Thursday, September 12, 2019

Clueless and Keyless in Germany

Today I felt nostalgic for the hardware store around the corner from my New York apartment, where I can bring in a set of keys, get 'em copied less than ten, chat with the nice owner about house supplies, and zip home with that new set of keys. No muss, no fuss.
It's different here in the land of the careful, the correct, and the completely regulated. The guy down at the key place took the keys in his hand and wondered what Schloss (the word can mean either "castle" or "lock") they were for? I said those were our housekeys and he cast a bemused, suspicious eye in my direction. I could almost see the thoughts running through his head. Judging by his expression, I was possibly:
(1) A deranged stalker trying to get into my ex-boyfriend's home and murder his child's rabbit
(2) A thief or a spy
(3) A lunatic--because who ever needs keys copied?
Tentatively, I asked--since I hadn't completely understood his tirade--whether this was "wegen Gesetz," that is, something to do with law, or just not possible. He shook his head at me, this guy who looks like a miracle of efficiency in the shoe-repair and key business, who has actually repaired my shoes, but who now thinks I'm a vampire because I want some keys copied. But I persisted. Did he know anywhere where I might get these keys copied? Smoke puffed from his ears. His look: I had made an off-color remark.
I called my husband, who left a long message involving certificates needed and other bureaucratic matters, disquisitions on the shape of the key and how that affects the situation. Interpretations, anyone? Me, I think it has something to do with German notions of privacy, which must not be violated, if you want to stay alive, that is. Keys open doors, after all, and the German home is a fortress, with windows that roll down securely (none of these flappy windowshades, that flip up with the merest breeze!)
Someday, I will have another set of keys to my house--I did emphasize to the locksmith that I was talking about my very own house--but I will need German negotiations, probably through my husband, before I get them.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Why Don't Europeans Just Speak European?

Ladies and Gentlemen, and other honored genders: I kid you not. That was a real question. My husband's graduate student, a German of Turkish ethnicity, was traveling in the USA and found, as he worked his way through California, that the further from the coast he got, the more he was asked questions like that. 
He was also asked why Germans had such a low opinion of the NSDAP (the Nazi Party). 
I can imagine the poor guy sweating, fingering his collar, gearing up for the question so many young Germans are still asked by Americans: "What was it like to live under Hitler?" 
Once upon a time in Jersey City, I taught students who had been educated in the local public school system and never strayed beyond the borders of their hometown. They could see the proud towers of the World Trade Center--which were still there--but despite the PATH train to lower Manhattan which they knew I, their teacher, took every single day, they were afraid to go there. 
"But my mom," they would say, or "my aunt," or "my dad" or even "my teachers" say it's really dangerous there, "especially the subway!"
"I'm still standing," I would say. "I take the PATH train every teaching day, and on the subway I read or grade papers."
Their eyes bugged. Awe.
I didn't inform them that occasionally I'd seen trouble: a subway car opened, a loud sound boomed, the car filled with dark smoke, and we all ran out. Only to run back in for our briefcases a minute later when smoke dissipated. Or the time, in a car so packed my knees hurt from the weigh of bodies leaning against them, when a voice yelled, "I got a blade!" But the police resolved that one too, almost before I had time to feel scared.
The point is, the kids in Jersey City dealt with worse most of the time. The car that hit a large, ugly student and then sued her for damages. The student health care center that offered no contraceptives or information about AIDS, when Jersey City had a rate of infection second only to New York. The priests who seduced their charges or fellow teachers, or children, but who stopped a student standing at the bus shelter to warn her of hellfire: she was "living in sin" with her boyfriend, the priest had discovered. The college president who was said to have fallen down the stairs dead drunk, breaking his neck. These kids told me that all those people in the Austro-Hungarian Empire spoke the same language. 
"Yeah, they did!" my brightest student informed me. "They're all European."
"The Germans spoke so many dialects they could barely understand each other. The Czechs. The Hungarians. The Poles, the Ukrainians, the Slavs . . . "
"But," insisted my student, "I thought . . . I mean, they're all white people."
Europeans. They're all Europeans, right?

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Ballistic 98-Year-Old and the Adoring Acolyte: In Search of Solutions

The 98-year-old wanted to go on vacation.

 A few months ago, she broke her ribs, lost her memory and abandoned her hearing aid, which probably ended up in a restaurant napkin, all $4000 of it. 

She says her phone is defective--that's why she can't hear conversations. She forgets to use her walker and cane and "I don't really need them anymore!" Hence the broken ribs. Four of them, causing intense pain. Opioid level pain.

She's got a pal, thirty years younger, who loves to travel with her, and considers Mom the greatest thing since sliced bread. You would think that's wonderful. Except:

(1) The 98-year-old is paying her companion's expenses. Room, board, transportation.
(2) The adoring acolyte wants to be the only one in her life. What do we need a nurse for? I can take care of her! I sleep 6.5 hours per night! I have Red Cross training!
(3) Everybody else in the old gal's life, including the director of her assisted living residency, thinks a nurse should be on hand.
(4) The B&B owner says the nurse can't sit anywhere but the 98-year-old's bedroom, or the bedroom of her companion. Can't use any toilet but theirs.
(5) When you offer to Yelp the place, the companion says, "Oh, dear God, no." These "wonderful people" shouldn't have their business ruined. She asks me to pay them to tolerate the nurse as a "day guest." 
(6) When the nurse appears, discreetly, and the elderly mother tantrums, the companion says, "But your daughter hired the nurse! She paid for the nurse. You and me, we're friends. I'll protect you from your daughter."
(7) Three murderous letters later, the ancient mom's spidery handwriting indicates her displeasure: "I am already being taken care of by my friend!"

Why am I surprised when my mother's best friend thinks the way my mother thinks? Because the adoring acolyte is reasonably well-educated, Phi Beta Kappa, a professional? But education is no match for delusion. The adoring acolyte wants to proceed "without deception" when the 98-year-old doesn't want a nurse, never wanted a nurse, never agreed to a nurse--although she did, and has already paid for said nurse. The acolyte declines to introduce the nurse as "my good friend!" But it's okay to say, "your daughter hired her." When I didn't.

I can suggest finessing. First, there's calling Mom's sane friends and apprising them of the situation.

Then there's the conversation with Mom herself:

"You are every bit as sane as you ever were, every bit as lucid, and as you say, Mom, you are just as compos mentis as you always were. It's just that there's been some memory loss."

Astoundingly, she agrees. She is indeed every bit as sane as she ever was, every bit as lucid, every bit as compos mentis as she ever was. Compounding the problem are the frailties of age, the memory loss, and the companion who's every bit as compos mentis as Mom. But who is currently her health care proxy.
Suggestions, gentle  reader, suggestions?

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Vacationing 98-year-old, the CNA, and the Well-Meaning Friend

The Certified Nursing Assistant arrived punctually at the comfy bed-and breakfast where the 98-year old mother has been taken--against the advice of her assisted living home, her other friends, and her daughter, me, that is--for a vacation. Of course we're just the Greek chorus here: if I were 98, I'd ignore the chorus too, and insist on doing any fool thing I wanted to do. The four broken ribs of last winter,  the broken hip, the tendency to insist she can walk on her own without a cane or walker . . . those are the things that get to the Greek chorus. Hence the need for the CNA. Who has been hired to be near her at all times.

The comfy bed-and-breakfast has been patronized by the 98-year-old since long before she was a 98-year-old. Long before the island was a place where Main street shops had no price tags--if you need to know the price of anything, you don't belong there. Once upon a time in the 1960s, real estate was cheap, beaches were uncrowded, Portuguese bread was inexpensive and delicious, the island movie screen was too small to show The Sound of Music, and people had laundry spinners in their back yards. There was a homemade donuts place and you could buy hot dogs, postcards. Even a "Dexter's Shell Shoppe" selling tinted tropical shells out of somebody's garage.

That was then. Tommy Hilfiger bought and decorated a mansion there, which, last I heard, his ex-wife was trying to sell for 27 million. Then 19.5 million. He wasn't the only Richie Rich. The billionaires crawl around everywhere. The A&P disappeared. Lyme disease got worse. 

People changed. Would it have been possible, in the sixties, for the owner of a bed-and-breakfast patronized for years by an elderly person to tell the elderly person's friend she was "not comfortable with the CNA out in the reception area or patio, or using the hall bathroom, since the CNA was not a guest here?"

The owner of the B&B is very comfortable telling the CNA to sit in the airless bedroom of the mom's companion, and only use her personal bathroom. The mom's companion thinks she should put up with the owner telling her this. She says she has "smoothed things over." The owner is a nice lady, she thinks, who has been nice in other summers, so that complaining about the treatment of the CNA would be mean. She thinks I should pay the owner something to tolerate the nurse.

I think the owner should act like a decent human being.

My attempts, via email, to get the 98-year-old mother's pal to tell the owner of the B&B to let the CNA use the reception area, the patio, the hall bathroom--by Yelping the place if necessary--have been rebuffed.

The hired help come to the back. They look different. They talk different. Maybe they are people of color. Maybe they weigh more. Maybe they have another accent. Maybe they have a uniform? Maybe the wrong brand of jeans? Maybe anything that gives away they're not Tommy's crowd.

Don't places like this charming little vacationing spot have chambers of commerce that set policy for oldsters and their entourage? You'd think they would.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

After El Paso And Dayton

 That such a slave as this should wear a sword,
Who wears no honesty. Such smiling rogues as these
Like rats oft bite the holy cords atwain . . .
King Lear, 2.2.70-73



"Hate has no place in America,” the president said. “Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.”
Watching his face, I thought of those criminal nurses who get a kick out of putting someone in a coma and then reviving them. Being thought of as a hero. Anything for admiration.
Trump's words said one thing. His eyes, his face, said the reverse.  Like a child forced to apologize and who sneers out a savage "Sorry!" Trump insulted America again, refusing to dethrone the NRA and partying at home. No one really expected him to support universal background checks or to enforce red flag laws. Or to sing hymns or hold hands with the families of victims. His role is to make deals, not to govern, not to help, not to pray, not to sympathize. Not to heal.
He is still trying to sell himself to Americans who didn't vote for him, while apologizing to some of the white supremacists who did. "You know I have to say this stuff," his eyes telegraphed, "and you know I don't mean it."
We know Trump doesn't mean that what "warps the mind" and "ravages the heart . . . devours the soul" is a problem--as long as he can make money or gain power. 
 The day after the election, when everyone I knew was swimming in sorrow, and when I said, "it's a sad day when Trump is elected," a stranger said, "I voted for him!"
I couldn't turn on my heel and walk out of the room--we were both receiving chemotherapy and had to sit opposite one another. But I was curious. As the medicine dripped into our veins, I asked her why.
"He's going to fix health care," she said. "He's a businessman." She didn't particularly like him, but she had faith in his competence. 
So many believed, still believe, that he cares. Or, like the woman who believed he could fix health care, and who had ovarian cancer, were desperate. The odds of her being alive are slim, but if she is, I hope she's changed her mind.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Stranger Things, Dark, and National Character: Preliminary Observations

Is there still such a thing as national character? There's national taste. Americans like underdogs and optimism; Germans like very tidy houses and Angst with a capital A. That's my impression, comparing Dark to Stranger Things. Vogue can claim all it wants that Dark is "Stranger Things for Grown-Ups," but actually these completely different shows probably appeal to the same audiences: folks with a taste for the creepy and the jump scare. The two shows have a single thing in common: parallel universes. Make that multiverses in Dark, but only because Germans tend to be complicated. Americans want to get stuff done and Germans want to get stuff done correctly (is there always a difference?) Here's my take on these series:

German: You need a chart to keep track of the characters and their time zones. It's always raining or radioactive--in case you didn't pick up the deep despair. Precision: Every Thirty-Three Years Something Happens Again. Papers will be Spread Out All Over the Living Room Floor While an Angst-Ridden Cop examines them--also, the photos of missing persons and related documents and obscure symbols will be stapled in a symmetrical design on the wall, complete with (literally) red threads. The wall will be lots, lots, neater than Dr. House's magic-markered comments on his whiteboard.

American: comic relief, oozing grade B move fifties science fiction creature sure to scare teens who never heard of Invasion of the Body Snatcher, Night of the Living Dead, or The Blob:




Then there's guilt. American: "It's not our fault! We're innocent! It's the big bad Russians!" Germans: "We feel guilt. We feel guilt. Though we ain't done nothing wrong, we feel guilt." Americans: That city on that hill we built clears us forever. Indians? What indians? I didn't learn about them in school." Germans: Holocaust, holocaust, holocaust. Atone, atone, atone. Philosophy. Americans: "We're here because we're here! Besides, God said so." Germans: "What is the meaning of life? Are we doomed to repeat the past? Fate is our fate is our existential fate is our dooom and gloooooom." Try googling "Stranger Things and Humor" and you'll find an array of items upon which to click. Not so when you google "Dark and Humor" or even "Netflix's Dark and Humor" or anything you can think of to indicate that you're trying to find something about the show, not dark humor in general.

Americans: Face your show with Bud. Germans: Face your show with beer. Real beer. Americans: understand that Germans are better at Angst and pessimism. Germans: understand that Americans favor humor and optimism. Yes, the stereotypes hold true . . . at least on these shows.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

How Many Children Had Claire Underwood?

The author of the essay inspiring this one--L.C. Knights--titled his famous essay, "How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth?" People like me who'd only glanced at it in graduate school went about for years imagining that he'd wondered about what kind of mother such a woman could be, since Lady Macbeth, when she's browbeating her husband into agreeing to murder King Duncan, utters these memorable lines:


I have given suck, and know 
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me.
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums
And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.


She's nursed a baby, and knows how lovely breastfeeding can be: the baby loves and trusts you, the mother. But, Lady Macbeth tells her cowering husband, if she'd sworn to slam the kid's head on the floor so hard that it cracked open and spilled out his brains, she'd have stuck to her word. Her husband, she's saying, is a wuss, since he's going back on his promise to stab that king--and stab while the king sleeps. Indeed, what kind of woman would, first of all, make such a promise, and then carry through on it?
Absolutely not the question L.C. Knights was asking in his 1933 essay, the title of which is intended as a rant against folks who were into praising Shakespeare's ability to create fabulous characters. Knights says Macbeth really a statement about evil. 
But why would that position preclude the title question? Oh, that title has a life all its own.
In any case, the answer to the question of what kind of woman would make, and follow through on, a promise to dash out her baby's brains is obvious: Claire Underwood. 
Or is it obvious? I imagine the baby kicking triumphantly inside her as Mom stabs Doug Stamper in the gut, twisting the knife in the wound so he'll bleed out fast. Would the girl grow up to be just like Mom? And what if she asked  insistently about her daddy? Developed into just the kind of investigative reporter Claire loves to have shot in the back of the head? Had the ethical command of Catherine Durant? What if Claire's baby took after some other branch of the family? Would Claire leave the kid alone if she sat around writing poems?

In other words, I wish the series would go on . . . and on. We finally finished season six last night. I wasn't surprised by the ending--I knew it would be, in Robin Wright's description, "operatic," and indeed it was. But I want the next scene. Kid with au pair all the time? Or kid being homeschooled by Mom and accompanying her to all political events? Yes, I can see Claire in a stylish nursing top, threatening somebody with something. My favorite moment was the look of shock on Petrov's face, and his question: "Are you a gangster?" Well, Duh, Petrov. 

Really. This show must go one. Just for one more season. Please. What kind of a mom will she be? Will the kid say, "Mommy, get me a brother?"

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Independent? July 4, 2019: Five Tips for Survival


The only good news I have is personal: today's CT scan showed no return of cancer. But cancer consumed American democracy some time ago. We're watching season six of House of Cards, the level of corruption probably nowhere near what's actually happening with He Who Shall Not Be Named and Who Has No Right to the Oval Office. He who, I tell myself, has to be human enough to die some day, but only the good die young. By his standards, he is not yet old. Last July fourth, we were appalled by the separation of children from families at the U.S. border, and we are still appalled. I ask myself whether anything's gotten better since exactly one year ago today. And then I think of Claire Underwood. Who has so much more style than the serial rapist in the White House. Which makes her no less evil. I'm not a praying person, but I'm close to taking up the practice--can't hurt, right? If there's anything to celebrate, it's the following:

(1) Family
(2) Appreciating how much those kids at the border need theirs.
(3) Hope. There's always that.
(4) A robust red wine followed by a toast: "Still not my president"
(5) The idea that the United States is in there somewhere, still, beneath the present ruling class.


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Linda Fairstein and The Persecuting Spirit


America has inherited “the persecuting spirit” that Nathanial Hawthorne attributed to his unrepentant ancestor, a judge at the Salem witch trials. That Puritan lust to punish a scapegoat, “the ecstasy of sanctimony,” Philip Roth called it, has come and gone throughout American history, examples including the McCarthy era, the herding of Japanese-Americans into internment camps in World War Two, and attacks on Arab-Americans after 9/11.
And now Linda Fairstein, tried and condemned in the court of Twitterdom: “The fact that Linda Fairstein writes crime novels for a living is proof that she has the capacity to make up stories in her mind as she did with the Central Park Five narrative,” someone tweets at #cancelLindaFairstein. So all novelists are cheaters and liars? Fairstein is “a devil!” cries another. Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
Fairstein was always known for being deeply concerned with justice, devoted to reforming the treatment of rape victims. Not as one so bent on success that she’d engineer the sacrifice of five young men in order to solidify her professional authority. Why are we forgetting that Eric Reynolds who is black and was the lead detective on the case, along with David N. Dinkins, who is black and the former mayor of New York, believed in the guilt of the Central Park Five? The claim that the boys had never said they were “wilding” but only “wilin’” or hanging out was unheard by many, including Dinkins, who proposed “anti-wilding” measures. Multiethnic witnesses were reeling from other assaults in Central park. The sadism of the jogger incident overshadowed all. The now-exonerated five present themselves as the contemporary version of the Scottsboro boys, the nine African-American teenagers, ages 13-20, falsely accused of raping a white woman on a train.
Is it even possible to watch DuVernay’s Netflix series without thinking of Eric Garner’s murder, of white supremacists waving tiki torches in Charlottesville, of black men and teenagers murdered for walking down the street? For sitting in their own homes? In the wake of these tragedies, how many people even consider the possibility that the NYPD investigation of the Central Park jogger may actually have been ethical?
DuVernay’s directorial failure in A Wrinkle in Time, rather than the success of either Selma or When They See Me, suggests some answers. DuVernay always said she planned to “blackify” Madeleine L’Engle’s classic, the idea being that non-white children could better identify with non-white heroes and heroines. The biracial actress playing Meg, Storm Reid, said she felt a responsibility to “uplift” and “empower little African-American girls” by playing a character written as white.
The notion that an African-American girl cannot identify with a white girl reveals an understanding of race as a given, something that cannot be transcended, rather than a product of culture, class and history. But when James Earl Jones played King Lear, he entered into the role as an English old king, not as an African-American. When the 19th-century African-American actor Ira Aldridge played Shakespearean roles, he played them wearing whiteface. When a racist “Jump Jim Crow” minstrel show arrived as competition, Aldridge appropriated one of the show’s skits into his own act, parodying it. Deflating racist denigration, he offered the same advice as Mrs. Which in L’Engle’s novel:  that the only way to cope with something deadly serious is to try to treat it a little lightly—not to lose one’s sense of humor. Moments of humor intensify the gravity of the contest between the forces of good and evil.
DuVernay’s adaptation of L’Engle’s novel misses the gravity as well as the humor, I believe because DuVernay’s vision of race and power is one-dimensional. The idea that black girls can better appreciate Meg Murry’s challenges when a black actress plays her is problematic. It’s like saying a straight actor can’t play a gay person. Du Vernay’s Meg is a black girl growing up in South-Central Los Angeles because apparently black girls would be less able to relate to white girls growing up in a small New England town.
What if the essentialist conception of race that informs DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time plays a role in her demonizing of Linda Fairstein? Justitiae soror fides, or “Faith is the sister of justice,” one of the Latin phrases quoted by L’Engle in her novel, should be our guide: we should not lose faith in Linda Fairstein unless or until someone can demonstrate that she stands guilty of the crimes of which DuVernay’s Netflix production accuses her.  

 




Monday, June 17, 2019

The Biowashwall: Remember the Stone Soup Story?

My vegan child persuaded me to try a biowashball,

what Americans call a "laundry egg," and rather than designate it a good or a bad one, I'd have to call it incomplete, mainly because 30 washes into the promised 300, it needs back-up. Has its merits, but clothes reeking of sweat and mildew still have a whiff of sweat and mildew after they've been through a cycle in my laundry machine. A fainter whiff than before, to be sure, but the whiff is there, gentle reader, the whiff is there.
First, the looks: the thing resembles a cross between a grenade and a washboard, only it's round. Think of a large green frog with a great many warts, throw in one of those rubber porcupine balls that dancers and middle-aged ladies use to work out the kinks in their muscles, and you get the general drift. It's green as the Emerald City and if you bowled it across the floor to a teething toddler (an off-label use that might just work) the kid would enjoy crushing it against his gums. Besides, it rattles, you see, from all those highly-touted ceramic balls in it that are supposed to be ecologically correct. On Amazon.com I find that the warty little thing is supposed to clean laundry without detergents, to ionize (doesn't that sound cool?) the water to repel dirt and stains from fibers with "no residue or chemicals," to be hypoallergenic, antibacterial, and odor-eliminating, to be suitable for all washing machines and water temperatures, and to last for 1,000 loads of laundry or 3 years.
My experience leads me to say that with mildly dirty loads (that day I didn't sweat much) the thing can sort of do its job, but it does it much better when you add laundry detergent. When you've got those stinky mildewy things, the stuff that's been worn at the gym and then spent the night in an airtight smelly sports bag, adding baking soda and vinegar to the detergent helps. I enjoy watching the biowashball do the bump with my clothes as my longsuffering machine whirls them.
Now, I'll concede two things: (1) you can use less detergent than you normally would and (2) those hard little warty bumps probably have a washboard effect--they do your scrubbing for you. But I would not throw them in the machine with delicates and wools. The ball's probably too tough for them. I don't regret buying it: I think, with proper backup, it's a real cleaner. It's just not a miraculous alternative to detergents.

P.S. I do use environmentally proper detergents! Specifially, Frosch.



Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The Rainy Season and the Backyard Frog

Last Sunday when the temperature climbed, we took the plastic covering off the patio furniture and discovered, residing in a puddle of water formed in the fitted corner of the protective sheet, a surprisingly large frog, who cowered under the table--which we then decided not to move to the center of the patio where it usually goes.
Her companion, the bullfrog in our defunct (came with the house) little round swimming pool (now an algae-infested pond) has been emitting loud mating calls regularly, so much so that both I and my son have attempted to remove him with a rake. But he seems to prefer life in the pond. He wants her to come to him, we realized. Hop clear across the patio where a bird or a cat could get her, through the grass, where the moles would be disinclined to consume her, but where she could easily fall into their tunnels and never be heard from again. Then there's the uphill hop through the thorny bushes on the hot brick pathway to the pool. Even if she makes it there, how will she get up the tall sides? She'd have to climb a nearby tree and drop, probably by accident, into that gooey mess of old leaves and green gunk and hope she landed near him.
How like a . . . not a man, but Donald Trump. Oh, he'll go to England to meet the queen (Buckingham Palace to be sullied by this frog who won't turn into a prince no matter who kisses what body part) but his mind, as ever, remains where it always is.
In the muck at the bottom of the pond. Where the fair trade deals drown.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Fast-tracking the "Aprikosenkuchen"--an American Mistake with a German Recipe

Many German recipes require time and patience--and I have almost none of either. But apricots are in season and I love that stuff you can get at the bakery, usually with plums, a kind of long square tart, fruit set into dough, sweet but not too sweet, occasionally topped with whipped cream. Looks easy. I bought a quantity of apricots, made sure I had butter, eggs, sugar, dry yeast, milk, and flour. I also imagined, when I rose at 6:45, that I'd be washing down delicious tart with my coffee by around 7:30.
To do so, I would have had to get up around 4:00 a.m.
Oh, like a real baker.
Yes. 

There's the part where you dissolve the dry yeast in warm milk and mix it with the already prepared butter-egg-flour-pinch o' salt-sugar mix. But after that you're supposed to let the bowl cool its heels in a warmish location for another 45 minutes. Then there's the rolling out of the dough, after which it gets to rise, in the pan, for another 20 minutes (while you're whipping up the pudding of your choice to apply with the apricots).

I was very hungry indeed, also in a hurry--American traits. No, maybe just New Yorker traits. I gave that dough fifteen minutes (during which it did seem to bubble up a tad), then said, "ready or not, here I come" and hoped, idiotically, for the best. Poured it onto a buttered pan, schlonked in the apricots, baked for around half an hour. 

It was edible, gentle reader, but just barely. If I hadn't been absolutely starving, I would have said the unrisen dough had a gluelike texture. Whipped cream would have been a good idea, if I'd had any. 

But that whipping of the cream, even with a mixer takes time, too . . . 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Loss of Rachel Held Evans, Unifying Christian Voice


On May 4, 2019, Rachel Held Evans died unexpectedly in a Nashville, TN hospital.
She was a theologian an atheist could love. Like C.S. Lewis in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, in Mere Christianity, and in his better-known Narnia books, Evans wrote with humor, commonsense, and openness about her own spiritual crises. Raised to believe that all non-Christians burned in hell forever, she learns as a middle-school student that Anne Frank and her sister died of typhus in a concentration camp. Staring at Anne’s photo on the cover of her paperback, Evans begs God to “let her out of the lake of fire” for being a Jew. She notices that her Sunday school teachers spoke of hell as a place for Hitler, not his victims, and she’s quick to observe inconsistencies: if her Sunday school teachers and college professors were right, she reflected, then hell would be populated not just by Hitler and Stalin, Hussen and Milosevic but by “the people that they persecuted.” As a college student, she watches the televised execution by the Taliban of a Muslim woman in a soccer stadium in Kabul and seriously interrogates her fundamentalist belief that only Christians enter heaven: “The idea that this woman passed from agony to agony, from torture to torture, from a lifetime of pain and sadness to an eternity of pain and sadness, all because she had less information about the gospel than I did, seemed cruel, even sadistic.” At that point she experienced the transformative spiritual crisis that is almost inevitably with the constitutionally honest. Against all odds, she rejected easy hatred for difficult love.   

She will be remembered for her bravery in rejecting dogma for questions, even or especially when these sent her into spiritual agony: “What makes a faith crisis so scary is that once you allow yourself to ask one or two questions, more inevitably follow.”  Doubters of all faiths and those of none admire her skill in setting down, in crystal clear prose how unsettling, even terrifying it is to ask questions that shatter one’s entire sense of identity.

In her online congregation, she brought together young and old who were looking for a God of love who didn’t automatically dump them in hell for being gay, questioning the patriarchy, or wondering, as she did, why tickets to heaven could only be offered to Christians. In the polarized world of Donald Trump, she brought together the disparate groups he keeps divided. Her voice will be greatly missed.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Master Archie, Royal Baby

And Veronica?
And Mehitabel?
Surnamed Leach? (or Cox, or Macleish, or Roosevelt?) Given a choice, I'd take the poet. The kid has a cute name. 
Yes, he could grow up to be the clueless boyfriend of a sweepingly narcissistic, credit-card cracking daughter of a "big shot" politician.
Or he could, using magic or reincarnation, become a pensive, philosophical cockroach who goes for a much-more-in-the-know alley cat.
(Wow! This sounds like his mom and dad. Sorry, should have said mum and dad.)
Or hey, Cary Grant, or the poet, or America's version of royalty.
Whatever junior wants, he can become . . . except a commoner, unless mum and dad have their way and terminate the monarchy. They wouldn't do that, would they? No, but they might extract their son and his future siblings from future commitments to wearing a crown.
Meanwhile, isn't he the cutest little baby you ever did see? (except for your own, of course!) 


Saturday, May 4, 2019

The King of Thailand Has a House in Munich (To the tune of "The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly on the Plain")

Reuter's headline: King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun will be officially crowned as the 10th king of the Chakri dynasty. 

Happy coronation!





The king of Thailand has a house in Munich!
Where Weisswurst, Weizen plentifully flow
The weather's colder and and the laws are freer!

Now once again!
Where does he reign?

His Lèse-majesté lets him flex his muscles!
Where curry's aromatic and quite spicy!
But not in Bayern where they make the bee-er!

Now once again!
Where does he reign?

Lake Starnberg's resident's twelve million mansion
Seems roomier than Thailand's tiny throne
But folks can call him "Blödman" when he's he-re!

Now once again!
Where does he reign?

His bodyguard's his queen and she will pop them
Wherever she finds reason to do so!
In Munich, where the pretzels and beer flow.

Now once again!
Where does he reign?





Thursday, April 25, 2019

Getting Creative with Cancer Hair

Once upon a time I had long golden curls. Genuine corkscrews. Until my first haircut, when I was five, at Best's Children's Barber Shop (a New York magnet at the time). The place was vaguely near Saint Patrick's cathedral and was probably gone with the wind before I hit adolescence. But I remember how light my head felt after those long golden curls had been removed. That was my first experience of hair not returning to a previous state. Maybe my scalp thought itself too grown-up for those corkscrew curls, but I rather missed them.
 My head felt even lighter after the first four doses of epirubicin. After all my hair fell out.
Chemo, as expected, produced first baldness and then "chemo-hair"--a frizzy condition unameliorated by coconut goop, L'Oreal Extraorinary oil, Jasmine oil from the local Asian store, coriander glop, mint glop, this cure, that cure. They all smell nice and have no effect whatsoever.
My hair did grow back. But it stands on end, permanently, sort of like my nerves. There was the additional month of radiation that produced a bald rectangle, fairly well hidden by the flap of hair above it. That geometric patch is now carpeted with kinky little curls--it's poodly. The Ibrance does make a few strands fall out after every shower but, then again, I do have more hair than what I started with back before cancer. Thick hair is one of the more interesting and less unpleasant side effects. I am told that if I am patient, I will find that approximately normal hair will return (or rather "your hair will calm down") in around five years. Meanwhile, I rather enjoy the coriander, coconut and mint glop. Without these concoctions, the hair looks marginally worse. With them, it reaches the outer borders of tame. But I imagine a future, one in which, five years from now, I am (1) alive and (2) my former hairdo has returned.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Pharmacy Follies and the Cancer Couple

I went to fill my husband's prescription for the new, gene-targeting cancer drugs that we hope will save his life at the local pharmacy and the clerk toting up the cost said, "Oh, this will be expensive." But I had my bank card with me. No problem!
My bank card doesn't let me charge more than 2,000 euros in a single day--something I've never been in danger of doing. The bill for my husband's meds came to over 5,000 euros--also more than twice what's currently in my account. 
We made an arrangement with the pharmacy. This is Germany! Generous, golden Germany--"we know you," said the smiling clerk,  suggesting she bill us at the end of the month, a move which will allow my husband to fill out his health insurance forms and possibly even be reimbursed by the time we have to pay that bill.
Meanwhile, I handed over my prescriptions, the ones they fill for me every month, the ones that keep me living a relatively normal life with almost no hair loss and only slight breathlessness, and lo! This month, one of them was "unavailable."
"But I get it here every month," I said.
"Well, it will have to be produced by the factory," said the clerk. They special ordered it. There's a shortage, they said. They hope they'll get it to me in ten days. 
I called the oncologist's office and they do have an emergency supply in a slightly lower dosage that I can take if the pharmacy doesn't come through. I just looked on Doc Bestendonk, which we've previously used for stuff like Sinupret and Umckaloabo, and found that in three-to-five business days I can get the tablets I need for 2.741,61 euros. Which is 130.55 euros per pill. Imagine what that costs in Donald Trump's America. No, don't. If I send my prescription. And pay for it myself. Even in golden Germany. But I think my pharmacy will probably come through . . . stay tuned. 
P.S. And they did come through! Even sooner than they'd promised.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

When Lung Cancer is Good News: Ten Tips

(1) When it's curable.
(2) When your doctors thought you had a different, worsening condition that's not curable.
(3) When because you have some cancerous tumors on your lung, you won't be getting that lung transplant.
(4) Since you won't be getting that lung transplant, you won't have to take immuno-suppresants, and you won't have to worry that every little spore of invisible fungus you might inhale in your garden might make you develop a lethal infection.
(5) Since you won't be getting that lung transplant, you don't have to ditch all your houseplants.
(6) Since you won't be getting that lung transplant, you don't have to whack the spiderwebs off the ceiling with the broom, narrowly missing the expensive bulb.
(7) You can stop losing weight, something the doctor said you had to do.
(8) Your wife knows your breathing won't get even worse. It might get better! 
(9) When your doctor has the mind of Dr. House, but none of the sarcasm.
(10) When, finally, you have the right diagnosis after years of enduring the wrong one.

Monday, April 1, 2019

When Brexit Married the Robert Mueller Investigation



Once upon a time there was a little David Cameron and a big Theresa May. This is probably the time where I announce that I like Theresa May. She'd have triumphed over those awkward dancing memes if it hadn't been for the mess little Davy made. Of course, nobody's heard much from him since he walked offstage whistling the theme song from West Wing. Like my kids, he left the mess for Mommy to clean up. She's been doing her damndest. I applaud. She's been tending the monstrosity he left behind ever since: "Now, Brexit!" she says in measured tones, "Do behave!"
Meanwhile, back in the former colonies, Somebody Did Something to Robert Mueller. Scare him? Who knows. He's telling his investigation to lie low, but it keeps squeaking: "Daddy, I like that Brexit chick."
The scuttlebut, that little Brexit and squeaky Investigation are secretly going to wed reached reporters late last night. Ms. May and Mr. Mueller of course tried to restrain the two, but so headstrong, so unwilling to listen, so Romeo and Juliet-ish were they that nothing could be done. The two catastrophes are on their honeymoon, but planning to return and make everything worse than Climate Change. Stay tuned. Reports that they've already produced a child, Godawful, are pending. Soon we'll be Waiting for Godawful.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Re-Reading Rebecca: Feminist Fable or Patriarchal Proverb?

It's been too long since I read Daphne Du Maurier's classic Gothic suspense novel, Rebecca, peopled with intensely satisfying, but pathetically limited characters: a young heroine who vaults from the frying pan of a horrible job as companion to a frustrated, jealous older woman to a newly horrible job as the wife to a rich Downton Abbey type with a terrible secret. He's as miserable as she is, his modus operandi "forget the past!" and his marriage proposal an insult: "I'm asking you to marry me, you little fool," he answers when she mistakes his proposal for the offer of a secretarial position. 
As a child on a seaside vacation with her non-aristocratic parents, the nameless heroine buys a postcard of his family manse, Manderley. Little does she imagine (oh, but she dreams) that one day she'll become the princess of that castle. The main conceit-- we know plenty about this nameless young princess and next to nothing about her dead predecessor but her name--Rebecca--has always impressed critics. The heroine's "unusual," she says, name is never given, but lately we've arrived at the usual suspect, incest. Du Maurier, apparently asked strangers what they thought of it, only hinting at her own story. But her nameless heroine marries a man twice her age and treats him exactly as a five-year-old might treat an adored, and strict, father: the young wife never asks questions and blames all his bad moods on herself. She fails to resent his grumpy-to-outright hostile, his patronizing behavior. He's just wonderful, she thinks, no matter how cold, how uncommunicative, how breathtakingly insensitive. Are they even having sex? When his sister asks if she's "starting an infant" and hopes she's not doing anything to prevent it--because Max, the meanie husband, wants a son and heir--the heroine's certain she's not pregnant. When the most intriguing malevolent character, Mrs. Danvers, passionately loyal to the dead Rebecca and passionately jealous of this young whippersnapper of a bride who dares to take her place--invites the young woman to jump out the window, we see how cruel women can be to other women. And how far a jealous mother might go?
By the end of the book, we've seen a desperate young doormat of a heroine in the narrator; the wickedest of stepmothers in Mrs. Danvers, whose hypnotic powers remain chilling; a woman whom we might call a feminist or free spirit in Rebecca, whose daredevil ways have charmed Mrs. Danvers since Rebecca's childhood, who laughs at all men and tells "Danny," that she'll live the way she wants, meaning she'll take lovers if she feels like it; who taunts Max, her husband, that she might be pregnant but that the unborn lord of the manor isn't his son; who enjoys stirring up the adoration of "Danny," so bereft that a year after Rebecca's death she's still fondling her shoes and sniffing her never-washed nightgown.  One more thing (and spoiler alert!) we're given to understand that Rebecca had "a certain malformation" of the uterus, which meant she could "never have a child" but she never seems to have wanted one--a sure sign of a bad girl back in 1938--and her punishment is that she has cancer of the uterus, still incurable today and then untreatable. Re-reading the novel I realize I'd gotten my first ideas about any cancer that strikes women from Rebecca: I believed, and I must have been about ten when I first read the novel, that Rebecca had cancer because she was evil. She must have done something---I couldn't have told you, but back then I believed in good girls and bad girls and I'd figured out that she was bad. Of course good girls won--the ending of the novel rather complicated my theory, but I won't spill the beans. Read the novel: it's enough to make you throw your phone in a drawer and ignore your email.