Nothing could be more fleeting than capturing snapshots of Venice on a taxi boat as it maneuvers the myriad of waterways. Each photo is a moment in time.
Venice provided a treasure trove of handicrafts by the locals. The fanciest among them were, of course, the masks. They were gorgeous! Unfortunately photographs were not allowed to be snapped in some of the more elaborate shops…for fear of copycat creations. Of course I understood. But a couple of crafters were more than agreeable to my request. In fact, I wrote of my experience with one of the young women with whom I had an immediate connection. My ballerina daughter, for whom I was purchasing a mask, was the common denominator. You can read about my affection for the charming lady with the pointe shoes in a venetian stranger at https://hugmamma.wordpress.com/2010/08/08/a-venetian-stranger/
…venetian fancy…for your viewing pleasure………hugmamma.
Absolutely loved this Traveler’s Tale by Jennifer Belle which appeared some time ago in the Wall Street Journal. How many new brides would go for the gusto and forge ahead with her honeymoon plans…alone? I don’t know that I’d have had the courage 40 some odd years ago. But then that was a different time, and I was an island girl. That’s my excuse for everything. Truth be told, I’m just a scaredy cat, always have been, always will be. My daughter’s a little more adventurous, in fact a lot more adventurous. She drives on freeways in any state without white-knuckled fear. Me? I’m still meandering back-roads, even in my hometown of 14 years. Now you know why this young Mrs. had me chuckling…and envious of her unbelievable hutzpah!
My Perfect Honeymoon
(That I Spent Alone)
My husband and I met at a Valentine’s party, got in an agitating fight the next day and then became inseparable–that is, until our honeymoon.
Walking out the door to go to the airport, my husband went to get his passport from his desk. It was missing. I called our housekeeper but she hadn’t seen it. We searched the apartment. I called the Terrorist Investigation Unit of the FBI to report it stolen by the carpet cleaner. “We can’t go,” my husband said.
But my passport wasn’t missing. I had wedding money and an airplane ticket. So while he stayed home and called his mother to see if she had his birth certificate and made desperate plans to join me as soon as possible, I flew to Venice.
I took a water taxi to my hotel and the driver, a gorgeous man named Davide, insisted I take command of the boat, although I explained that I was from New York and didn’t even know how to drive a car. “I teach you,” he said and sort of slapped my butt and also touched my stomach while shifting gears. He gave me his number on a scrap of paper.
“I’m married,” I said for the first time. “I’m on my honeymoon.” He thought this was very charming and American and pretended to look overboard in the murky brown water for a groom. “Call me,” he said.
At the Hotel La Fenice et des Artistes, beside the burned-down opera house, I checked into the honeymoon suite. I had cannelloni and bellinis at Harry’s Bar on Calle Vallaresso, and stopped to listen to, of all things, Hava Nagila, played by a band in San Marco. The next day I bought five hand-tooled leather journals from a bookbinder named Ustino and began writing in one of them at Locanda Cipriani, a restaurant in a quince orchard on a tiny island called Torcello. I ordered cannelloni again and wrote, “I’m eating cannelloni all aloni.” I wandered that night over bridges and bought a silk jacket with rats painted on it for $500.
The next day I got my period on the island of Burano and found one drugstore among all the lace shops. There was so much lace everywhere, when I opened the new box of Tampax, I was surprised they weren’t lace too. I had dinner that night at Vino Vino on Calle de la Rotonda where you order from three dishes at the counter. It would have been perfect except for the waitress ignoring me during my lemon cake–and oh yeah, I remembered, my husband not being there.
Waiting for him, I took gondola rides and drank wine with beautiful men. I soaked my feet in the bidet, listening on the phone to my husband complain about how he’d taken Metro-North to the county clerk’s office in White Plains to get his birth certificate. I went to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the Accademia, lounged on my king-sized bed, got chocolate on my trousseau. “Your honeymoon, she is ruined!” the hotel clerk fretted. But she was perfect.
Honeymooning alone, I discovered what it was to be married. I experienced it more fully, had a chance to get used to it. Without him there to interfere, I could be my most romantic. We were star-crossed; he was struggling to get to me. Every bride should be alone after the stress of a wedding. I felt sorry for anyone with a groom to deal with. “Husband is my favorite word,” I wrote in my hand-bound diary. Believe me–I have never written anything like that since.
When we got home our housekeeper brought me the slim Citibank check box from the desk and opened it proudly to reveal the safe place she’d hidden my husband’s passport. I’d moved that box a hundred times during my search, but hadn’t thought to look inside.
The scrap of paper with Davide’s phone number on it is still on my refrigerator. In case I ever want a second honeymoon.
(Ms. Belle’s novels include “High Maintenance” and “The Seven Year Bitch.” She remains happily married.)
my kind of woman…for sure…hugmamma. 😉
During a recent visit to Venice I felt a longing to return someday and spend more time, perhaps a month. Living as a local, I wanted to wander the narrow alleyways as if time were a luxury. Traveling the globe as a tourist is not my idea of experiencing the real face of a country. Doing so seems more like being on this side of the glass in an aquarium, observing underwater creatures swimming blithely through their sea world. With eyes wide, face pressed close, my imagination wanders, piercing the “barrier” separating me from them, be they natives of the sea or of the land. Momentarily, I’m one of them. Excitement lures me in, but fear of the unknown pulls me back into the comfort of my own skin. I envy those who can abandon themselves to what’s new, undeterred by the consequences. Like the “I Love Lucy” episode where she, wanting to “soak up local color” to prepare for a small part in an Italian movie, is drenched in grape juice when she wrestles with a villager in a vat of grapes. I’m up to scheming like Lucy, but lack her bravado in following through. What is it that holds me back? Is it my island mentality, older age, my husband’s antipathy for “dancing on the edge,” or my dysfunctional past? Whatever it is, I am fine living within this “moment.” But life has a way of changing things up, so I never say never.
A Thousand Days in Venice is the author’s story of her life-altering, middle-aged marriage to a Venetian. “He saw her across the Piazza San Marco and fell in love from afar. When he sees her again in a Venice cafe’ a year later, he knows it is fate. He knows little English; she, a divorced American chef, speaks only food-based Italian. Marlena thinks she is incapable of intimacy, that her heart has lost its capacity for romantic love. But within months of their first meeting, she has packed up her house in St. Louis to marry Fernando–“the stranger,” as she calls him–and live in that achingly lovely city in which they met.”
There are revealing moments in their relationship. When Fernando makes his first trip to America to see Marlena in St. Louis, she asks why the hasty visit, since she’d just arrived home a couple of days before. In response he explains that he was “…tired of waiting. I understand now about using up my time. Life is this conto, account,” said the banker in him. ‘It’s an unknown quantity of days from which one is permitted to withdraw only one precious one of them at a time. No deposits accepted. …I’ve used so many of mine to sleep. One by one, I’ve mostly waited for them to pass. It’s common enough for one to simply find a safe place to wait it all out. Every time I would begin to examine things, to think about what I felt, what I wanted, nothing touched, nothing mattered more than anything else. I’ve been lazy. Life rolled itself out and I shambled along sempre due passi indietro, always two steps behind. Fatalita, fate. Easy. No risks. Everything is someone else’s fault or merit. And so now, no more waiting,’ …”
Laughing until she cries at something he said, Fernando asks ‘And about those tears. How many times a day do you cry?’ Later Marlena’s thoughts return to his question, “Much of my crying is for joy and wonder rather than for pain. A trumpet’s waiting, a wind’s warm breath, the chink of a bell on an errant lamb, the smoke from a candle just spent, first light, twilight, firelight. Everyday beauty. I cry for how life intoxicates. And maybe just a little for how swiftly it runs.”
My daughter has said more than once that my tear ducts are intertwined with my heart-strings. My tears flow easily when she is ecstatic or unhappy, during old films, when listening to sad, or happy, news. I don’t think I cry as much as I laugh, but it probably runs a close second. During Mass yesterday, I braced myself for a hymn that always brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. “Be Not Afraid” had been a favorite of the pastor who presided over our 100-year-old church in Redding. He’d baptized our 5 month-old, walking her proudly down the aisle, showing her off to fellow parishioners.
Father Conlisk was a close family friend who dined with us regularly. During a visit I asked our toddler to go and find her father, in answer to which she readily climbed up onto the priest’s lap. One particular Christmas morning as we sat in the front pew at church, he asked her if she’d been visited by someone special. Without hesitation she showed him Dumbo the elephant, her new stuffed animal. He held it up for all to see; the congregation broke into peels of laughter.
When Father died as a result of lung cancer, I took our daughter to the funeral Mass at our small church and later, to one held in a larger church at a nearby parish. Both times I allowed her to stand just outside the pew, so she would have a better view of the proceedings. In preparation, I explained that Father Conlisk had gone to Heaven where he would be free from pain, and find happiness with God. We followed others to the gravesite, where I showed our 5-year-old Father’s final resting place. I think she found closure because from then on, she seemed to accept his absence from our lives. Perhaps it also helped that we became good friends with the priest who replaced Father Conlisk.
So like Marlena, I tend to shed tears for “Everyday beauty…for how life intoxicates. And maybe just a little for how swiftly it runs.” What we may all have in common with the author is “this potentially destructive habit of mental record-keeping that builds, distorts, then breaks up and spreads into even the farthest flung territories of reason and consciousness. What we do is accumulate the pain, collect it like cranberry glass. We display it, stack it up into a pile. Then we stack it up into a mountain so we can climb up onto it, waiting for, demanding sympathy, salvation. ‘Hey, do you see this? Do you see how big my pain is?’ We look across at other people’s piles and measure them, shouting, ‘My pain is bigger than your pain.’ It’s all somehow like the medieval penchant for tower building. Each family demonstrated its power with the height of its own personal tower. One more layer of stone, one more layer of pain, each one a measure of power. I’d always fought to keep dismantling my pile, to sort and reject as much of the clutter as I could. Now, even more, I made myself look back straight into that which was over and done with, and that which would never be. I was determined to go to Fernando, and if there was to be some chance for us to take our story beyond this beginning, I knew I would have to go lightly. I was fairly certain the stranger’s piles would provide enough work for both of us.”
We all seem to emerge from childhood with “baggage.” Perhaps a lucky few escape, body, mind and spirit intact. But spending our adulthood living in the past, wastes what’s left of a good life. As we peel away the layers of yesterday’s disappointments, we make way for tomorrow’s possibilities. Better that we declutter, rather than hoard negative experiences simply to have someone, or something, to blame for our inability to cope or our downward spiral. The process may vary for there are probably as many paths toward resolution, as there are individuals in the world. One size doesn’t necessarily fit all. However the common denominator should be compassion and a positive attitude, toward oneself and others. We all deserve to live our best lives, going forward. Maybe when we disavow our mountains of past pain, we’ll be able to abandon our fears of the unknown, and…return to Venice.
live our todays and tomorrows, never our yesterdays…hugmamma.
I’ve become acquainted with a 91-year-young woman through a very dear friend who’s in her mid-70’s. They belong to the same senior center’s group. I’ve only chatted with the elder woman 2 or 3 times, but I’m always amazed at her vitality. She still drives herself to their weekly gatherings where they do needlework, chat, and snack on goodies they, or others, bring to share. This acquaintance dresses stylishly, right down to matching earrings, handbag and shoes. I admire her youthful glow which obviously emanates from within. Her image is always in my mind’s eye when I think of someone aging gracefully.
My friend who’s 70ish is admirable not only because she’s such a fashion-plate, which she is, but also because she is laden with health issues that would bring a younger, stronger woman, like me, to my knees. I’m a wuss by comparison. Like an older sister, sometimes a mom, my girlfriend was a smoker for many years, but was finally able to kick the habit. Whether as a result of smoking or having had it beforehand, she continues to suffer with emphysema which is compounded by asthma. Weighing under 100 pounds she’s a lightweight, but she can be as “tough as nails” when debating her opinion. I’ve never tested her, and am not about to try. I’d rather have her in my corner. When a coughing fit overtakes her, she can easily bruise some ribs. As a last resort her doctor prescribes prednisone which eliminates the cough, but leaves my friend with side effects that linger. She has bouts of diverticulitis which has her curled up in great pain. Throughout our 13 years of friendship, she’s been poked, probed, xrayed, cat-scanned, MRI’d more than anyonelse I know. With the help of a physician who’s cared for her, REALLY CARED, my amazing friend always seems “as fit as a fiddle.” I forget her medical history until another episode occurs, and it always does.
I think I dress rather smartly, but when I’m out with my friend and her husband I know she’s outdone me. Not that I mind, for I am simply in awe of her sense of style, wearing skirts and dresses that I never would, simply because they wouldn’t look as well on me. They’re not my “cup of tea,” but they suit my girlfriend to a tee. And the jewelry, she can wear several gold bangles, rings on several fingers, including on her toes, and of course, earrings. Stunning is the only word to describe her. Whether she’s lounging at home or stepping out, in my estimation, she’s always “dressed to the nines.”
Her hobby, more like a full-time job, keeps my girlfriend in constant stitches. (Pun intended.) She is never without a knitting project spread out across her lap, fingers and needles furiously working “knits” and “purls.” Her handiwork is so exquisite that I’ve often said she would make good money selling her sweaters, vests, shawls, afghans, and baby things. But she takes such care that she prefers to give them as gifts, rather than sell them. A few Christmases ago, my husband and I received a deep, red afghan pieced together with several large, knitted squares in different designs. Needless to say, it’s rarely used as a coverlet. The afghan lays decoratively across the back of an oversized, upholstered chair.
With little success I’ve tried to knit, my friend sitting patiently at my side, encouraging. But when I’m alone I’m in a quandry as to how to correct a mistake, so I undo everything and start anew. Exhausted and frustrated after several hours of undoing my knitting and redoing it, I put my yarns and needles aside. They still sit in a Nordstrom shopping bag against the far back wall of my closet. Now that I’m blogging, who knows when my attempt at knitting will resurface. I wouldn’t place any bets.
My girlfriend is one of the most charitable persons I know. In spite of the toll it might take upon her health, she is committed to helping family and friends in need. Regardless of her step-mother-in-law’s incessant complaining, my friend and her husband regularly visited the aging woman who lived a few hours away. While there they would help however they could. Until she died they spent Thanksgiving with her, foregoing a gayer holiday with their own children and grandchildren. Before putting her into an assisted-living facility, my girlfriend and her husband helped clean out decades of clutter from her mother-in-law’s home. While she lived, there was no indication of her appreciation for her daughter-in-law’s constant concern and care. But after passing away, my friend was bequeathed the old woman’s engagement ring. A just reward for a just person.
As I write this, my girlfriend is hosting friends who are visiting from out-of-state for a month. It may become an annual occurrence, for they welcomed their friends last year at this time. When other friends who live in the same retirement community vacationed at their condo in California earlier this year, my girlfriend took care of their sick dachshund. She went to live at the dog’s home so that it would feel comfortable in its own surroundings. Her husband visited, and she would return home to prepare and have dinner. When we planned our trip to Venice, my friend offered to care for our dog, even contemplating moving into our home so she could also care for our cats. It was a generous gesture, but her husband convinced her that it would be physically challenging for her to walk our dog up our steep driveway without his help, and he was not planning to live here with her. He had their home and dog to care for. We happily agreed to send our dog to their home, and have someonelse care for our cats.
Our family is grateful for the years we’ve known my girlfriend and her husband. I’ve especially cherished her as a role model for living robustly, despite personal hindrances. I hope I have her strong constitution, generosity toward others, and energetic vivacity as I live out the remaining years of my life. With my friend leading the way for a long time to come, I know I’m in good hands.
hugs for role models…hugmamma.
It was difficult to choose photos from our Venice trip for my previous post, so I thought I’d pass along more enchanting memories. Perhaps they will convince you to see this unique city for yourself or if you’re not able ….. I hope this brings Venice to you………. Bellisima!!!
…even birds are welcome…arrivederci…hugmamma.
Hope you enjoy these mementos of Venice, for a picture is worth a thousand words. There’s nothing to compare with a city built of 468 tiny islands connected by bridges. Embellished by architecture centuries old, that inspires awe. Where else can you travel by gondola? You should visit; make it a wish on your “bucket list.” Trust me, there’s nothing to compare… Venice, a city on water…charming…bellisima!
and smiling Venetians are the icing on the cake…hugmamma.
Remember the advice you heard growing up “Don’t hitch rides.” and “Don’t talk to strangers.” Well, I’ve done both. (Read my posts “a ride with strangers” and “attitude adjustment.”) Of course I didn’t “throw caution to the wind” until I was older, much older. Somehow it didn’t occur to me that I’d be taken advantage of; I was plump, graying, and sagging… just a little. Aren’t those weapons enough to keep the crazies at bay? Although these days I’m not so certain. Nonetheless I continue to enjoy speaking with strangers. As for riding with them, it depends on how desperate I am to see my daughter. Hopefully, I won’t need to “test those waters” again. I can’t imagine that a second experience could be more amazing than my first.
During our trip to Venice, I had one of the warmest encounters with a total stranger. Having left St. Mark’s Square after a couple of very informative, very historical tours of St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, we meandered through the small, back streets surrounding the Square. We were in search of a couple of shops recommended by Rick Steves in “Venice 2008.” On the hunt for a gift for one of my daughter’s male dancer friends, I found “…two fascinating mask and costume shops. The Ca’ del Sol… and Atelier Marega…” While I didn’t purchase a mask from either, I did wander through both, “oohs” and “aahs” spewing forth. The only other time I’d seen a proliferation of masks was in American theme parks, like Disneyland and Busch Gardens. And believe me, they’re not the same.
Venetian masks are serious business. “In the 1700s, when Venice was Europe’s party town, masks were popular–sometimes even mandatory–to preserve the anonymity of nobles doing things forbidden back home. At Carnevalle (the weeks-long mardi Gras leading up to Lent), everyone wore masks. The most popular were based on characters from the Low-brow comedic theater called Commedia dell’Arte. We all know Harlequin (simple, Lone Ranger-type masks), but there were also long-nosed masks for the hypocritical plague doctor, pretty Columina masks, and so on. Masks are made with the simple technique of papier-mache. You make a mold of clay, smear it with Vaseline (to make it easy to remove the finished mask), then create the mask by draping layers of paper and glue atop the clay mold.” Perhaps I should have kept up mask-making when I left kindergarten. Maybe then I wouldn’t be here attempting to eke out a small income from writing. But it’s better I do what I do best, and leave mask-making to those for whom it is obviously a passion. I found such a person in Barbara Lizza.
Being too overwhelmed by the tremendous inventory of beautiful masks in the shops recommended by Steves, I wandered in and out of smaller ones. The offerings were fewer, but no less gorgeous. Unable to commit, I asked my husband to continue on and scope out more shops, while I tried to make up my mind in the ones at hand. A few minutes later he returned saying there were no others across the small bridge just ahead. Returning to a tiny shop where I’d been earlier, I was pleased to be the only customer. Moving about more easily than before I admired masks resembling story book animals, hanging from the low overhead beams. They were so charming in their pastel shades, a frog, a pig, an alligator, a rooster, among others. Assuring myself they were probably pricey and inappropriate for dancers in their mid-20’s, I pressed on in my search for the right mask. Sitting on a shelf about knee-high, were exquisite eye masks. They were a matte black, with glitter sprinkled thickly around the eye holes and on the leafy extensions that swept upward on either side. Unable to select from ones bearing silver, gold or red glitter, I picked up all 3 and deposited them near the laptop where purchases were made. Hunched over the computer was a pretty, young woman. Straightening herself, we made eye contact and smiled at one another.
Breaking the silence, Miss Lizza took the mask framed in red glitter and placed it to her face, so that her eyes peered at me through the holes. Ripples of laughter bounced off the stucco walls, as we made small talk. I told her that the masks were for my daughter and her friends who were dancers. That elicited a confession that she’d been a ballet dancer for several years. Rushing to a small room off to the side of the main shop, the young woman rifled through packages on a shelf. Finding what she sought, she turned back toward me carrying a plastic bag filled with used pointe shoes. She removed a pair, proudly showing them to me. I joined in her excitement as she spoke of bygone days. Eager to tell me about her days dancing, she struggled to find the correct words. I admired her fortitude for pressing onward.
It seemed Miss Lizza might have pursued a career in dance, but was dissuaded by family. So while she might have been disappointed, she forged a new career in mask-making. From what I saw of her work in the shop, I expressed great pleasure in her obvious talent. As I am wont to do, I rummaged through my handbag pulling out a picture of my daughter, cut from a tourist booklet printed in the town where she resides and dances. I showed it to Miss Lizza who gasped, exclaiming how beautiful my daughter was and how proud I must be of her. I then explained that there was a video of my daughter dancing on the internet. Miss Lizza quickly bent down typing away on her keyboard, asking me where she could find the video. We had difficulty bringing it up, but she did find my daughter’s name and Facebook page. Asking if it was okay to “friend” her, I consented.
As this young, Venetian, former, ballet dancer attempted to compose a message, I marveled at what was happening. A world away, a stranger was on the verge of making my daughter’s acquaintance, sight unseen. I was becoming emotional so that when Miss Lizza wrote “Your mother is standing here beside me and…” I began to cry and then bawl uncontrollably. I missed my daughter very much and felt her presence in this young woman perhaps 10 years her senior. As she and I hugged, I felt like I was holding my own daughter in my arms. Miss Lizza comforted me, telling me she could sense how sensitive and sympathetic I was. We laughed in spite of my tears, for we were behaving like long-lost relatives unexpectedly meeting in a shop, with people wandering in and out. After several attempts at saying goodbye, I turned towards the door to see a very tall, very broad young man staring at us looking dumbfounded. Miss Lizza announced that he was her boyfriend, explaining to him in Venetian what had happened. Passing him on the way out, I told him he was very lucky to have a beautiful, charming girlfriend.
Venice remains special for me, and I will never forget that young woman who felt like a daughter,… if only for an hour or so.
Here’s a bit of medical trivia. Just to set the record straight, I’ve returned to self-diagnosing my condition of a few days ago. Given my very close proximity to the patient, whose symptoms I’ve watched with extreme interest, it seems, in my “expert” opinion that I’ve been suffering from symptoms of “dry mouth.” Referring to my copy of “The Merck Manual of Patient Symptoms”, it seems likely that my dry eyes, dry skin, rash on my eyelid and neck, and decrease in saliva may be owing to “dry mouth.” In my case it is probably due in large part to Claritin, an antihistamine I’ve been taking for a couple of months to combat allergies. Under GERIATRIC ESSENTIALS, the book claims that “…dry mouth becomes more common among the elderly,…probably due to the…many drugs typically used by the elderly rather than aging itself.” And I am getting elderly.
A walk-in-clinic physician at Philadelphia’s airport had prescribed Claritin. I’d been suffering allergy symptoms for some time, without realizing it. I know I’m affected by seasonal changes, but they seem to occur without my taking notice. Only after I’m forced to see a doctor for relief, am I aware that allergy season is in “full swing.” Not wanting to ruin my trip to Venice, I did as the doctor prescribed. Claritin was added to my daily intake of vitamin supplements. Who could know that it would cause an altogether different ailment, like “dry mouth.”
In the recent visit to my own GP, the symptoms hadn’t yet fully developed. So my doctor felt I was still suffering allergy symptoms and prescribed Benadryl when needed, in addition to continuing the Claritin. So after doing what I was told by 2 physicians, and still not finding relief from the problem, I’ve decided to follow my own advice for now. I discontinued taking both antihistamines. We’ll see. As of now, my diagnosis and prescription seem to be working. Oh, and I should probably be getting more sleep, according to Merck. Well, that may be a difficult pill to swallow with my recent appetite for blogging. It’s now 2 a.m.
I don’t take medical conditions lightly, although I address them with “tongue-in-cheek” humor. But I am a proponent of being an active participant in my own well-being. I heed expert advice, but I question it and continually assess my symptoms to make certain that my health is improving. Doctors offer their best-educated opinions in the moment, but they are not experiencing it first-hand. I know what I’m feeling all the time. I wish my medical team lived with me 24/7, but they don’t, so I’m the next best thing.
I can see the next patient now…hugmamma
One day I had occasion to visit a beautiful, upscale mall in sunny southern California, The Costa Mesa Mall. Sprawling over several acres, it was a shopper’s paradise. A favorite phrase,”eye candy,” coined while strolling the cobblestone streets of Venice, seemed just as applicable at this retail complex. Anchoring this shopping mecca, were giants Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, Sak’s, and Sear’s. Sprinkled in and around them were other name stores, Gap, BCBG, MaxMara, Mango, Barney’s New York, Abercrombie & Fitch, and a seemingly endless list of other brands. Rolex caught my eye. I’d not seen it in any other mall I’ve visited. In fact, I’ve never seen its storefront before.
My first stop had to be Bloomingdale’s. Our first “introduction” was at 53rd and Lex in NYC in 1976. Several years ago, my daughter and I visited a branch in Soho, New York. There’s a distinct vibe to the retail icon. It’s upscale with a contemporary, youthful flavor. New York is culturally diverse, with Chinatown and Little Italy as neighbors, deli workers commuting alongside doctors on subways, and homeless setting up house across the street from Trump Tower. As a result, Manhattan’s Bloomingdale’s caters to customers from all walks of life. Everyone is treated equally. When you enter the store, whether you browse or buy, you’re a BFF (best friend forever).
As I wandered through Costa Mesa’s Bloomingdale’s, the mood was the exact opposite of its “sister” in the east. I felt invisible as I made my way through different areas of women’s wear. Several of the saleswomen were young and Asian. None approached to assist me, instead greeting and speaking with Caucasian shoppers. I took notice because I’m half-Chinese. Perhaps I didn’t appear to have the money to spend. No matter I thought, I’m just browsing. If something “grabbed” my attention, I would’ve made myself known.
In lingerie, I looked at a selection of bras displayed on a table. While fingering one in particular, a lovely, black, young saleslady approached saying “Isn”t that nice!” I replied that it was, but couldn’t find the price. She checked one like it nearby. It too had no price, so she left to make inquiries, indicating she’d be right back. Upon returning with the price, she pointed to another bra that was on sale. Following her to the “sale” rack, I explained that I had been searching for one that I had seen more than a year ago at Free People. The saleslady quickly informed me that the store had a branch in the mall. I was pleasantly surprised that she referred me to a competitor. Her recommendation reminded me of the Santa Claus in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” If an item was not in stock, he sent customers from Gimbel’s, where he worked, to Macy’s where he thought they’d find exactly what they were looking for.
Leaving Bloomingdale’s I pondered what had just happened to me. I was ignored by my own ethnic “sisters”, and treated kindly by a black woman, who reached out in true sisterhood. On my way out of the store, I saw BCBG, a retailer of expensive, designer wear. Stepping inside, I strolled about, stopping to more closely inspect items that were of interest. The 3 young, Asian, sales help never acknowledged my presence. Interesting, I thought. As I made my way from the back towards the exit at the front, I stopped to allow one of the sales women to pass. I noticed a half-smile on her lips as she walked by. Continuing towards the door, I saw a Caucasian customer enter and heard one of the sales ladies call out “Hi! How are you?”
In my 20’s I perceived such affronts as there being something wrong with me. Almost 40 years later, I find such experiences curious. On its face it might seem that the Asian women thought I was “beneath” them and their Caucasian clientele. I was dressed well, but not anything like their regular customers. By contrast, the young, Black woman treated me as an equal or better, since I was a potential consumer. But setting aside what might seem like the obvious, it may be that the Asians were behaving according to stereotype, quiet and shy. And the black woman was, perhaps, more outgoing by nature. Murmuring to myself, I continued on my way.
My next encounter, more pleasant than those previously, added another dimension to the racial question. Sylvia, in DKNY, greeted me with a pleasant smile and “Hi! How are you?” As I wandered from table to rack, looking at Donna Karin designer digs, Sylvia’s eyes followed me. Stepping closer, she commented that I should let her know if I needed any help. I thanked her. When I finally spied a long, grey, sleeveless dress that might fit my daughter nicely, I asked for Sylvia’s assistance. We talked a little about the details of the dress, its fit, its color, its multiple use. I shared a picture of my daughter. Sylvia complimented my daughter’s beauty and her pursuit of dancing as a career. I learned that Sylvia was of Korean-Polish ancestry. I expressed my feeling that marriages between easterners and westerners, can produce attractive offspring. My husband and daughter who are Hawaiian-Chinese-Portuguese are proof-positive. I left in a very good mood, promising to return later that day, my daughter in tow.
Before heading off to get a bite to eat, I stopped in at Free People. Immediately inside the doorway, Ashley greeted me with a huge smile and friendly manner that wrapped around me like a warm blanket. We chatted continually while I moved hangers aside to better inspect each piece of clothing. I couldn’t stop staring at her, wondering who she looked like. After a few moments playing charades, we arrived at the conclusion that she bore a close resemblance to the youngest of the 3 protagonists fighting the “good fight” against the witches in “Hocus Pocus,” a Halloween favorite on the small screen. Throughout the boutique, Ashley met up with me to comment on an item that I’d hold up for a better look. A native Californian, she was the friendliest I’d ever met, and I told her so. She laughed, and thanked me for the compliment. To better explain myself I told her of my experience in Bloomingdale’s. “Oh!” she exclaimed, eyes rolling, “They need an attitude adjustment!” Well, I just loved her absolute candidness. She was too precious, I thought.
It was so refreshing to make small talk with a young person, so totally unimpressed with outward trappings. She was Caucasian, but it didn’t matter. She was a resounding reminder that it’s what a person is like on the “inside” that matters, not skin color, or social status, or age. Because of her innate skills for serving customers, Free People made a tidy sum when I returned with my daughter to make a number of purchases. I felt like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. I wanted to return to Bloomingdale’s and BCBG to say “I was the one you wouldn’t help. Big mistake! Huge mistake! Huge!”
best not judge a book by its cover…hugmamma