December 24, 2009

Repair

Paris repairs. Consider The Hôtel de Ville, city hall, in the 4th arrondissement, a giant sand castle fantasy that dates from 1357 and is still the working center of the city. At night it sparkles like a dream come true.

Take the Metro to the station of that name or simply walk Rue de Rivoli. Start in Marais and follow that road all the way to the Louvre or further if you are going to eat at Le Zimmer.

Take the Metro to George V: Don’t miss the Champs-Élysées at Christmas.


But walk this city.

The repairs will startle. The lining of my heavy black coat, its hem that touches the top of my boots, got caught on a boot link: separated and frayed. I could have walked into any dry cleaners along the streets of Marais and gotten an excellent repair. But it was Sunday. So I pinned the hem with safety pins and walked to the open market at Bastille: fresh food: roasted beets (yes, they roast them for you), cheese, meat, fish, a rabbit for dinner (Yes, I cooked it. See the recipe below.) But I also found needle and thread and so could do the repair myself. I am not the seamstress my mother was, nor as good as anyone in the Parisian dry cleaners, but the satisfaction of the needle and thread in hand healed.

Repair.

Paris dreams. For at night we repair through sleep and dreams. Parisians do not balk at movies and books with dreams. In Paris it is safe to dream. It is safe even to write about the dreams. Hélène Cixous wisely advises, “Crossing the frontiers to the other world without transition, at the stroke of the signifier, this is what dreams permit us to do and why, if we are dreamers, we love dreams so much. It’s the cancellation of opposition between inside and outside . . . .”

I go into the closet, hear a noise, perhaps the neighbors, I think, and lean closer to the wall to listen.

This is of course absurd in the way that dreams are.

From inside the closet, from the wall something touches my breast. I’m unable to move or see.

Paralyzed the way we sometimes are in dreams and in this case also blind.

I try to open my eyes but can’t. And still I see. I am no longer the center of the picture. I am the observer. Someone else goes into the closet in the light and finds a box. In it is a large crude oddly shaped oboe. A musician decides to try to play the instrument. It is difficult at first but then he wets the reed with his tongue and the oboe responds to his mouth, his touch, and the sound becomes more compelling, the playing more necessary.

But then the oboe is lying on a bureau. It waits for him—like a demand: When will you be home? When will you play me?

I was hidden.

I lay alone in my bed in Paris and knew this: To be absent was how I dealt with D.’s inability to connect. “Only connect . . .,” E.M Forster tells us in the epigraph of Howard's End. How often I have read that line, spoken it. How deeply I thought I had understood when I had not. Yes, D. left me, but where was I?

When the light came late in the morning as it does in Paris in December, I walked the streets of Marais. There I stood somewhere in the 3rd or 4th before a repair shop for clarinets and oboes and saxophones and flutes. . .

If only I could paint this. Perhaps I will for the dream that moves from the wound to become something other than itself reinvents, repairs.

More to come on dreams. . .without transition: hat trick, bedtrick, mind trick.

Here is Melissa Clark’s wonderful recipe for Mustardy Braised Rabbit with Carrots. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/04/dining/041arex.html

December 21, 2009

What happens in Paris

I'm tempted to say, What happens in Paris stays in Paris. . . But I will tell all. Read here for the joys of Paris, the light-hearted city full of lights. The bateau at night is incredible just as it is in Charade—well, okay not that incredible. After all I am not Audrey Hepburn but Cary: Peter/Brian/Adam has appeared. More to come on who is who.

Pick up the bateaux at Pont De L'Alma at 5 pm in the winter to see the sunset and then the Tour Eiffel in sparkling darkness at 6: the ride is short enough to not do you in, long enough to relax and the Paris you see from the Seine will fill your heart: Open heart, open heart. Go here to take a look: http://www.bateaux-mouches.fr/



Have dinner at Brazzerie Zimmer http://www.lezimmer.com: From the bateau, walk up Avenue Georges V and catch the metro, the 1 line, get off at Chatelet, exit through the Place de Chatelet sortie and you are there. Eat the steak, the artichoke, drink Pomerol, try the Berthillon salted caramel ice cream. Bon apétit!

December 17, 2009

Bridges

The days are short in Paris: sunrise today at 8:38, sunset at 4:53: Check your city and compare at http://www.sunrisesunset.com

Yesterday after the long walk west on Rue des Francs-Bourgeois that turns into Rue Rambuteau to the closed Pompidou, I return to stand by the Seine at Quai Henry IV near my apartment as the sun takes its slide down. Take a look here: http://www.abcgallery.com/R/rousseau/rousseau46.html

I have heard that it is easy to be without love in Paris. But as the bateaux slide with the setting sun, I can think only of Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant when she kisses him and if I remember correctly she says, “Can’t kiss back?” And then he does. And again. Or have I made this up? She says, “When you come on, you come on.” We are in Charade where no one is who they say they are except perhaps for Audrey/Reggie. Or is she? She must deal with the changing names and perhaps personas of Cary/Peter, Adam, Brian. Have I got them all? Does it matter? Isn’t three the perfect number as identity is the question. Is it not always the question?

And the river shows the way as it journeys through the city beneath the 32, or is it 37 bridges. Go here where you can click for photos and pretend that you are with me: http://www.pariswater.com/ponts/ponts.htm as I recall and as Paris is blanketed in morning snow.

December 16, 2009

Doors

Limits of Control, Jim Jarmusch’s film about art and life and what we can and cannot control, perhaps about how we know what we think we know is running at the theater next to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the glass towers of books that go on and on and on—that Sebold writes about in Austerlitz—and that you cannot enter unless you know the code: how I think about the doors, the maze one must follow to find them. Actually, you can buy a reader’s card, but you cannot go into the stacks, the towers that dominate the horizon on the edge of old Paris. The reading room seduces the way my solitude does.

Does my solitude reveal?

Off to the Pompidou: On exhibit: THE SUBVERSION OF IMAGES: SURREALISM, PHOTOGRAPHY, FILM—but it appears that the staff is on strike. How appropriate: unable to get in to see the surreal. Will I stand outside and look the way I stood outside the librarie?

I’ll let you know if I get in …

In the meantime: What is the code? Send in the clowns, the fools, the genies and whoever else can help.

December 15, 2009

French subtitles

Have you ever seen an American movie with French subtitles? Jim Jarmusch has a new film Limits of Control that I'm going to see today. Check out the preview: http://www.mk2.com/filmscinema-5257-thelimitsofcontrol.html Click on the camera.

Will seeing a movie in the language I speak with subtitles in the language of the country where I am be like discovering the unconscious? I am full of questions in Paris and discovery awaits me. This I know of all the things I do not know.

This and the fact that the city of lights is also the city of parks. Want to live here.

December 14, 2009

My apartment!

Can't believe it: 125 square feet, small French appliances with minds of their own, window on the courtyard: all at 7 Rue des Francs Bourgeois. Peace and quiet surrounded by the hubbub of Paris, beautiful stores with treasures I ogle. Want to write in my little attic room but Paris, irresistible.

December 11, 2009

Paris Interruptus

Dear Readers,

I am off to the city of lights. Perhaps reread "Light" while I am away... I'm going to do that. I will post notes to keep you informed about sights and moments, then write a new entry on my return. My thanks to all my readers and especially to my commenters. I am in your debt: readership has grown.

On the deeply personal side, I say, Let the Rom-Com roll. --Mary

December 06, 2009

Transom

I am about to travel to Paris. And before I embark, I contemplate the journey at stake.

In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, published in 1899, Chopin’s main character says, “I would give up the unessential; I would give my money. I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself, I can’t make it any clearer; it’s only something which I am beginning to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me.” Like the character in Chopin’s novel, I am on the journey of discovering the totality of self—if that is ever possible.

Though writers (beware of the critic) and people who hope and fantasize are cautioned to be careful of dreams, I look to my dreams for answers about who I am. Here’s one: Keys on a thin metal ring. Collecting the keys of others, of boys so that they may not leave class, go back to their apartments. Beethoven playing. We in class are studying him section by section. The students are both kids and young men. My father’s face at the transom.

I must want D.’s keys. I must want him playing Beethoven.

Or do I?

The old Victorian in Adams Morgan where D. and I lived had old doors with transoms and mullioned windows that one doesn’t see in condos in downtown DC. I miss the house on Kalorama Road, my library, my writing room.

Or do I?

The houses have all gone under the sea.

At the gym some time ago, a beautiful married woman who wears diamonds to work out, asked me how I was. I said, “Lots of dates but no one.” “Would a man really make you happy?” she asked. I answered, “I think so.” But I wonder. Isn’t this a good question for me. Perhaps I have found my place in the world.

After all Thoreau went off to the woods and we are still reading him. What was his loneliness about? Or what was his solitude about, a better question.

And here I sit, ready to fly, with the longing for emotional memory, for the holding of life.

Last night I was watching Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. If that man with locked-in syndrome could do what he did, can I not do this? I can, I can.

I want to be the little engine that could. I want to recall those moments with Sarah, my philosopher daughter with her first book coming out in May, and with Ben, my son who is so hard on me now—he has no use for D. I long for our moments on the couch in the family room, watching Mr. Rogers. I like you just the way you are. What a comfort I found Mr. Rogers to be. I recall the yellow Dansk pot that I made Sarah’s “chocky” (her hot chocolate) in. The pouring of the hot liquid into her cup, her little hands pounding on the table waiting for it. I recall Ben when he was ten or eleven, standing in a doorway watching me cook. My children are grown now. One is in Paris where I will go; the other, in Australia on his vineyard.

I feel as if I am at the transom, high above the door frame looking through frosted glass at the life that lies before me, or better, at the one I am living, watching the way my father watched from the transom of my classroom in my dream. I feel him with me in the way I used to feel my mother after she died. He has been dead nine years and I feel him in the way I felt her then, as if he is coming to me.

I sense that my sexuality is involved here for my father was key to its emergence, to my sense of what it is like to be loved by a man. Did his fears infiltrate that knowing? Earlier here (see “Hypersensitive”), I have described my father’s quiet, his calm like the sense of the sea receding with the tide; his angles like a Giacometti sculpture in shadow at the edge of sand in fading light. But the flip side of his quiet was an abiding fear that he would lose one of us. I noted the angles of his body by the sea when he was old, some months after my mother had died. He stood on a beach in Hilton Head. D. and I had taken him with us on a business/vacation trip where we could swim, play tennis (my father used a Western grip and had a slice that could place the ball at the corner of the court). That day at the beach, D. went out far in the ocean to swim. My father walked the edge of the shore until D. came in, some forty minutes later. He must have watched me and my sister, both good swimmers, in that same way.

He came to his fears through loss: His mother and father came through a sewer with my father’s oldest sibling, an infant at my grandmother’s breast, during a pogrom in Russia when they left their parents and the life they knew to emerge on the other end in freedom. Much was gained, but the loss does not fade. I carry that loss and more because all my grandparents died before I was born and because I have lived through the devastating illnesses and deaths of my mother, my sister and my father. I wonder if my fear of loss is a legacy that I carry with me like the memory of my father and the way he paced the shore.

As I free myself or rather try to free myself from those fears, I sense my father’s face at the transom of my life. I hear his wish: It is time for you to do what I could not.

A transom is a strengthening cross bar set above a window or a door. And thus I am looking for a crossbar that gives me strength. A mullion is the vertical bar between the panes of glass. Do mullions and transoms form the pattern of a window, a window on what is next?

I see a woman at a house by the sea, a loose white dress, and the breeze across her face. I see a grassy plot where tea and wine and wind will begin the story.

November 19, 2009

Run and see

I am stuck on romantic comedies: good ones, middling ones, the watch-me-over-and-over again ones: Runaway Bride is like a children’s book for me. Remember when you were a kid and your mother or father read you a story before you went to bed and you said, “Read it again”? It’s that way for me with Runaway Bride.

It was that way for me with The Runaway Bunny, the Margaret Wise Brown classic—but not as you’d expect: Yes, my children loved the book but I actually don’t remember it from my own childhood. I recall it from reading it to them, to Ben and to Sarah, and wanting to read it again and again—more now than when my children were small and needed to be read to, needed to be tucked in.

I have watched Runaway Bride more times than I would like to admit—as if its formula will serve up the answer to my dilemma, the dilemma of the woman who’s been dumped—or so she thought. It’s not as if the evidence wasn’t real: D. did leave, the house is sold. But these are the trappings of loss. Something at the center of this seeming disaster awaits discovery.

So, I turn to Runaway Bride: The bride who runs away in the Garry Marshall film is played by Julia Roberts. This bride runs at successive weddings. She runs like the runaway bunny to find herself and still be safe. Julia’s character runs from the hippie rock singer, the broken-hearted-soon-to-be priest, the entomologist, the football coach and even from Richard Gere, playing a journalist-wanna-be novelist, who does truly get her, who knows that she ate her eggs the same way every man she’s been engaged to ate his. It’s a tired metaphor that in the rom-com works as we watch her lay out the eggs prepared as she once ate them in each former relationship: scrambled, poached, fried, egg-whites-only omelet—and finally Benedict—not Arnold—her final choice when she is ready to give up her running shoes and wed.

Benedict Arnold—the general who changed sides during the Revolutionary War, who joined the British when the colonies were seeking their freedom—has nothing to do with Julia’s egg choice and everything to do with why we run away: The treason for which his name has become synonymous is inextricably tied to the struggle to be independent. I could argue that I was betrayed but perhaps identity, D.’s and mine, were both at stake.

I am no longer sure of who needed more to run: D. or me.

I often dream of D. and the sea: At the beach. I want so to go to the beach. But a man has come to my house by the sea to say that someone is going to be killed. Someone is watching the house in a car. I must lie down below the windows so that I’m not seen. I have asked that D. come across the beach to meet me, but I cannot go out. I’m afraid to go out. He is on the beach and though it is warm out he is wearing his cashmere watch cap and his coat. The water is sliding up on the beach, clear and blue and covered with foam. I don’t go out at first because I know that someone is going to be killed. But there D. stands alone, waiting. I go onto the beach but he is gone. Another man tries to give me a package of small papers. I know the small colored papers that he wants me to take are lethal. I won’t take the small package of colored slips of paper because I know what is inside the package: Something wrapped in sausage skin, like a disembodied penis. I refuse. I walk on the sand, put my feet in the water.

I wake thinking it is morning. But it is only 2 a.m. and I am tired. I think it is morning because the street lights, or is it the moon? cast a glow inside my bedroom.

Like most dreams this one makes no sense and total sense. Its Freudian implications seem clear: disembodied penis and all. But I am drawn to the light cast by the moon with the love of the sea in my heart. I lie alone in bed only to discover that the someone who is going to be killed is me.

Like the runaway bride, I must choose my own eggs: I must kill the self that could not be seen.

My daughter had a boyfriend who gave her The Runaway Bunny after they had parted: I recall this suitor as a smothering blanket. Run, Run, I thought, when she finally ended the affair. His gift copy of the book sits inappropriately on my bookshelf with his inscription (not mine to reveal) on the facing page. His contact info below his words lies like an unfulfilled wish. My daughter Sarah, self in tact, is married now and in Paris—the one that’s on the map.

In the rom-com, Paris is not on any map.

And I am soon to runaway there: the trip is planned. Which will it be? Paris on the map or Paris in the rom-com?

As we now know I am obsessed with rom-coms because in the good ones wisdom and fantasy meet. Watch Runaway Bride and wait for the speech that Richard Gere’s character states and that Julia’s later repeats. It goes like this: I guarantee that we will have tough times. I guarantee that at some point one or both of us will want to get out. But I also guarantee that if I don’t ask you to be mine, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.

I am in the tough times and the gettin’ out time. What to do?

Watch another rom-com.

In The Thomas Crown Affair that I also watch over and over again, the painting by René Magritte Son of Man plays a key role as its image of a man who wears a suit and a bowler hat with an apple on his face appears again and again. Tommy, played by Pierce Brosnan, is that enigmatic man who will soon be known: life as he knew it erased but self fully in tact.

In a book I love by John Berger entitled About Looking, Berger quotes Magritte on his view of his paintings as “material signs of the freedom of thought. … Life, the Universe, the Void, have no value for thought when it is truly free. The only thing that has value for it is Meaning, that is the moral concept of the Impossible.” Berger comments, “To conceive of the impossible is difficult. Magritte knew this.” And later in the essay Berger adds, “If a painting by Magritte confirms one’s lived experience to date, it has by his standards, failed; if it temporarily destroys that experience, it has succeeded. (This destruction is the only fearful thing in his art.)”

I have feared the destruction of my perceived experience, of my illusory self. But I now know that in destruction lies discovery.

So, I will run to Paris, but I will run with this knowledge: That I am both the runaway bunny and the runaway bride.

Let the rom-com roll, for my role in it emerges the way the apple in Magritte’s painting cancels out the face, and in its absence, holds before me the chance to see.

October 27, 2009

Bedtrick

Last week I reminded D. about Canada and he answered, Clive Owen. One of Owen’s movies we both love is entitled Duplicity. No one is who they seem to be.

When we were together we often spoke in code to one another. For days on end we couldn’t remember the name of the actress in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, a movie we both love because no one is who they seem. We’d come up with Lee Remick when it was Eva Marie Saint. From then on whenever either one of us couldn’t remember something, the other would say “Lee Remick,” as code for the problem and the movie we both loved and we’d laugh .

Neither of us is who we seem: separated and free to choose. Learning this has been a journey that seems a bit like The Wizard of Oz, the movie most of us grew up with where Dorothy wears ruby slippers, magical shoes that she does not learn until story’s end will send her home with a click of her heels.

We were two years separated when D. asked me to go to Canada with him: French Canada: Montreal, Quebec. We entered the elegant Hotel Nelligan on the old street near the water, 106, Saint-Paul West. French spoken everywhere.

We ate soft boiled eggs in the morning, croissants that we tried unsuccessfully to resist and drank good French wine, ate good bistro steak salads or Asian salmon in the evenings, sitting on their upper deck trying to remember Clive Owen’s name.

We slept in a double sheeted bed on 400 thread count linens. In the best hotels, your blanket lies inside a duvet with another flat sheet on top so that all you feel are the crisp clean sheets each night you climb into bed.

But I felt short-sheeted on this trip. Remember that prank? Short-sheeted because I waited for D. to make love to me: We were on vacation together. We were sleeping in the same bed. On day five of the trip, I asked, “Will we make love?” He answered, “I would like to.”

This makes me think of Wendy Doniger’s book The Bedtrick, where she begins this way, “You go to bed with someone you know, and when you wake up you discover that it was someone else—another man or another woman, or a woman instead of a man, or a god, or a snake or a foreigner or alien, or a complete stranger or your own wife or husband, or your mother or father. This is what Shakespearean scholars call ‘the bedtrick’—sex with a partner who pretends to be someone else.” In her prologue she refers us to plays we know where not knowing who is who intrigues and answers: In Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac and the film version Roxanne, a movie with Steve Martin and Darryl Hannah that I love. In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a play I often return to for Feste the jester’s words when accused by Maria, Olivia’s lady-in-waiting: My lady will hang thee for thy absence, and Feste answers, Let her hang me. He that is well-hanged in this world needs to fear no colors, with its proverbial dare and its double entendre and where the fool is anything but.

Let me embarrass D. further by telling you that he is indeed well-hung—thus, my despair in Canada.

We were a long way from Paris, my metaphor for the Rom-Com ending.

Let us now use Canada as the metaphor for marriage.

When we return, I assume that we are reconciling. But he tells me all must remain the same. He is not ready. I am inconsolable. I seek counseling. I seek an exit strategy: Emergency egress. Do not retract dead bolt.

I write him. It is a last ditch effort that speaks for its desperate self. Trust me: What follows does not speak well for me:

Dear D.,

I miss you. I’ve been missing you for a long time I now realize.

I know I am angry but I am still very much in love with you. You have hurt me so deeply that I fear I may never recover, may never be able to love another and may never be able to fully part from you. I sometimes think I am going to die from this heartbreak and what I perceive as your coolness towards me. You have been cool towards me for so long that I don’t think you even know how long. But I have waited. I was waiting. I am still waiting. I am quite mixed up and what I write will probably anger you. I fear that anger so profoundly that I hardly know where to start. But I cannot help the fact that I still must admit that I love you even if I can never have with you what I thought we once had and maybe did have.

I need to be loved again, desired again, fought for, if you will. I know that is too much to ask.

I am offering my hand to you. I know that I offer that hand with much trepidation and that I want some things to be made up to me, childish as that is.

I can no longer cry my way back to you. I have done too much of that over the years and have been deeply wounded by weeping in closets and on floors and in desperation to get you back. I can no longer have you that way. I don’t want anyone that way; I don’t ever again want to be humiliated the way I have been. But I still believe that we may have something that we built and that is worth saving. But I cannot keep trying to get you alone. I must know that you are trying to get me, too.

Eventually, I may wear out and move on, whether or not I can find love. I may move on out of loneliness. I may have to as I crave intimacy so, don’t really find life worth living without it. I don’t mean that as a threat. I mean it as E.M. Forster says in his epigraph to Howard’s End: ‘Only connect …’ He defines who I am in the world and who I must be. But you are inside me, and that will never change.

We will live apart. We must now. I finally understand that. But what I have written is worth saying, I think.

Mary

His reply: Of course I’ve saved it, for here is the bedtrick*:

M,

My reaction to this is anything but anger. I don’t react angrily to much anymore. On the contrary, what you write is so heartfelt, it is deeply touching. I know I have been cool, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have similar feelings for you. I could not have gotten so deep inside you without you getting just as deep inside me. My coolness is, I guess ironically, part of my healing, at least initially. I know you are frustrated by this and want to be ‘engaged’ and part of my healing. But I am afraid—afraid of doing the same things to you that I did before.

The potential for damage and setbacks is still great. I need get to some level of confidence about myself. I don’t know that I can explain better at this point, but I hope you can somehow accept that, for now. I do want to be engaged with you, but it may be less intimate right now than you would prefer. Please know that I am aware of that—I am beginning to understand what intimacy is. And while it is not yet what you want, please also know that I am trying to get there.

D.

I have come to understand that what I think I know, I don’t know.

Case in point: Did you know that Dorothy’s shoes in L. Frank Baum’s book were silver?**

We had been to Canada. Where is Paris? It is not on any map. That is the bedtrick.

To find Paris, ask this question: Who needs ruby slippers?

*When I told D. I wanted couples therapy not to get back together, but for an exit strategy, he said, “I don’t want an exit.” He sought his own therapist. We were then both with separate psychiatrists: Were we in a Woody Allen film? All together now, let us click our heels.

**You can follow the yellow brick road or listen to Nietzsche who says, He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.

October 08, 2009

Hat trick

After seeing the movie Paris with D. last Saturday, we go to sit on his balcony and drink good red wine that I cannot name though I would like to say it was French, suspect it was Spanish—we are a little drunk. His apartment is near the Verizon Center and the Capitals are playing. We are so close that we can hear the blare of horns. When he checks the scores, we learn that the Caps are beating Toronto three-zip. D. thinks that Alexander Ovechkin may have a “hat trick”: three goals in one game. But it turns out that Ovechkin has two goals and one assist. Not bad. Final score Caps 6, Maple Leafs 4. I read the next day Washington AP: “By the time the game was 77 seconds old, Alex Ovechkin scored the first time his stick touched the puck, earning ‘MVP!’ chants from all those red-clad fans.” Surely he will get the hat trick again the way he did in May 2009 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

I am stuck on the hat trick. For me the movie Paris is Cédric Klapisch’s and his favorite male lead Romain Duris’ hat trick: L'Auberge Espagnole (filmed in Spain) and Russian Dolls (Paris, London, St. Petersburg) and now a window on Paris from a non-Rom-Com view that includes Romain Duris’ view of the city from a taxi. In that one scene we see Rom-Com Paris: the Tour Eiffel, the golden statue, a Rom-Com collage but not as I have ever seen anything in that much-filmed city filmed—not as I perceive the city by then. For Klapisch has closed with the hat trick.

What we have seen by then is the refrigerated fruit and vegetable outlet while in most Parisian movies we see romanced markets in the street. We see them here too but with the gloss from the grit of living. We see refrigerated meat lockers. We see flowers pushed on an industrial cart by a strong young working-class woman. We see academic Paris. We see dancing, dream-like Paris (Romain Duris, slim beauty in red) and tiny apartments that bespeak living in the spaces of the heart—not the spaces of Architectural Digest.

No villains and no heroes. Humanity on full compassionate show culminating in the simple exchange that brought me to full tears: “Merci” and “merci aussi,” built on the relationship of the characters played by Romain Duris and Juliette Binoche who speak these words.

When we leave the theater, D. asks me, as he makes a note to himself in his Blackberry, “It was Bach’s Minuet in G Major?” And I am struck that he hears what I do not hear, that he brings music to me. He seduced me with his piano, the one with the crack in its sounding board, the one he sold when he married me. He had little furniture when I met him, had placed his baby grand as the centerpiece of his living area.

In 1984 he called me and told me he had a gift for me and I should come over from my place, a tiny house in Garrett Park estates—meaning that all the old big Victorians were in Garrett Park and that I lived in the estate, the extensive land where the poor live near the rich. We used to call his apartment up on Pooks Hill California because the kids and I went there to swim in his pool, to sit on his balcony, to stand in the shiny-like-marble glistening lobby—a world apart. I came that day and he played Beethoven’s “Pathétique” and then without words, with instead the simple silence that follows the end of a piece, the laying of his hands in his lap, he looked at me. And I wept. I’d wept from the first melodic chord.

This was the last time he played the piano for me—twenty-five years ago. When we lived together, I often heard him work on Schubert’s Impromptu in G Flat but he’s never played it for me all the way through. The barren period. Music in silence. When I heard him play, I’d be upstairs in our large Victorian house in Adams Morgan—we’d come such a long way but not come through.

All the silence would seem to me to be gone when I heard him play.

A piano teacher once told me the story about the man who was lucky enough the night before a concert to get a hotel room next to Rubenstein, or was it Horowitz? She’d forgotten which, the name did not matter. What mattered was that the man heard through the wall the same phrase played over and over and over, like a needle stuck on a scratch in a record.

D. and I are stuck like that.

Before all the loss, when I watched him play that day he seduced me, I saw the muscles in his shoulders, his forearms, the angle of his back. The movement of his brow, the corner of his mouth, the line beside his eye. I watched his body move through the piece. He leaned into the bass. The melody rang from the keys, shifted in tone, in softness and loudness with his touch. His back curved into the music, his brow softened, his shoulders rose and fell with the thematic repetition. His neck bent and relaxed.

What he does not know is that when I heard the Schubert in G as I lay in the bed where I waited for him, where I often fell asleep before he came to bed, I did not hear the missed notes, the imperfect phrasing that he explained as the reasons he could not play for me or anyone else. I thought I heard his heart pulse, but knew it was my own.

I am stuck on the hat trick: Will he pull Bach’s Minuet in G Major out of his? Will I pull Paris out of mine?

When Alex Ovechkin pulls the trick, the ice will be full of hats. This tradition owes its history to cricket when a bowler knocked off three wickets and was awarded with a hat.

I am reminded of my favorite Rom-Com The Thomas Crown Affair—not the first one with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, but the second with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo. Tommy hides by wearing a bowler hat and filling the museum with men in bowler hats, an allusion to the painting “Son of Man” by René Magritte: a man who wears a suit and a bowler hat with an apple on his face.

When we truly see, we see what has been hidden: the hat trick.

September 29, 2009

Forget Paris

I am reading in The Washington Post a movie review of Paris. Ann Hornaday says, “Cédric Klapisch’s intoxicating portrait of a city that, despite (or more likely, because of) being in a state of constant flux, retains timeless energy and allure.”

I have not seen the movie that is playing at E Street but I plan to go instead of going to Paris. It is hard to go to the city of love without love. I had been thinking of Paris because my daughter and son-in-law and granddaughter, hurtling onto five months and wowing the Parisians, are there.

Paris equals love: the too-oft used equation of the romantic comedy.

Hornaday to my surprise does not mention that Cédric Klapisch has directed two of my all-time favorite movies that I classify as Parisian romantic comedies—an off classification that suits me perfectly because the Rom-Com that fits that term too well has lost its edge: L'Auberge Espagnole (filmed in Spain) and Russian Dolls (Paris, London, St. Petersburg) are edgy.

I’ll let you know when I see the movie Paris.

Meanwhile, as in yesterday, the CEO I’d met on the plane home from Australia—my Ezio Pinza (across a crowded room …)—wrote me again. This time to say that his “love” has died. My “love” is the way he has always referred to the woman he was on his way to see when he met me on the plane from San Francisco to DC, the woman he’d been dating since he met her on a high-end cruise—meaning not many people, small boat—after his wife had died.

Last we talked on the phone ever so briefly I told him things with D. were in flux and in play.

He writes, “I probably should not be sending this since our connection lapsed so long ago.” He explains what has happened and ends with, “It is as I said at the beginning, ‘I probably should not…[his ellipsis].’ Yet at times like this, perhaps we need to cut ourselves a bit of slack.”

I sit in front of the e-mail: I ponder him. I ponder me. I ponder D. I reply with words about mourning, with my own realization that, as I say to him, “I can only imagine how this loss has thrown you back into the déjà vu of your beloved wife. As to my husband [or rather D. as we know him here, dear readers] I say that the story of our relationship “is an open book for all to read. I am writing a blog, have been doing so for a year now and though the beginning is a bit rough, the later entries seem to know what they are doing.”

I wonder now, A missed chance that was probably not a chance, that the CEO never allowed to be in his honorable stance and his privacy? I gather that he has kept quite a distance from his east coast “love” as he lives comfortably with cook and housekeeper in Saratoga and retreats often to his house in Carmel—no phone, no computer—to paint and collect, perhaps for a book, the letters of his wife.

I wonder D.—as in, I worry him. His presence pervades this writing and, I now see, all the preceding entries. You don’t need to say it. I will: She’s not moved on.

As synchronicity would have it, as I was reaching for Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and for T.S. Eliot’s Selected Poems because I sought something to quote to the CEO from these works, a small torn-edged card falls out of one of the books: the note from the brief encounter in the galley on the plane: his e-mail address and this line in his hand, “Cooking is an over-rated feminine attribute …[his ellipsis],” a reference to the title of my book, the title that appears in the margin of this blog, much as it appeared in the margin of my life (instead of celebration, separation).

Didion says, and I write this to the CEO, “Grief is different, grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life. Virtually everyone who has ever experienced grief mentions this phenomenon of ‘waves.’”

Now I read this and see that the description of grief likens, oddly and out of her context, to love. The miracle of Didion’s book is that she never once mentions the word love while she writes a love story.

Later, she describes the dailiness of her life with her husband; she has her own list. I have mine: espresso and steamed milk in the morning. Cuban bread made quickly with three packages of dried yeast, the baked bread devoured with lightening speed what has lightened with time. Pea soup from Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook. Beef stewed in red wine and tomatoes, string beans added at the end. Fork-stirred omelets rolled onto his plate.

Didion quotes from Eliot’s “The Wasteland” with no reference; in others words, you either know the source or not: “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.” p. 190-1 in her book. This is line 431 in “The Wasteland,” in part V What the Thunder Said, three lines from the poem’s end.

The CEO ends his e-mail this way, “Incidentally, I’ve reread two poems you sent to me, ‘Leap Before You Look’ and ‘The Privilege of Being’ …[his ellipsis] both compelling.”

The first is an all time favorite of mine by Auden; the second, a poem by Robert Hass that has resonated throughout my life.

I now ponder whether either of these poems would fill up the ellipsis of time that has passed between me and this gorgeous seventy-ish, stylish, loyal, sensitive man.

I reread. The poems, as poetry magically does, answer:

Leap Before You Look

The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep.
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.

Tough-minded men get mushy in their sleep
And break the by-laws any fool can keep;
It is not the convention but the fear
That has a tendency to disappear.

The worried efforts of the busy heap,
The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer
Produce a few smart wisecracks every year;
Laugh if you can, but you will have to leap.

The clothes that are considered right to wear
Will not be either sensible or cheap,
So long as we consent to live like sheep
And never mention those who disappear.

Much can be said for social savoir-faire.
But to rejoice when no else is there
Is even harder than it is to weep;
No one watching, but you have to leap.

A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear:
Although I love you, you will have to leap;
Our dream of safety has to disappear.

—W.H. Auden, December 1940

I like to think I have lived by these words, but knowing oneself is the work of a lifetime. So, who knows? But whether I have lived the words or not, they ring like bells. They answer.

Hass’s poem answers with stunning reality and Victorian swoon—Wisdom more often than not comprises paradox:

Privilege of Being

Many are making love. Up above, the angels
in the unshaken ether and crystal of human longing
are braiding one another’s hair, which is strawberry blond
and the texture of cold rivers. They glance
down from time to time at the awkward ecstasy—
it must look to them like featherless birds
splashing in the spring puddle of a bed—
and then one woman, she is about to come,
peels back the man’s shut eyelids and says,
look at me, and he does. Or is it the man
tugging the curtain rope in that dark theater?
Anyway, they do, they look at each other;
two beings with evolved eyes, rapacious,
startled, connected at the belly in an unbelievably sweet
lubricious glue, stare at each other,
and the angels are desolate, they hate it. They shudder pathetically
like lithographs of Victorian beggars
with perfect features and alabaster skin hawking rags
in the lewd alleys of the novel.
All of creation is offended by this distress.
It is like the keening sound the moon makes sometimes,
rising. The lovers especially cannot bear it,
it fills them with unspeakable sadness, so that
they close their eyes again and hold each other, each
feeling the mortal singularity of the body
they have enchanted out of death for an hour or so,
and one day, running at sunset, the woman says to the man,
I woke up feeling sad this morning because I realized
that you could not, as much as I love you,
dear heart, cure my loneliness,

wherewith she touched his cheek to reassure him
that she did not mean to hurt him with this truth.
And the man is not hurt exactly,
he understands that life has limits, that people
die young, fail at love,
fail of their ambitions. He runs beside her, he thinks
of the sadness they gasped and crooned their way out of
coming, clutching each other with odd, invented
forms of grace and clumsy gratitude, ready
to be alone again, or dissatisfied, or merely
companionable like the couples on the summer beach
reading magazine articles about intimacy between the sexes
to themselves, and to each other,
and to the immense, illiterate, consoling angels.

—Robert Hass, Human Wishes, p. 69

Love is the human wish.

Meanwhile Eliot reminds:

He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience


I’ll let you know about Paris. More soon …[ellipsis mine].

September 25, 2009

Light

When a photographer uses a filter, a transparent or translucent disc, on his lens, he alters the light. If a flock of geese appeared on a clear day—cumulus clouds, horizontal white streaks on blue—and the photographer placed a lens on his camera’s eye, for a black and white photo—as if that term, black-and-white, accurately defines a photo without color—the lens turns the clouds gray as on a dark day, and the bird’s wings white, their undersides, shadows of their shapes. How we see: Through a scrim.

On August 25 my parent’s anniversary, I wrote when I began to tell—like a child “telling”—and so I repeat here, childishly repeat: They were married fifty-four years. Can you believe it?

“I need to live alone,” he said. Oh so Greta Garbo.

There was absolutely no noise.

I was sixty years old listening to Bill Maher, who tells me, “menopause.” Get it? Men A Pause. Yeah, I got it.

But how to see my way. That is the question. Is that not always the question?

Bird on a wire, out of the cage.

He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.

Three years later, on the street, when going to the movie—they went to see The Reader, the movie about the woman who teaches herself to read—first she touched his arm to reach for it. He said, “Don’t pull on my sleeve.” In the movie, he bought popcorn. They are on a date. She is moved by him despite the gesture of dismissal, moved by all that she’d known of him.

This is the man who left her.

She eats a handful of popcorn, reaches to touch his head, the head he shaves—smooth like a baby’s bottom. Their thirty-five-year-old daughter has had a child. A birth, a new life in a new marriage.

Again he pushes her away. “Greasy,” he says, as if that mattered, as if she’d muss his hair, as if the popcorn were buttered. It was not. She recalls: After they’d sold the house, after she’d taken the job as a visiting writer at U. of Missouri, he invited her to a wine tasting at the Greek Embassy—this man who did not want her though he’d not said that. After that awful Greek Embassy thing (barely any food that you had to fight for and zillions of people standing in line for wine), he wanted to take her out some place; she wanted to go home, but they went to Cloud in Dupont Circle. She asserted, “You don’t desire me. Tell me.” “No,” he said.

Like the O ring on the Challenger that exploded in the sky—from where we stood watching through a lens: no noise. Like the O ring when placed in 32-degree water. “The O ring, a large key to the problem,” the investigator said. Indeed, it would not give, it wouldn’t expand or contract—frozen.

We were frozen.

After The Reader, when they got to her condo—gone: the house with the chef’s kitchen, the four-story one-hundred-year-old Victorian they’d renovated like a wish fulfilled—he stays with her. They watch The Thomas Crown Affair, the second version, the one with Pierce Brosnan, the financier and art thief who takes a hundred-thousand-dollar bet on a golf swing from a sand-trap the day after he’d stolen the Monet, and Rene Russo, the insurance investigator who wants to nail him, get his head—you know that he loves her: When he gives her the controls on his glider that slides through the sky with no motor—“Like a hawk”—when he brushes his hand across her hair. While they are window shopping, when he stands behind her, his head down, when he takes hold of her shoulders, the slight brush of his hands.

No noise.

She wakes in the middle of the night, knows that he must go, that she is returning to territory she knows too well: backtracking.
 
I backtrack: a dream: My father lies in a bed, my dead mother stands near. An official-looking man, clipboard in hand, asks him questions. He says to me, “I know you hate me.” I say, “I don’t hate you because I believe you know that my father’s intelligence and wry sense of humor drive his answers.” The clipboard-man persists, says that my father’s answer to his last question confirms that he cannot live on his own: assisted living needed, nursing home more likely. “So what was the question?” I ask. “If you are outside, on open grass and see an object coming toward you, what do you do?” “And his answer?” I ask. “Golf.”

In the morning, they make love and, as they begin, she says, “The trouble with you is,” and he says, “Only one trouble?” She says, “The trouble with you is that I love you.” And he says, “That’s not the trouble. That makes all things possible.”

I look out a window. Sky and water merge and in the mix I see iridescent blue-black birds, yellow-blue-black fish on limbs of trees. Through the glass, safe inside a house with a large kitchen, my pots hang again. But how could fish and fowl, light and small as they are come to my tree? How could they, so rare in size and startled color, come so close to me? The answer is, Whoever would become light and a bird …

September 19, 2009

One game at a time

D. makes me think about baseball. In particular about Albert Pujols.

“Pujols … really does take 'em one game at a time, one at-bat at a time, one pitch at a time… . Questions are beside the point. Talk is beside the point. The point for Albert Pujols is to hit the ball hard. Everything else is just noise.

“This doesn’t make him especially fun to approach after a game, even a two-home run game. But it’s part of what makes him the best baseball player on earth. And it’s what makes him likely to have many more two-homer games, even if he isn’t a home run hitter.” http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/joe_posnanski/09/16/albert.pujols

With D.: no answers to questions. Silence.

D. makes me think, too, of the movie Juno: Two years ago, an awful dinner-movie date with this man I used to call my husband: He was anything but a “husband.” He hadn’t made love to me willingly anyway in so many years I could calculate the time in terms of a decade, a wall of time, a block so large that it stood in the way of vision, my recollection of the past. I have talked about this too much here. I now know I am a fool for having done so. Fools repeat their mistakes—except in Shakespeare’s plays where the fool speaks wisdom: In Lear, the fool wisely says:

He that has and a tiny little wit—
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain—
Must make content with his fortunes fit,
For the rain it raineth every day.


But that night, I was thinking about the fact of lack of sex as the source of all my trouble, fool without wisdom that I was. I drank myself through the dinner after the movie. I drank my way through D.’s silence.

And this brings me to the movie Juno. Juno is a sweet flick about a sixteen-year-old who makes love once with her boyfriend, her initiation into sex with only the motive of love, and she gets pregnant. She decides to have the baby and give it away to a couple that really wants a baby. She says she’s ill-equipped to raise a baby. She is a wise, sharp-tongued, witty and oddly sweet character. Sweet in her sharpness. And at the end, when she’s had the baby, her boyfriend comes to the hospital in his running clothes and gets in the bed and lies down and holds her. I watched the movie with D. and my heart broke at this image, because this is the way he used to lie down at night with me. We didn’t make love—no home run to continue the metaphor—but we did lie down together, body on body.

The Sunday after the date was difficult: My chest full of anxiety that raged so hard I couldn’t eat, and my head, hungover. I didn’t have the energy to shower. My teaching work was done and still I couldn’t eat. I began work on the separation agreement again. I had a vodka and tonic. The anxiety subsided, hunger appeared. I ate a frozen pizza and cooked some asparagus. My kitchen and my body were low on food.

I had finally gotten the pot rack hung in my apartment, the same pot rack I’d had in our house. I’d finally gotten all the copper and stainless steel pots hung. I’d polished the copper. Even though I did not have the energy to cook, I was ready to cook.

I slept but woke at 2 a.m. from a terror: My kitchen. In the dream my son came to visit—my son who has not spoken to D. since D. left me. He swiftly took down all the pots. The pot rack wasn’t there. Just some hooks in the ceiling. He had cleaned up what he viewed as my mess. I called out: Where are they, where are my pots and pans? Where is my Bain Marie, my French copper and enamel double boiler that I used to melt chocolate, that I scrambled eggs in, that I loved. I find instead dolls and children’s clown costumes. I’d made these costumes for my daughter and son when they were little. I’d made one for myself too. I’d made one for D. after my first husband had betrayed me. But in the dream the only costume I can find is the one I’d made for myself—the pink gingham one.

For the fool does need the costume.

When I am awake, this costume is the only one that is lost. I have all the others in a box in a closet that D. built for me this year—after the separation agreement was finally done. After it was clear that we would live apart, that we are done.

After all that, he gave me money to build out the closets in my 1200 square foot loft with virtually no storage. The loft where I am making a life—alone: where I make content with my fortunes fit.

He did this after he’d come over to drop off miss-delivered mail—an excuse? He could have forwarded the mail. He gave money for the closets after he found me throwing out the clown costumes, the sweaters my mother had made for my children, the dress she’d made for me in 6th grade, after he found me in tears, throwing away what I could not store.

Now all is stored away in my California-Closet-re-done apartment where I live alone.

And then he sent an e-mail. The subject line was: “I know this is against the rules but …

Would you like to go to the Nationals baseball game Thursday night? They're playing the Cardinals. Really good seats. Red, Hot and Blue barbeque. Or Ben’s Chili Bowl.”

I didn’t go to the game where I would have seen Albert Pujols at bat.

I said I couldn’t go because we were done, because I needed to move on, because I couldn’t bear the silence.

And then he spoke. He wrote:

“M.,

I do love you and always have. I have in the past only known how to show love through care-taking. I never learned any other way. But that is no longer enough. I know I need to show it in other ways, most especially through emotional intimacy. I can tell you I love you, but it sounds hollow because there is, right now, no other action behind it. I know that is how it appears, so it is hard for me to say it to you. I just know my feelings are deep, and it is not just history, important as that is. I have always thought and said that I believe we will end up together. I still believe that. But I know it is very hard for you. I don't want to lose you, but I also don't want to hurt you again. That is how I am torn. It is hard; it is painful. I hope and pray that it will work out. I just want you to know that I do love you and care deeply for you.

D.”

All this makes me think of Albert Pujols. He avoids reporters. When he does talk to them, he doesn’t answer their questions. He just keeps going to bat.

All this makes me think of the movie Juno: When all goes wrong, how to set things right?

And I answer: One at-bat at a time.

Once D. asked me, What do you call a player who strikes out two out of three times?

He answered: A hall of famer.

September 06, 2009

The wave

In August the Obamas went for a week’s vacation in Martha’s Vineyard: Ten-year-old Malia’s head already sprouted almost above her father’s shoulder—she is tall and willowy, feminine like her mother, lithe like her father. Gorgeous Michelle followed behind the two with her arm around Sasha: all the “girls” wore shades as Barack waved from the tarmack at the camera.

He did not wave as he boarded the helicopter on the Wednesday before the Labor Day holiday to fly with his family to Camp David with health care reform and the war in Afghanistan looming. But I recall his wave.

I recall my sister’s wave before she got on the plane to Ethiopia, willowy at seventeen, three days before her eighteenth birthday that she would celebrate on her arrival and where she would marry. Her fiancé was in the Army on the base—gone!—in Eritrea. Thirty-five years later she would die on a gurney, legless and about to lose her arms because the blood from her heart could no longer reach her hands, blue with loss and the diabetes that took her life in 1993.

Her wave, full of hope and risk—that fearless wave. I write a postcard to her now: Wish you were here.

How do I deal with all the leavings?

How do I deal with the desperate longing for a new beginning?

How do I deal with the shame of Internet dating that resulted in my daughter’s assertion, “You are fickle, your fickle ways,” said in merited disgust. I am in love and out of love: She recounts: “The psychiatrist who one day is the love of your life and the next, dangerous to your life. The college professor who one day is the love of your life and the next … .” Need I go on reporting how I failed? How she must wonder, I suspect: Who is this woman I have called my mother?

Meanwhile The New York Times reports that “fewer than half of [Obama’s] appointees are in place … a reflection of a White House that grew more cautious after several nominations blew up last spring ….”

Who are the appointees in my life?

D., ephemeral?

I spent another Saturday night with him and I write him on Sunday morning:

It’s hard for me on leaving you, as you could see yesterday. Sometimes, as over this weekend, it is also hard for me to be with you. I think that is because you are not yet able to be fully with me, to express the “need” to be with me in some way that makes sense to me, to put words and gestures around the need. You did seem to do that Saturday when you came over to me, when you sort of asked to stay, when you most poignantly laid your head on my chest. I needed to be cautious because if you had stayed, I would have given myself to you body and soul. That is what I want to do, need to do because I love you, flawed as I am, flawed as you are.

I sense that I must take on—but you point out when I say this, “unfairly to yourself”—the blame for what seems lacking, something nameless, something I think, must be my fault and that needs to be “named.” That doesn’t mean I need to “understand” or have full disclosure about your journey toward your self, or in any way invade your privacy, but something seems withheld, almost as if to accept comfort from me would be to accept blame on your part. I am to blame. I must be. And I don’t want you to take on my blame or yours with the stuff (talking, touching) that would help.

M.

D. replies:

I have held back, I think, because I tend to see our relationship as “all or nothing.” That my approach to you in any measured way would mean or be interpreted as full engagement—and be found lacking, because it is not yet full engagement. I have tended to be silent to protect that space I need to work through my personal past [what does he mean by that? for what is between us is personal? Don’t we share the past?] for a while, but I hear from you that, if I am present, you can also be present and help without full engagement. I do know what full engagement means and looks like, and I don’t want you to think that I want something short of that. I am trying to get to the point of full engagement, and need some space—not totally—still to get there. I tend not to talk about that because I think it’s hurtful to you, even though it has nothing to do with you and is not a rejection of you.

D.

I slept and dreamt after D. left me on Saturday night. I suppose this is one of those classic dreams like the airplane dream: I am driving a big dark grey car—not like my father’s Chevy, not a big rectangle, how I always thought of that bulky car he loved. I’m driving a hyperbolic bullet, sleek and large, probably a Toyota on a road that is soon covered with snow. I tell myself to slow down on this surface but can’t keep my pedal off the metal. The snow is filling up my side windows and the rear window so that all I can see is forward. I know this is not a safe way to drive but I keep going though I don’t know where I am going except that I am on Route 66. As the snow begins to fly off my peripheral windows and my vision opens up, I realize that I have passed a store at a mall where I am trying to meet my parents and my sister. She waves from an unknown location. I know I need directions. I know my parents and my sister are dead. This thought is always a sad thought, sadder now that my husband has left me. When they died, I mourned their loss but had a sense of safety in my marriage. Now that is lost. My loneliness is profound, not unique, but profound. I must stop the car and get directions. When I do, I discover—the way dreams work— that I have driven onto the top of the drugstore soda fountain counter like the one where my father and I used to eat coddies and drink chocolate sodas on Dolfield Road in Baltimore while my mother got her hair done next door. He liked the chocolate soda better than I did. I always wanted an ice cream soda and he could be counted on to get me one.

I am lost but dream: D. waits with his arms open. He kisses me full on the mouth, deeply, with desire, and with admiration if one can feel that in a kiss. I think one can.

He is so slim, so beautiful and in real life so totally unattainable.

I send him this poem with the note: Remember this?

Lullaby

Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit's carnal ecstasy.

Certainty, fidelity
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreaded cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.

Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of welcome show
Eye and knocking heart may bless,
Find our mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness find you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.

—W. H. Auden (1907-1973)

Remember?

M.

And he replies:

Think not lost, perhaps nearly born.

D.

I recall D.’s heart and being like the drift of the Caribbean sea over the sand, the strand of light that reaches through the clarity of that sea. His touch and his kiss that once expressed a clarity of vision that took me in its sight and held me so that I let go, floated in its buoyant assurance.

I may not know what I am doing but I do know that what I have just written bears itself on the incontrovertible.

I must understand the multiplicity of irreducible people, of the irreducible D., and that my humanity lies therein. We will not have perfection in discourse. But I must seek humanity in discourse. That responsibility weighs heavily on me as I think it should.

And so, I wave. I wait for the sea.

August 05, 2009

Let the chase begin

“So Who Owns Chrysler Now?” Time Magazine in January asked. Fiat owns Chrysler—or at least 35 percent of it when that article was published— with an option to raise its share to 55 percent.

Detroit rethinks. The merger of Chrysler and Fiat occurs in June, the bridal month.

Mary rethinks: An Italian owns the Plymouth?

In the Grimm Brothers’ story, “The Wedding and the Fox,” the brothers include two stories to tell the tale. This choice may have been the brothers’ academic-like reporting of the tales they “collected,” but I am struck by the choice of two endings, as if both were possible, as if we had a choice. In the first, old Mr. Fox with nine tails plays dead because he believed that his wife was not faithful to him and wished to put her to the test. In the second story, the old fox is dead.

D. and I would have been married twenty-five years September 2009. “Which would you rather have?” I once asked D. “A Plymouth or an armchair, a comfortable, elegant armchair.” “That depends,” D. said, “on whether I needed to go to the grocery story or I was having the groceries brought in.” I don’t know if he knows that I used to think of him as a Plymouth: reliable, steady, made in America. I used to think of myself as the armchair.

During the time of separation I have had to think of D. as two stories: dead to me or playing dead.

You may think me a fool. Maimonides says, Fools die for want of heart.

In the first Grimm story, many suitors come but Mrs. Fox will only entertain the fox who had nine tails like old Mr. Fox. But just as the wedding was going to be solemnized, old Mr. Fox stirred under the bench, and cudgeled all the rabble, and drove them and Mrs. Fox out of the house.

But I think she has been true to him. What could old Mr. Fox have been thinking?

Shortly before my stay in Missouri was to end, a Pit Bull attacked me. The guy across the street owned the dog but was house-bound due to his house arrest and the ankle bracelet that kept him there when the dog charged me as I got out of my 1998 used Ford Contour to enter the pit where I lived. A storm door saved me when I managed to get it between me and my attacker. Inside I stood shaking, once I’d gotten my front door closed, and I thought: still alive after all these years and despite these facts: No separation agreement, not even close, still in love with the man who wrecked my life and no path to remaking it before me. But alive.

All this makes me think of the Dodge Charger R/T 440 Magnum, maybe the muscle car of my time, meaning movie-time, meaning Bullitt: Steve McQueen is detective Frank Bullitt, in case you don’t remember. Bullitt in that dark green Ford GT Mustang 390 Fastback plays a tough cop in the car chase of all car chases. McQueen chases over the streets of San Francisco and the outlying highway the black Dodge Charger.

The Dodge Charger is D.’s dream car. I was in New York this past week, had lunch with my son Ben and learned he’d bought a Dodge Charger R/T 440 Magnum. It’s in Australia.

My son does not approve of the door I have opened to D. He thinks of D. as a Pit Bull. He thinks of my metaphorical storm door as inappropriately opened and my separation agreement as the assurance that I will be safe. After the Pit Bull attacked—many of these dogs in Oz so my son knows them well—“Anyone could outrun you,” Ben said. “That dog can outrun anyone.” Ben suggested first that I move (with twenty-two days left on my lease?) and then that I park the car as near the storm door as I could.

I have parked my metaphorical car as near the storm door as I can. Perhaps D. is playing dead. Perhaps once the chase had begun—as indeed it has—he will pursue the way McQueen relentlessly pursues the truth in Bullitt because ultimately McQueen’s chase is not for the Charger but for the real story: He makes sure that the dead Ross, whom he’s been protecting, is thought to be alive: in a sense playing dead when he in fact is dead? so that Frank can get to the story in spite of Senator Chalmers, so that he can pursue the other story.

What do I know?

Nothing is what it seems. The Spy Museum in DC puts this line on signs in the Metro.

In a slim little book entitled The Middle Passage the Jungian analyst James Hollis advises: “What is not conscious from our past will infiltrate our present and determine our future. The degree to which we felt nurtured directly affects our ability to nurture others. The degree to which we feel empowered directly affects our ability to lead our own lives. The degree to which we can risk relationship ….” depends.

D., when I met him, seduced me with a 1980 Fiat Spider 2000, otherwise known between us as “The Little Jewel.” While I stood in the cold, waiting for the bus that would take me to the Metro that would take me to the job where I had met D., he would sometimes drive by and swoop me up: me in my overstuffed quilted red coat, my three bags—briefcase, purse and gym bag—and give me a ride to the Metro. He went out of his way to do this, knew when I would be standing there, knew how cold it was with two kids in elementary school and barely enough child support and salary to support them.

And so I married him: the first ending of my story.

Perhaps the Grimm Brothers’ second story’s ending of “The Wedding of Mrs. Fox” might as easily be the ending of the first story: and there was much rejoicing and dancing; and if they have not left off still, they are still dancing.

Behind Chrysler is Fiat: Detroit rethinks.

Mary rethinks: Perhaps the Plymouth is a Fiat.

July 22, 2009

Let Sotomayor be the judge

When Judge Sotomayor was about to be confirmed to the Supreme Court, I was more interested in her love life. She lives alone now. The New York Times tells me that some time ago, after her divorce (she married young), she “had fallen in love with the dapper and gray-bearded Peter White, a building contractor and that by 1998, they were engaged and living together, though they put off a wedding until after her Senate confirmation [to the Court of Appeals]. Her induction speech turned unexpectedly moving when she spoke of him.

“‘Peter,’ she said, turning to her fiancé at the time, ‘you have made me a whole person, filling not just the voids of emptiness that existed before you, but making me a better, a more loving and a more generous person.’

“‘Many of my closest friends,’ she added, ‘forget just how emotionally withdrawn I was before I met you.’

“With that, Mr. White helped her slip into a black appellate robe.

“Less than two years later, she gave a party at their newly renovated apartment for his 50th birthday. And not long after that, their relationship ended. He returned to Westchester County, bought a small boat and married a woman who was an acquaintance of the judge and 14 years her junior.”

Bought a boat? Gimme a break.

Let Sotomayor be the judge:

Nietzsche asks, Can you give yourself your own evil and your own good and hang your own will over yourself as a law? Can you be your own judge and avenger of your law? Terrible it is to be alone with the judge and avenger of one’s own law. Thus is a star thrown out into the void and into the icy breath of solitude.

… There are feelings which want to kill the lonely; and if they do not succeed, well, then they themselves must die. But are you capable of this—to be a murderer?


It took more than three years for my separation agreement to be signed. I don’t fully understand the delay as not much money was at stake, and I did want it signed. D. says he did too, but I think the agreement presented a finality that I needed and he didn’t. I could be wrong. Ultimately, he saw that signing it would help me to believe in him—and it did.

At first while it was unsigned—even though we lived apart—I feared dating or, as it turns out, screwing around because I feared angering D. and because I believed if I were not legally separated, I committed adultery. That may in fact be true, based on the ten commandments, a pretty good source. Do we read them literally? Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Honor thy father and mother.

Nietzsche says, The worst enemy you can encounter will always be you, yourself; you lie in wait for yourself in caves and woods.

The first man I had sex with after D. left me was married and I knew it from the get-go. He knew me from my lecture work at the Smithsonian—took one of my classes there. I now wonder if I was giving off light the way a firefly flashes for sex. He would assert that some of the females eat the males.

He wrote down for me all the reasons I should not sleep with him. He was seeking a long-term, casual affair in the city: My new condo would be convenient. You’ve got to admire the honesty of this:

“Things a man seeking an affair but wishing to be honest might say. He would entitle this Love’s Labour’s Lost:

You do not want to be involved with someone like me. I could give you the Letterman 10 reasons but you don’t need that many. Did you know that I am:

The grand wizard of the order of remorseless philanderers
A love sucking leach
One who likes to toy with women and words
An emotional and melancholy romantic
One who loves love
Emotionally needy
Unfaithful
Surely that is more than enough to make any sane woman avoid me like the plague.”

And he told me he had a long-term girlfriend whom he loved but couldn’t see anymore because he was ruining her life. He lives in DC. She lives in one of those New England states: Vermont or New Hampshire or Maine where he bought some real estate that he, on occasion, “must manage on-site.”

He buys and sells large apartments, including tenements, and office buildings—this career after a long distinguished career in one of the sciences (vague on purpose here).

He pursued relentlessly once he knew “my story,” as if I knew “my story.” But I was good at the poor-little-me-husband-rejects-me story when he invited me to lunch.

And I had all that La Perla underwear. And I owned a condo in DC. I never let real-estate-guy into it. Instead I did this:

I had unexpected—not excused—sex with him in a building he owned that was being changed over, for a new renter, offices being readied. He had taken me to lunch and said before he dropped me at the metro, might he make a quick stop? Come along. While he stood evaluating the progress of the renovation, he said he’d take me to his club (there are such clubs in DC, once called men’s clubs: Who knew?) on Monday after the weekend that he’d spend with his wife, that he’d take me there in the late afternoon, to an elegant room where he would meet me again the next morning. It seemed so civilized, so genteel, so considerate, his proposal, his mannerly adultery. That’s how it would be he said in the stripped-down office where we stripped down.

I removed my shirt after he kissed me. I removed my shoes and socks and trousers. My feet stuck to the floor because it had been treated with something that is done to floors before the final flooring is laid. He removed my panties that I’d chosen special to go with the bra even though they didn’t match. I wore the bra with the tiny pink ribbons, one on the edge of each strap, the black bra with pink-stitched quilting across my breasts. My panties were sheer pale cream with a scalloped edge of embroidered flowers. The flowers, rimmed with green embroidered leaves, were the same shade of pink as the tiny ribbons, so tiny one would think a fairy or an angel child had tied them. I thought, Angel fingers on my chest where the thin black straps lay, where the ribbon barely touched my skin. I thought this some time after I’d gone into the ladies room to tidy up and to clean the bottoms of my shoes which were covered with the sticky stuff. At home I washed my feet because they were also covered with the pale cream residue of the floor that had lain under the wood-brown Formica table where I’d lain while he’d stood and fucked me.

And someone saw us. The renter perhaps? Whoever the suited-man was, he walked away. But his shadow remains on the inside of my eyelids.

I sat alone that weekend while he and he wife went out with friends and knew that my father was right, when D. and I were still together, when my father lay in a state of anesthesia-induced schizophrenia after his hip had broken and been repaired, when he said, “You’re a whore.”

I refuse real-estate-guy: The Formica table and the dirt on the soles of my feet.

Real-estate-guy responds: “Mary, you are a ball buster!! I need to see a crack in your armour my dear sweet lovely lady—I think.” Was the “I think” a comment on what he needed or on the question of my sweetness?

Later he pursued on issues of faith? I never understood. Catholics help me with this one. He said, “I need to convert you to a Catholic for whom hope and faith are enduring.”

He wrote: “Tomorrow is Lent and I will abstain until Easter the most wonderful holy day in Christendom.” What was he abstaining from? Visiting the girlfriend in Vermont or New Hampshire? She was Catholic. That he’d told me. A single mother who worked two jobs: social worker and hotel housekeeper (how he met her: she carried his bags) and who raised one child, a daughter, alone.

During Lent this year on April 16, my separation agreement was signed. During Lent this year, I had lunch at Zaytinya, a tapas restaurant I love, with real-estate-guy who asked, “So, is your agreement signed?” And I answered, “Yes.” “Well then,” he said, “let’s go to your condo.” I replied that D. and I were seeing one another. He said, “The only reason he would ever get back with you is to avoid paying you alimony.” I asked about the girlfriend. He told me that when her daughter had gone to college, she’d gone to an Ashram in India and when she returned, she broke off the affair for good.

That night I slept and dreamt: Heavy woman on road in Vermont, North Conway. She has a full round face. She is outside and so is her refrigerator. She is using a robotic cleaner, a small round battery-powered device that is washing the refrigerator and its stainless steel is spotless, gleaming when my mother and father and I come upon her and it. She does not seem to be the owner of the house but clearly is in charge. She invites us into the garage where she lives.

The woman’s mother and father live in a beautiful large colonial with gardens but the woman’s mother is not happy with the woman’s father. My mother leaves to talk with the woman who tells her that she must address the problem and the problem is that there is no sex in her marriage. So, I go with my mother to solve the problem. She and my father visit a whore. The bordello is across the street from a school. It is in the middle of suburbia. I am in the room with my mother, my father and the whore who gives us each a set of picture frames with family pictures that are not our own; each of us has a picture of ourselves inside another family. The frames of the pictures are red. The room has no furniture, no bed, just closets that line the stained walls. The whore is stocky with blond curly hair. She dances with my father. I cannot bear to watch and take my pictures and leave. My mother finds me and tells me that all is well. I ask, How did that happen? She says, The whore danced with me. You can live here with us in this beautiful house.

Nineteen years ago my mother lay stroke-stricken and dying on the hospital bed where I’d come to see her in the part of the hospital where the dying are left to die. She was asleep and would die the next morning. The sheet was off, her nightgown, up around her waist, her hand on her clitoris. I covered her with the sheet. The memory lies on the insides of my eyelids.

If Nietzsche is right that we must murder the feelings that want to kill the lonely, I had not begun that conversation with myself. I had murdered my body instead.

Meanwhile D. read fiction in the solitude of his condo: Twenty-two books of fiction the year I was in Missouri.

Let Sotomayor be the judge.

July 12, 2009

The elephant

It’s as if I have a large table with all the pieces for the jigsaw puzzle. It’s a question now of seeing how they all fit. And what about the elephant? He’s there, too.

July 11, 2009

Looking for the map

Jenny Sanford, wife of the governor of South Carolina, was quoted in my favorite rag The New York Times, as she ended one foray with reporters obsessed with her husband’s admitted affair with an Argentine woman, “I wish we had room on the boat for all of you, but we do not.” She is about to go on a trip, in the middle of the sea, to, presumably, get away from the media storm.

She appears to know where she is going, but I think somewhere along the line, she will need a map.

D., while looking for his map, told me that he had built his boat. How many divorced men do you know who live in Annapolis and have bought a boat? D. has built a metaphorical boat. He tells me he needs to figure out how to sail it. He tells me if I wait, the boat will be there. There will be room on that boat for me.

The waiting is hard so he tells jokes:

A genie appears before an old Jew and offers him one wish—anything he wants. The old man strokes his beard, thinks for a minute and says, “Wait a minute let me get my map.” He brings out an old, wrinkled map of the Middle East, spreads it out before the genie and tells him, “See these countries here? They don’t get along. They have fought for thousands of years. I would like to see them all live together in peace.” The genie looks slightly taken aback. He says, “I’ve heard of this. I don’t think what you want is at all possible, even for me. Is there anything else—anything—that you would like instead?” A wistful smile crosses the old man’s face as he says, “Well, I’d like my wife to give me a blowjob.” After a long pause, the genie replies, “Can I see that map again?”

The elephant on the table sits in this joke.

When we were together, he could not tell me why pleasure was problematic. And I could not forgive him for not taking pleasure when I offered it. I am ashamed of this now—among many other things that sit in the shame box of the map I need. The shame box sits with the north, south, east, west compass. No way to find my way without it.

One Valentine’s day, I waited at home for him in the four-story house in Adams Morgan with the chef’s kitchen. I finished my writing and then made his favorite dish: Russian Chicken Burgers with Stroganoff Sauce. I roasted beets in the oven (if you haven’t done this, it’s worth a try: a roasted beet beats any beet you’ve ever eaten). I let them cool and then slice the beets and cut the slices with a heart shaped cookie cutter (It was tacky, but I’d been shooting hoops for too long). I cooked rice: the Stroganoff sauce loves rice. I set the table with the farm dishes I love: scenes of home and family like the drawing my daughter made in first grade of a cutout butterfly pasted and floating on background of scribbled chalk—sun, grass, house (right in the center)—now on faded construction paper. This childhood drawing hangs framed in the condo where I live alone now. It used to hang in my writer’s room and library in the four-story house where that Valentine’s Day dinner went south when I went south. We had eaten in the dining room and I came around the table to give him a blowjob: he shoved me away.

The shame of this is mine: I could not forgive him for this rejection. I don’t understand even now why he couldn’t accept, but I do understand how painful it must have been for him to push me away.

Salman Akhtar, psychiatrist and poet, has written in his book Broken Structures, p. 375, “The Parable of Two Flower Vases.” I hope he will forgive me here for paraphrasing the psychoanalytic phrasing of the question that resulted in his parable. The question was from a student who wanted to know (my version here) if someone who had lost his map and gone through the discovery needed to find it were compared with “a person who has always been psychologically well adjusted” would the two be indistinquishable?

Here is his answer: “Well let us suppose that there are two flower vases made of fine china. Both are intricately carved and of comparable value, elegance, and beauty. Then a wind blows and one of them falls from its stand, and is broken into pieces. An expert from a distant land is called. Painstakingly, step by step, the expert glues the pieces back together. Soon the broken vase is intact again, can hold water without leaking, is unblemished to all who see it. The lines along which it had broken, a subtle reminder of yesterday, will always remain discernible to an experienced eye. However, it will have a certain wisdom since it knows something that the vase that has never been broken does not: it knows what it is to break and what it is to come together. …”

Russian Chicken Burgers with Stroganoff Sauce: recipe by my beloved Pierre Franey who used to write the column “The 60-Minute Gourmet” in The New York Times where I found this:

The Burgers

1 ½ lbs. skinless and boneless chicken breasts
1 cup fine soft bread crumbs
1 1/3 cup heavy cream
pinch cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons corn or peanut oil (I use olive oil)
fresh dill for garnish

1. Cut the meat (remove cartilage) in 1-inch cubes and put in a food processor; blend to coarse texture.
2. In a mixing bowl, place meat. Blend ½ cup of the bread crumbs with the cream and add to meat. Add the cayenne, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Blend with hands.
3. Divide mixture into four balls, pat down to flatten, roll in bread crumbs. Press to make sure crumbs adhere
4. Heat oil in a skillet. Cook the patties until browned on one side. Turn and cook 10 minutes on other side.

Stroganoff Sauce

1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup finely chopped onions
½ teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
1/3 cup heavy cream
¼ cup sour cream
salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add onion and paprika, Cook, stirring until the onion is wilted.
2. Add the vinegar and thyme. Cook stirring until the vinegar reduces.
3. Add the cream and cook until mixture reduces to about half.
4. Add the sour cream, salt and pepper. Heat to boiling point.

I am not able to make this dish in my condo. I am looking for my map and I don’t have a boat.

So what do I do? I date. I screw around trying to find out if I am desirable. I think that is the problem.

D. tells jokes. Special bonus joke:

What do you get when you cross a genius and a hooker?

Answer: a fuckin’ know-it-all.

Get me a map.

June 22, 2009

Pull out the map

So after the real estate developer/widower m., after the widower who is still married m.r.s, after the psychiatrist, , I am devastated and freed.

Did you know that Greenland was once ruled by Denmark? I read this in this morning’s New York Times as I learn of Greenland’s independence. I wonder what exactly Denmark has been doing with Greenland. I learn there may be oil reserves there and this holds some interest for me as I used to work for the oil industry. And Denmark, being who Denmark is, will let those oil reserves go because I am hoping: Some things are more important than money.

I worked for the oil industry? Square peg in round hole who managed to fit. Oh, the paradoxes abound.

Was this how I managed to fit inside my marriage?

I wonder what Greenlanders feel. I learn that that they like me have concerns about their name, their emblem. Their real name is their Inuit name: Naalakkersuisut—the first time in history, officials said, that word had been used in a Danish government document. This was the day that declared some sort of gradual independence for Greenland. What exactly is gradual independence. You’re either independent or you’re not. I can hear my father saying this. Oh, not really. I was talking about assisted living and he said, “You’re either living or you’re not.” Much better line. I am working on this.

Of course, I am reading about Greenland in The New York Times. My young friend Sarah Krouse with whom I went to see the chick-flick The Proposal tells me at lunch that maybe I could love The NYT a bit more, meaning, of course, that I love the paper too much, refer to the paper too often here.

I think about this. After all, I start my morning with that paper even though I am not from New York. I am from Baltimore and, I fear, I don’t long for that paper though I used to read it regularly. But who owns that paper now?

Who owns whom? That is the question.

Let’s talk about The Proposal. A chick-flick about what we all supposedly want: we people who were not meant to ever fall in love and marry and who do. This movie steals during opening bits from three other movies I actually like better: The Devil Wears Prada: Margaret, aka Sandra Bullock, is a witch on her broom much like Meryl Streep playing some version of Dianna Vreeland. Greencard: Margaret is about to be deported to Canada like Gérard Depardieu who is about to be deported to France—now how can that be a fate worse than death? This also reminds me of French Kiss where Meg Ryan is about to be deported from Canada to the United States while she is in search of her belovèd Charlie who left her—she has lost her passport along with other complications while she is in France where she will live happily ever after. And by the end steals from a fourth I like better: While You Were Sleeping: Here too the Sandra Bullock character has no family; both her parents are dead; she is an only child. She allows misunderstandings to pile up while a family adopts her.

I, by the way, want to adopt the young Sarah Krouse.

The Proposal has a heart all its own in Alaska of all places (Is that near Greenland?) and though this chick-flick did not bring me to tears… Well, actually there was a moment for me when Bullock tells about getting her tattoo after her parents had died. Something about that revelation was so bare—and her delivery. I do love Sandra Bullock.

After all, I have lost both my parents and my sister. And there was little help from D.’s family while the devastation of my immediate family proceeded like an inexorable glacier—only faster. His parents are not affectionate and don’t believe that death, separation, or god-no-divorce should be discussed. They don’t embrace. Have you ever experienced the spider hug? D. was not like them but was. Paradoxes abound.

He is in search of his map. D. is from Iowa. When my Uncle Dave first met him, he insisted that D. was from Ohio or Idaho. He had never heard of Iowa. He demanded, “Get me a map!”

So I’m obsessed with The New York Times.

Oh, you don’t think that follows? I used to start my morning with D.—actually, I used to wake up with D. Big difference. I actually have to go get The New York Times. I don’t roll over and see it or roll over and into its folds. You can do that with a man you love: fold into him with no worry about what is above or below the fold or where the sheets are.

The Greenland story is below the fold.

Yesterday, I lay on the National Mall—the nation’s front yard is my backyard; I can walk there in less than ten minutes from my book-lined condo that was so hard-earned after D. left me. I saw clouds like shaken-out sheets on a blue sky.

Greenlanders must feel like D.: They don’t think anyone knows where they are. They pull out maps to prove their existence.

What, dear reader, do you think this is? Have you seen the movie Off the Map? Not a chick-flick: a heartbreaker. Netflix it.