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).