Our son WhatsApped us from Florence. "Today has been a crazy day!" he wrote. "We rented vespas and took them a few towns over to a place called Siena (over an hours drive) but on the way we stopped at this beautiful little town and went to the butcher shop restaurant and had the most amazing food (pics to come). On the way back we got a bit lost, it started raining, sun set on us, and it took us two hours to drive back in the darkness dripping wet. But it was such an epic day it was all worth it." And: "Italy is fucking amazing."
Here are some of the pics he sent:
Meanwhile, our daughter's Snapchat posts told a color story all their own. Clearly she too was having an epic day, though quite different from the one her brother was having.
Ah, social media. I'm living vicariously through those happy crazy adventurous and colorful young people today.
Exactly one month from today, our girl will graduate from college. That's her grad portrait, or rather, a poor camera phone snap of it, along with a recently found photo of my girl and me from when she was in seventh grade. Or was it sixth? All I know is it was pre braces, and she had the sweetest spirit then and she has the sweetest spirit now. Her approach to graduation is rather different from her brother, who wore sneakers and an untucked open collared shirt. She on the other hand is sending me pictures of lovely fit and flare dresses, trying to decide which will be the perfect one for graduation. Four years just went poof. Soon she will enter the so called "real" world, and her bright face will be back around here, at least for a while. She's stellar company.
I'm working on a new project. That diner was my conference room yesterday. My collaborator and I sat for three hours, planning and brainstorming.
I arrived early and just watched the people around me, one of my favorite things to do in the city. The man in the green shirt at the far table seemed intoxicated by the woman beside him. He kept nuzzling her face and ruffling her hair and saying, "Doesn't Mommy's new haircut look great, kids?"
My project has a short deadline, so I'm going to be underground for the next two months, though I'm sure I'll pop up here. I'm just happy to have work.
Thinking about work makes me remember something my son said a while back. "When I was younger, I wasn't that concerned about money. I just wanted to do a job that was interesting to me, that made me happy."
"And paid the bills," I added.
"Well, that's just thing thing," he said. "I didn't realize how happy paying the bills would make me."
I'm so tired. I'm so tired of pretending I'm not exhausted all the time. I want to travel the world, but who am I kidding? I can't walk two city blocks without pain. Hardly the resume of an explorer. Climbing stairs is excruciating, and I am obliged to lead with the right leg always. My left leg aches all the time. And yet I keep on keeping on, ashamed. Fat people don't often pursue what's medically wrong because all inquiry stops at the scale. Again and again, doctors find nothing wrong that losing weight won't fix. Well, your joints are all fucked up, but you know, lose weight for that. Your eyes are clear, your heart rate strong, your blood work looks pretty good too. So it must be the weight, right? Lose some weight, goddammit, and you'll be better. To all the people who say, just lose some weight, just eat right and exercise, I want to say, if it were so damn simple, there wouldn't be a single fat person in this world. What am I not getting here? I'm disciplined and proactive in every other area of my life. But when it comes to this body in which I move, I feel like a lost and desperate cause. I don't know what to do, how to change. Nothing seems to move the needle. I want to climb under the covers and go to sleep, but of course, I must keep on. Getting my music all arranged for Monday evening choir rehearsal, making myself presentable, putting on my armor of pretense. Where's the painkiller? Two small blue pills. Let's go.
The all-knowing Facebook sent me a notification this morning of someone's birthday, a wonderful young woman named Jodi, who used to do parent and kid yoga classes back when my daughter was in second and third grades (the age she is in the photo above). We did that class together twice a week, my girl and I, with several other parents and their children, many of whom were in my daughter's grade at school. We were a class of friends, two generations strong, with Jodi guiding us through the sweetest most soul strengthening poses.
But that wasn't even the best part. For every one of us, parents and kids, the best part came at the end, when Jodi put on the soothing music, and we lay down on our mats for relaxation. Our children would invariably scoot over to their parent's mat from theirs, and curl themselves against us, going to sleep in our arms. It was heaven on earth, and it got even better. While we lay with our eyes closed in the dim room, bathed by the soft music, Jodi would go to each and every person in turn and massage our feet with lavender oil. The kids loved it. I don't even have to tell how much their parents did, too.
During that period, several members of our class chose to hold birthday parties at Jodi's yoga studio, and she is certainly part of the reason some of the parents in that class are still so bonded today. It broke our hearts a bit when Jodi's rent was raised so that she could no longer afford her dreamy, candy-colored studio with its peace posters and jewel-toned gauze curtains and happy flower power vibe. Jodi ultimately decided to move west with her much loved dog Chants, and our classes came to an end. But oh, it was a delightful interlude in our lives, the sweetest thing. Thank you, Jodi, for giving us those two years of such holy bonding time with our children and dear friends. Happy birthday, darling woman. May you always know the joy you brought to our lives.
My husband and I went to dinner in Harlem last night. We ate outdoors at chef Marcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster restaurant, watching blue twilight settle on the avenue as the neighborhood passed by. Harlem is the big new dining destination in the city. Scores upon scores of cool restaurants have opened there in the past five years. I told my husband we should spend the summer just dining at a different restaurant in Harlem every week, and we still wouldn't get to them all. And speaking of Marcus Samuelsson, he and his wife Gate Maya Haile just might be the most ridiculously beautiful people I've ever seen.
If you don't know Marcus's and Maya's story, he was born in Ethiopia but his mother died of TB when he was very young and his father, a priest, couldn't care for him and his older sister. The two were adopted by a Swedish family, and were raised in a fishing and farm-to-table household that gave Marcus an early love for fresh Scandinavian food. After culinary school in Paris he moved to Harlem, where he added Southern cuisine to his repertoire. Maya, also born in Ethiopia, grew up in a traditional Ethiopian family in Holland. She started out as a nurse, but everyone told her she should try modeling, and so she did, signing with an agency in Paris and then moving to Harlem. She and Marcus had crossed the globe on parallel tracks all their lives, until finally they turned and saw each other at a housewarming party of mutual friends.
They've been married seven years. She's quite a few inches taller than he is, but smart man, apparently he doesn't care. Honestly, they are two of the most genetically gifted people I have seen in life. And I hear Marcus has a new book coming out in October, The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem. Someone I know worked on it with him, so its bound to be good.
But maybe this post today is really all about connecting us here in Harlem with an idea of Sweden, because that's where our son is at the moment according to his most recent post on Instagram, and Holland, where his itinerary takes him tomorrow. Traveling mercies, son.
Prince Rogers Nelson died today. His Purple Rain album utterly defined a moment in my life, a particular year in my twenties when I was lost. I was the dove that cried, the sorrowful lover standing in the purple rain. Prince once said in an interview that for him, purple rain described the particular quality of the sky just before dawn. I can't quite take in that the haunting wail that got me through so many nights is gone, but then, I never quite took in that Prince could get older, either. It never occurred to me that he was mortal. As my friend Sharon put it when she heard, "Dying seems too pedestrian for Prince...It always seemed like he just existed, and always would." But perhaps most apt is what another friend, Cori, wrote on Twitter: "I hope he just went puff and left behind a cloud of purple sparkle dust." His going only makes sense when I imagine it like that. Sayonara, Prince. Indelibly, you were here.
“It has always been a happy thought to me that the creek runs on all night, new every minute, whether I wish it or know it or care, as a closed book on a shelf continues to whisper to itself its own inexhaustible tale. So many things have been shown so to me on these banks, so much light has illumined me by reflection here where the water comes down, that I can hardly believe that this grace never flags, that the pouring from ever renewable sources is endless, impartial, and free.”
The book party/ 98th birthday celebration was fantastic. Ellamae was in her element, with well over one hundred guests celebrating her and her book. Her niece and grandniece and four stepdaughters came from DC, Denver, Columbus, New York and Chicago, and her godchildren were all there, too. So were former colleagues at Kaiser, and former patients, and a cohort of women doctors who she mentored. All her friends from the retirement residence and the Bay Area also showed up. It was clear that Ellamae is so very loved, and she basked in it.
Even when she was exhausted towards the end of the festivities, she still refused to be taken downstairs to her apartment. She had signed every book, almost 200 of them, beforehand, and at the end of the afternoon, they were all gone. Some she signed with her first name only, some with her full name, some with her initials circled, and a couple she signed with her former married name, as if her first husband was whispering to her. She didn't seem to realize she'd signed that name, and her niece and I just looked at each other and let it pass. At 98 years, she can sign whatever name she wants.
A photographer took pictures, which I will soon have a link to, so maybe I'll share some here. In the meantime, here is one of my favorites of the afternoon, when Ellamae and an old friend greeted each other. They put their hands on each other's cheek and just stared with so much love into each other's eyes. All through the party, whenever I came near, Ellamae would reach out and take my hands in hers and kiss them, then press them to her cheeks. I think she was happy with how our work together turned out. I also think I caught her at the right moment, when she could still tell me her stories. Ellamae isn't using her words much anymore, but her eyes speak her heart.
There is so much more I could report, but I seem to have come down with something buggy on the plane ride home. My eyes won't stop streaming and I've been in bed all day, mostly sleeping and reading when my aching head allows. My son leaves for a three-week jaunt with a friend around Scandinavia and Europe tomorrow, so I'll pull myself together and go for the ride to drop him at the airport. Oh, to be young and footloose, with a sense of adventure calling you. In other news, his firefighter/paramedic dreams are a few steps closer to coming true.
I leave before daybreak tomorrow to fly to Oakland for a book launch and 98th birthday celebration for the inimitable Dr. Ellamae Simmons, author (with me) of Overcome: My Life in Pursuit of a Dream (now on Amazon). I understand that well over 100 people have already RSVP'ed and that folks are flying in from Washington DC, New York, Ohio, North Carolina, Miami, Denver, Chicago and LA. There will also be a large cohort of people she used to work with as an allergist at Kaiser, as well as many former patients and longtime friends. Everyone wants to be present to celebrate the good doctor. It's gonna be epic.
The man and I went to the New York Botanical Garden orchid show yesterday. As it was the last weekend of the show, the line of patrons wound at great length around the conservatory, with everyone inching forward for close to an hour. Once inside, the display was, as always, an exquisitely wanton arrangement of nature's beauty, and the people watching was good, too. I sat for a while, taking in the moving human tableau, as it was a day on which my every joint ached. It was fascinating watching everyone view the orchids through the lens of their camera phones, which is the usual posture of life these days. I'm not being critical—I'm a chief culprit. My man wandered further afield than I did and took lots of beautiful photos. He is a great lover of orchids, as his mother grew them, and my mother did, too. Here are some of his shots.
There's something magical to me about that last shot. The water looks like a rain of diamonds, the kind you'd see in fairy tales.
I keep wanting to take down that naked-faced photo of me in the previous post. I'm not in love with all that gray in my hair, even though I know that ten years from now, this will seem such an unforgivable vanity. Vanity or no, I'm sitting here, saying good morning to you, while waiting for a box of color to work on said gray. I go back and forth, liking my gray edges sometimes, liking especially when they catch the light and look silvery, but at other times, they just make me feel gray.
My husband happens to be fond of my gray and would have me not color it, though he is never declarative about things pertaining to other people's personhood. He jokes, however, that he and our kids put every turned hair there, and that's why he loves them. I appreciate that he's cool with me as I am, but sometimes, I'm up for a little color play.
Still, the physical ease I'm grateful to feel in his presence has me thinking this morning about something my daughter told me when we were away. She was remembering a comment her dad once made, which she now holds dear. She said he told her, "You know, when I got married, I thought I loved your mother, but I really had no idea how much more I would love her with each passing year. And when she had my children, I thought my heart would explode." When our girl told me this, tears pricked my eyes. My man might stubborn as hell when it comes to things like going to the doctor, but Lord, what a good man I married, and what a wonderful father I gave my children.
My daughter and I spent the week away at a spa resort with three pools, including a lazy river and a quiet pool, where we lounged and swam and did laps and read and people watched and talked about everything under the sun. And just exhaled. My youngest is so cheerful and easy, her laugh quick and ringing. The whole trip, people went out of their way to be nice to us, from the redcap at the airport sending us right through the pre-check line and upgrading our seats gratis without being asked. He'd noticed from my girl's ID that her birthday had been the day before and then he noticed from my ID that he and I share the same birthdate, and he just went ahead and gifted us. I don't think my girl's dancing smile hurt one bit. We sailed through the security line looking back at what was a gnarly crowd undoing belts and taking off shoes and jackets and depositing laptops in bins. "This must be what it feels like to be rich," my daughter said. "We are rich," I told her. "I know, I know," she said, laughing and rolling her eyes. "We're rich in love."
Then at the hotel, I asked the check in person to please not give us a room overlooking the truck lot at the back of the property that I'd seen on our way in. I told her we were celebrating my daughter's birthday and upcoming graduation and this trip was her gift. The woman lit up and told my girl congrats and then said, "I'm giving you a room overlooking the main pool. I think you'll like it." And we did. The view was spectacular, very theme park like—we were in Orlando after all—yet approachable and lively, with families having what looked to be a fabulous time. All we had to do on waking each morning was look out our window to feel immediately connected to the fun.
The first night we walked around getting the lay of the land and decided we liked the quiet pool best, with it's surrounding cabanas and sedate crowd of honeymooners and retirees sunning themselves peacefully. All week we alternated between there and the lazy river, all 892 feet of it, with waterfalls and water cannons and rapids, where children were pretty much losing their natural minds with happiness as they frolicked with others their own age under parents' indulgent gaze. The two scenes were a nice counterpoint of energies.
The last night there was a knock on the door, and a woman stood there with a beautiful cake on a tray. "I have a delivery," she said. "We understand someone has a birthday and is graduating?" The card was from the woman at the front desk who'd checked us in! We couldn't believe her thoughtfulness! We cut a quarter of the cake and took it downstairs to thank her; my daughter told her she made our stay. The whole week was like that, people just being their loveliest selves with us, and my girl and me being out loveliest selves with each other. And while food seemed expensive in the moment, it was delicious, and I just decided whatever, because if you're going to have an experience, have the whole experience. In the end, the tally came to a lot less than I expected, which just added to the whole week being pretty close to perfect.
We got back to the city yesterday, and my son decided we should all go out for a Hibachi dinner. His girlfriend was here, and my daughter's boyfriend was here too, so it was my husband and me and the four of them strolling along at twilight to the Japanese place in the neighborhood. The man and I held hands and walked along behind our children, smiling at each other and deeply contented that at this moment in time, each and every one of us was a happy camper. I wish I'd taken a photo of the six of us, but it was one of those times when it was better just to be in the flow of the experience rather than to step outside of it to create a record. These words will be my record.