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.

July 11, 2008

Facing a decision

"One of the big problems in deciding about a facelift is figuring out the doctor to do it," Jane reminded me. "Some women spend months before they find a person they can trust."

"Oh, THAT is not a problem. Actually, that’s what makes the idea so tempting. I know this woman, Joan, in Monaco, and she spent three YEARS interviewing doctors before she had her face done. She looks great. She had all the time and money she needed to find the right person. And she picked this guy in Marseille. So I figure fate has saved me the trouble of market research. If I am going to do it, I will do it with Dr. Delos."

"Makes sense. If you decide to go ahead with this, let me know," Jane said. "I am curious to see what happens."

July 10, 2008

Doggy face

That got us on the subject of facelifts. Jane didn't think most of the facelifts she'd seen were especially well done, but a few of them were, in her view. Some women admitted to pain, others didn't. What she had seen hadn't convinced her that the operation was worth it. I figured she was right and told her so: her face wasn't especially lined and her wrinkles were few. Her figure is petite and her demeanor bouncy and youthful. "But why do YOU want a facelift, Claudia? You look great."

"Yeah, yeah," I thought. "It's easy to look okay at night in a trattoria with rustic lighting. You should see me in the unflattering light of day. Mine is a face only a doggie could love."

July 9, 2008

Circles in Houston

"You look wonderful!" Jane announced when we met in the restaurant. I would have said the same thing of her. She is short and peppy, with one of those faces that could pass for late 30s to mid-50s (she is actually the latter). We hadn't seen each other since 1997, when we were both living in the south of France. I KNEW I'd aged since then, but it didn't look like she had. What was her secret? I wanted to know.

She shrugged. No secret formula. No special cream. And no sense of having beaten the clock. "A number of women in my circle in Houston have gotten facelifts," she said.  "That's the only real way to do it, if you are willing to take the risk."

July 8, 2008

Fancy efforts

I hadn’t suggested a really FANCY place, but even a normal Milanese restaurant -- no more than an upgraded trattoria, really -- calls for physical preparation worthy of an elegant eatery in urban America. Careful makeup, the right shoes, coordinated accessories, everything ironed properly; it was an effort for me.

July 7, 2008

Curious catalyst

Mom's death ultimately provided the catalyst to call Joan. What was still missing was the extra something that would bring me to dial the doctor's number.

On June 1, 2001, Jane, an American friend now living in Texas, was visiting Milan and we arranged to meet in the city for dinner. It was the first time I'd put on makeup and dressed up in stockings and heels in quite a while. Working at home, owning a large possessive dog afflicted with extreme separation anxiety every time I disappeared for more than five minutes, I rarely went out on the town. So it felt funny to be dressing up, almost like prom night in high school.

July 6, 2008

Excess baggage

Eye bags run in Nando's family; his father had bags too, and so do all his paternal relatives. When he was young and fit and his skin more firm and he had black curly hair to balance out the face, the bags were not so noticeable. But they had become more so in recent years as the hairline receded, then disappeared entirely, and the skin lost tone.

Nando did know, or know about, some men who had undergone surgery to remove their bags. He was thinking about doing the same, but needed a little . . . incentive. I could be that incentive. He wasn't manipulating me in this effort because we were both fully aware of his interest and intentions. What was missing was some catalyst on my part.

July 5, 2008

Eye bags

One of the reasons Nando was starting to talk up the idea of a facelift was because he was thinking about cosmetic surgery for himself. Not a lift! He has wonderful skin inherited from his mother, fine-pored, unwrinkled, rosy-peach colored skin. That plus the extra pounds on his face meant he had no wrinkles to address.

However, he has had bags under his eyes for as long as I have known him. He has large, prominent, almost bulging eyes, bright blue and very striking; they are the first thing you notice about him. The second thing you notice -- if he has had a bad day, or little sleep, or has drunk too much fluid (not necessarily wine or liquor, but liquid of any kind, including water) -- are big puffy bags beneath those beautiful eyes.

July 4, 2008

Male noises

Nando was making some noises about my face, but he didn’t press the issue too much because he would be the first to admit that he has aged less well than I. He wrestles with adult-onset diabetes, high blood pressure, overweight, baldness, and depression as a result of all of the above. He had been a drop-dead gorgeous Italian bachelor when I met him, so the change in his appearance was far more dramatic and weighed far more heavily on him than my aging has on me.

July 3, 2008

No pressure

My close friends who are about my age are scattered all over the globe. I see very few of them on a frequent, regular basis. In 2001, none of my best friends had had a facelift, to my knowledge, though several women had made a few tentative noises about it of late. In short, there was no job pressure, no peer pressure, no social pressure to do something about my face.

July 2, 2008

What's a life worth?

More significantly, is my LIFE worth it? After all, plastic surgery IS surgery, with all the risks involved. It involves blood and needles and things that I prefer to stay away from, and it is non-essential. You don't HAVE to do it. Plus . . . my life doesn't depend on my face. My everyday life does not consist of smiling to a television camera, or making face-to-face presentations to clients, or showing up at society balls, or doing lunches in posh Milanese venues with well-preserved women of a certain age.

July 1, 2008

A normal doctor?

I didn't care about a celebrity clientele or the removal of ALL wrinkles. I wanted someone . . . normal, and that seemed to be the doctor Joan was recommending.

"Dr. Delos seemed the most honest and correct and professional, and VERY discreet. He was neither the most expensive doctor I interviewed nor the cheapest. Right about in the middle, I’d say. But he was very good and I am simply THRILLED with what he has done. If you decide to make an appointment, call me back and I will give you his phone number and all the coordinates."

Her enthusiasm about her experience combined with my husband’s enthusiasm for the change in her appearance were almost convincing enough for me to decide then and there. No commitments. Just a consultation. Do I WANT to spend €10,000 on my face? Is my face worth it?