn’t much time. And yet, they both, simultaneously and unknowingly, felt as if their relationship had lasted through those entire ten years. In the cool empty timelessness of the room they felt like an old married couple, seventy, maybe even eighty, still in love and lasting, here to revisit the antiquity of their past as proof that they’d outlasted time itself. “And we have lasted so long, you and I, haven’t we, dearest?” he asked.

The woman lay back on the bed and closed her eyes. She thought for a moment how permeable she’d been to the pain and suffering of her life, how at times she wanted to run away and lose herself in the abyss of unknowing. She thought of the sacrifices she had made for her family. And the sad resignation that there would always be a hopeless emptiness to her.  But before she lost herself too deeply in these wounds, she opened her eyes, outstretched her arms and nodded, “Yes.” Through the musty thin air of the so long shut up hotel room, the man and the woman embraced. Their newlovesmells and happy breath and perfumed spiritscents swirled like a sweeping breeze through an open window. Here. Timeless. As the dust settled from their last visit, they once again stirred their hearts, falling impatiently, younglaughing, into the dip down curve of the old bed.


We left our watches…

June 30, 2009

sleeps_alone_tonight_by_nightide_reaper

We left our watches, left them on the nightstand, next to a half glass of water with a ring of condensation under it, sweating through the night.  Some hours before, I crossed your fields, burned your crosses, dressed your burns, and ripped your dress, or at least I talked about it or maybe it was you doing the talking.  You were beautiful and spiritual and endless and a fourth thing that I cannot describe or explain or now even recall.  The images were fleeting, sexual and possibly in black and white, but mostly grey.  The lights flickered on and off.  By your hand, by your foot.  In the moments after, I seemed confused but I felt that I was not.  You looked at the clock but could not quite make out the hands across the room.  The sun was going to come up soon or it had just gone down.  The natural light was falling faintly across the ground outside your window.  Later you were gone, writing, and I was finding myself where I was supposed to be.  I looked at my watch, drank the water, and waited for you.

-DH

She’s smiling

June 29, 2009

She’s smiling
She’s smiling at him
She’s smiling at him but you can’t see him
Because he’s not in the picture
But he’s smiling back at her who is
And they’re laughing about a joke he just told
Something funny
Something funny about a Vespa
And wearing matching crocs
Something that makes her laugh so much
That she feels like she’s connected again
That she feels like she’s in the right place
For the first time
Photogenic
And smiling

From Spain to Morocco…

June 22, 2009

So…my little dream may come true after all. The one I’ve had since 1991. D and I have been tossing around the idea of going to Morocco next summer. I’ll fly to Madrid with my kids to stay with my in-laws for a few weeks. D will fly over at a later date and together, we will take the trek down to Granada by train and then over into Morocco. There’s still a few holes in the plan, missing hotels etc. But basically, this is the beginning of a great adventure. Check back for updates and added plans:

Madrid – Granada – Algeciras– Tanger – Fes – Merzouga – Marrakech – Tangers – Algeciras– Madrid

Day 1
Madrid
• August 18, 2010
Hotel

Day 2
Madrid to Granada (5.5 hours, train)
• August 19, 2010 

Hotel Casa Morisca Cuesta de la Victoria, 9
18010 – Granada España
tel. +34 958 221100 / -609 817859
fax +34 958 215796
info@hotelcasamorisca.com  — 1 double bed with sitting room and 15th. century coloured wooden ceiling and jacuzzi-bath. [Price: 198 € – 150€ ]
• Los Baños Arabes
• Flamenco show

Day 3
Granada to Algeciras (3.5 hours, bus) –
Algeciras to Tangiers (30 minutes, ferry) –
Tangiers to Fes (5 hours, train)
• August 20, 2010
Ryad Laaroussa (Green Room, 220 Euros), 3 Derb Bechara, Fes-Medina, Morocco. Tel.: +212 6 74 18 76 39
contact@riad-laaroussa.com

Day 4
Fes to Merzouga (10 hours, 4×4)
• August 21, 2010
Hôtel Kasbah Kanz Erremal | Adresse : B.P:12 Merzouga 52202- Maroc 
Tel: (00212)35578482 | Fax: (00212)35577265 | GSM: (00212)66039178 | Email: info@kanzerremal.com,

Day 5
Merzouga
• August 22, 2010
Hôtel Kasbah Kanz Erremal | Adresse : B.P:12 Merzouga 52202- Maroc 
Tel: (00212)35578482 | Fax: (00212)35577265 | GSM: (00212)66039178 | Email: info@kanzerremal.com
• Camel rides
• Pool
• Hike to desert

Day 6
Merzouga to Marrakech (12 hours, 4×4)
• August 23, 2010
Hotel Riyad el Cadi, 86/87 Derb Moulay Abdelkader
Dabachi
B.P. 101
40000 Marrakech-MédinaTel.: +212 524 378 655
Tel.: +212 524 378 098
Fax: +212 524 378 478 INFO@RIYADELCADI.COM

Day 7
Marrakech
• August 24, 2010
Hotel Riyad el Cadi, 86/87 Derb Moulay Abdelkader
Dabachi
B.P. 101
40000 Marrakech-MédinaTel.: +212 524 378 655
Tel.: +212 524 378 098
Fax: +212 524 378 478 INFO@RIYADELCADI.COM. You cannot reach this riad by car. You need to get there via a ten minute walk. Here’s a cute video on the arrival.
• Medina
• Majorelle Garden (Jardin Majorelle)
• Jemaa el Fna
• Les Bains de Marrakech
• Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret

Day 8
Marrakech to Tangiers (11 hours, train)
• August 25, 2010

• Hotel –or-
• Tangiers to Algeciras (30 minutes, ferry)
• Hotel

Day 9
Algeciras to Madrid (5.5 hours, train)
• August 26, 2010
Home/Hotel

Day 10
Madrid
• August 27, 2010

• Plaza Mayor
• Puerta del Sol

Day 11
Madrid to Philadelphia
• August 28, 2010

• Home

Birthday Bash

May 26, 2009

“The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.”

-Henry Miller

I’m posting my journal entry here instead of in its usual place (in my physical paper journal) because I’m hung over and too lazy to crawl under my bed and dig it out (I hid it before the party), and because I haven’t updated here in awhile and there’s lots to say.

The party was smashing. There were about 75 people there and all my favorites showed up. The best part, however, was after almost everyone left and we were down to our usual core group of favorites: D, K, B, N, T, my D and his two friends V and A. I think everyone instantly fell in love with V and A (how could you not) and it made truth or dare all that more exciting. We sat around the bar, outside, under the cheap plastic tent as it rained, laughing and drinking margaritas. Someone humped a tree (dare), someone else sat his “bare” naked ass in a cooler of ice (dare), a couple of the girls french kissed, I took my top off twice (tradition) and D and I switched bras (her bra size is three sizes smaller than mine, which makes for quite a funny looking picture). Our truths rested almost exclusively on the topic of sex, though no one came out and said “let’s just keep it to sex.” And though this is my usual idea of “fun” I wasn’t quite sure if we would scare our new friends away. But we didn’t. And they stayed. And some of the best questions and dares were theirs. 

Q: “what would you like your current boy friend to do to you in bed that he’s not currently doing?”

A: “play doctor.”

Q: “Through all the sexcapades you and your significant other have had, have you ever had a threesome with two men?”

A: “No.”

Q: “What’s the kinkiest sex you’ve ever had?

A: “Frozen pizza sex.”

Um, OK, so most of us are almost 40 or, in my case, 41. But, hell. If we can’t act like insane twentysomethings once a year, then what’s the point in growing old? Wisdom? Dignity? I don’t think so. 

D and I abandoned everyone right before one o’clock. We never even said goodnight. The rain had stopped and the sex questions were getting lame. “V, blow out the candles…” I said, dragging D behind me- who was quite willing to be dragged. And off we went for kinky loving emotional drunk middle of the night sex. 

We didn’t fall asleep until almost three.  He must have said, “I love you, Tracy,” thirty times and every time it meant the world to me. I wrapped my arms around him, we kissed and I said, “I don’t want us to end.” And his response was, “I believe in us, Tracy.”

Oh belief. Oh faith. Oh love. 

I woke up super early to a house that smelled like stale tequila and grease, but couldn’t be happier.  The doors were left open all night and there were a million mosquitos on the walls. Aside from D and I, the house was empty. We cleaned, went back to bed, cleaned some more, went out to breakfast with D, K and B. V and A happened to pop in as well. 

I know why Hemingway wrote while he was drunk. There’s an emotion and a lust for life that comes the day after a night of drinking. It doesn’t last very long, but it makes me Know and Believe in the essence of life. It creates waves of passion in me for all things, and that is how I feel this afternoon as I write this. I feel alive. I feel in love. I feel about Medford Lakes and D and my little home what Henry Miller felt about Paris or Hemingway felt about Spain. I feel stirred. I feel soulful. I feel full. Intoxicated. 

I feel happy.

Tragedy

April 16, 2009

What was it that Elaine and George Costanza concluded about men’s and women’s brains and sex? That men can think much clearer when they’re not having it and women can think much clearer when they are?

Bullshit. Or, I’m loaded with too much testosterone.

Since D, my brain has turned to mush. Literally, it produces nothing but sappy cliches. Too horrible to ever post.

It’s not that I’m thinking less- through the mush I am still having deep thoughts. It’s that I can’t seem to hold on to them long enough to get them on to paper. Or perhaps, it’s just that I could care less. The thought of D going down on me is far more thrilling than any pontificating I could do about anything else I seem to come up with during leaner times.

And it’s not that I am not busy or physically doing less either. My life has changed little in that respect. I’m still running, still reading Grodstein’s book and Spinning Will, still chatting up an intellectual storm with KVM and D and whoever else. But again, thoughts of lust and sex and all that fun stuff have pushed out whatever else might have had the chance to form and grow. And I am left with the “duh” effect. The sad truth is that the overpowering stranglehold of lush, abundant love is growing in my soul like a weed and taking over. And I am slowly being destroyed.

Need…to….step…back….Need…to…reclaim…my….soul…

What a tragedy.

And speaking of tragedy, last night I went to see Daniel Mendelsohn read from his book “The Lost” at Rutgers in Camden. The reading itself was no tragedy. Mendelsohn was an excellent reader. The dinner was great. I shmoozed with Lauren Grodstein and Lisa Zeidner and a few others. I had the lovely D by my side. Etc. Etc. What summoned the idea of tragedy was Mendelsohn’s masterful comment on why classical Greek literature is so important to him. “The Greeks understood tragedy,” he said. And went on to add that we have done ourselves a huge disservice by not accepting pain and suffering in life. We take pills to erase our pain. We go to therapy for constant awareness and answers (even he claims 16 some years of analysis). We file lawsuits– all in the hopes of regaining some sort of restitution or peace. We are always looking for compensation for the bad things that happen in life. We want constant pleasure. Constant and perfection producing. This is pure silliness, of course. There is no guarantee that you will be “healed” or repaid or repaired for the suffering you incur. There is no life without pain.

I, of course, applauded his sentiments. I too, believe we have become culturally dependent on the notion that happiness is a right, not, as it were, a privilege. Or perhaps, more likely, that those who are happy are merely lucky.

I have worked a great deal over the past year with very depressed individuals, women mostly, addicted to one thing or another. Almost all of them hit bottom and come to recovery angry and self-loathing, and in pain, wanting to be healed, wanting answers, wanting desperately for the pain to stop. And yet, only a small fraction of them are able to grasp the concept that pain and tragedy happens. That the idea of recovery is not to avoid pain, but rather to deal with it. We have very little control over the suffering that befalls us. Most of these women want to live a Hollywood movie. They honestly believe that that is what a “normal” life looks like.

Professor Tim Martin (English, Rutgers) came up to me last night and congratulated me on having been accepted to the MFA program. “You must be quite talented,” he said. I felt like a fraud, especially considering that I have written so poorly over the past few weeks. I felt like saying, little do you know that my brain has turned to split pea soup and I will produce little or nothing for the Rutgers English department. But I nodded a thank you. Some where deep inside me I am grateful for the opportunity, believe me. And there is a tenth of a part of me that believes I am somewhat talented, if only I worked a little harder for it.

So, Tim shook my hand once more and went on his way.  Moments later there was a pause. D and I stood finishing up the last of our Cabernet before heading out. I pulled him close into me and whispered in his ear, “how many of these folks do you think are going to go home tonight and get laid like us?”