what i did this summer…

Remember those essays we had to write the first day back to school?

How I spent my summer vacation.

I probably wrote that I played with friends and helped my mom around the house. Apart from that I went to an occasional movie with my best friend, gratis her awesome dad who’d pay the price of my admission…a quarter. Yep. A quarter. Back then…the 50’s and early 60’s…we could see a news reel, a cartoon, and a feature film for twenty-five pennies. On Maui, at least. Not sure what mainland theaters were charging.

Our family wasn’t rolling in dough so there were no trips to California, New York, or Europe. Those places weren’t even on my radar. The most I could hope for was a short trip to nearby Honolulu on a propeller plane. That’s if my older sister paid for my round trip ticket, inviting me to visit for the summer.

It shouldn’t be difficult to figure out that my world view was pretty narrow…that of an island girl out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Fortunately, that all changed when I got married.

My husband’s first job was with Pan American World Airways, so we honeymooned in Tahiti. His second job was with American Express, with whom he got a promotion which moved us to New York. A short couple of years later he joined Norwegian American Cruises…and the rest is travel history.

Our first trip to Europe was in the 80’s. This time it was on me, since I was working with TWA in New York. It included a quick 2-day glimpse of Paris. Years later when our daughter was a teen, I dreamed of returning to that glamorous city with her in tow. I knew she’d never be able to afford it on her dancer’s salary.

This summer my dream trip to Paris came true. Except that my daughter had to work. No whisking her off to Europe. So instead it became…a second honeymoon for hubby and me.

While not the romantic scenario acted out in movies by the likes of Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, hubby and I managed just fine for a middle-aged couple. We held hands. We looked lovingly into one another’s eyes. We teased and bantered, sharing intimate jokes at which only the two of us could smile and chuckle.

And yes, there were moments of frustration. When we got on each other’s last nerve.

Like when we went in search of Rodin’s Museum and Napoleon’s Tomb, and instead found ourselves wandering the streets in an isolated industrial neighborhood, while my poor aching feet screamed…”Get off of me! You’re killing me!” And when we had to go in search of the nearest “toilette,” so I could pee for the hundredth time.

Dead tired from scouring every corner of Paris we would fall into bed early. No evening soirees for us. No moonlit boat rides on the Seine . No gazing into each others’ eyes while dining on squab and chocolate souffles. We were content with a simple meal, an I Love Lucy video we’d brought from home, and finally snuggling side by side, snoring contentedly beneath a fluffy, white duvet…the nearby Eiffel Tower keeping watch over all, and lighting the skies above.

Funny what rocks your world when you’re old.

My favorite tour was wandering amidst miles and miles of tombstones at the Pere La Chaise Cemetery.

(Photo courtesy of…ohbythewayblog.blogspot.com)

Morbid? Just the opposite! It was other-worldly. Seeing row upon row of oft-times centuries-old graves. It was as though, those poor, deceased souls were sneaking glimpses of us…as we were having a peek in on them. With my cell phone I snapped photos of such notables’ tombs as Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Sarah Bernhardt, Chopin, and Gertrude Stein. Even Jim Morrison of the rock group, The Doors, was interned there. I was especially delighted to see the simple graves of actors Yves Montand and wife Simone Signoret. They had been larger than life on the big screen. Now they lay like common folk beneath the hard earth.

Especially sobering were the graves of those who had suffered under Hitler’s demonic regime. I could still feel their wretched agony, pulsating beneath the stone.

 

(Photo courtesy of…cemetery explorers. blogspot.com)

I could hear my mom lecturing from her grave…”Don’t be taking pictures of the dead. They’ll haunt you. Wait and see.” Dismissing such thoughts, as best I could, I’d remark to myself…and yet loud enough so the dead could hear…”You’re a good person. I’m just honoring you, your memory.” Of course I didn’t wait for a response as I quickened my pace.

One particular tombstone stopped me dead…pardon the pun…in my tracks.

The image of a young man from the Victorian era…captured in bronze, dressed as though he’d been out and about, leather gloves and all…lay full length across his grave. He looked to be 6 feet tall. I kept staring in disbelief at the gorgeous hunk of cast stone. My eyes scoured every inch of him, hesitating where his crotch bulged…the only part not green from oxidation. Curious…

(Photo courtesy of…canvasoflight.com)

I was certain mine weren’t the only eyes bewildered by what lay before me. I’d had to wait my turn while a couple of men gazed down at what seemed a very unexpected and highly unusual tombstone. I admit I was afraid of taking a photo of the dead man’s likeness. Looking at him through the lens, I thought he’d wink…or frown…or sit up and smack me. I admit, I was a tiny bit scared. Calming my fears, I turned to the inscription and quickly snapped a shot.

That night in the comfort of our rented apartment, I looked through the photos I’d taken. I paused at the image of the young man made of bronze. He continued to fascinate me. When I moved on to the snapshot of the inscription, I held my breath. Were my eyes playing tricks on me? How could the inscription be upside down? I was positive I’d not turned my cell phone around to take the picture. That would’ve been awkward. There must have been a good explanation, although neither my husband nor I could come up with one.

I was spooked. I could not look at the picture of the inscription again, without feeling as though a ghostly urchin was having fun at my expense. I almost believed my mom’s scolding that I would pay for disrespecting the dead. Almost. I finally convinced myself that whoever had commissioned the sculpture deliberately requested that the inscription…in French…be written upside down. After all, it seemed in keeping with the provocative tomb. Perhaps it was done so the deceased could read what it said without too much effort on his part. He could just…sit up.

Aaahhh, Paris…all of its sights and smells, large and small, grandiose and humble…captures the essence of European culture. Refined and earthy all at once. Grounded in centuries of history, yet comfortable in its modernity..

I left with a deep respect for people different from me. Folks at ease in their daily lives. In fact, I marveled at how easily Parisians worked and relaxed throughout the day. They don’t seem to subscribe to our American need to work 60-hour weeks, playing only on weekends, if even that. As we toured the city, we saw, and heard, many a Parisian bicycling, and lunching, along the Seine. They sat at nearby cafe tables, sipping wine and conversing as tour buses and motorcycles whizzed by.

Yet I was glad to be home, settling back into our normal life…resuming our normal routines…comforted by our cozy, familiar surroundings.

We’re no different from Dorothy, who preferred Kansas to Oz…

…there really is…no place like home.

………hugmamma.

(Note: I will post my own photos of Paris…as soon as I figure out how to upload them from my cell phone. I couldn’t wait until then to write about it. Something I already know how to do.)

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could i do better?…could you?

Every now and then something on CNN prompts me to reflect upon President Obama’s handling of national and world affairs. I must confess I’m no expert in government matters.  Who is?

Yes, there are those with years, even decades of experience. Naturally, that counts for something. But so does an opinion. 

In the last month or so I’ve read a couple of presidential biographies, one on Dwight D. Eisenhower, the other on Richard M. Nixon. I’m now burrowing through one on John F. Kennedy.

Biographies are my favorite reads. They’re part history, part gossip…some factual, some speculative. I especially like getting to know the private person, the one the public rarely, if ever, sees.

My takeaway from Eisenhower’s biography was that he was a disciplined man given to sacrificing his personal life for his life as a public servant. His wife, Mamie, followed in her husband’s wake keeping herself intact, physically and mentally, as best she could. Eisenhower governed like the military man that he was, gathering his group of trusted, male cohorts about him to advise his next moves. Oddly enough, or maybe not, Vice President Nixon was not among them.

Political ambition had the starring role in Nixon’s life. It took him to the summit only attained by a few mortals, and it plunged him into the darkest depths where few souls ever tread. Pat, his “partner in crime,” believed her husband honorable in all he undertook. She saw the glory and the sorrow of a man driven to create the America of his vision. As we all know, Nixon fell far short of his ill-conceived plan.

There were moments of greatness in Kennedy’s life. His inaugural speech challenged us to “Ask not what your country can do for you…ask what you can do for your country.” Thousands answered the challenge by joining the president’s newly instituted Peace Corps. The Cuban Missile Crisis probably aged Kennedy faster than all other obstacles combined…chronic back pain…a spendthrift-fashionista-first lady…an insatiable appetite for women…and Governor Wallace’s hard-core opposition to black-equality.

And where was Jackie in all of this? She loved Jack is all…and his money. Evidently the Kennedys were a good match. He had his faults; she had hers. Great thing is…they both understood each other’s imperfections and still managed to love one another “until death do us part.” Which it did, unfortunately.

The Obamas seem a different breed from what we’ve encountered before. At least I think so. 

President Obama, as a former law professor, governs as though he is still in the classroom. He welcomes, even encourages, creative thinking. In the end, however, it’s his lone voice that decides the course of events. Yes, he has campaigned hard for tenure, and won. How he has managed to do so in the face of the Koch brothers and the billions they spend advancing the cause of the Tea Party is unfathomable.

I like to think it’s because Obama’s cause is morally right. I’m a sucker for those showing compassion for the less fortunate. And although the president has an ego the size of the universe…what leader doesn’t?

Funny how I can relate to Obama’s thought processes in making decisions, and the mistakes he’s bound to make given that he’s human. And maybe that’s just it…he’s human. It might also be that he lived a life more similar to mine, especially since he grew up in my native Hawaii. Beyond that, however, he wasn’t a product of a military background like Eisenhower. Nor from what I can surmise, Obama wasn’t driven by a burning desire to star in the White House. That came later, after he failed to move mountains as a human rights activist in the Chicago projects, and a stint in the senate.

While I’m an unlikely prospect to be one of Michelle Obama’s best buds, I get what she’s about. First and foremost, she’s a mom like me. Moreover, she will preach her husband’s goodness to all and any. Woe to those who dare challenge us on that front. 

No, I don’t consider myself in the same league as these notables. Nor would I ever care to be. With their power and celebrity comes a whole host of problems I wouldn’t want. Given their unique circumstances, I think the presidents and their first ladies do the best they can. It may be difficult for them to remember that they’re made of clay like us, given how the media keeps the spotlight on them 24/7.

Maybe we can remember for them…

…they wear bvd’s and girdles too!

………hugmamma.

(I know. I know. I’m dating myself…) 

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like flies buzzing around…inside my brain

A proud mother watches from afar as Prince Wil...

Image by mharrsch via Flickr

One more thought before I finally end all discussion about Sarah Bradford’s Diana – Finally, The Complete Story. It centers upon her devotion to her sons, William and Harry. Not that there ever were any doubts. But first-hand testimony of a heretofore, unheard from source, only strengthens the universally held belief that the Princess of Wales excelled at mothering. 

According to Meredith Etherington-Smith, then marketing director of Christie’s Worldwide, who from September 1996 to July 1997 helped Diana prepare for the sale of her gowns to aid her favorite charities:

Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother

Image via Wikipedia

The British Royal Family in 1880.

Image via Wikipedia

One thing she did take seriously was her role first as mother to the boys and second, as Meredith put it, as the Queen Mother of the twenty-first century. ‘Her relationship with the boys was patently a wonderful one…She was a very good mother. I expected them to be more protective of her than they were, and they weren’t, they weren’t mewling and puking and clustering round her. They didn’t have a neurotic relationship. It seemed to me to be perfectly healthy and normal and nice and a great tribute of all to Diana and secondly to Charles.’ ‘Constitutional plans–well, she felt her long-distance role was to be the Queen Mother of the twenty-first century, that the influence the Queen Mother had had on her grandchildren in a way, she felt that was the kind of role which in a curious way she had been chosen for and one did feel that there was a bit of divine right entering into this, a little bit of fate. And she felt that William should be a democratic King, that the boys needed to have friends, that they needed to know their generation, they needed to know politicians, not just Tory ones, that they needed to know the Blair children. They needed to be part of contemporary English life, not an English life that was really out of date by the end of the war–and I’m paraphrasing some quite long conversations about this. And her job was to make sure they were released from the glass cage, and that when he did come to the throne, a lot of people would know him, and he wouldn’t be a mystery, wouldn’t be a royal freak, that he would be a person. I think that she very much thought she would be a power behind the throne…Diana emphasized her desire that William should be a ‘very English King‘: she felt that her Spencer blood had a lot to contribute. ‘She felt that because of the spider’s web of marital alliances and blood they (the Royal Family) weren’t English. “I come from an English family,” she had said proudly, and “we (the Spencers) are a lot older than they are.” She was very proud of the Duke of Marlborough, for instance.

The Prince Willam Cup. The trophy that is cont...

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Who is hotter? Prince Harry or Prince William?

Image by feastoffun.com via Flickr

Diana was very anxious that her boys should not become isolated as the previous royal generation had been, as indeed their father had been. That was why she had wanted the boys, and William in particular, to go to Eton because they would have proper friends there and not sycophants, ‘Diana said, “There’s no messing around at Eton about someone being the heir to the throne. If you’re not popular, charming, intelligent, or good at games, you’re not going to rate, are you?” And so William knows a lot of people. And the interesting thing about that she said, “I think they’ll be protection, those friends too. They’ve grown up together and they’ll be protective.” And they are. You don’t see grab shots of William that often, and why? Because his friends don’t utter. She’d thought all this through. That’s what I mean by being smart.’ ‘They had money which they carried and spent and they went shopping. In other words she was trying to provide as normal a life as possible–they could come out from behind the glass window, and that was her great legacy.’

Princess Diana dancing with John Travolta in t...

Image via Wikipedia

Princess Diana

 Why would Princess Diana be so forthcoming with Etherington-Smith, you ask? Probably because she was older, very much like her other confidantes, Lady Annabel Goldsmith and Margueritte Littman. “Meredith surmised that Diana was very comfortable in the company of older women. ‘I think possibly, without being too psychotherapeutic about it, because of the lack of a mother…most of her confidantes apart from Rosa Monckton, were actually older women…and I think she felt very comfortable, they weren’t competition, they were fun and she could become slightly girly with them without the baggage of “I’m the most beautiful person in the world”…’ “

Another random, final, or maybe not so final, thought occurred as I lay awake last night, reading I Love You, Ronnie. President Reagan had a very human, extremely sentimental side. Apart from his family and a few close friends of the couple, I’m sure no one suspected what a great romantic he was, and how he could wax so poetic. At the same time, however, his vulnerability as a human being comes through. To know that the man who could dial up a third world war lay bare his soul in love letters to his wife, is hugely touching. I find myself remembering Ronald Reagan as President, but trying to imagine this newly revealed man behind the strong facade. What I picture is someone like my husband, my father-in-law, friends in high corporate positions. Not only them, but husbands and fathers the world over who, to the best of their abilities, care for their families.

Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan aboard an Ameri...

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The following letter was from a man to his wife, his best friend. It’s a letter any man could’ve written, in fact. This one just happened to be from a President to his First Lady, although at the time he was a working stiff, and she was a housewife.

Ronald Reagan
Pacific Palisades
Thurs. (May 24, 1963)

My darling
     Last night we had our double telephone call and all day (I didn’t work) I’ve been re-writing the story of my life as done by Richard Hubler. Tomorrow I’ll do my last day of location and then I’ll call you and I’ll tell you I love you and I’ll mean it but somehow because of the inhibitions we all have I won’t feel that I’ve expressed all that you really mean to me.
     Whether Mike helps buy his first car or spends the money on sports coats isn’t really important. We both want to get him started on a road that will lead to his being able to provide for himself. In x number of years we’ll face the same problem with The Skipper and somehow we’ll probably find right answers. (Patti is another kind of problem and we’ll do all we can to make that one right, too.) But what is really important is that having fulfilled our responsibilities to our offspring we haven’t been careless with the treasure that is ours–namely what we are to each other.
     Do you know that when you sleep you curl your fists up under your chin and many mornings when it is barely dawn I lie facing you and looking at you until finally I have to touch you ever so lightly so you won’t wake up–but touch you I must or I’ll burst?

Cropped screenshot of Ann Blyth from the trail...

Image via Wikipedia

     Just think: I’ve discovered I can be fond of Ann Blyth because she and her Dr. seem to have something of what we have. Of course it can’t really be as wonderful for them because she isn’t you but still it helps to know there are others who might just possibly know a little about what it’s like to love someone so much that it seems as if I have my hand stretched clear across the mountains and desert until it’s holding your hand there in our room in front of the fireplace.
     Probably this letter will reach you only a few hours before I arrive myself, but not really because right now as I try to say what is in my heart I think my thoughts must be reaching you without waiting for paper and ink and stamps and such. If I ache, it’s because we are apart and yet that can’t be because you are inside and a part of me, so we aren’t really apart at all. Yet I ache but wouldn’t be without the ache, because that would mean being without you and that I can’t be because I love you.

Your Husband

Queen Mother Rose

Image by OctogenEm via Flickr

…would that all men could, and would, …..bare their souls
…..without flinching ….. at the thought ….. hugmamma.

books, extinct?

Entering one of my favorite local haunts, Barnes and Noble, my eyes surveyed shelves and table tops that looked noticeably depleted. The nearby magazine racks on the other hand, were full to bursting with all manner of glossies. Walking alongside the long tables, I saw only handfuls of stacked books. But I felt better as I wandered through the next several aisles. The book shelves seemed well stocked; there were no empty spaces. 

There is speculation that the giant book store might be downsizing. The cashier helping me check out explained that an investor who owns 31% of the stock, may be purchasing more shares in an effort to take Barnes and Noble private. She thought the bigger stores might close down, but that our branch would remain intact. “Great news!” I said. “If it closed, where would my husband and I go on Saturday night?” We both laughed as I left.

With more and more people flocking to the internet to make their purchases, and the introduction of the e-book, print material is on its way to becoming archaic. Maybe because I had to walk a long distance to borrow library books which provided a welcome escape from my impoverished childhood, I still treasure them to this day. I take pleasure in perusing the covers, looking for a title that catches my fancy. Reading the description on the inside jacket may, or may not, clinch a sale.

Biographies are my favorite reading. Not only do I learn about the individual of whom the book is written, but I get a history lesson thrown in as a bonus. Events of the day provide the backdrop against which the story of a person’s life unfolds. Historical facts are so much more interesting when written around a central character. At least I think so. My husband thinks differently; he prefers history in its purest form, all facts.

For his birthday a couple of years ago, my daughter and I gave my husband a Sony e-book. It has become his constant companion, even resting by his bedside. (At my age, I don’t mind the competition.) As a result books, once beloved by him, are but a scant memory of olden days. Even driving to work my husband listens to audio books. I am proud to say that I still live in the literary past, for I love my collection of books:  medical, travel, biographies, novels, self-help, how-to and so on. Some were printed in the 30’s and others, even earlier. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.

I’m passionate about antiques and vintage collectibles, so it’s not far-fetched that I would favor reading the old-fashioned way…books.

what’s your preference?…hugmamma.