Thursday, September 28, 2017

Seven Tips for When Your Eldest Child Soars from the Nest

Hint, Mom:  you are the one who is sad around here. Or if the kid is, he'll never tell. But here are seven of the 7,000 things you know you'll want to tell him:

1. The Golden Mean is actually pretty cool.  Extremes can seem more fun, but they tend to make you come down with hangovers, mononeucleosis, or bad colds. 

2. A Back-to-Basics philosophy cures you from those interesting moments when you've deviated from that Golden Mean. Which basics? Oh, a healthy breakfast, including things like whole wheat bread or muffins, scrambled eggs with toast, yogurt; enough sleep, warm socks, regular habits, staying hydrated; an habitual method of grounding oneself after an unsettling day (regular practice of musical instrument; regular trip to gym; regular morning dance class, for example). While I'm at it, the usual stuff: brushing, flossing, showering, footcare.

3. "Neither a borrower nor a lender be," and you won't regret losing your guitar to your best friend, or your own loss of that twenty euros somebody loaned you.

4. Find humor in worst-case scenarios. Remember Dorothy Parker:

"A heart in half is chaste, archaic,
But mine resembles a mosaic."

If she could laugh at a broken heart, so can you. Statistically speaking, sooner or later you will endure one, and it will bring you as much fun in later years as it brought torment in early ones. Yes, "the worst returns to laughter."

5. Select friends who are deeply engaged in their work. These will be with you for life. Drinking buddies come and go. 

6. Enjoy your studies, and don't cringe when older people insist "these are the best years of your life!" They've forgotten. But these early years are the ones that launch you, and they can be thrilling. 

7. Contemplate the meaning of George Bernard Shaw's axiom: "Youth is wasted on the young."

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Who Trump Isn't

A CNN commentator mentioned we were still asking who the guy is, months after the election. But that's not the question to ask. The question is not who Trump is, but who he isn't. What wouldn't he do? Say? Think? Oh, don't assume he thinks. But don't assume he doesn't. The idea that Donald Trump has a fixed identity is lame. We thought we knew. We know he lies, cheats, steals. Maybe he murders; I wouldn't be surprised. Does any limit to his personality exist? To his actions? He's just announced that the hermit kingdom's dictator is on a suicide mission. Can we take that as a projection? A prediction? A random blast of ego? See, none of us knows. From the get-go, we've wanted to know whether Trump was crazy like a fox or just crazy. Why not both? He wouldn't be the first. Hitler. Stalin. The Hermit King. God help us all, but God's probably on the side of the bigger battalions. Does it all come down to a question of comfort? When the president's had a glass of wine, he doesn't push red buttons under silos deep in the heartland, releasing atomic energy. When he has a hangnail, he does. Yes? No? Maybe? 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Critical Mom Does London Fashion

If you're looking for a little excitement in the form of gorgeous design, lovely blends of colors, originality, quality, movement, then the heart and soul of London fashion is located in Camden Town. Everywhere--from the store selling Bakelite Betty Boops to the tiny booth in the worst corner of the outdoor market hawking a certain Italian wool make you'd drop $800 or so for on Madison Avenue--the place rocks. Oooh, those long, lovely jackets in vibrant colors--I can tell you the label says "Mr. A" but it doesn't pop up online. I can't think of a better antidote to the horrors of Belgravia, that antiseptic, cynical, overpriced set of fashionista folly. As I believe I've already said, you couldn't pay me to wear that hairy newsboy cap with the bolts that I saw in the window of Prada--well, unless I took the money, ran, tossing the cap in the gutter, right back to Camden Town, where I'd buy yet another aesthetically envigorating bag or scarf. For elegance, harmony and quality, my favorite places there include Araucaria, filled with the aroma of jasmine and polished wood, vintage Kantha jackets and bags, brightly patterned shirts and Carpe Diem MMVIII, which features beautifully tooled leather, both located in the Camden Lock Place Market Hall. Stroll by the Gekko stall too. Long velour coats in greens or purples or blacks, leaf designs sewn in. Slightly reminiscent of Desigual, only nicer. Across from the hall, check out Gohil& Co. Handmade Leather Goods. And enjoy the food and the eternally lively ambience! In the Dantesque circles of women's clothing, the Camden Hall Market is paradise. You can guess what hell is, and we've all seen clothing purgatory, somehow worse than even that.

Friday, September 8, 2017

An American Hears London

Bussing in from Stansted, we saw a sign in an apartment complex yard: "No exercising of dogs." A more elegant euphemism for "Leash, gutter, and clean up after your dog," My son leaned over and said, "Hmm, how about roasting of dogs?" I'm more accustomed to directness, as in:
Language can be more lyrical here. Consider this bus announcement: "For Great Ormond Street hospital alight at Russell Square." Sounds more poetic than "Get off at . . . " 
"You'd never hear that," I said to my son. "In Romantic poems, Sparrows alight on branches."
"Gimme a light," he replied. As we ambled toward the British museum and I explained the controversy surrounding the Elgin Marbles, he summed it all up: "How the Greeks lost their marbles." Around here, the F word is pronounced with an "o" instead of a "u," that is, rhymes not with "luck" but with "cock," as in "Cockfosters." Wikipedia suggests family names or "chief forester" as the origin of that one, but it sounds like a Prince Albert to me.  We walked through (should I say "trod?") Knightsbridge, Piccadilly, Belgravia, and the best of all, Camden Town ("Help a punk get drunk" said the sign around which sat certain inebriated young persons with neon hair, braying same message). In Belgravia I kept muttering, "my God, Prada is no longer Prada (hairy newsboy hats with bolts, day-glo felt handbags) and "Laura Ashley is no longer Laura Ashley," (synthetics, synthetics, synthetics) but in Camden Town I bought a gorgeous vintage Indian Kantha and some wool-and-silk Pashmina scarves. While listening to Joy to the World (or was it "Hot Child, summer in the city . . .") at a jewelry stand and Dinah Washington while scooping up a sturdy leather knapsack for my son. Amazing leather.  A-whole-lot-better-than-Coach-bags-leather. When I asked for help with a scratch on the perfect bag I'd bought in Rome, I heard Imperial British English, the kind German gymnasium teachers swoon over, from an elderly gentleman of Indian descent. Oh, enjoy Camden town. Belgravia is all snobbery and repression (burquad women in Dior sunglasses being shepherded from limo by driver to butler-in-store). Wifi didn't work as we sought a Chipotle, which we obviously weren't going to find around there. 
The languages, from neighborhood to neighborhood, are fun, but London is the loudest city I've ever been in: street noise in Westminster and Bloomsbury, from drills to horns to sirens, is enough to make you plug your ears with your fingers and howl in pain. But when the British speak, they are so interesting. It's not just the accents. I asked for Miller and Bens tap shoes in five stores, and the clerks (that word rhymes with "harks" around here) seemed genuinely sad they couldn't help me: "I'm so sorry!" they chirped.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

A Nine-Bucket Bail: Climate Change in Germany

While I was stuffing the eggplants this afternoon, my daughter, who had checked her cell phone and promised no rain, rushed downstairs, opened the patio door, and started hauling in the racks of laundry that had been drying so nicely a few minutes before. I hadn't noticed the downpour--I was distracted by the need to grate the cheese that was going into the stuffed eggplants and peppers--and the sun was shining brightly outside. But it was Noah's-floodlike out there. Hail started clattering down.
"Should we bring the guinea pigs in?"
"I dunno--the cage is covered. If it stops in five minutes . .  ." I stuffed another pepper and stuck it in the tray, ready to go into the oven.
The rain didn't stop. With a doorman-sized umbrella, I went outside to retrieve two slightly damp, indignant guinea pigs, who looked as if they were wondering what took me so long. Having taken refuge in one of their little houses, the piggies were dry until I had to chase them to get them into their carrier.
When we were in Italy a few weeks ago, staggering around the Villa Torlonia and the Colosseum in 101º-105º-degree heat, we got hit with a storm in Venice, fortunately after we'd already taken our gondola ride. The clouds unfolded, rains of Biblical proportions slammed down, we huddled in a doorway watching the shopkeeper next door poke a broom into the awning over his shop, letting gallons of water slosh out. 
On the way home, uprooted trees lay all over the road.
This afternoon the hail stopped, and I went down to our basement to check laundry. The storage room often floods, but this time the water was an inch up around the wall. 
Nine buckets full. Nine. 
Ten, actually. If you count the one I filled.