Amber eyes

Amber eyes.

Family dinner

Family dinner.

She’s Not There

She’s Not There.

rachel's bar

“So if you had to choose one thing from all the stuff in this house, what would it be?”
She reflects for a moment. “Maybe the table, the monastery table that seats 24 – but no, I think it has to be the bar in the conservatory.”
The extraordinary house in rural France that she and her husband and two little boys recently moved to from their one bed flat in Paris is stuffed with objects, left behind by James, the charming octogenarian.
“And why the bar?”
“Oh, I remember the first time we came here, last Autumn, and James sat us at the bar and plied us with exotic drinks and told us how he ‘d had it made, a copy of a twenties bar. I loved the carving, and the zinc surface – look at how we’ve scrubbed and polished it to get it gleaming like new. I loved the glasses and bottles, all lined up, ready for happy times to come. I love the lights hanging down above the bar, the cupboards where all sorts of stuff is stored, cigarette and cigar boxes, silver ashtrays, a cocktail shaker. Its aesthetically so pleasing, but also it speaks to me of happy memories and good times to come.  I fell in love with it…..I remember, during all those difficult months of doubts, and disappointments, and financial calculations, and re-calculations, then all those negotiations, dreaming about the bar in its corner of the long south facing conservatory. I dreamed about sitting on the stools with two or three close friends, and lots of family reunions, surprise birthday parties, maybe a wedding or two……I already have lots of lovely memories -sitting there with James on the 8 or 9 times we visited before we moved it, for instance. He would stand behind the bar with his charming crooked smile and mischievous twinkly eyes telling us outrageous stories of being a red cap deserter in Madagascar in the 50’s, loads of anecdotes of his many girlfriends and adventures, whilst he polished the glasses on the soft green polishing cloth which still hangs there. And all the time, Molo would run up and down the conservatory, 20 times the length of the living space we had in the flat. And I remember my tummy getting bigger and bigger every time we came, and James urging me to drink the local aperitif, the “Prune” they call it….and me holding out….”

She smiles and prods at the costume she is making from a coathanger and woolly pink socks  for Molo to wear at her mother- in- law’s 60th birthday party.

“We moved in when the baby was 2 weeks old and then I could really enjoy my first proper cocktail at our bar. James has visited us since he moved into his place 50 kilometres away and now its our turn to ply him with cocktails and polish the glasses. But its still him who tells the stories and offers us tips – like where to hunt for the secret cepes in the woods, and what to do if the pipes get blocked…..And, now that its Autumn again, and its raining and raining on the glass roof here, I can look out at the sodden garden and dream of summer, and summery cocktails sitting on those stools.”

I inspected the bar for myself, marvelling at the array of bottles and glasses, admiring the colourful postcard on the shelf with its well known message, which sounds somehow more inspiring in French:
“Ce ne sont par les Annees qui comptent dans la Vie mais la Vie qui comptent dans les Annees” (Abraham Lincoln).

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I pick up the RICARD ANISETTE bottle to replace it in the cupboard and am assailed by the powerful  aroma of alcohol and perfume and cigars  smoked long ago .

“You could wear your beautiful vintage wedding dress, sitting here,”  I say to my daughter and her eyes sparkle at the idea, even though she laughs and doubts whether she would be able to get into it.  “Would there be music playing?”
“Of course”, she says.” Edith Piaf….”Autumn Leaves” perhaps …or” La Vie en Rose”
And in our minds we listened to that unforgettable voice – and the words

Des yeux qui font baisser les miens
Un rire qui se perd sur sa bouche
Voila le portrait sans retouche
De l’homme auquel, j’appartiens

Quand il me prend dans ses bras
Il me parle tout bas
Je vois la vie en rose

Il me dit des mots d’amour
Des mots de tous les jours
Et ca me fait quelque chose

Il est entré dans mon coeur
Une part de bonheur
Dont je connais la cause

C’est lui pour moi
Moi pour lui dans la vie
Il me l’a dit, l’a jur pour la vie

Et, des que je l’apercois
Alors je sens en moi
Mon coeur qui bat

Des nuits d’amour ne plus en finir
Un grand bonheur qui prend sa place
Des enuis des chagrins, des phases
Heureux, heureux a en mourir

Quand il me prend dans ses bras
Il me parle tout bas
Je vois la vie en rose

Il me dit des mots d’amour
Des mots de tous les jours
Et a me fait quelque chose

Il est entr dans mon Coeur
Une part de bonheur
Dont je connais la cause

C’est toi pour moi
Moi pour toi dans la vie
Il me l’a dit, m’a jur pour la vie

Et, ds que je l’apercois
Alors je sens en moi
Mon coeur qui bat

Lalalala, lalalala
La, la, la, la

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Molo, running up and down whilst I examine the bar in the south conservatory and Rachel works on his costume at the far end

Writing about things in Jerusalem

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Two weeks ago, twelve writers sat round a long table above a small nursery garden in Ben Zayid,  in rural surroundings near Jerusalem.  The sun shone, the flowers flowered and the spirit moved as we examined the objects we had each brought with us to the workshop, wondered about them, and finally introduced into the stories we wrote there and then the ones which in some way inspired us.  Then we listened to each others’ stories, looked again at the objects, amazed that this little pile of stuff could produce such literary delights – and later we ate and drank and chatted.  All agreed it had been a morning well spent.

We were there as guests of my friend Judy Labensohn at her Writing Pad – www.writeinisrael.com/writing-pad. She helped me to organise a workshop where we would consider “things” and why they were important to us.  I suggested to participants that they take a look at this blog before coming, and that they bring some “thing” from home that we would use in the workshop, as well as a contribution to an outdoor lunch.

The objects on the table included:

  • an old silver pen
  • some car keys
  • a pearl hat pin
  • a box of very old soap
  • an abstract carving
  • a small brush for applying hair dye
  • a red hair ribbon
  • a fossil
  • a trophy won in a game of softball
  • an African tribal snuff holder
  • a photograph of the Queen’s sitting room
  • a mobile phone
  • a child’s pair of white lacy gloves
  • a sculpture from Nablus of a bird, about to take off in flight
  • a pair of brand new crocs which I’d brought from England for one of the participants, Shosh

Shosh wrote about the crocs next day and sent me her piece as a thank you.  I will publish it here, and one or two other contributions from the writers who gathered together that sunny morning in The Writing Pad.

My New Crocs

I don’t know what secret mechanism makes Crocs the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn, spongy yet firm, soft yet supportive. But while I was walking across the footbridge that connects the ancient mountaintop town of Civita to its larger sister Bagnoregio, I knew the precise moment that mechanism gave out. All at once, my reliable sandals with the suede tops and bouncy soles, in which I could walk for hours, collapsed. Every step hurt. The way back looked longer than ever. 

“I need new shoes,” I said to Naftali. I mentioned it again the next day, but we had to drive to Rome, return the car, buy bus passes, find our rented flat, see the Colosseum by night and be on time for our 9 a.m. tour of the Vatican the next morning, so we didn’t have time. Meanwhile, we had to learn how to use Google Maps, and work out how the person using it communicates with the other person without losing the little arrow or their temper. 

I should have worn my sneakers, but in the heat of Rome in July I couldn’t bear to put on anything heavier than a sandal, so I kept wearing my worn-out Crocs, ignoring the warning bells in my head. Google Maps took us the long way to the Vatican, and the extra kilometrage did not improve my mood. I didn’t mind standing and walking for four hours while my eyes feasted on Rafael, Michelangelo and Bernini, but as soon as the tour was over I was hurting again, overheated and miserable. As we burst into the sunlight of St. Peter’s Square all I wanted was to go back to the flat and lie down. My husband, however, saw ahead of him another half day of sightseeing. He teased me about being uncharacteristically lazy, which infuriated me.

 The harmony of the first part of our trip, in which we celebrated our 27th anniversary, was gone, not to return until we got home. I made a few feeble attempts to buy new shoes in Rome but nothing compared with my old ones. When I got home I told my friends how my shoes had ruined the last days of my trip, and that Naf didn’t believe me and kept trying to make me walk more and more. That very day I went to the store looking for a new pair of my favorite sandals, but found out that model was no longer in production. I looked online. It turned they were available only in the UK, and could not be delivered to any other country. I remembered my dear friend Judith L. in London was coming to Israel and asked her if she would be so kind.Image 

The new pair was delivered to Judith, not without hitches, and then to me, and I am wearing them as I write this, in fact standing in them, as I am working on my new standing-up computer work station, but that is another story. My point is, I really appreciate my new shoes. I need them to hold up my marriage.

 

Writing about things in Jerusalem

Image

 

Two weeks ago, twelve writers sat round a long table above a small nursery garden in Ben Zayid,  in rural surroundings near Jerusalem.  The sun shone, the flowers flowered and the spirit moved as we examined the objects we had each brought with us to the workshop, wondered about them, and finally introduced into the stories we wrote there and then the ones which in some way inspired us.  Then we listened to each others’ stories, looked again at the objects, amazed that this little pile of stuff could produce such literary delights – and later we ate and drank and chatted.  All agreed it had been a morning well spent.

We were there as guests of my friend Judy Labensohn at her Writing Pad – www.writeinisrael.com/writing-pad. She helped me to organise a workshop where we would consider “things” and why they were important to us.  I suggested to participants that they take a look at this blog before coming, and that they bring some “thing” from home that we would use in the workshop, as well as a contribution to an outdoor lunch.

The objects on the table included:

  • an old silver pen
  • some car keys
  • a pearl hat pin
  • a box of very old soap
  • an abstract carving
  • a small brush for applying hair dye
  • a red hair ribbon
  • a fossil
  • a trophy won in a game of softball
  • an African tribal snuff holder
  • a photograph of the Queen’s sitting room
  • a mobile phone
  • a child’s pair of white lacy gloves
  • a sculpture from Nablus of a bird, about to take off in flight
  • a pair of brand new crocs which I’d brought from England for one of the participants, Shosh

Shosh wrote about the crocs next day and sent me her piece as a thank you.  I will publish it here, and one or two other contributions from the writers who gathered together that sunny morning in The Writing Pad.

 

 

Things for my Christmas tree

My daughter has contributed this piece to my blog –  about some of her neighbour, Lucy’s, favourite things.

 I was having tea last week with Lucy and the doorbell went. It was a courier returning a large box of Christmas decorations .  Curious, I asked her about them. She said she loved her Christmas decorations and wanted her children to enjoy them in years to come.

 “Grandma handed down her baubles made of fine glass to my mother. They’re still in their original packaging. I love unwrapping our decorations each year and when the tree comes down wrapping them up again in tissue to protect them.

So, I have finally got back our decorations from my husband’s studio. He used them for shoots for the last couple of years but never again!  Look – they’ve have come back not in their tissue or their boxes and some have  missing noses and missing ears.”

Lucy will soon fix the damaged ones.  She is enormously talented with her hands.

She shows me a stable she made last year with her 4 year old twins, Tabitha and Jamie.

She proudly shows me Tabitha’s cradle and baby Jesus, and then Jamie’s.   “it’s like a penis!” she jokes.

She made a new Christmas decoration herself last year, a garland of hearts in different fabrics. “I enjoyed spending a lot of time on it. No one will have anything like it; I enjoyed using stuff I had collected over the years (bra bits, mother’s old Victorian pillow case edging). I really enjoyed it, it was like good therapy at the time, it just made me sit and I felt really restful making it.”

 

“I really don’t like styled Christmas trees where everything matches – they belong in hotels and shops. A house Christmas tree – if there’s a family – needs to be decorated by children and will have oddities won’t it?  I like the fact that nothing matches.

Individually some of these decorations are dreadfully twee.  She laughs and picks up a fawn. “Look at that – it’s appalling! But I love it – I love its colours, it has a new-born baby Jesus feel to it, innocent, helpless, cute! Mum bought it for me at a flower arranging demonstration at Christmas time. I was there with mum, my sister and my sister-in-law. I don’t know what possessed me to want it so much but honestly it looks good on the Christmas tree.

The first year we had our twins, Chris and I were in London at the Conran shop and we bought this polar bear wrapped in lots of tissue. We agreed we would buy a new one ever year. This is the packaging from the champagne we drank.” She shows me a white cardboard box with the word CHAMPAGNE on it. “It came back from his studio looking like that!” The polar bear has a missing nose.

Could I have livened up my school?

I was very bored a lot of the time. I've never been bored since schooldays. Seems a shame

That I hadn't attended a girls only school

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Thinking about my feet

On Tuesday I had a foot massage; followed by a head massage.  That was the right order, according to Mon, my Thai masseuse.  But afterwards I wasn’t sure.  The foot experience was more delicious, more tender.  The head massage hurt a bit, waking up bits of my skull, and my brain and scalp that perhaps had been in hibernation.  It would probably have been better to concentrate on one bit of my body at a time.

Sop anyhow I’ve decided to try writing about a different part of my body over the coming weeks, to try and work out what each part means to me.  Could this particular body part be trying to tell me something?  Do I appreciate it well enough?  And show that I appreciate it/them? Could I venture inside to examine my inner organs?

Should I think of each foott differently I wonder?  I suppose that up till very recently I would have run them together like a pair of Siamese twins.  But now I realise that they have quite different positions and histories and different needs.  The left foot is basically OK, looks reasonable, works normally.  The right foot struggles.  It isn’t balanced properly.  It feels as if the outside part, running down from my toes, is too flat, too close to the floor and it hurts when I’ve been walking for a while.  By contrast the big and second twos feel underused.  The toes don’t splay properly on this foot.  It hurts to sit on them when kneeling – an exercise my Yoga teacher daughter suggests I do on a daily basis.  The toes are colder, less mobile than the left footed ones.

Why should this be?  I know that we are asymmetrical.  Our hearts are shifted over to the left side.  We are “right” or “left handed”.  And there’s’ all that left brain/right brain stuff.  I should perhaps enquire more deeply.  But to begin with I shall try to be more conscious of both feet and the enormous service that they have performed for me over more than sixty years.  I am very grateful, and have failed to tell them so.

The masseuse worked on each one separately, wrapping the not being worked on one, in a soft warm towel.  This was delightfully comforting.  I remembered the time when I visited an HIV/AIDS clinic on a township near Cape Town some years ago.  The doctor invited me to sit in on patents’ appointments with the nurse.  So I sat in a corner and observed, always asking the nurse to check with the patient if this was OK with them.  All the patients agreed, but I noticed that some nodded and hardly looked my way, disregarding my presence.  One or two were curious about me, looking at me frequently during their visit, wondering, I supposed, what I was making of it.

With some I hardly made anything at all as they spoke in the local language and I was mystified by the communication between them and the nurse.  But I was struck by their general air of resignation and passivity.  One man was thrown off the programme (which was to offer and monitor the effect of the drugs which had finally been made available in South Africa.)  I understood that the nurse was dismissing him, by the way she spoke quite crossly and by the defeated look in his reddened eyes.  He got off the bed and shuffled off.  She drew a line under his notes and closed the folder, and then offered me a curt explanation

“Refusing abstaining from alchol”, she said, and called in the next patient.

The last one of the morning clinics was a youngish woman, perhaps in her early forties.  She looked very thin, and very very tired, but she looked at me with interest, so I smiled encouragingly.  I’m not sure whether it was for my benefit that the interview was conducted in English – but it certainly very much helped my understanding of what was going on.  I remember she had been a housemaid to a white family for many years, but now she was ill and could no longer work.  She had six children, several of whom were also afflicted with the virus.  When the nurse asked her about current symptoms, she said that she felt mostly OK, but her feet were too cold. Very, very cold.  The nurse nodded and went on to discuss the drugs regime which was complicated and hard to adhere to.  After a few minutes she left the room saying she had to search for the correct prescription.

The room was very quiet after she had gone.  The woman sat upright on the bed and stared at me with what I thought was a pleading look in her eyes.  I started getting a physical urge in my whole body which I couldn’t deny.

I walked quickly over to her, hoping that the nurse wouldn’t return too quickly.

“Shall I rub your feet?”

She nodded, swung her legs round and stuck her bare feet out towards me.

I knelt down by the bed and started my work.  They were freezing, those scarred, frail brown feet.  I rubbed and rubbed till it seemed that they might catch fire.

“That better!?”

She nodded and gave me a wordless, beatific smile.

I hurried back to my seat before the nurse bustled back in, wondering if she would sense the warm guilty secret in the room

I wish I had had a fluffy towel to wrap those feet in.

Next week I shall think about my head

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