December 17, 2008


Nando came back from France with the medications that both of us are supposed to take. He has one to take, I have three. Since the information is in French medicalese, I haven’t a clue what they actually DO, but they all appear to be for allergies, strangely enough. One of them is supposed to be taken for five days before the intervention. But Nando got back three days before, so I will be missing two days prior to the operation. Is this a bad start or what? All the medication is not to be taken with alcohol. No problem. I have lived in France and Italy for 15 years and still, if I drink a glass of wine a WEEK, that’s a lot. I do like to accompany great food with good wine, but if I had to choose between wine and mineral water at the table, I invariably opt for the latter.

December 16, 2008

Learner and lower

Yesterday afternoon when I was ironing, the song "I've grown accustomed to her face" popped into my head. Not by chance, since we leave for Marseille tomorrow.
I've grown accustomed to my face.
It always makes my day begin.
I've grown accustomed to each line,
Each wrinkle, thick or fine,
The sagging cheek,
The jawline weak.
They’re second nature to me now,
Like breathing out or breathing in.
I'm disadvantaged as a woman
If I don’t rejuvenate,
But the thing that most concerns me
Is if what I buy I’ll hate.
I've grown accustomed to the me that I am used to see,
Accustomed to my face.

December 15, 2008

Any room at the auberge?

My big regret, comme d’habitude, is having to leave Homer in a kennel. He HATES staying in a kennel. For me, that's the worst part about traveling.

I called a couple of auberges in Provence today and there is no problem for space. Americans are staying away from Europe in droves, and other international travelers aren’t any more enthusiastic about flying. So I won't reserve till we get to Marseille. We are in the clinic Monday and Tuesday nights anyway, and Wednesday night the clinic has booked a nearby hotel for us, nothing fancy or charming but convenient for my Thursday am visit. We can walk from one to the other if we feel ambitious. After Thursday morning we are free till the following Wednesday.

My charm quotient for hotels is limited by Nando's lack of interest in enriching the coffers of Relais et Chateaux, Chateaux et Hotels Independents and Relais du Silence. We'll have to play it by ear.

December 14, 2008

Petit tour de Provence

We'll stop off in Monte Carlo to see friends and stretch our legs, then drive on to Marseille. Two days later, bandaged and blue, we will set out for a petit tour de Provence, visiting, not necessarily in this order, Aix-en-Provence, Arles,  Nimes, and Orange. Unless we or the weather is not up to it, we’ll conclude by driving from Aigues Mortes to St. Maries de la Mer, the two cities book-ending the Camargue. The winter is the only time to visit the Camargue because otherwise it is knee-deep in mosquitoes. Then we'll stop again in Marseille for my final check and to remove the stitches (arggh), and then in Monaco or a Carrefours (my favorite French superkmarket chain) somewhere to buy bread, smoked salmon, creme fraiche, Dijon mustard, Armagnac and champagne before heading back to Busto. So much for the weight loss dimension of the trip.

December 13, 2008

French Camelot

Having just come back from Southern France, Nando assures me that the weather is great. Although the trip from Milan to the Italy’s Riviera Ponente (the Italian Riviera north of Genoa to the French border) is only 75 minutes, the weather changes dramatically in winter. It’s day and night. You can be driving through snow, fog and cold en route to Genoa and you pass through a series of tunnels to the Liguria region and suddenly you are in the land of eternal spring -- blue skies, clear air, birds chirping, expanses of green vegetation framing the blue of the Mediterranean. And the weather seems to improve the closer you get to France. Then you cross the border, with Monaco less than 10 miles away, and it’s as if Prince Rainier had ordained gorgeous weather for his little principality and its surroundings. I have made that drive hundreds of times and I always think of the lyrics from Camelot:
A law was made a distant moon ago here:
July and August cannot be too hot.
And there's a legal limit to the snow here
In Camelot.
The winter is forbidden till December
And exits March the second on the dot.
By order, summer lingers through September
In Camelot.

December 12, 2008

Facelift, flashes, fear

The last month of this wretched year of death and fear. Yesterday I had an appointment for my monthly leg waxing at my local beautician's, and I told the young woman proprietor and her assistant that I was getting a facelift, and that they were the only ones to know outside of my husband and the doctor. They reacted positively, encouragingly. As soon as I mentioned the fact, their eyes flashed to my face and I could just HEAR them thinking, "Brava. Good move. You need it, signora." They insisted that I stop back to show them the results as soon as I returned to Busto.

December 11, 2008

Pros, cons and calories

It’s true, there are plenty of lovely places to visit in Provence, but it's hard to make a decision:
1. We haven’t nailed down a budget so I am uncertain where to book price-wise. Hotels in France are generally less expensive than their counterparts in Italy, so one is tempted to trade up to a nicer place: flowers on a sunny balcony, fluttering lace curtains in the room, fresh croissants and steaming cafe au lait served in a breakfast garden. That is the image the tourist board wants to promulgate anyway.
2. But I don't know how I will feel. What's the point of an inn near the Camargue if I don't feel like walking? What's the point of an in-town relais if I look gasp-awful and don't want to be seen?
3. I don't know about the driving. Since my eyes are part of my intervention and ALL of Nando’s, we may not want to drive at all, and that would mean staying in Marseille the whole time.
4. I don't know about the eating. Nando is trying to lose weight (he needs to, for the diabetes) and me, well, the aftermath of an operation, ANY operation, is an ideal time to take off a few pounds. So is the hiatus before the holidays. Therefore, why pick a place known for divine food if we won't want to be tempted?

Considering the falloff in tourism just now, with everyone traumatized in the wake of 9/11, and given that early December is low season anyway, I may just bring a guidebook or two and wait till we get there -- then decide day by day.

December 10, 2008

S Day approaches

Between now and S-day (Scalpel Day), I could dedicate myself to straightening my study. Or ironing. Or trying to make progress on some long-term work projects. Or working up some alternatives for a summer vacation.

OR I could have fun figuring out how Nando and I will spend our time between post-op and follow-up appointment. As Angela pointed out by email, there are many wonderful inns in the south of France where we can stay.

December 9, 2008

The Big D

This morning Homer wandered into the bedroom restlessly at 5:30 or 6 am. Uh-oh! Diarrhea. Diarrhea. This happens almost every year after Thanksgiving. I tried to pretend that this was not his problem but I knew it was, so by 6:30 I was dressed and we were out in the park. A quick tool around, a squat and two squirts, and then back home. I figured this was only round one so I didn’t get back into bed nor did I take a shower. I lay down fully clothed on the living room sofa and sure enough, less than two hours later, Homer was nosing at me again.

Here we go. We almost bumped into the 30-something, shy young lawyer who lives on the 3rd floor as we made our way downstairs in a big hurry. "Oh excuse me," he said pleasantly, seemingly open to engage in a bit of conversation given the early hour on a Sunday morning. "Sorry my dog has a big emergency we gotta go," I mumbled over my shoulder as Homer tore down the steps, out and across the street and let fly on the first patch of green he hit on Via Foscolo, a few steps from our entrance.

December 8, 2008

Post-prandial Duracell

The problem is that the show is over, the curtain is down, Nando has left for a week on the Cote d'Azur, I don’t have any work assignments pending and no new business on the horizon, I’m housebound with el doggo (who has conjunctivitis in one eye and had a bout of diarrhea this morning . . . early) and don’t know what to do with myself.

When in doubt, when self-doubting, stuff yourself. Right? That is unfortunately easy to do in a post-Thanksgiving household with only one person. Sweets, chocolates, turkey, snackies, everything to pull me to the fridge. I feel sick.

Friday I was tired all day. "You are like Duracell, you keep going," Nando had said the day before. "No wonder your battery is low."

December 5, 2008

Inner and outer

Among our guests were two Italian men, both 62 years old. Both still had their hair, neither was fully grey, neither wore glasses, both were physically active men who had little apparent extra weight. But the difference between the two! One was bouncy, active, energetic, almost falling over himself to be noticed. Nando had described him to me as a cross between Mickey Rourke and Al Pacino, and that was an uncannily accurate description. The other man radiated grey -- not his hair, not the pallor of his skin, but the way he moved, sat, conversed. He was withdrawn, hunched over, internalized. In the photos, the one seemed closer to 40, the other to 70.

"It’s all the way you feel," I insisted to Nando. "It’s what’s inside, how you project. That’s more important than the facelift." But I looked at the faux "before and after" of myself and wasn’t entirely convinced.

December 3, 2008

Talking turkey

We developed the Thanksgiving pictures today, shortly after the event. I looked fine in one of them, not gorgeous or sexy, but me -- with an unbroken chin line and nice cheekbones. That was one picture. But the others: in the one of me eying the turkey head, it’s hard to tell whose appearance is more scraggly. And the one of me gesturing proudly to the half-cooked bird, well, put that one next to the "great shot" of me after dinner and it’s almost like a before and after facelift contrast. I am halfway minded to bring both photos with me to show Dr. Delos and challenge him to better the "after" image. "And my before and after didn’t cost me anything and didn’t require surgery," I’d like to point out to him.

December 2, 2008

Through glasses darkly

I picked up my glasses today; the first glasses (other than reading glasses and sunglasses) I have owned in 38 (ouch) years. Among the instructions from Marseille was the admonition that contact-lens wearers should expect to wear glasses for the first week or so after the operation. Because I didn't own a pair of glasses I had to find a local optician who would make me a pair quickly. I figured I’d better get used to them BEFORE the surgery, because I didn't know how long it would be before my eyes could wear them afterward.

Oh the first time I put on the glasses, they felt so STRONG. Blinding, almost. Could the fact that I haven’t owned a pair of prescription glasses since the age of 16 have something to do with vanity? I had stubbornly refused to buy them all these years because it seemed like a betrayal of my faith in contacts, but now I wonder if egotism also had something to do with it.

November 30, 2008

Euphemistically nuts

Angela asked me today by email, "When do you go to the beauty clinic in France? Are you nervous about that?"

I replied, "It's a euphemism to call it a beauty clinic. It's a scalpel slash skin shop. The surgery is Dec. 4. Nando has suggested that we rest and sightsee around Provence until my checkup on Dec. 13, because, according to the doctor, "you probably don't want any business appointments before then".

She is the only one who knows so far. It's not that I am embarrassed; it’s that I don't want to worry my dad. I haven't told my sons because when I broached the subject in an abstract way a month ago:
- From Boston, Max's reaction was "You're nuts. You're not going to do THAT."
- From Los Angeles, Sacha's reaction was "You're nuts. If you do that, you have to do it in California."

November 29, 2008

The telltale . . . crow

Nando showed me the photograph we had taken with John and Nicole six weeks ago. "Look at this,” he said. "You are the only one in this picture who doesn’t need a facelift." It was true; in the photo, at least, my laugh lines had curled around to frame my smile, so you couldn’t see the sagging skin. The camera -- or was it the lighting? -- tempered my crow’s feet, and the angle was such that I was the only one without a telltale roll under my chin.

"Ah, if only I looked like that in real life," I said, "I’d be nuts to bother with surgery."

November 28, 2008

Cosmic versus cosmetic

“Do I really look that awful? I always kinda liked my smile."

"This facelift is not a moment too soon,” he assured me.

Next day, reading about the situation in Afghanistan, I was reminded of the way life has of putting things in context. A little over a week ago I was fretting about a banal blood test. The seemingly inexhaustible supply of horrors on the nightly news is a reminder that it hardly seems worthwhile to waste one’s energies thinking about a stupid medical procedure -- and a voluntary one at that.

November 26, 2008

Cat's claw

We were clearing the table in the kitchen this evening. Nando watched me as I leaned over to pick up the dishes. "What happened to your face?” he demanded.

“What do you mean?”

"You look like you’ve been burned there, on the left side."

“Oh, you mean HERE.” I touched my left cheek below the cheekbone. That’s where the skin has buckled, sort of, and in the unflattering kitchen light it looks ugly. "Hey, this is the bad side of my face,” and I smiled in a half-grimace.

"Oh don’t do THAT,” he groaned. “Wait, hold that smile. Let me get a camera.”

“No camera!”

"Okay, let me draw what I see.”

His design showed a face that looked like a cat had clawed its way across.

November 22, 2008


The nurse admonished me to stay lying down for five minutes until she came back to approve of my departure. Otherwise, she said, I’d faint anyway and undo all the good done by lying down in the first place. She must have seen how white I’d gotten during the procedure.

I then raced out to change places with Nando. He got the documents, I got the dog.

The test results -- having to do with how fast our blood clots, yuck I don’t want to think about it -- will be ready Thursday.

November 18, 2008

Drawing blood

We had our blood test this morning. This was a big ordeal for me. We decided to walk to the hospital, about 2.5 km away, perhaps less. Because we were bringing the dog, I woke up at 7 to feed him so we’d be ready to go by 7:30. We were at the hospital by about 8:10. Nando waited outside with Homer so I could go first. The first line had seven persons ahead of me, the second line had 23, but it moved faster. When it was my turn, I looked the nurse boldly in the eye and said, "I faint with shots. I need to lie down when you draw the blood."

"Lie down all the way?"

"All the way."

So there was another five minute wait between the time they led me to the bed & blood room, and the time two nurses appeared to do the job. They were good, I have to admit, and it was fast. And no, it didn’t hurt. But that’s besides the point in terms of my psychological reaction.

November 17, 2008

Regal versus wrinkled

Joan’s regal English beauty is worlds apart from my smaller, livelier facial alignment. Her face is almost ironed over in its smooth alabaster perfection, but she was animated as she repeated for the umpteenth time that the facelift was the best thing she had ever done and she was sorry she hadn't done it sooner and if she had to decide again, she'd do it yesterday.

"You'll see," she predicted, as we stood side by side looking at the mirror in her office. What I saw was a tall, handsome, fashionably-dressed woman with chestnut hair sleekly pulled back -- a woman perhaps in her 40s -- standing next to a short woman whose dark brown hair went off in all directions, whose pointed features were set in the context of wrinkled, tired skin. This second woman might be smaller but she was definitely older. I am technically two years older than Joan but the mirror screamed more.

November 16, 2008

Crinkles on the Cote

As long as we were on the Côte d’Azur, we stopped to see Joan in Monaco. Yes she looks great, but her forehead is so . . . serene. It doesn’t crinkle. She shrugged. "That’s a small price to pay for the rest of it. Who needs forehead wrinkles anyway?"

"Me," I thought. The expressivity of my face is -- has always been -- important to me. That and my smile. Oh! What if I can’t smile as before? What if my smile isn’t framed by dimples anymore? It’s true that those dimples have turned deeper over the years and now run halfway up my cheeks -- sometimes when I’m not smiling. But they are part of ME.

November 15, 2008

Cabbage in Cannes

Delos brightened. "Yes, a woman in Cannes. She might be available. I don't know what her hours are but this is her phone number. If you are able to see her this week and tout va bien, I could schedule your surgery the first week of December. Say, Tuesday, December 4. Would that be all right?"

I started to say, "We will discuss this and get back to you" at the same time Nando was saying, "That sounds good for me. Doesn't that work for you, Cipo?" ("Cipo" is short for "cipollina", or "little onion," my husband’s public term of endearment for me. It may sound strange in English, but it’s not so different from "ma petite choux", or little cabbage, in French).

Gulp. I withdrew my objection because, after all, we might not get in touch with the anesthesiologist. Or we might get in touch and something would prevent our going ahead. Or we might be okay for anesthesia but not okay for the surgery. That is, I might not be okay for the surgery.

So I smiled grimly and we ended the visit with an exchange of email addresses, a flurry of salutations in French and Italian, and a shaking of hands all round.

November 14, 2008


I had stumbled over the mention of "removing staples" and was circling round that phrase in my mind, not paying a lot of attention to the rest. But Nando DID want to go ahead. He was chafing at the bit. He couldn't wait. "This anesthesiologist -- can we choose someone in Milan? Do you work with someone in Northern Italy?"

Dr. Delos shook his head. "No. My anesthesiologist is here in Marseille, and accepts appointments only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays."

Today was Wednesday. We would be driving back to Cannes after our appointment, and I was tied up there the rest of the week, after which we'd be driving back to Milan. I wanted to arrive early enough Friday evening to pick up Homer from the kennel.

But Nando wasn't one to give up easily. "Do you work with any other anesthesiologists? In Cannes, perhaps? Nice? Monte Carlo?"

November 9, 2008

Surgical shopping list

"If you decide to do it, you will be given all this information. Ne vous derangez pas. Don’t worry. But to answer your questions: yes, the stay at the clinic is included in the price, and I do the procedures right here. This is my clinic. Your wife must come the day before the surgery and stay overnight. In your case, I would not charge you for staying here the night with her. She must also stay the night after the surgery. Because of your diabetes and blood pressure, you might also want to stay here the second night with her. I would not charge you extra for that either."

"Meals are included {I am sure he smiled to himself when he said that. No one in their right mind wants to eat after this ordeal}. I check you here two days after the surgery and then a week later, when the staples are removed from your wife. All your costs here are included. The only extras are the medicines I ask you to bring with you when you come for the surgery, and the cost of a consultation with an anesthesiologist once you decide you want to go ahead."

November 7, 2008

Speaking franc-ly

"If we both decide to do this, how much will it cost?" My husband wanted to get to the bottom line at this point.

Delos jotted some numbers down on a notepad. "Eye bags alone are FF 18,000. A facelift for your wife is between FF 50,000-60,000. For the two of you together I charge FF 60,000. I can do both of you the same day and you would share the same recovery room."

My husband likes things spelled out clearly. "Does that include the hospital stay? WHERE do you do the surgery? Do we have to come the day before? How many days do we have to stay? Are meals included? Do we have to return for a checkup after the surgery? Is anesthesia included? What costs are NOT included?"

November 5, 2008

Facing leather

There were a couple of leather albums on Delos' desk, along with his computer, phone, electronic gadgets and neat stacks of papers. The doctor opened one of these albums to a page where men and women looked out at us with heavy eye bags on the left, and almost nothing on the right. I say "almost nothing" because the places where the bags had been looked like something had been there. But they didn't look unaesthetic, and they certainly all looked natural.

"How come I don't get to see before and after pictures of facelift patients?" I thought to myself. "Probably because monsieur le docteur figures I don't need convincing. Joan and Nicole did all that work for him."

November 3, 2008

Extra baggage

I returned to my seat and Delos to his place behind his desk. I looked at my husband. Nando cleared his throat. "As long as I am here with my wife, umm, I wonder what you think about the bags under my eyes. Is there something you can do? You should know that I am a diabetic and I have high blood pressure, so I don't want a major operation."

"Hmm," said Delos. Now it was Nando's turn to get up from his chair and be inspected in the sunlight.

The verdict: "There are two ways to handle this problem. One is to cut and pull up the skin; the other is to scrape away the fat. The first solution won't work well with you because of the structure of your face and eyes. You will wind up with white permanently beneath your irises and you will look strange. I advise the second solution, because it is simpler and does not require general anesthesia. The whole thing takes 20 minutes and you can walk out the same day."

November 2, 2008

An old bag

"Hmm, you don’t have any 'borses' (bags under your eyes)."

"I have a small face, though. I don't want to do anything that will interfere with my smile. My smile is my best feature (I smiled to emphasize my point) and I don't want to be pulled so tight that it's hard to smile. And my eyes are already small and a little slanted. I don't want them pulled tight either."

"I don't share the same philosophy of my American colleagues. They believe in pulling the skin tight. I don't pull the skin. I work with the muscles under the skin. The result is more natural."

November 1, 2008

Up in smoke

"Yes, hmm, the skin above the eyes, the wrinkles here (touching my dinosaur tracks), the neck. How old are you?"

"I'm 54."

"Her neck is terrible," my husband chimed in. "Especially at night, when she is tired, the skin hangs down. Her whole face looks haggard."

"Hmm," said the doctor. "Do you smoke?"

"Never put a cigarette in my mouth. Barely drink. No drugs. And up until three years ago I was running six to eight kilometers a day."

"Good, good, you don’t smoke. Smoking is bad because it slows down the circulation of blood that supplies oxygen to the skin. It impedes healing and encourages the formation of scars. The result is disastrous for healing wounds of any kind. It also cuts the time a facelift lasts in half.”

That was kind, I thought. He makes a recommendation that affects his business negatively.

October 31, 2008

Sun streaming on wrinkles

Now the preliminary chitchat was over, and the serious session could begin. The next question was who had recommended him? I mentioned Joan’s name. "Ah, Joan, the English woman." He smiled at the memory. Good, so he had considered her a success.

Third question: "What do you want to DO?"

My husband and I looked at each other. "My face?" I said. It was more a question than a statement. The doctor asked me to stand near the window where the sunlight was streaming in. He looked at my face intently and pulled a little this way and that.

October 30, 2008

Small world, isn't it?

How is it that he spoke Italian? He explained that his father-in-law, also a doctor, was from Corsica and many Corsicans speak Italian. Delos had learned the language through working with patients and working with his father-in-law.

"Whose name was . . . ?" Nando asked.

The answer made my husband smile. He had heard about the father-in-law because he had met the son, Delos' brother-in-law, years ago in the United States, when the latter was pursuing graduate studies in an American medical school.

Small world! Small world! We all beamed at each other like old friends.

October 28, 2008

Language lovers

Dr. Delos entered. It had not been a long wait. He was an attractive, charismatic man in his late 40s or perhaps early 50s -- possibly my age, I thought with a start. He had a thick shock of dark hair, barely lined with gray, and a handsome craggy face. He sat at his desk facing us, while we faced him and the sea.

The first thing to be discussed was what language to converse in. We started in French but explained that we were coming from Italy. "I speak Italian and love to practice your language," he volunteered. "Parliamo in italiano."

October 27, 2008

Sea, view

We were ushered into a simple office lined by bookshelves on one wall, and by windows on the others -- windows that looked out onto breathtaking views of the sea. We sat before a polished wooden desk piled with papers. "Not a bad view," said my husband. I knew he was calculating how many faces it took to pay for a view like this.

"This reminds me of Renzo Piano’s office," I said. I had interviewed the famous architect a few years ago in his studio outside Genoa. He too had a sunlit view over the Mediterranean and a desk dripping with documents, but the feel of the place was different. It was modern, more exuberant, more in-your-face aggressive. The last thing a cosmetic surgeon wants to be is "in your face", I thought, at least until you’ve signed on the dotted line.

October 26, 2008


I gave my name again and the sitting nurse checked a list in front of her. "Are you sure you are supposed to be here today?" she asked in French. I thought of the time I had made a reservation for my family at Alain Ducasse/Louis XV in Monaco, then ranked one of THE best restaurants in the world by the International Herald Tribune, and when we arrived, the maitre d’ had observed the inadequacy of our attire, the absence of headline value in our faces, and inspected the reservations for that evening, before announcing with haughty disdain that our names were not on the guest list. Desolé.

This time we were not to be put off so easily. "Yes, our reservation is for today," insisted my husband, and said our name slowly, in the French way. The second nurse scanned the list again and found us. We were official. A few questions for a file; these were done by computer. Another few questions answered by pen on paper. Then a nod, you may go in now.

October 18, 2008

Through the gate

Although the property was fenced, the wrought iron gate was open and we drove in without buzzing. Just inside there were two signs, one pointing to the Institut de Beauté and the other to visites medicales. "I guess that’s us," I said, pointing to the second sign. We followed its arrow up through the trees to the chateau that had been so evident from the road. Now it seemed almost invisible, tucked away beneath a green canopy.

Here we had to stop and buzz. When the large wooden door opened after we’d given our name, we found ourselves stepping into a marble hallway with a hallway running straight through to a door in the back, and, on the right, marble steps circling up to another floor. There didn’t seem to be anyone or anything moving down the corridor, so we followed the staircase up and to an anteroom with the doctor’s name on a brass plaque. There were two receptionists (nurses?) at a desk, one sitting down and the other leaning behind her.

October 15, 2008

Chateau compound

Not knowing where on Corniche Kennedy the Chateau was located, we stopped to ask a gasoline station attendant, and were told, "Oh you can’t miss it. It is an imposing building."

An accurate observation. The chateau -- or more correctly, Dr. Delos’s compound -- was visible from the road. A belle epoque maison dominated the property; below it were trees and vegetation tucked around what seemed to be other buildings and parking areas. A sign said "Institut de Soin et Beauté", large in size but discreet in wording. It could have been a thalassotherapy centre or a health spa for all anyone knew.

October 13, 2008


Nando and I passed part of that impressive project as we searched for Corniche Kennedy, found after a couple of wrong turns. Just as I had imagined, the Corniche is a wide boulevard overlooking the sea. When we had lived in the South of France, we traveled a corniche every time we got in the car; the Basse, Moyenne, and Grande Corniches are the connecting wires of the Côte d’Azur, and they all overlook the Mediterranean. The French word "corniche" comes from the Italian "cornice", or frame, and the three corniches brilliantly frame the splendid sea view beneath them.

October 12, 2008

An "S" in Marseille?

Another dimension of Marseille is flagged by the fact that Anglo-Saxons spell it with an "s" -- Marseilles. According to a local businessman I had once interviewed, the reason is because there are so many aspects to Marseille(s). It is a port city, a city of history and culture, an industrial power, and its port area and surroundings encompass the largest urban redevelopment project in Europe.

October 8, 2008

About Marseille

Marseille is a two-hour drive from Cannes under normal circumstances. Our appointment at Chateau Sylvaine was set for 12:30 pm. but because we didn’t know exactly WHERE in Marseille it was, we left our hotel at 9:30 am. The autoroute is not twisty and turny because it doesn’t follow the coastline, as does much of the autostrada from Genoa to the Italian-French border, so we arrived in Marseille more than an hour early.

We had both visited Marseille before. It is the second largest city in France, boasts the country’s largest port, and celebrated 2,600 years of history in 2000. An American consulate used to be located here and it was the nearest place to notarize documents and the fastest place to renew passports. The classic joke about Marseille is, "What is the second language spoken in Marseille?" The answer: "French", in recognition of the large Arab-speaking population of the city.

October 7, 2008

Tunneling through

It is a four-hour drive from Busto to Cannes, driving aggressively on the autostrada, the toll highway that runs from the Swiss border down to Genoa, then twists and winds through 115 tunnels between Genoa and the French border. Speed limits may exist but they are rarely controlled, unless you are in a Ferrari or Porsche going 120 miles or more an hour. Nando doesn’t drive THAT fast, but he is, shall we say, an assertive driver. So we shared the driving responsibility.

We didn’t talk much about the pending medical appointment en route. I was thinking about the trade show and the many appointments that awaited me Monday and Tuesday. Nando was planning to visit friends on those days, since the trade show itself was no longer of interest to him. We would worry about Chateau Sylvaine (the name of Dr. Delos’ facility in Marseille) and whatever decisions might have to be made there when the time came and not before.

October 6, 2008

Coming to Cannes

I packed carefully for the luxury goods trade show in Cannes . . . and for the visit with M. le docteur. The jewelry had to be just right -- tastefully conspicuous for the former, not TOO opulent for the latter (otherwise the price goes up, Nando warned me). Clothes had to be smart but not too flashy. As a fashion statement, I can’t compete with the French and Italians who attend this show en masse, so it is best to dress down a bit, not call attention to the fact that my outfits have never seen a runway, much less THIS year’s runway.

October 5, 2008

Fear and furniture

I had a dream about Mom and Dad and furniture from the house of my childhood last night. The furniture was the most meaningful part, though (as often happens in my dreams), I reminded myself while dreaming that there was something amiss, that Mom was dead and it didn’t make sense for her to be IN the dream.

I figure the meaning has something to do with my desire for a home, for sanctuary. But there is no sanctuary these days. A terrorist cell was discovered in BUSTO this past week. And the fear of anthrax is apparently palpable everywhere in the US, especially urban areas.

Fear on a macro level is one thing; fear on a micro-let’s-talk-about-me level is another. We watched part of a television show about facelifts this week. After five minutes my head was light and I wanted to puke. Maybe I will wind up doing one but I definitely do NOT want to know what is being done.

October 4, 2008

The full monty

The rest of the evening, while my husband and John talked puts and calls in the forex market, Nicole described in detail every cosmetic intervention she has had in the last eight years. Dr. Delos’ artistry had been such a success, it seems, that she had gone on for breast reduction surgery, a tummy tuck, blepharoplasty on her eyelids, further work on her forehead, liposuction on her hips, and within the next year or so, bien sûr, she would be doing another full facelift.

Marseille wasn’t the most exciting place in the world for Nicole, so she had opted to do most of these successive operations in Paris. The shopping is better, there is more nightlife, restaurants are top-notch, and Paris is unquestionably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. "But I think I will go back to Dr. Delos for my next face leaf-t," Nicole concluded. "Perhaps John comes also to do surgery for the bags under his eyes."

Was this an omen?

October 3, 2008

By a nose

When we met in the lobby of Milan’s swankiest hotel, Nicole eyed me up and down and said in her clear but rapid French, "But ClauDEEa, have you had a LEAF-T?"

She’s not used to seeing me with makeup, I thought. Thank goodness for the discreet lighting of expensive hotels, I thought. What I said was, "Funny you should mention that. I haven’t, but I have an appointment later this month with someone about that very subject. Dr. Delos in Marseille. Joan K, who lives in Monaco, had recommended him."

"Mais Dr. Delos,” gasped Nicole. "He is the one who did my nose and my first leaf-t. I was the one who recommended him to Joan."

It was my turn to be surprised. "Then you think he is good? That’s a relief. He did a wonderful job with your, um, nose. But tell me . . . does it hurt?"

October 2, 2008


A return fax from the doctor. Oui, ça va. My appointment is set for 12:30 pm on the 24th. The address is on a well-known oceanfront boulevard so I don’t anticipate problems finding it. Nando will accompany me and he has a wonderful sense of direction so I am sure we won’t get lost.

Tonight we went to Milan to have dinner with John and Nicole, who were here on a shopping trip from Monaco where they live. John is an American in his 60s, a self-made millionaire who takes good care of his health and his appearance -- except for his non-stop smoking habit. Nicole, only a few years younger than he, has been his main squeeze for more than eight years. When I first met her, she had a fabulous figure but a slightly hooked nose. Within a year her nose had been straightened and her face was as fabulous as the rest of her.

At the time, John had explained that he (not she) had interviewed a series of plastic surgeons before awarding the golden scalpel. They had both been satisfied with the result.

October 1, 2008

Breathe after burning

The nightmare is over and I am back safe at home. I was there for all of it: in DC when the Pentagon was attacked, across the river from Manhattan on September 12 with the still-burning remnants of the Twin Towers -- like ghost limbs after an amputation -- filling the air with smoke, at Logan Airport in Boston in a situation of utter panic and confusion in one of the first flights to take off from that unhappy terminal.

Right now, something as self-centered and frivolous as a facelift seems like a sugar-coated compensation pill. I tried calling Dr. Delos’s office several times today but the line was always busy. So I faxed them, proposing the date of Wednesday Oct. 24, as I expected to be on the Cote d’Azur for a trade fair the third week of October. You have to keep going. You have no choice.

September 30, 2008

da Bomb

I was amazingly calm during the Logan bomb scare. That happened about 9 pm. I’d arrived at 5. We wound up with a 10:30 pm expected departure. That may turn out to be more airport time than I face at Heathrow
1. because we will be late boarding
2. because I have to change terminals -- from 4 to 1. If that is anything like CDG, it’s a banal nightmare all by itself.
3. because something new has been added. We have to claim our bags at Heathrow and go through customs before getting our boarding pass for Milan. It becomes two completely unrelated flight procedures in spite of being the same airline. Not a great prospect under normal circumstances, and thoroughly daunting given the weight and bulk of my bags. Oh well. Me and a thousand other folks.

September 29, 2008

Plastic people

The magazines, we were told, contained articles "not tasteful" in the wake of 9/11. No more steak knives in 1st class. Plastic for everyone.

But a determined terrorist doesn’t need a knife. He can kill with his bare hands, I told the cabin hostess who was explaining these procedures to me. My judo-expert husband could, I thought to myself.

"I don’t make the rules," she shrugged. She didn’t appear to be comfortable discussing the issue.

She was as disoriented as the portly policeman at Logan, who confided, "I’ve been on my feet for 16 hours. I haven’t been home in a week. How many clean shirts can I pull out of my locker? Sometimes I amuse myself during down-times going through security check with knives on my person. It’s easy. In my opinion, a stadium will be next."

September 28, 2008

Body and class

I asked the 1st class hostess who checked our seat assignments as we boarded if she by chance had any newspapers for a journalist in cattle class. "We’re not full up here; I can give you some. What would you like? But please be discreet."

However there were no BA magazines in any class, no Business Life to bring back home to study. No blankets. No choice of meal. One film instead of two. And so on.

We were body-searched before boarding. That reminded me of the precautions taken on the Egypt Air flight we had taken with J Walter Thompson in 1986. Nevertheless I saw that numbers of people had more than the permitted number of items of carry-on luggage. Why wasn’t anyone paying attention to that?

No blankets because most blankets, we were told, had been given to stranded travelers at Heathrow. Ater all, the entire US air system had ben shut down for two days (the first time in history). The US stock market had closed for four days, also the first time ever.

September 27, 2008

Flights of frenzy

I don’t remember Logan very well; the last time I was here was to pick up Max on his flight back from Beijing in September 1998. A few days later I flew out from here on a Swissair flight -- the same day, hour and airline as another Swissair (an MD 11) had exploded an hour outside of New York. A happy memory (Max) and an horrendous one.

The lines, the palpable anxiety, the confusion, lack of organization, hasty new "security" procedures. All perfect for future terrorist targets. More people, more confusion, more time herded together in one place.

I was assigned an aisle seat, to my surprise -- the plane was supposedly full. What should have been a 3.5 hour wait was almost 5 hours; the flight was 2 hours late arriving in Boston and then there was the bomb scare while we were waiting . . .

September 26, 2008

Flying out of Boston (after THAT day)

I am supposed to fly back to Italy tonight on the first date flights have been allowed since the attacks. We are in for a long night, just as the US is in for a long conflict. I’m at Logan Airport. I arrived dutifully three hours ahead of time, actually 3.5 hours ahead because traffic from Framingham to Logan was (unsurprisingly) light for almost rush-hour. The lines spilled out in all directions as I heaved and lugged my overheavy Samsonite plus my overloaded old red Ventura plus my brown carry-on from the express bus to the entrance. There I stopped, uncertain. My load was way too heavy to start off in the wrong line or the wrong end of the terminal. An Indian-looking woman stopped me. She was wearing a blue uniform (but it’s easy to have an official-looking uniform) and carrying a yellow card with a question mark on it.

"Where is BA?"

"The line starts against the wall over to the left, next to that long one for Aer Lingus."

"Do you have a luggage cart around? These bags are mighty heavy."

To my relief and gratitude, the woman nodded and disappeared for a moment or two, darting here and there as a policeman trying to flag down a motorist in heavy traffic, and returned from the melee pushing a luggage cart. I seized it gratefully, wondered if I should tip her, decided against it, and pushed my way to the end of my line.

September 23, 2008

That younger, thinner, better me

I look at the pictures of me from Fort Lee, thinner than I think of myself as being, and read my accomplishments: wife (with an absentee husband), mother of two (often the father figure as well), presiding over a large home with a live-in, a working professional at blue-chip companies, an officer of IABC, member of the Consumer Affairs Board of Fort Lee (I never did anything with that job!), in charge of publicity for the Unitarian Church (never did anything with that either), freelance writer, dedicated runner (3 miles most mornings, 10 or 15 miles per day on the weekends) and the list goes on.

What do I do now? I wait for writing assignments to dribble in. I walk my dog. I cook once a day. I walk my dog. I write email to friends. I walk my dog. I am doing NOTHING.

September 22, 2008

Half meanies

Max and I discussed a friend's job vulnerability when we were driving back from Boston. Joe offers an intellectual framework for technology strategy, a position that makes him vulnerable during an economic turndown, but he doesn’t seem worried. He was more concerned about a coming massive layoff decision at his company. Their financial consultants have been generating the least business for a while and were those earmarked for pink slips. But most of them are located in New York City. Can the company, in all conscience, lay THEM off within a week after 9/11? It isn’t humanitarian, and from a practical point of view, it sets a bad example to all employees in terms of morale.

Joe had toyed with poli sci at Duke. At some course in social behavior, he explained, he had badgered the teacher about why decisions were made. "This or that isn’t FAIR," he had said, and "that’s what I was mostly interested in."

I smiled to myself, thinking, "Slyness and unfairness the children hated above all," one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite childhood books, Half Magic. A similar theme, simplified for toddlers, was found in Sir Archibald and the Meanies.

Me too.

September 21, 2008


Another incongruously gorgeous day. Going through boxes of my parents' stuff, talking, checking the Net. Let’s do the malls in the area, my son suggested, to take a break. There are lots of them. At Barnes and Noble, I stocked up on Wegmans calendars, in honor of my wonderful Weim Homer.

Max and I went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. The place, usually full, Max said, was almost empty. "It’s been slow all week," said the Chinese waiter, meaning ever since September 11.

During the day I had had this strong urge to BAKE something. It’s life-affirming, I suppose, the need to bake, produce fragrant odors, make the kitchen and the apartment alive with good smells. So I made brownies. Had to buy the pan and the eggs and more butter, but the result was a sense of homeyness and warmth in my son’s otherwise spartan, sterile box of an apartment.

September 20, 2008

Thought collage

Angela and I went to the local Starbucks in the morning before I left to continue the drive to Boston. She had had a client meeting at 9 or so and was back by 10:30. I used the time for phone calls, the Internet and a shower. The day was warm and blinkingly beautiful. At first we sat outside and nursed our lattes, then moved inside when the heat become overpowering. Angela pointed out the signs on the door of the Starbucks offering counsel and support sessions to anyone.

The words that swirled around me as I drove north:
Fearless firemen.
The abominable media (no mind that I too am a journalist).
The wrong kind of war.
Not a case of good vs. evil but democracy vs. fanaticism.
Not a case of God prevailing because it depends on whose god you are talking about.
Bombing Afghanistan plays right into the hands of the fundamentalists, I fear. They are smart enough to have figured out our likely response, or don’t we realize that?
I fear a witchhunt against all brown-skinned people.
We have a president who is simplistic and linear in his thinking. That bodes ill for the future.

September 19, 2008

Bumpy ride

Bob volunteered to drive my truck from their driveway to the Kings Supermarket parking lot at 7 am next morning. He explained that otherwise I might not be able to get it out of their driveway at all. The driveway is small and narrow and I would be backing it out onto an equally narrow street surprisingly busy in the morning. I accepted his offer and was grateful. I don’t know how he keeps going: he didn’t get to bed before 2 am and he was up at 7 or so.

Max too later insisted on driving the truck. Must be a macho thing: guys see a short thing like me pop out of a massive vehicle like that and they have to prove their virility by driving it as well. I admitted to Bob and Max both that I had bumped the truck at least three times in getting it out of the Uhaul lot and maneuvering it at the gas station.

September 18, 2008

Cookie comfort

And the miracle was arriving and finding all of the above. Angela and Bob were out front to greet me (staggered by the size of the truck), the home still warm and comfortable, though a bit seedier than I’d last seen it, the tv going and the conversation likewise . . . and Angela had remembered about those cookies from – what? Five or six years ago? – and had a plate of them waiting for me.

We went out for Southern Indian vegetarian food and it was lovely. A wonderful evening in spite of the pallor cast over everything. Bob and I stayed up after Angela had gone to bed. I could tell that the tragedy had affected him more deeply than he realized. We were all distraught emotionally and intellectually, but he had a deep visceral response that was only half-hidden.

September 17, 2008

Heavy toll

At the tollbooth on the New Jersey Turnpike when I came to pay, the large black woman in the booth said, "Don’t worry honey. No charge today." I started to cry, and so did she.

Near the end of the drive, when my jetlag, stress fatigue, tension about the truck and anguish about the OST were beginning to weigh heavily, I prodded myself with the thought of seeing my friends Angela and Bob, feeling safe in their comfortable colonial home, suggesting that we stop by her bakery for those buttery, chocolatey teardrop cookies, watching tv with them, HUGGING them.

September 16, 2008

After the fall

My niece was rather cold when she let me into her apartment to pick up my belongings. Given the OST (Overall Scheme of Things), I was inclined to put my arm around her, hug her, offer her the bed, the bedroom set, as a thank-you for her kindness to Dad. But she was so distant, telling me that she didn’t have much time to waste because she hadn’t had lunch yet (so what? I didn’t have lunch at all that day, nor the day before, nor the day after, nor the day after that), that I kept my peace.

A 4/5 hour drive to my friend Angela’s in New Jersey. What seemed the simplest route was the longest. Around exit 16 you can see the NY skyline very well, a view I have seen many many times. On this magnificent sunny afternoon at 5 pm, the smoke from the lower end of Manhattan was billowing north like a locomotive at full throttle. The source of the smoke was black and reddish and blurred. My eyes squinted at the south side of the island, telling me there was something wrong with the landscape. Something was out of whack. Missing. Those two ugly towers had become part of my mental imprint of this area and their absence was disquieting.

September 15, 2008

The day "it" happened

When it happened, I was scheduled to take my 93-year-old father to the dentist. The dentist is a family friend, born in Israel. So, we wondered, where was Israeli intelligence when we needed it? The US sure doesn’t have any. The dental office then closed. I took Dad back to the group house and prepared to call to find someone to help me move on Wednesday. My sister had suggested someone the day before and I had been so grateful. She proved her mettle, yes? Still, to be on the safe side, I had passed the word to the ladies in Dad’s group home. And one of them had come through with someone who was a dispatcher for United Van Lines. NOT United Airlines. I had called them and gotten the name of someone in Annapolis, and had a tentative commitment there. When my sister’s contact didn’t call back to reconfirm – so what else is new with someone my sister knows? – I finalized with United. Phew, that was done. Inconsequential in the Overall Scheme of Things, but done.

From the cosmic to the trivial: negotiations with my sister about one particular piece of furniture. I knew there would be a fight about that. She horse-traded ferociously and I, weakened by my sense of the OST, might have caved in completely, but why? I had thought out beforehand what kind of swapping I might be willing to do. A Martian might think that she got the best of it but I wound up with what I wanted: the Chinese cabinet. She got the marble-top side cabinet/telephone table that was already in my possession. I had been tempted to take it with me when packing, but valor got the better of me. As my sister herself grudgingly admits, I am an honorable person.

September 13, 2008

Keep on truckin'

This trip would have been stressful even had it been free of international terrorism. I knew I’d have to move my parents' stuff out of my niece's place onto a truck, drive that truck to Framingham, unload everything, sort through everything, ship some back to Busto, leave some for Max, and authorize him to sell the rest. Many stress points there. And I’d have been more upset had I known what kind of a truck I’d wind up driving. It wasn’t the small vehicle I’d expected (and Max had ordered). It was significantly larger, a moderate-sized truck, not an oversized van. For me, it was HUGE. Yes, it had automatic, but it was almost as large as the camper we’d rented in Florida. I was terrified when I saw it. But that terror was nothing like “real” terror.

This is nothing, I reminded myself. This is inconsequential. Of course I can drive this. It is automatic, after all. I asked the obnoxious Uhaul agent if perchance there might be something, ahem, smaller? There was not.

September 12, 2008


In the aftermath, over the last two days of numbing nonstop television coverage, only a few comments rang clear. One was: "Our security procedures (at airports) have never been based on the supposition that the perpetrators were willing to be blown up with the plane. They have been based on the concept of bombs, not on planes as bombs."

A second: “If we overreact by threatening anyone with brown skin or Middle Eastern-sounding names or of Muslim religion, we are playing into terrorists’ hands by becoming like them." Unfortunately this comment was made late at night. I was up after midnight watching tv with a friend of mine and her husband. "Why don’t they play this over and over again during prime time, the way they are playing that (pathetically staged) ‘celebration’ of the assault by Palestinians?" I asked them. They agreed.

September 11, 2008

THAT day

Forget the words. There are no words. When people grope for them, commentators and politicians and ministers, they come up short. The facts are stark and simple: I flew in to DC on Monday. I drove to Dad’s house on Tuesday morning at about 9 am to pick him up for a dental appointment. He met me all agitated: did you see what happened? Did you hear what happened? A plane flew into the World Trade Center!

What, I thought. Bad move by a pilot, I thought. He led me to the television, where an incomprehensible sight was being transmitted. By then, a little after 9 am, TWO planes had crashed into the WTC, one into each tower. There were flames and smoke and falling debris. People were screaming. Fire engines were roaring. I had just seen a few minutes of that awful movie, Mars Attacks!, on television Sunday evening, the day before I left. The WTC had been attacked in that movie too.

As had been the Pentagon. Incredulous, because a few minutes later the report flashed on that the Pentagon had also been attacked. A plane had flown into it as well. And – shortly after – reports of a fourth plane that had crashed somewhere near Pittsburgh. This last crash, I thought at first, might have nothing to do with the other three; the panic mentality sometimes creates linkages with completely unrelated occurrences.

But I was wrong. It did have to do with the others. Four planes, each aimed at a different US target: the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, the White House. Three of them made it. The fourth failed only because the passengers, alerted by a furtive cell phone call from one of them, learned what was about to happen (though not the target) and rushed the hijackers. Or maybe they were shot down by one of our fighters. Everyone died and everyone would have died no matter what so it is almost irrelevant what made that plane crash. Actually I’d like to think that our F-14s finally got their act together and stopped what would have been another bloodbath. The last plane crashed in an unpopulated area about 40 miles from Pittsburgh. No ground casualties.

September 8, 2008


My husband and the woman chatted a bit about old friends and contacts, including the remarkable Rosetta, Nonna’s age but moving and talking 10 years younger at least. The woman introduced her daughter who was at the defile with high school friends. The daughter's name is Rachelle, but I don’t remember the mom’s name. I groped for a business card but, as usual, wasn’t carrying one in my marsupio.

"Never mind," she said. "I know where you live." When we had told her our address, she averred that she had been a good friend of the wife of the former tenant. So she knows not only the address, but the apartment (and all its problems -- leaky windows, noise, dust) very well.

September 7, 2008

Once-dashing encounter

While we were talking, Nando had come up next to me. I figured he was surprised that I knew someone here and was engaged in more-than-casual conversation. "Vi conoscete?" He asked me.

"Well, yes. I mean, we know each other’s dogs."

Nando was staring at the woman. She was staring at him. I wondered if perhaps they hadn’t met at some point while Nando was walking Homer. "La conosco?" He asked her. She said, "I was wondering the same thing."

But of course. (I don’t recall which of the two of them figured it out first). The woman’s father worked for the railroad with my father-in-law. Once that connection was established, the woman quickly filled in missing links. She is one of three daughters, the oldest, but still nine years younger than Nando. Plus, she remembered him as young and dashing, with thick black hair. Shaven bald as he is now, it’s not easy to reconcile the two images.

I whipped out the picture I keep of him from Lido di Estensi 31 years ago. "Ah si, this is the way I remember your husband."

September 6, 2008


But bloat is common to big dogs. It involves twisting or torsion of the stomach with a subsequent blockage of the esophagus at one end and the intestine at the other. It happens quickly and can be fatal. I’d been warned about it in connection with Weims so I wasn’t surprised. But still.

"It’s not possible that he was poisoned? That he picked up something on the ground? Homer is so fast that I worry about that possibility all the time."

She shrugged. "Anyway, we now have another dog. A Labrador, a female. She is four months old, and just lovely."

September 5, 2008

Stomach turning

The woman saddened as quickly as I had brightened. "E morto. Homer was the last dog to see him alive and well. He took ill the very next morning and died within two days."

It was my turn to be sad. "But he was young. What -- nine months or so?"

"Yes, and maybe that was part of the problem. They are such a big breed of dog and grow so fast. Maybe his digestive system hadn’t matured in keeping with the rest of him. The vet told me it was torsion of the stomach." Her look told me that she didn’t necessarily believe the vet.

September 4, 2008

Newfound dogs

A few days ago, Nando decided to walk with me and Homer after dinner. I had noticed that the event in Piazza Santa Maria that evening was a beauty contest or defile, or something that might amuse him. There were lots of people milling around as the event organizers finalized preparations for a walkway, tables with flowers (for the judges and special guests), speaker system, etc. As we were slowly crusing from one end of the piazza to the other, a dark-haired woman stopped me. "How’s Homer?"

Not the first time people have greeted him when I haven’t had a clue who THEY were. It happened twice today as well. But this woman was up close; she could see the puzzled look in my eyes. "We met this summer. You were coming out of the gelateria with Homer and I was there with a large . . ."

I remembered instantly. "La terranova (Newfoundland dog)." I will never forget how startled he looked. Just like a human, with his doggie eyebrows straight up as his eyes widened. I smiled again at the recollection. "Come va?"

September 3, 2008

Salvaging the "socks"

My sister could have bestirred herself to save some of my dad's sentimental favorites, but she was after bigger game: credenza, piano, lamps and tables and pictures. I was so overwhelmed by the horror of the house, the state to which it was reduced the summer of 1998, that I forgot about the dolls and the Bookworm. I had to focus on salvaging the Lenox, which I did. And one marble egg, and six rainbow-colored liqueur glasses.

But I feel bad. Where did Bookworm go? It vanished in spite of my careful efforts to keep it safe. Just like Nando’s prints that went astray. He is rightfully upset about those. It’s like socks in the washing machine. Where does one sock in a pair disappear to? It’s axiomatic that one will, but where does it GO?

September 2, 2008

Moving morass

People are always losing things in moves. They break, get misplaced, left behind, stolen. It’s part of the price of Having Stuff. I realized, looking at the list of contents in my storage unit that something I value is not mentioned. That is the framed print called "Bookworm". I had rescued it from the surprise attic as a child and it hung in my bedroom on Perry Drive during my teen years. Don’t remember if I had it or not as a young married -- isn’t that dreadful? But I am pretty sure it hung in the house in Fort Lee, along with that portrait of some woman who looked like my Aunt Bess. And I do recall deciding not to bring it with me to Europe but to leave it with Mom and Dad in Columbia, MD. And I recall wrapping it, or maybe unwrapping it, at some point in their garage.

But it is not on the list of items I’d stored. Grandma’s portrait is, but not that. Nor the costly prints Nando had brought back from Europe. Those I DO remember packing in a carton and storing in Columbia. Is it that all of them went the way of my doll collection (Poor Pitiful Pearl! Why didn’t I think to save her?), my horse collection, Dad’s prized theater scrapbook and half-century collection of homemade Christmas cards?

September 1, 2008

Italian SOP

I’m not in shape and I don’t feel good about myself, but a US visit always has me running around so much that I don’t think about it much and wind up losing weight in spite of myself. Only this time I will probably fly British Airways, less familiar to me than the usual route via Paris. ERRGH.

This is one of those why-I-love-Italy-in-spite-of-itself weeks. The regular mail isn’t being delivered so no newspaper. This has been going on for almost two weeks. The Mac modem has broken so no email. The Apple dealer ordered it Tuesday but it still hasn’t arrived. Until yesterday the car was in the shop, and Midas’ machine to align tires is broken so I couldn’t bring the car in for that. The travel agency I picked to print out my ticket couldn't handle it in one shot so I have to return to pick it up tomorrow -- on my third trip.

August 31, 2008

When duty calls

Timing, timing. Money, money. I don’t mind kissing off the Monaco conference. That was an excuse for a vacation anyway. I do feel uncomfortable about changing the appointment for the plastic surgeon a second time. I don’t think he is going to like that very much. Then there is all the arranging: airfare, rental car, rental Uhaul, strong arms to help me move, where to stay, how to get access to my niece's apartment if she has already left. Some of this depends on when I can get a flight.

Plus the female things: moving up appointments for hair color, hair cut, waxing, electrolysis. Plus leaving Homer again. Well, that I had been planning to do, but for five days, not eight or nine. Never mind; he will survive. Anyway, it’s an opportunity to see my father again, plus a chance to see my older son's current apartment and possibly his future roommate, and Boston and friends there.

August 30, 2008


Because of the unexpected US trip, I called today to cancel my appointment in Marseille, explaining that I didn’t know exactly when I would be back but would call "soon" to reschedule. Annick seemed to be very understanding about this, not haughty or indignant. I’ve hardly accomplished a thing today but time raced by. The software to connect to the Internet bombed so I have that to contend with. Fortunately I have no pressing assignments so the lack of communication isn’t driving me completely beserk, only moderately so. I could pick up some pocket change by writing some stories for an occasional client, but if the Mac has to go into the shop, and then I have to leave for the States, don’t see how I can pull that off.

August 29, 2008

Dog dilemma

Taking off quickly for a trip to the US is not a question of money alone, or time alone. It’s a question of Homer. I can’t keep leaving my dog in a kennel cage. Where is Mme. Blanche now that I need her -- and could actually bring Homer TO her? When I had tried to track her down a month ago, my vet in St. Jean told me he hadn’t seen or heard from her in two years, and that former clients of hers had told him that she was no longer taking in dogs as guests. The vet also said he understood she was "quite ill" some time ago. Hmm, that doesn’t sound good. As for her Airedale, Amadeo, yes, he had died shortly after the last time I’d spoken with Mme. Blanche. Had he been put down?”, I asked. Yes, was the reply, because he had been in a bad way at the end and it was the humane thing to do.

That alone might have made Mme. Blanche very ill, I thought quietly. She had been devoted to her Airedale -- in the right way. Devoted, loving, loyal, but still with both feet on the ground. And she still had Pomme, Amadeo's Airedale companion; she would not have let herself go because of Amadeo alone. I barely knew her, but she was the only French friend I had on the Cote d’Azur.

August 28, 2008

Maryland versus Monte Carlo

Unlike my husband, who is beginning to show signs of extreme boredom (because he doesn’t know what to do with himself, how to fill his days as a retiree), I have plenty to do in spite of the lack of commissioned work right now. There are short stories to start and to finish, pitches to make, follow-ups, new biz, plus my never-ending office organization project. And a new fillip: my niece sent me a note yesterday announcing that she has accepted a job in Pennsylvania, and she is moving from Maryland in two weeks. So she wants me to get my stuff, i.e. everything I managed to salvage from my parents' home when they had to move to assisted care, out of her apartment by then. She moves exactly when we are supposed to be leaving for a conference-cum-vacation in Monaco.

August 26, 2008

Libe letdown

A new start was also commemorated by going to the library in Busto. At least, that’s what I hoped. I was really excited about the prospect. Books! I walked Homer in the afternoon drizzle then left him at home while I went to the library. I was absolutely ecstatic about the prospect. So of course there was a letdown. The stacks are not open. A person can’t wander among the shelves. There is no way to know what books are in English until one looks up a specific book and is told whether the book is available in translation or the original. The librarian warned me that the books in English were limited, mostly classics, she said. No, I am not interested in borrowing Shakespeare’s plays from the Busto libe. What a disappointment! Closed stacks. Limited selection. Waiting period for books requested from the inter-library system. Plus I hadn’t brought the appropriate documents with me so I couldn’t even get my tessera today.

August 24, 2008

Changing seasons

It was cold today. The end of August has brought a dramatic difference in temperature. From heat so suffocating that Nando went out and bought two new fans the day after we returned from Madonna di Campiglio, we have gone to sweaters, coats and hats. I want the new month, the new season to represent a new start, so I bit the bullet and did ironing today. Of course, I can’t award myself a medal for domestic nobility. While I was ironing, the South American woman who helps me was vacuuming, dusting and washing the floors. I also organized the towel closet, big deal.

August 23, 2008

Pit's conundrum

This dog had undergone a major trauma. Any dog would be more defensive, more likely to attack in the wake of an experience like that and a pit bull more than any other. I didn’t want Homer to suffer the consequences of Pit’s problems. I tugged at my dog and began to move away, saying, "I am sorry. But . . . a pit bull is dangerous. You always have to be careful {even if you have a pit bull yourself}. They all ought to be muzzled." And thinking to myself, "Right. You wouldn’t have thought to muzzle your own. Not even now. Viva la liberté!"

But I felt bad somehow for that wounded animal, the victim of his own kind . . . and the ignorance of people who gravitate to that kind of dog.

August 22, 2008

Gimme sheltered

"No, not tonight," the man said vaguely. As he spoke, he was loosening the leash on his dog, who was coming closer to Homer, who was still not paying the slightest attention. I pulled Homer back and motioned to the man to do the same with his. The pit bull wasn’t growling at Homer, wasn’t crouching, didn’t seem poised for attack, but then, how could I tell? I thought of that other pit bull I had seen on the Viale a month or so ago, fortunately muzzled, who had darted out from his master’s control and lunged against a passing dog with no warning.

I thought of Homer as an ingenuous sheltered child out with his suburban mom, coming smack up against a street-smart thug from the urban jungle. We wouldn’t have a chance.

August 21, 2008

Dog eat dog

"What happened?" I asked the man, who was watching his dog who was watching Homer -- who was too busy sniffing around to be on his guard. "My dog was attacked by a pit bull. By two pit bulls, a male and a female. He is a pit bull too but he couldn’t fight both of them off."

"But did this just happen?" I was staring at all the blood marks. Surely a vet would have cleaned up the victim better than this unless it had just happened.

August 20, 2008

Pits and patches

The dog was creamy white with mottled brown patches. It had a large head and a stocky body. I thought it might be a Staffordshire terrier, but I was less focused on the breed than on the reason for the limp. Both the dog’s back legs were swathed in iodine, serving to highlight large bloody gashes at the hocks. The limping leg seemed like it was completely open at the joint and it looked as if a white clamp was holding the bone together. There were other cuts here and there on the dog’s chest, back and face. Some of these were splashed with iodine too, but others were highlighted by blood alone.

August 19, 2008

Jaw to jaw

Whoever lives by the jaw will die by the jaw. That sounds fair, I guess, but seeing that pit bull tonigte still made me queasy. Homer and I had gone out for an evening walk and were returning from the Viale headed towards Via Milano. From a distance I saw a dog already on the Via. He was limping behind someone. It looked almost as if his right rear leg had been amputated below the hock. I was too far away to perceive how large the dog was but it didn’t look as big as Homer, though it was clearly not a yipyap.

Given Homer’s fast pace when he is walking purposefully, and given the other dog’s limp, we were able to catch up with the latter in less than a minute in front of the Benetton store at the beginning of Via Milano. The dog’s leash was held by a North-African looking man of middle years, bad teeth, cigarette, unsavory complexion. He was walking with another North African, younger but otherwise of the same mold.

August 18, 2008

Dogged love

My relationship with my dog doesn't directly affect my self image, but indirectly a dog's love has everything to do with how we view the world . . . and ourselves. Sometimes when Homer looks at me I just can’t stand how wonderful it is to have a dog, to KNOW a dog. It is the most incredible kind of magic. Two different species and there is this bond between us, this love, this understanding. People have often written about this relationship, of course, but it surges anew every time I experience it.

August 16, 2008

The future takes shape

I’m not in shape and I don’t feel good about myself, but a U.S. visit always has me running around so much that I don’t think about it much. So I often wind up losing weight in spite of myself. (Little did I know how much weight I would lose on this fateful trip).

August 15, 2008


An emergency family situation, a complication resulting from my mother’s death,  necessitates my presence in the U.S. next week. I won’t be attending the business conference in Monaco so I called today to cancel my appointment in Marseille, explaining that I didn’t know exactly when I would be back but would call "soon" to reschedule. Annick seemed to be very understanding about this, not haughty or indignant as I might have expected from a Frenchie.

August 14, 2008

Well, well

A new month, another season, 'er long. New start. New diet. Regular exercise (but how, she screams. How? I am a prisoner to my dog). Nando has been following his diet seriously. He asked me to help him shave his head again today. I hate doing that. I didn’t like the fact that he went bald and I don’t like him shaven. And I certainly don’t like DOING the shaving. Oh well. Hmm, my mom’s response to that would have been immediate: "A well is a hole in the ground," she would have reminded me with a tight little smile and a sarcastic sigh. Oh WELL, Mom. Yes, yes, a well is a hole in the ground. Yes, yes, how WELL we know.

August 13, 2008

Sizing up summer

End of summer. It was hot today, cold today, rainy and humid. A mess. Sort of like my situation. My flab hangs heavy, especially around my upper arms. They were once my pride, when I was running with weights. Now Nando says they are double what they ought to be. And that comment of Max’s in June about my legs being twice their acceptable size doesn’t improve my feeling about myself.

August 12, 2008

Champagne celebration

Because of these whispers of headaches, some of which develop into Gale Force disturbances, I have been popping Prontalgine (an OTC French painkiller with codeine) the way I used to pop M&M peanut candies. Just as well I’m going to France next month; my cache is dwindling rapidly (of Prontalgine, not of M & Ms).

Nando's birthday was yesterday and mine is tomorrow so we held a joint celebration today. A special dinner was capped by raspberries (my ultimate favorite fruit!) for dessert. Nando said, "We need champagne." I opened a bottle of prosecco and we sipped that as we spooned our goblets of raspberries and crème fraîche. So "it was all good", as our son Sacha would say.

August 11, 2008

Medicine, markets, menopause, migraines

I was online to do market research about a medical company, and the website happened to feature a story about facelifts. So I followed the links and wound up with several graphic descriptions of actual cosmetic surgery procedures. As I now have my appointment in Marseille scheduled, I began to read them with interest. And suddenly I felt light-headed, dizzy, almost nauseous. Uh-oh, I thought. If I can’t even get through READING about this stuff, maybe it’s not my destiny to go under the knife.

But then again, maybe it’s menopause. I have hot flash attacks frequently, several times a day at least, and I have headaches too, sometimes starting when I wake up in the morning. A few weeks ago I woke up in the middle of the night (maybe 3 am?) and said, "This is bad. I am about to have a migraine attack." Bizarre -- WAKING UP from sleep to experience a migraine. And it was a bad one too. Not the worst, but a Force 7.

August 10, 2008

Chickens and crows

At the same time, my husband sounded more hesitant than he had a few months ago. Quite understandable: €10,000 euro (it was 60,000 French francs back then, according to Joan’s account of what she paid) is not chicken feed. Chicken feed for crow’s feet?  Hmm. I wrote my friends Angela and Jane about my pending appointment. Angela’s reaction was, “It’s a status symbol for women of our age. But it will hurt.” Jane’s was, “You look great without it. But it’s no big deal if you go ahead.”

August 9, 2008

Canary on the Cote

Annick called me back today, a cheery-voiced woman who pretended not to be offended by my mutilation of her language. We understood each other well enough for me to set an appointment for September 14 in Marseille, the day after a business conference I’d planned to attend in Monaco. Done. I told my husband. “What took you so long?” he wondered. “I wanted to wait till I had a business reason for being on the Cote d’Azur,” I explained. I asked if he would be available to accompany me. He agreed readily and I wasn’t surprised. I already knew that his interest in my facelift was intertwined with his interest in cosmetic surgery for himself. I was his canary . . . and that was okay by me.

August 8, 2008

Vacillation can be fun

I vacillated back and forth, practiced what to say in French, threw up a hundred reasons why I DIDN'T want to call, before I finally picked up the phone and dialed the doctor's number. My French isn’t very good and I did not want to be misunderstood. "Ask for Annick," Joan had urged. What I got was an answering machine in rapid French. I caught enough to figure out that I had dialed the correct number. So I left my name and coordinates, speaking in bad French and good Italian, and hung up.

August 7, 2008

Dinosaur dreams

Today, August 7, was the day! I finally called Dr. Delos’ office. I had been staring at that phone number for weeks but I was literally afraid to make that call. In my mind, picking up the phone was akin to picking up the knife, and dialing the number was tantamount to making the first incisions in my scalp.

What actually drove me to do it? The dreams, maybe. The fact that I survived, queasily, the blood test last week. Or maybe I was spurred on by my upcoming birthday -- I would turn 54 in four days. I didn’t FEEL 54, it didn’t weigh heavily on me . . . until I looked in the mirror. Then I could see that my crow’s feet had become dinosaur tracks and my jowls were approaching bloodhound-like dimensions.

August 6, 2008

Tilting tubes

I didn’t need to be prompted to ask questions of the second nurse. I needed to know when to pick up the test results, where to pick them up, how much they would cost, all that stuff. She didn’t have many of the answers, but telling me what she did know took all the time required for the blood sampling. "Is that it?" I was surprised. One tube only? When they had drawn blood for benchmark testing in France, I had lain there for four tubes’ worth and thought I would pass out by the fourth in spite of my horizontal position.

"Different countries do it different ways," explained the nurse. She was relieved that I hadn’t created any untoward problems. "We do all the tests with this one tube."

"Fine," I thought. Better for me. Hope the accuracy isn’t adversely affected. Driving back home, still feeling a bit queasy, I wondered how I would ever get the nerve to do a full-scale facelift if just one tube’s worth of blood threw me into absolute tilt.

August 5, 2008

Bloody emotion

When I was called, I immediately set out my criteria: MUST lie down and must be in my right arm. I am left-handed and don’t like anyone to mess around with that arm. No problem, I was told. The receiving nurse led me to a hospital bed in a back room (so I didn’t have to see or smell other blood exchanges going on) and I lay down. There were two nurses, and one said to me, "My colleague will keep you busy while I do the drawing. IS your problem physical (she meant veins that don’t stay up) or emotional?"

"It’s emotional," I admitted, embarrassed, "but it can become a real physical problem anyway."

August 4, 2008

Blood test

I walked Homer early in the morning of August 1, then drove to the hospital, arriving there around 8:40 for an appointment scheduled between 8-10 am. I was startled to see a large number of persons in the waiting room, milling around. Italian lines are not a model of efficiency so I was nervous about having to mill around with them, getting more nervous still as patients streamed out of the laboratory, holding gauze to their arms. The smell, the heat, the confusion, my high anxiety. No, this was not a healthy situation for me. But there was a nurse near the door who checked everyone’s paperwork. Mine meant that I could avoid one line (the longest) entirely. Another was just for blood work, and the number the nurse gave me was 84. Number 72 was already inside and things seemed to go quickly so my optimism returned.

August 3, 2008

August ghost town

In addition, I could tell that the doctor was a little thrown by my tumor-ridden family history so maybe she was being unusually aggressive. My mom had fought off breast cancer successfully but her mother had not, my older sister had died of thyroid cancer, and two aunts had also died of cancer. Nando’s diabetes has nothing genetically to do with me but it loomed in the background as well.

The upshot: I went to the hospital to schedule my tests last week, and that was easier than expected. It’s the height of summer, so few people were around. In Northern Italy, people exit by the millions in July and August. It is normal to have four weeks of vacation and by god everyone wants to take it at the same time, so they can be just as crowded at the beach in summer as they are in the city in winter. Shops close in August and bustling cities take on the appearance of ghost towns. I went to the hospital at 1:30 pm, just before they opened for the afternoon. Consequently I didn’t have to wait long in the appointment line, and there weren’t many people to make appointments anyway.

August 2, 2008

Doctor, no!

Dr. Lorenzo had been on my mind for two reasons. First, I hadn't yet summoned the courage to call Dr. Delos. And second, last week I had finally motivated myself to go and see her to get my appointments nailed down for a mammography and pap test. As in Treviso (the Italian town in Veneto where I lived before Busto) -- and unlike the South of France, where I had lived before Treviso -- she can’t do a pap test in her office. That required one appointment, the mammo another, and she suggested a full-gamut blood test to establish a benchmark for me at this point. My last blood test had been in France, seven or eight years ago, and I don't remember the exact results. Besides, now I am in the throes of menopause, hot flashes that are downright intrusive and all the more wearing because of the heat wave this month.

August 1, 2008

Unusual canine

Homer has that breathy quality when he is pulling hard on the leash to make his way to the park, either to catch lizards or to look for a local bitch in heat. So it wasn’t disconcerting to hear him "speak" in that way. I was accepting his conversation as something normal in the dream, so apparently I already knew he could talk. But the vet was flabbergasted. She kept looking at Homer, then at me, then at Homer, and gasping, "But this is highly unusual, signora. Don’t you realize that this is highly unusual?" I shrugged. She said, "But you could perhaps make a lot of money with your dog’s talent." I shrugged again. Maybe I wasn’t convinced, or maybe I didn’t want to turn Homer into a sideshow spectacle. Or maybe earning money just isn’t that high on my scale of priorities (that’s what my husband says anyway).

July 31, 2008

Talking dog

Two days after I’d dreamed about Mom, I had another typically realistic dream. This time I was taking my dog Homer to the vet’s for an annual check-up. The vet looked exactly like Dr. Lorenzo, the woman doctor who is our "medico di base" (like a GP) here in Busto. She was examining Homer in a perfectly ordinary way when he started to talk to her. He didn’t talk like Mr. Ed, unrealistically, perfectly human. He talked in a difficult way, as one might imagine for an animal who isn’t supposed to talk like a human but finds a way to communicate. His voice sounded like someone who has had a tracheotomy.

July 30, 2008

Dreams and death

I went to my mother and she opened her arms and I hugged her (direct, with open heart, uncomplicated, as I had when I was a child). She sounded real and she smelled real and she felt real. I don’t recall her saying anything meaningful; I mean, she didn’t say "I love you" and she didn’t call me by my childhood nickname or anything like that. But I was so happy to see her again, the mom I hadn’t seen in more than 40 years. I woke up feeling good about that. Then I wondered if there had been a shard of symbolism in the timing of the dream. It was three months since Mom had died and it will be my older sister Mary’s birthday tomorrow. (Mary had died of thyroid cancer in 1996, at the age of 53, just barely).

July 29, 2008

Dream magic

The incongruity (of my mom's being dead and alive at the same time) didn’t bother me because I accepted the logic of her appearance. I knew she wasn’t "real" but she wasn’t a ghost either. Within the dream I thought about the scene near the end of Half Magic (my favorite childhood storybook), when Jane has a dream about her long-dead "real" father and he gives his approval for her mother’s remarriage to Mr. Smith. Within the context of MY dream, I thought that Mom’s appearance was a little like the dream within that story.

July 28, 2008


I had a dream about my mother today. In it, I was visiting the house in New Jersey where we grew up. While I was talking to a neighbor (long dead but very natural and alive in the dream), I heard a familiar voice in the background. The voice was talking to me, sort of echoing what I was saying to the neighbor, and after a few seconds I realized it was Mom’s voice. It wasn’t Mom’s voice of recent years (fading in the last two, and pretty manic-depressive, alternating saccherin and psychosis, for the previous 10 or so), but Mom’s voice of THAT time, of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The voice was very close, so I looked around. Mom was on the lawn. She was wearing a long flowing bathrobe, the kind she always favored, and she looked as she had looked back then, pretty, happy, relaxed, with long dark wavy hair and smooth, soft, good-smelling skin. Not bitter or phobic or defensive as she became (or as I later saw her to be), but simple (as a child sees a mother), smiling, and radiating love. In the dream I said to myself, calmly and matter-of-factly, "But Mom is dead. This is only a vision of Mom, probably the result of my being here where I spent my childhood." I wasn’t aware that I was dreaming (as I am sometimes in my dreams) but I did know that Mom’s appearance was dreamlike.

July 27, 2008

Face or figure?

The question of “After 40, it’s your face or your figure,” wouldn’t be raised in Italy because the body counts more than the face, period. High fashion designers in this country produce their pret-a-porter collections for sizes 40-46, the rough equivalent of U.S. 6-12. “They want you as their customer only if you fit into these sizes,” an Italian psychologist friend of mine noted drily. Lucia has the money to buy Armani or Versace but her body does not meet their requisites. Lucia also pointed out to me that in body-obsessed Brazil, shopkeepers are obliged to display sizes 14-16 as a way of combating anorexia. “Anorexia is the only psychological problem directly related to social expectations,” she commented.

July 26, 2008


ARGHHH. No facelift is going to help this situation. Only sweat and tears. AND the time, the daily no-excuses commitment to regular exercise. How do I fit in an hour of jogging? And WHERE can I do it in this grey, industrial Italian town? And is my body able to handle it, after three years without running? I used to jog regularly when we lived on the Côte d’Azur. But I cut down my running schedule significantly after the dog attack, and then my right knee began giving me problems and I stopped running entirely. Yes, I walk almost three hours daily with my dog, but dog walks simply don’t firm and tone and burn off my tenacious fat layers.

It’s a chicken or egg conundrum. Do I talk care of my face first --- IF I decide that a facelift is what I want to do -- and then try to whip my aging body back into shape? Or shall I concentrate on my body and then, if necessary, if a well-toned body is not enough, set up an appointment to see about my face?

July 25, 2008

Pillsbury Doughboy, oh boy!

We do have a choice about the WAY we keep going. I was reminded of that when Michele, a friend of my husband's, stopped by this morning. When he saw me he said, “You aren’t jogging anymore?” Translation: “You’ve gotten fat.” Fact is, I can feel it, the softness round my stomach, the jiggling flab on my upper arms. I HATE that Pillsbury Doughboy feeling on my arms. It is the worst part of aging. This comes on top of my son Max’s comment last month:  “Mom, you need to start jogging again. Your legs are out of shape.” Translation: “They’ve gotten fat.”

July 24, 2008

Dog scars

I showed the jeweler’s wife my dog scars. Several years ago in Southern France, I was attacked by a neighborhood dog right in front of my home and the doctor had to put 14 stitches into my leg to staple it back together. Unlike the U.S., in France the amount you can receive as compensation for any resulting “pain and suffering” is mandated by law. If you are female, young, unmarried, and use your legs as part of your work (as a model, say, or an actress), you can ask for the maximum amount. If you are a women over 40, married, and your income potential is unrelated to the beauty of your extremities,  then you get the minimum. Over 40 means over the hill in the eyes of the law, in the teeth of a dog.

I explained to the jewelers that the experience hadn’t made me afraid of dogs, but that for a year or so, the sight of a large, black, furry dog had made me nervous.  “Still, you have to keep going,” I said. “You have no choice.”

July 23, 2008

Life robbers

When I returned at 7 pm, the bracelet was almost ready; he was in the process of polishing it. So I chatted with his wife. Turns out he, she, and their daughter were robbed at gunpoint last year in this same shop, in broad daylight right in the middle of downtown Busto. They had been bound and threatened. The thieves took almost everything they had. And they had destroyed the daughter psychologically; she had been a promising goldsmith (I admired one of the rings she’d made) but, since the event, she had not been able to set foot in the shop.

“I ladri ci hanno distrutto la vita,” sighed the woman, shaking her head. “The robbers have destroyed our life. We are of a certain age and we have had a life. But my daughter was only 24, married only two months, and she is scarred forever.”

July 22, 2008

Gold favor

I thanked my sister-in-law.   As soon as the stores opened this afternoon, I went to the closer of the two shops.  I poured out my tale of pathos and sorrow to the kindly-looking, plump, middle-aged woman behind the counter.  And -- as I calculated -- she took pity on me.  She called to her husband, the artisan, working in the back.  He too had a pleasant face, a compassionate face.  He inspected the bracelet.  “E un lavoro lunghetto, signora,” he sighed.  It’s a long job, madam.    

“Well, just do a quick fix job and I’ll bring it back when I return for a better one,” I bargained.  “No, with something like this, you have to do it right the first time,” he explained patiently.  “Or you risk losing another link.  But let me see what I can do.”   

So I knew he’d do it.

July 21, 2008

Gold links

When I took out a gold bracelet that had been Mom’s to polish in preparation for packing, I saw that it had broken. One of the pins holding two links together had come undone. This bracelet had been my dad's wedding gift to my mother, and it bore an inscription in the secret code they had used when communicating with each other before their wedding. There is a lot of emotional content in those golden links. So I asked my sister-in-law if she could recommend a jeweler who would fix it on short notice, i.e., the same day. She gave me the names of two jewelers who specialized in gold work, but cautioned, “No one in Busto does a job in a day. You have to leave it at least a week.”

July 20, 2008


As for Homer (my beloved Weimaraner), if something were to happen to me I hope my family wouldn’t abandon him. Homer is eight years old but looks and acts less than half his age; he still has a long loving life ahead of him and I would not want him to spend the rest of it caged in a kennel somewhere, unloved, unaccompanied. I would die without having had the facelift meant to ease my way through middle age, the fulfillment of my mother’s dream. It wouldn’t matter much though, would it, if today were my final day?

July 19, 2008

Wedding Lions

Nando and I married in the spring of 1972, a week after he immigrated to the US. He had found a job with an Italian company in the States, which gave him the springboard to marry me and change his career at the same time. Ours has been a tempestuous relationship -- we are both strong-willed Leos -- but if we both had to do it again, we’d do it again the same way.

July 18, 2008

Italian intricacies

Nando and I dated throughout my academic year. I came to learn that the bread shop proprietor was an occasional paramour, notwithstanding the fact that she was married to a handsome man only a few years older than Nando. I found it hard to understand the intricacies of Italian intimacies back then, and it hasn’t gotten much easier over the years.

July 17, 2008


Unfazed, he gave me his card in case I might want to call him. I took it, but warned him, "Look, I don't CALL guys, if that's what you mean."

"Let me have your number as well," he suggested as we were parting. I didn't see why not, and gave it to him.

When he called for a date 10 days later, I didn't remember at first who he was. But then I remembered clearly and in every detail. His eyes, the broad shoulders, the beautifully-manicured hands. Everything.

July 16, 2008

Cheesy encounter

Nando didn't seem to mind that I was wearing baggy pants, a men's workshirt, and a Russian cap with a Lenin star on it. I wasn’t very attuned to bella figura in those days. Nor did he take notice of my lack of makeup or my stringy hair (four girls in a one-bathroom apartment meant that it wouldn't be my turn to wash my hair till later that day). He helped me negotiate the purchase of bread and cheese, and then asked if he might attend the party for which they were intended. "Nope," I shook my head breezily. "It's for students. Besides, you're too old."

July 15, 2008

Bread, cheese and Cupid

Nando and I had met when I was in graduate school in Bologna, Italy, studying international relations. Actually, classes hadn’t started the day we met. My graduate school roommates and I held a party before the first day of classes on September 1, 1970, and I was sent out to buy the bread and cheese. Fate brought me to a bread shop on Via delle Belle Arti (it's now an appliance store) at the same time as a handsome Italian who had stopped to chat with the proprietor of the shop, herself an attractive woman. I asked the woman for help but her English was as nonexistent as my Italian, so she turned to this young man with wavy black hair, bright blue eyes and an elegant moustache.

July 14, 2008


Nando, I figure, would be married again within a year, to an Italian more in synch with his image of himself. I had decided this long ago, and it has nothing to do with my appearance. He would be the first to admit that I have aged pretty well, better than he has. Nor does he have anyone particular in mind. Rather, that’s the way Italian men are; that is what they need. A second wife wouldn’t make him laugh as much as I do, but she might calm him down, make him feel more important, less threatened.

July 13, 2008

Sons sans nest

I have two sons, Max, born in 1978, and Alexander, aka Sacha, born in 1980. Max was born in California and Sacha in New Jersey. They were schooled in Italy and France and Max graduated from Dartmouth in 2000, an oughty-ought, as they say. Sacha is scheduled to graduate from Emory next year but hopes to do it faster. They flew the maternal nest a long time ago. My financial affairs are pretty much in order, though the same cannot be said for the paper disorder on my desk, shelves and in my files.

July 12, 2008


On June 18, 2001, I wondered to myself, "What if today were the last day of my life? Would I do anything differently?" I am thinking this because tomorrow I fly to the States for my mother's memorial service. Although she died seven weeks ago, we decided to hold her memorial service this month, to give me time to arrange things from afar. Dad isn’t in condition to do it, and things take longer because of the six-hour time difference. I am an optimistic person by nature but . . . things happen. These days, people think about it more, but I was living in Italy when the plane blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1989, so the uncertainty has been with me for a long time. Therefore, being blunt and brutal: if my plane were to blow up tomorrow by the will of God or an act of man, my sons are all right. That’s the most important thing.