Monday, October 31, 2011

Sustainable Entertainment

The first meeting of the Cabin Fever Abatement Salon took place yesterday afternoon, while the sun shone brightly on the new snow.  A young woman, the farm manager at that pearl of West Pawlet, Consider Bardwell Farm, told the touching, often sad but ultimately victorious story of her father, a fifth-generation farmer, and his struggles to continue working on the land.  It was clear as she spoke that in her own case the farming vocation has not, as so often happens, skipped a generation.

Afterwards, I sat by the fire rewarding myself with some leftover hummus and a glass of wine, and thought about those seventeenth-century Parisian ladies who, sick of rowdy parties where drunken noblemen got into fights, spat on the floor, and abused the servants, invented a kinder, gentler entertainment:  the salon. 

It should have been called not the salon but the chambre a coucher--the bedroom--for that was where the gatherings were held.  The hostess lay on her bed (I never could find out whether she got under the covers), which was on a slightly elevated platform.  The space between the bed and the wall, technically known as the ruelle, or little street, was occupied on one side by the servants standing ready to pour more of that exotic delicacy, le cafe, and on the other by her friends.  Depending on the degree of their favor with the hostess, some friends sat on chairs, others on mere stools.

As the drafty palaces and spartan furniture of the 17th century gave way to the cozier interiors and welcoming armchairs of the 18th, the gatherings moved from the bedroom to the salon proper.  Eventually, the in-home salon was replaced by the more democratic coffeehouse around the corner.  But the custom of living room  entertainments persisted until the early 20th century.  The young lady playing the piano for her parents' dinner guests;  the fledgeling poet reciting in a tremulous voice;  the returning traveler astounding the company with stories of naked savages--all are examples of the human talent for making entertainment out of home-grown resources.

Then, with the advent of radio, the movies, television, and the shopping mall, people stopped looking to themselves and their friends for entertainment, and the salon was no more.

Now that foes both natural and man-made assail us on every side, self-reliance--that grandmotherly virtue--is once again looking like a good idea, even an attractive one.  Some people are growing their own vegetables;  some are making their own soap.  Some discover that within their friends and neighbors lie rich deposits of wit, adventurousness, quirkiness and passion, just waiting to be exploited.  And the quaint old salon, updated as locally-grown, sustainable entertainment, makes its long-deserved comeback.

Friday, October 28, 2011

X Is For Xenoglossophobia

If xenophobia means "fear of foreigners," xenoglossophobia means "fear of  foreign languages."   Like Lyme disease, xenoglossophobia is endemic in many parts of the U.S.

This fear causes many parents to want to protect their children from foreign language instruction, resulting in a dearth of public schools that offer bilingual immersion (only 440 in the entire country).  In some states, programs that immerse children in another language are actually banned, because, a recent NPR report states ( ), "a majority of voters don't think children can learn proper English and at the same time hold on to a foreign language and culture."

Xenoglossophobes hold firmly to this view, despite a wealth of evidence that becoming not only bilingual but literate in a foreign language is really good for kids' brains.  For example, according to the NPR story, most of the students of Miami's Coral Way elementary school, which has been offering a rigorous English/Spanish immersion program since 1963, come from low-income families, yet many of them are accepted into the city's best high schools.

I've often wondered what xenoglossophobes think happens in the hundreds of sites around the globe where the entire population is, for political or geographic reasons, bilingual.  To pick an example close to (my) home, in Catalonia most natives speak both Catalan and Spanish, the two official languages.  It is said--mostly by Catalans--that we are the most intelligent people in all of Spain.  If there is any truth in that, it's probably due to the enforced bilingualism.  But then the Basques (who speak their own utterly weird language, and Spanish) and the Galicians (who speak a language related to Portuguese, and Spanish) probably maintain their own superiority.

Then there is the Vall d'Aran, a tiny valley high in the Pyrenees, in the northwest corner of Catalonia.  Its 7,000 inhabitants have not one, not two, but three official languages.  The first is Aranes, a variant of Occitan;  the second is Catalan, because the valley is in Catalonia;  and the third is Spanish, because Catalonia is in Spain.  Xenoglossophobes would assume that the poor Aranese are barely able to walk, much less think, with this linguistic turmoil in their heads.  But not at all.  The Aranese are proud defenders of their endangered tongue, and insist that it be taught in their schools.  In addition, because in winter it snows really hard and the passes into Spain used to stay blocked for months, they all also speak French.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

W Is For Water

My swimming suit didn't have bra cups yet, so I must have been eleven the summer my mother signed me up for swimming lessons at the base of Pichincha, the lively volcano that  periodically covered the streets of Quito with a light coat of ash.

It was the rainy season.  This meant that every day, shortly after noon, dark clouds would gather overhead,  thunder would rumble for a while, and then the heavens would liquefy and fall upon the land. 

The class, which met at midday, was composed of plump girls in their late teens who, to me, looked about the same age as my mother.  Our teacher, Senor Padilla, a former Olympic swimmer, was short and muscular.  He wore a  tiny bathing suit, and the rest of his body was covered by a rich pelt of black hair.  I didn't know why at the time, but being in that class with those plump girls and hairy Senor Padilla made me uncomfortable.

Not as uncomfortable, however, as being in the ice-cold water of the outdoor pool.  On the very first day, after a cursory introduction,  Senor Padilla blew his whistle and yelled, "Senoritas, al agua!"  There was nothing for it but to jump in, so I did.  I felt every muscle contract and my body turn to stone as the waters closed over my head.  I surfaced spluttering, my nasal passages burning from the chlorine, and looked up.  The dark heights of Pichincha were slowly disappearing under masses of lead-colored clouds.  I looked down at the water and saw that it too had grown dark and threatening, along with the sky.  I heard the faraway rumble of thunder.

The class ended just as the downpour began.  I went home shivering, and with a violent headache from what must have been chlorine-filled sinuses.  The altitude of 9350 feet, to which neither my parents nor I had adjusted, probably added to the discomfort.  Needless to say, I begged not to go back to the class.  Needless to say, I did go back.

Every day, my embarrassment grew as I watched Senor Padilla enjoying himself as he taught, and especially as my unathletic-looking classmates mastered the crawl and went on to the back stroke, the side stroke, the breast stroke, the butterfly.  Meanwhile I, frozen and stiff as a board, hadn't even learned to float.  If I floated face down, I inhaled chlorine.  If I turned onto my back, I saw the dark, leaden, threatening clouds rushing towards Pichincha, and feared I was going to die.

The last day of class finally arrived. Senor Padilla had arranged to exhibit our skills before our loved ones.  One by one, my classmates dove in and swam the length of the pool, each in her favorite style.  When my turn came, Senor Padilla said that all I had to do was dive and float across the pool.

As I stood shivering at the water's edge, I glanced up towards Pichincha and saw the black clouds galloping  overhead.  I closed my eyes and threw myself in.  Eventually I surfaced, sank, surfaced again and was making my way towards dry land when something bumped against my hip.  It was Senor Padilla, who, worried that I was drowning right in front of my parents, had jumped in to save me.

Several weeks later, I went to a different swimming pool.  The sun was out, the water was warm, and the pool was almost empty.  I got in, turned on my back, looked up at the blue sky, and, since nobody was watching, tried the back stroke.  I managed not only to stay afloat, but to cross the pool.  Then  I turned onto my stomach and did the crawl, the breast stroke, the side stroke, and the butterfly.  I couldn't believe it, but it was true:  despite the cold, the terror, and the embarrassment, Senor Padilla really had taught me how to swim.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

V Is For Violin, And For Violence

My first violin had tooth marks on the rim, where I had bitten it in a rage.  The bow was missing several hairs from being struck on the back of my parents' sofa, and certain pages of my method books retained the marks of crumpling no matter how carefully I later tried to smooth them out.

I was a violent violinist when I was a kid.  I hated my violin as if it were a living thing, and wanted to kill it.  I wanted to kill it so it would stop making those offending sounds that, week after week and month after month, never seemed to get any better.

Not that the violin had been forced on me.  My music career had begun with the piano.  But after a year of struggling with fingerings and trying to keep my wrists level with my hands and my fingers curled just so, I thought the violin had to be easier, more rewarding.  Besides, studying the violin meant that I would have my father for a teacher.

Why didn't my parents warn me?  Perhaps they did, and I didn't listen.  So on my tenth birthday, I got a violin, and my first lesson.  My father showed me how to tuck the violin under my chin and support its neck with my left hand so the instrument would be parallel to the ground.  Then he told me how to hold the bow, and how to draw it across the A string, halfway between bridge and fingerboard, with the hair tilted towards me at the frog and flat on the string when I got to the tip.  Less pressure at the frog and more at the tip. This I should do very carefully, over and over, fifteen minutes a day, every day, until my next lesson.

"You mean just drawing the bow across the A string?"  I asked.

"Yes.  It's very difficult to do right."   He lifted my left arm, which by then was pointing dispiritedly towards the ground, and left.

This was well before Suzuki, before the helpful fingering tapes on the fingerboard, the accompanying CDs, and the frivolous idea that playing the violin should be fun.  By the end of the second practice session, I was bored out of my mind and longing for the days of the Anna Magdalena Bach piano book, the little Minuets and Sarabandes that actually sounded like regular music. 

A year passed. My father pronounced me to have basic talent and a good ear worth cultivating, and raised my daily practice time to an hour.  Leaving my  mother to enforce the regimen, he went off to earn our keep as a musician.  This required him to work quite hard, and in retrospect I can see that expecting him to give me a weekly lesson, like his regular students got, was perhaps too much.  So I would go weeks, sometimes months, without a lesson.  Occasionally, if he happened to be home while I was practicing, my father would swoop into the room saying "Flat!  You're flat!  Here, let me show you..."  If I was lucky, sometimes these interventions would develop into lessons.

The years passed and, as I advanced, I fell deeper into musical despair.  The more I learned about the violin, the more I hated the way I sounded.  Having heard the sound of his violin from the day I was conceived, I considered my father's playing the minimum acceptable level of proficiency, so by comparison my own playing seemed beyond disgusting.  I was eighteen before I could stand to hear myself.

But by then I also realized what a jealous master the instrument was.  I was in college, majoring in Biology and French, and taking violin for one hour of credit--yet practicing for that single credit took as much time as the rest of my courses combined.  I played for another two years and then, without thinking too much about it, I put away the violin, the methods books, the music stand.  The calluses on my fingers slowly faded, and life rushed in to fill the now-vacant practice hours.  My parents had the grace not to make a fuss.

And after that, for years and years I never gave the violin another thought.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Why I Shop At The Dorset Church Rummage Sale

There are twelve items in my recycled garbage bag:  a couple of heavy sweaters and several long-sleeved tees--all of them wool, cashmere, cotton, or silk.  All of them bearing brand names that even I am familiar with.  I hand the gray-haired lady $30.  She gives me change, looks into my eyes, says "thank you so much for coming."

Before I came to Vermont, I had never darkened the door of a vintage shop, much less attended a rummage sale.  But--blame the apocalyptic Zeitgeist, or the Vermont ethos, or the fact that the chicken shed has  replaced the office as my early-morning destination--I now attend the Dorset Church bi-annual rummage sale religiously.

So does everybody else.  In Vermont you can normally drive right to the front door of your venue and park.  But for this particular occasion, you sometimes have to park the equivalent of two blocks (there are no blocks in Dorset) away.  That tells you something.

It's usually brisk on the morning of the fall sale, and the wily church ladies have set up the tent with the coats, heavy sweaters and ski-wear right next to the (Vermont marble) sidewalk.  Indoors there is the "designer room," where cashmere and pristine labels abound;  the coat room, the shoe room, the children's room, and a huge room where you can buy dresses, skirts, pants, tops, sheets, blankets, comforters, not to mention clothes for guys, for practically pennies.

The place is so crowded that reflective shopping is out of the question.  This is a relief for me, who tend to go into existential crises in a mall.  Here the rule is:  buy first, think later.  For some reason, I don't feel overwhelmed by the crowds, but oddly serene, and wealthy.  Though we barely stop to talk, I run into several people I know.  One friend is buying wool sweaters that she will "felt" by washing them in hot water and then cut up and sew together into a vest of many colors.  Another friend carries her purchases in her arms.  "I won't let them give me a bag," she says, referring to the recycled paper or plastic bags that shoppers are offered.  Awed by her environmental conscientiousness, I vow to bring my own canvas bags next year.

And there you have the first of my reasons for shopping at the rummage sale:  it's environmentally friendly.  I'm recycling all that cotton, all those dyes, all that labor.  It saves my own resources:  I'm keeping myself warm and satisfying the remains of my feminine vanity for a fraction of what I would pay at a regular store.  I'm contributing (albeit not a lot, given the prices) to a local charity.  I am helping in a small way to make our region self-sufficient.

Finally, there is the issue of who makes the clothes we buy in the stores.  My husband's sister, Jodi Cobb, an intrepid photographer for National Geographic, shot a powerful story about slavery in the 21st century.  (You can read her post on the subject by clicking:  )  There is nothing I can do about young girls being sold as prostitutes in Eastern Europe.  But by limiting my purchase of new goods of uncertain provenance (and aren't all those "made in..." labels inside our sweaters signs of uncertain provenance?) I can minimize the profits of someone who makes his or her living off the skinny backs of six-year-olds.  It's a golden opportunity to do a little good in this sad old world.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Lazy Gardener's Guide To World-Class Compost

Here's what you do:  forget those instructions about gathering your various compost ingredients, layering them carefully, wetting them down and turning them frequently.  Instead, get two or three hens--or six, if you are ambitious--and put them in a shed.  If they have access to the outdoors, and they should, an 8'x8' space will accommodate six layers luxuriously.  You want your hens to be able to go outside:  the air and grass and bugs are good for their bodies and their souls.

You get a couple of bales of hay that is too old to be fed to cows, technically known as "mulch hay," and spread some of it on the floor of the shed.  The hens will rejoice in this, pecking at the hay seeds and scratching around until even the longest stems are nicely shredded.  This is the beginning of your compost pile.

As the hay in your chicken shed--the term of art is "bedding," or "litter"--becomes soiled, just sprinkle some more hay over it.  This will keep the surface clean and free of smell, and the hens don't care what's underneath.  Even better, as the bottom layers of hay start to decompose with the help of the chicken poop, they will help to keep your hens' feet warm in the cold weather.

But hay is not all you add to your bedding-cum-compost.  All your garden waste--your overgrown zucchini, your spent broccoli plants, your Halloween pumpkins--goes into the hen house.  So do your kitchen leftovers, including eggshells, which the hens eat to recycle their calcium.  You can throw in coffee grounds and tea leaves, too.  Although the hens will not eat them, they make great fertilizer.  Your birds will love bits of meat and fat, but bones will attract rodents, so put them into your (now greatly diminished) trash.

Then in the fall, when the garden is finished, you shovel the soiled bedding into your garden cart and dump it on the garden.  You will notice that the hay has been shredded, the poop has mostly vanished, and there is a good bit of fine dust:  this is the organic fertilizer that your hens have made for you out of the kindness of their hearts, the super-nutritious manna that will give your young plants a terrific start in life next spring.

Since chicken manure is very rich in nitrogen, it needs to age before it comes in contact with plants.  I let mine sit and ripen in the empty garden, absorbing rain and sleet and snow, from October to March.  If you are in a climate that allows year-round gardening, you will have to pile the soiled bedding somewhere and let it age for several months before using it.
When you've finished dumping the litter on the garden, go back and spread a clean layer of hay on the shed floor.  Give the hens a couple of apples, sit and talk with them a while.  They have fertilized, turned and shredded your compost for you.  Backyard alchemists, they have transmuted your kitchen waste into golden-yolked eggs.  They deserve a bit of thanks.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Why Vermont Should Change Its Name With The Seasons

Driving to yoga this afternoon through the annual foliage follies, it struck me that at this time of year the state's name, which means "the green mountains" (les verts monts) becomes a misnomer.  "Vermont" is only descriptive of the state in summer. 

During the fall woodland pyrotechnics, there is precious little green around, so the state name should change to Rougemont, or Montorange, shifting to Beigemont during stick season.  After the first snow, Beigemont would become Montblanc.  In March,  the state should be known as Montboue.

And when spring finally comes, and lilacs burst into bloom, Vermont should be called Montlilas.  Which is rather pretty, I think.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How I Became An Internationally Famous Blogger, And How You Can Too

Several weeks ago, the number of daily hits on MyGreenVermont suddenly skyrocketed.  It's always good to know that one is not just a voice crying out in the desert, so I was pleased.  What is more, my readers seemed to be spread not only across the United States, but all over the planet.  While I slept in my bed at night, people in England, Sweden, France, Austria, Italy and Poland were reading my blog.  So were people in Turkey, Ghana, the Philippines, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates.

I couldn't figure out the reason for this explosion of my faithful but modest readership.  Then it occurred to me to check the search terms that my new fans were using.

About a year ago, when Bisou came into heat, I wrote some posts about the reaction of my big German Shepherd, Wolfie.  He followed her around day and night, whining.  He stood over her and washed her face and drooled over her until her hair stood up in points.  He lost weight.  It was intense but entirely platonic, Wolfie being neutered.  The posts were humorous, but hardly salacious.  They didn't even have drawings.  On the labels at the bottom of the posts I listed:  dogs, dog behavior, dog sex.

And that is what my international fans are googling:  dog sex.

I have several questions about this.  First, who are these people, and why are they staying up all night researching this subject?  Have we wandered so far from Nature that the sex life of dogs has become exotic and mysterious?  I would think that my readers in third-world countries would be especially familiar with dog sex, having only to look out their windows to witness the real thing.

Second, why do people keep looking for this topic in as unrewarding a site as MyGreenVermont?  You'd think that the dog-sex aficionados who find me would be so disappointed that the word would get out in the international weirdo community and interest would quickly die out, but not at all.  To these frustrated but persistent hordes, I can only say:  I'm sorry, lo siento, tant pis!

Third, why do so many of my new fans come from Muslim countries?  Don't they know that their religion considers dogs unclean?  And aren't they risking the ire of the Prophet by googling not just dogs, but dog sex?

I may never find the answer to these questions, for who knows the ways of the blogosphere?  But to anyone out there seeking fast fame through blogging: now you know what to do.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Nursing Bisou

Took Bisou to the vet at the crack of dawn today.  She was suffering mightily from a two-inch-wide impacted gland.  I will spare you the location of the thing, and how I came to miss such a big hurt on a little dog.  Suffice it to say that she showed little discomfort until the last day, that she is wiggly and has a lot of long red hair, and that I was not channeling my veterinarian grandfather while this was developing.

At the vet's I held her while she was shaved and the first measures were taken.  When the vet showed me what we were dealing with, I almost passed out.  But, turning bowels into heart (as we say in Spanish), I paid attention while the vet explained about the pain meds and oral antibiotics I would be administering, the many hot water compresses I would be applying (four or more daily, for ten minutes each), and the external antibiotic I would have to put inside the wound--deep inside, the vet said, looking me in the eye.

So far Bisou and I have survived the application of four compresses and one dose of in-the-wound antibiotic.  Every time I see the abscess I feel less queasy.  She, on the other hand, has become the very image of sorrow and mortification, not because she is in pain any longer, but because she is wearing an Elizabethan collar.  She refuses to walk, much less go up and down the stairs, while she's wearing the thing, so she gets carried around a lot.  I take it off to let her outside, and she scampers around as usual, but then starts licking the tragic spot and I have to put the collar back on.

By early afternoon, what with the trauma of the wound and the collar, plus the effect of the pain meds, Bisou was limp with exhaustion, and so was I.  I put her on the bed in my study, took off the evil collar, climbed in beside her, and we both had a restorative nap under a nice soft afghan.

Between now and bedtime, I'll do two more compresses and one more infusion of antibiotic.  And maybe by tomorrow I'll be more confident and she'll be more comfortable, perhaps even willing to take a few steps in her collar.  And with the help of good Saint Roch, patron of dogs, we will slowly make our way out of the woods.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Attack In The Night

Something bit a chunk off Lexi's ear last night.  My dowager German Shepherd, Lexi, is long of tooth, hard of ear and dim of eye, but she can still outrun me.

Around eight yesterday evening, the dogs began agitating to be let out.  I normally make them wait until nine, but this time I relented.  It wasn't until a while after I'd let them back inside that I noticed Lexi's ear, which was missing a half-inch-long, u-shaped piece right next to the tip.

I checked her over, but she seemed fine, and was busy licking the drops of blood that spattered the floor and walls every time she moved.  I cleaned the wound with a wet paper towel, set up one of the big dog crates and put her in it, to contain the bleeding.  I did my best to ignore the hurt looks she was giving me (she had house-trained herself as a puppy, and after her first week with us, thirteen years ago, I never crated her again) while I tried to reconstruct what had happened.

True, the dogs had seemed eager to go out earlier than usual, but they often do this, since they know that I will give them a treat when they come back.  Also, the weather had turned windy and brisk, which always makes them jumpy.  They usually run barking out of the house and across the grass and disappear into the woods, until they hear the warning beep of the invisible fence.  Had they barked longer or more furiously this time, I would have noticed.  Even allowing for the ear  being less sensitive than other parts of the anatomy, you'd think Lexi would have yelped when whatever it was bit her, and I would have heard it.  And so would Wolfie and Bisou.

And if they had, surely they would have gone over to investigate, and there would have been a confrontation with the critter.  If there was a critter.

Other than rabbits in winter, turtles in spring, and the black bear who made a historic visit several years ago, nothing much comes out of the woods and into our yard.  The deer, turkeys and foxes stick to the front field, where they know the dogs aren't likely to be.

We did once glimpse a fisher running parallel to the house, just inside the woods, and the fisher is my prime suspect.  A coyote or a fox would have taken a bigger chunk.  But even if Lexi had gone after the fisher, he could have outrun her.  Perhaps she accidentally bumped into him.  But you'd think she would have smelled him--or does a dog's sense of smell also fade as she ages?

A friend thinks that maybe it was a shrew--a tiny but fierce animal with (depending on the species) a poisonous bite capable of killing a mouse and cause pain to a larger animal.  Again, though, shrews are supposed to be quite musky, so you'd think that might have warned Lexi off.

At bedtime, not wanting Wolfie and Bisou to encounter the mystery attacker, I went outside with them, kept them close, and quickly brought them inside.  As for Lexi, I knew that if I let her out she would disappear into the woods and wouldn't hear me calling, so I didn't let her out.  I trusted that her excellent sense of house hygiene would hold through the night, and it did.

Things get dicey when a dog who is still relatively fleet of foot goes almost blind and mostly deaf.  Right now it's dark outside.  I let the dogs out a few minutes ago, and Wolfie and Bisou came back when I called them.  As for Lexi, she's still out there, staying away from shrews and fishers, I hope.  Wolfie is keeping vigil by the back door, looking out for her.

Last winter, to keep her safe, I tried attaching Lexi to a light chain that ran on a line suspended above the yard.  But she was miserable.  One of her few remaining pleasures, aside from eating, consists of ambling  around on her own outside, sniffing stuff and thinking old-dog thoughts.
A gerontologist told me recently that, in nursing homes, the policy has shifted from safety at all costs to one that tolerates a certain degree of risk in favor of allowing the very old to retain some feeling of self-determination.  That is how I hope to be treated some day, and it's how I'm treating my old dog right now.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

U Is For Uppers

"Honey," the obstetrician said (for that is how we girls were addressed in 1969), "you're two months pregnant and you've gained four pounds.  If you keep this up you'll have a bad delivery, you'll get varicose veins, and you'll look awful."

"But Doctor S.," I replied, "I have horrible morning sickness all day long, and food is the only thing that helps.  Plus I keep falling asleep in the library stacks, when I'm supposed to be doing research for my dissertation."

"Here's something that might help," Dr. S. said, handing me a prescription.  "Take one in the morning."

The next day, having taken the new pill, I went to the library.  At noon I met my husband and some friends at a cafe on campus.  "You'll never believe what a day I had!"  I said, before even sitting down.  "It was terrific!  I found just the sources I was looking for, lots of them!  I wrote and wrote and wrote until I ran out of index cards!"

"Don't you want to eat something?" my husband asked when I stopped for breath.

"What? No...I'm not really hungry.  I think I'll go buy some more index cards!  I'll see you at home this afternoon!" and, waving gaily, I sped off to the campus bookstore, got the cards, and returned to the library.

Reader, those pills changed my life:   my nausea vanished, as did my appetite and my need for sleep.  The dissertation research was going famously.  True, after several weeks I noticed that a vague feeling of apprehension would come over me when the pill's effects started wearing off, a littler earlier every day.  But it never occurred to me to wonder about the pills.  They had been prescribed by Dr. S., and it was his job to take care of me and the baby.

In January, 1970, when I went for my four months check, I saw Dr. P, a partner of Dr. S.  "I no longer have nausea," I explained, "but the pills that Dr. S prescribed give me energy, so I'm still taking them."

Dr. P looked at my chart and looked alarmed.  "Do you know what you've been taking?  Those are diet pills!  Do you know how addictive they are?  I advise you to stop taking them right now."  I went home, put the  pills away in the medicine cabinet, and waited apprehensively for the agonies of withdrawal to begin.  Miraculously, they never did.

The pregnancy progressed, and, thanks to that early pill-fueled burst of research, I finished a paragraph-by-paragraph outline of the dissertation.  When my mid-May due date came and went with no signs of labor, I felt betrayed by the universe. It was hot, and I was so uncomfortable that I couldn't even read, much less work on the dissertation.  One especially sweltering afternoon, I remembered the pills.  I got the bottle out of the medicine cabinet, split a pill in two, and swallowed a piece.

In a flash, I was in the fabric store buying material and patterns for not one but five dresses to wear after the baby came.  I flew home, ironed out all the fabric and all the patterns, pinned the patterns to the fabric, cut out the five dresses, and went into labor.

The next day, I was nursing my plump and sprightly daughter when Dr. S came into the hospital room and stood beaming by my bed, "Honey, I'm so proud of you," he said.  "Your baby weighed eight pounds, but your total gain was only fifteen pounds!  You'll be able to fit into your clothes in no time."

Monday, October 3, 2011

T Is For Telepathy

Telepathy is not one of my fortes, with some exceptions.   At certain times, my spouse of the last several centuries and I experience uncanny episodes of thinking/saying the same thing at the same time.  It's as if the buckwheat hulls that fill our pillows become a conducting medium for our minds.

Otherwise, I'm neither a transmitter nor a receiver of notions.  If I want somebody to know what I'm thinking, I pretty much have to come up with some words.  As for receiving, my head is full of thoughts.  I suspect that few of them are my own.  I just don't know whose they are.

The couple of books on intuition I've read insist that we are everyone of us intuitive, and capable of sending as well as receiving ideas.  We're not, however, attuned to this power, and so it goes unacknowledged and uncultivated.  I want to believe this, since I would like nothing better than to be able to communicate thoughts and feelings without having to go to the trouble, and taking the risk, of putting them into words.  This would simplify many social situations.  If someone was boring me to death by going on about, say, car insurance, I could send a suggestion such as "Stop already!  Talk about dogs instead."

The books advise paying attention to those times when you have achieved some degree of telepathy, however slight.  Somehow, I hardly ever manage to do this, and when I do, I reflexively attribute the event  to coincidence.  But I love hearing other people's telepathy stories.  Do you have one?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Enigmatic Cellist

I was meeting two friends for dinner at the tiny restaurant in the upscale village.  It was warm enough that tables were still set up on the patio under a canopy.  We were led to one of these, but there was a problem:  between our table and the indoor dining room a man sat playing the cello. 

It was a fine sound, deep and clear.  I knew that I would not be able to eat, let alone talk, next to those thrumming notes, so I asked to be moved. The waiter looked annoyed, but went to arrange for a table inside.  The cellist glanced up from his score, and I felt sure he'd caught the gist of my request.  I was mortified that he must think I wanted to move because I didn't like his playing.

We followed the waiter indoors, and as I passed the cellist, I wished I could make eye contact, maybe smile--do something to let him know that the reason I wanted to move away from him was that he played too well.  We sat down and the wine arrived, and the basket of crusty bread, but I couldn't taste any of it because, through the chatter of the diners and the clatter of dishes and silverware, I could still hear the cello.  And it was distractingly, disturbingly good.

I looked at the people around us.  They were talking and eating, seemingly oblivious to the stream of high art wafting through the air.  Somewhere between the main course and dessert, the cellist began playing the Bach Cello Suites, one majestic, soulful movement after another--allemande, courante, sarabande, gigue....  Here is this man, I thought, pouring out this sublime stuff, and behind it lie years and years of lessons, scales, and auditions, performance anxiety and bouts of despair.  And now it had come to fruition...and here he was, in a restaurant, playing while we chewed our food.

I mentioned to the server how extraordinary the playing was. "Oh, he's good," he said, "he plays with the --- Symphony,"  and named one of the top orchestras in the U.S.  I couldn't believe it.  There are thousands of accomplished string players in the land today, only a handful of whom make it into the best orchestras.  I know that symphony orchestras have been having a hard time lately, but this guy's orchestra is still alive and active.  What was he doing playing in a restaurant?

Musicians have always supplemented orchestra salaries with other jobs.  My school uniforms and tuition were paid with the money that my father, a violinist, earned from chamber music gigs, recording sessions, or--steadiest but most disliked--private lessons or college teaching.  I know that in his early years as a musician, well before I was born, my father played waltzes at an exclusive tea-house in Barcelona.  But never again, after I knew him, did he play background music at a social event, much less at a restaurant.

Is the state of classical music today so dire that fine musicians are forced to play in restaurants, I wondered?  Perhaps the enigmatic cellist was just a friend of the restaurateur...or he was a musical masochist who enjoyed playing while people ignored him.  Eventually he stopped, and I was relieved--the tension of trying not to listen to the music had been wearing me out.

As we were leaving, I saw that the cellist had joined a couple at a table, and was eating with them.  Were they avid music lovers who, amazed to find such a star in their midst, had asked to buy him dinner?  Away from his instrument, the cellist looked affable but unremarkable as he cut into his roasted duck.  Again, as I walked by him I wanted somehow to let him know that he had been heard.  But he was munching away so contentedly that I figured he was happy with things just as they were.