“I heard the old, old, men say ‘all that’s beautiful drifts away, like the waters.”
– W.B. Yeats
“She had always lived her best life in dreams. She knew no greater pleasure than that moment of passage into the other place, when her limbs grew warm and heavy and the sparkling darkness behind her lids became ordered and doors opened; when conscious thought grew owl’s wings and talons and became other than conscious.”
– John Crowley
There was a time I had a large collection of photographs I’d taken of doors from wherever my travels had taken me. It took me years to accumulate. Last year, when my house was robbed and my computer stolen (along with all of my photographs) I thought my crazy door collection was gone for good. Months later, while walking the streets of Barcelona, I considered that the loss of my collection and computer was a good thing. Not only did it teach me that material things are just that….material and gone in the blink of an eye, but it also encouraged me to continue with a new collections of doors around the globe.
Although I’ll never get a chance to meet my home intruder, if I did, I might thank him for the lesson given of impermanence….and a new collection to start.
“Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system.”
― Flannery O’Connor
So far, the process of writing a book is much like my own life – a roller coaster; manic, emotional, yet oddly fulfilling. There are days when I feel on top of the world and words flow seamlessly, one to the other, page after page. Although unfortunately, there even more days when the I feel my own black hole of insecurities and doubts take over and not a single word can escape.
Burdened by the reality of being a poor writer and artist, I often wonder why I’ve chosen such a “career” (if I can call it that.) After all, a nice high-paying job selling pharmaceuticals would surely allow me plenty of room to breath. Wouldn’t it?
Truly though, I suppose I’m experienced enough with in-authenticity to know that the air I’d inhale would be stifling, fake, and knowing me, I’d run for the hills. Boxes don’t suite me at all.
So instead I’ll remain here, on the fire escape, breathing in the manic and emotional air I’ve grown so accustomed to as I type away… and sigh
I have come far enough
from where I was not before
to have seen the things
looking in at me from through the open door
and have walked tonight
to see the moonlight
and see it as trees
and shapes more fearful
because I feared
what I did not know
but have wanted to know.
My face is my own, I thought.
But you have seen it
turn into a thousand years.
I watched you cry.
I could not touch you.
I wanted very much to
but could not.
If it is dark
when this is given to you,
have care for its content
when the moon shines.
My face is my own.
My hands are my own.
My mouth is my own
but I am not.
when you leave me alone
all the darkness is
an utter blackness,
a pit of fear,
never to touch.
But I love you.
Do you love me.
What to say
when you see me.
In the 1992 movie, Death Becomes Her, the aging Madeline, (played by Meryl Streep) verbally attacks the sweet, young and beautiful, Anna, screaming, “Make-up is pointless! It does nothing anymore. Are you even listening to me? Do you even care? You just stand there with your twenty-two year old skin and your tits like rocks and laugh at me!” Vanity, in the end, would be her death.
I, like many woman, am a bit vain too. Though not to the excess of some. My vanity isn’t the stare in the mirror posing for pretend paparazzi kind, and it’s certainly not the belittling of those younger and firmer than me like the Madeline kind, as cruelty isn’t in me. Mine is more of the kick my arse to the gym kind, or the get rid of those wrinkles kind. I’d like to think it’s a healthy vanity – at least that’s what I tell myself each time I purchase a new cream, oil or serum.
As I’ve written about in past articles, I was a tomboy whilst a child. Therefore, while my sister was cooking or “tanning” her skin with butter and baby oil by the pool (yes, butter) I was swimming, biking and otherwise enjoying my days being active in the sun. Blistering my face, back, chest and shoulders with enough sun exposure to peel the paint off a Volkswagen I never once thought of the sun as bad. Years later, when my freckles began to meet each other in the middle to form what the professionals like to call “sun spots” I cursed my childhood blasé attitude about the sun (though I wouldn’t change a thing.)
Naturally, when the said cursed sun spots became too noticeable I did what lots of 42 year old women do when faced with em’ – I went to the laser clinic. Yep, I paid oodles of money to fry those babies off and give my face a fresh, albeit painful, new start, sans spots. Ironically, I was using a fry technique to erase the frying techniques of the sun. Anyway, it worked.
While in the waiting room for my third fry session, I picked up one of the 100 or so beauty magazines lining the coffee table. One article in particular caught my attention as it highlighted the newest trends in plastic surgery. I, being completely ignorant with relation to the world of cosmetic surgery, expected something like the norm…you know, breast implants, nose jobs – stuff like that. What I wasn’t expecting were the two words, “Vaginal Modification,” better known as “Labiaplasty.” The surgery, which helps to create the ultimate “designer vagina,” entails surgically removing (cutting off) or altering parts of the labia that some find unsightly or asymmetric. While you’re at it, you can laser off any and all pubic hair too should you desire the truly pre-pubescent vagina.
What the…?? My nether-region, out of sheer fright, retreated as best she could into herself.
My shock soon turned to dismay as I devoted my evening to scouring the internet, reading article after article on the subject. What I found was sort of sad – most women who wrote raving reviews about their new vaginas were extremely young – like in their mid 20’s to early 30’s. “Already in need of a new vagina! But it’s life has just begun!” I thought. Sure there were a few older ones as well, but they certainly weren’t the majority.
Many of these young woman had been measuring their labials for years, somehow always believing they were deformed if they came in too long in the skin department. Measuring of labials? I didn’t even know women did that. And worse yet, some had been encouraged by their boyfriends or husbands to have the surgery as they didn’t like seeing the extra bits on their girls vags’. Holy crap. Alright, so I’ve never had a sexual partner complain about my lady parts, but I will say this – had they, they certainly wouldn’t be a partner any longer. I mean, c’mon ladies, shouldn’t someone who adores you love all of you, skin and all?
Is placing such importance on looking like a porn star entirely healthy long-term for us woman? What happens when the rest of our bodies succumb to gravity (and yes people, they will.) Shall we just continue to cut off whatever sags? We’ve created an entirely new meaning to the phrase, “nip and tuck.” Long gone are the days of emulating runway models it appears. After all, who wants to starve themselves when we can focus our attention on something more attainable, like cutting off unsightly vaginal skin? Why bother worrying our pretty faces with dreams of having Gisele’s body when we can surgically have Barbie’s vagina.
Watch out Ken, you’re next.
“People speak sometimes about the “bestial” cruelty of man, but that is terribly unjust and offensive to beasts, no animal could ever be so cruel as a man, so artfully, so artistically cruel.”
– Fyodor Dostoyevsky
I am writing a fairly large magazine article on my experience attending a Portuguese bull-fight. It’s difficult. My closest friends and family were shocked at the idea that someone such as myself, an advocate of all animals, would do such a thing. Although I did “such a thing” so that I can write about it – the cruelty of man, really. Even though they don’t kill the bull in Portugal, it was heart-wrenching nonetheless. At one point my date turned to me and said, “Jennifer, you look as though a UFO dropped you here…so out of place.” Interestingly and sadly enough, the bull had the very same look about him.
Though the bullfighter (or Cavaleiro) looked right at home – cruel, cocky and desperate for attention…
“But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.
It is my lady, O, it is my love!
Oh, that she knew she were!”
– William Shakespeare
“The impetuous creature–a pirate–started forward, sprang away; she had to hold the rail to steady herself, for a pirate it was, reckless, unscrupulous, bearing down ruthlessly, circumventing dangerously, boldly snatching a passenger, or ignoring a passenger, squeezing eel-like and arrogant in between, and then rushing insolently all sails spread up Whitehall.”
– Virginia Woolf
A perfect description of what life is like on the tram. Although I enjoyed riding these little gems, one must be very quick to do so.
“We fall in love because we long to escape from ourselves with someone as beautiful, intelligent, and witty as we are ugly, stupid, and dull. But what if such a perfect being should one day turn around and decide they will love us back? We can only be somewhat shocked-how can they be as wonderful as we had hoped when they have the bad taste to approve of someone like us?”
– Alain de Botton
Below you will find a link to my column Lost in Translation and my latest article, A Barbarian for Dinner: showcasing my frustration at the differences between the “American” style of table etiquette and the ever difficult, “Continental” style.
Wine glasses were filled and refilled while conversation flowed seamlessly from one subject to the next. As with most European discussions, “the crisis” topped the agenda, along with recent French political upheaval (which the French couple felt compelled to explain, futilely I might add.) I gladly joined in, answering questions about Obama, the United States, and my experiences as a veteran American traveler.
Until the food came.
It was then, while looking longingly at my fresh grilled sea bass, roasted potatoes and sautéed Romanesco broccoli, that I was forced to remove myself from the conversation. I had bigger fish to fry, so to speak.
As the only American at a table full of Europeans, I was determined to adjust my American style of table etiquette to fit the habits of my newly acquired continental friends. In fact, I’d been practicing making the etiquette break for months.
And it was damn hard.
Suddenly, I had to eat with my left hand, which I’ve always insisted exists only for show (and to lean on from time to time).
Differences in dining etiquette never had much of an impact on me until I briefly dated a German man. I noticed he’d leave his hand on the table as we ate and wondered to myself how a well-educated adult could have such poor table manners. It wasn’t that important and who was I to play teacher?
He was much more opinionated on the subject. He asked me if my parents had ever taken me to nice restaurants while I was growing up. “Of course they did,” I replied. “It was very important to them that their children learn manners.”
“Then why do you eat the way you do? Why do you put your hands on your lap? In Germany, we always say that the Americans do that because they are hiding a gun.”
I was stunned. I wished I did have a gun, or nearly.
“You’re the barbarian,” I snapped back. “Your hands are on the table so we can see you won’t stab us with your knife.”
Later, we had a good laugh over childhood training. I explained how I was constantly reminded to get my hands off of the table; to rest my left hand (I’m right handed) gently on my lap, which held my napkin, and to move my fork from my left to right hand while cutting my meat or buttering my bread. If my left hand accidentally came to rest on the table, my mother was ready: “We are not barbarians, get your hands off the table.”
My polite and conscientious parents made sure their children could go anywhere from high-class restaurants to Broadway musicals. They prided themselves in our manners and that we could fit into any situation. Or should I say fit in into any American situation.
Their own manners came from parents who had learned them from their parents, and so on, and my mother’s quip about barbarians wasn’t a joke. The American style was indeed developed to break free of the ravenous tendencies of centuries past.
Yet here I was in Europe, a place I know well, feeling like a bit of a barbarian, picking at the fish while struggling to hold the fork in my left hand. How I longed to use my right hand, and for a moment I slipped up. I switched hands and let my knife rest in my left while my wonderfully dexterous right hand did what it’s done with great skill for 42 years — eat!
Then came another, even worse slip up. After resting my utensils on my plate to sip wine, I absently-mindedly picked up my fork with my right hand and rested my left hand on my lap. Had anyone noticed? Would they duck and cover in case I went on a shooting rampage with my hidden weapon as we weaponized Americans do while eating our dinner? But nobody noticed and I recovered quickly. I managed not only to hide my gun (again), but also slip myself back into the conversation.
One thing about “us” barbarians: we’re quick, and extremely clever.
José Saramago, Portugal’s renowned Nobel Prize winner, once wrote, “We always arrive in the place where someone is waiting for us.”
What if, however, that “someone” is a city? After all, do cities not have hearts? I believe they do. Some are warm and some are cold, but each has it’s own essential personality/characteristics. Do we arrive at a city which “is waiting for us”? It’s how I felt about Lisbon – it had been waiting for my visit. For years I’d been wanting to go, but somehow other trips would take precedence and I’d let the notion of Portugal go for the time being.
Before my departure, a friend of mine (someone quite wealthy) gave me her account of Lisbon.
“Well, it’s kind of…dirty. Run down. But I liked it…sort of,” she recounted.
Though my Lisbon, (Can I call it that? Mine? Will he be upset that I have claimed him, the city, as my own, such the foreigner that I am? And why have I deemed him male when other cities such as Rome are so female to me?) was far from “dirty” (Although I’ve always been partial to dirt) and there was no “sort of” in my opinion. My love for the city is definitive. After all, I just laid claim to it here, didn’t I?
It was lovelier than other cities I’ve been to and it wasn’t because it’s cleanliness or cohesive architecture (which I love architecture so very much.) In fact, Lisbon is quite a mess architecturally, so to speak. Expensive buildings mixed with cheap prison-looking facades of recent took my eyes by surprise. However…. inside of that mess lies the kind of beauty that Neruda speaks of in one of his famous Love Sonnets.
“There are purer than you, purer.
There are lovelier than you, lovelier.”
“When you go through the streets
No one recognizes you.
No one sees your crystal crown, no one looks
At the red carpet of gold
That you tread as you pass.
The nonexistent carpet.”
I saw the crystal crown of the city and it’s people though…each time I took a walk…
I came to appreciate the beautiful buildings much more so than in any other place I’ve had the pleasure to visit. The perpetual underdog of Europe has something that the other more aesthetically pleasing cities don’t – it has the mess. Because you see, in between the architectural wonders of centuries past are ugly monstrosities of buildings irupted like small pox during the sixties and seventies to replace the fallen down ancient structures. By seeing the lovely original buildings next to the nasty replacements, I appreciated the beauty even more-so than in those cities where nothing is out-of-place and every facade blends with the next..
And the people? They have the same flavor as the buildings. They’ve been built up, torn down, burned down, smacked down and built again….only to remain strong.
I was right at home.
In conclusion, Lisboa, adoro-te
“Friendship is a precious thing, Sayuri. One mustn’t throw it away.”
– Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
They sat outside on a small make-shift bench laughing and enjoying the warm evening. When asked if I could take their photo they straightened up a bit, making sure to pull their dresses down properly and graced me with beautiful smiles while they giggled to each other. I was reminded how important the women in my life are. So this photo is for all the women I am fortunate enough to call my girlfriends and family….
“Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.”
Here I found no pretense.
Here I found neighbors filling the small bar housed next to the neighborhood soccer field to watch the game together – children laughing.
Here I found a better representation of life in the city of Lisbon than anywhere else.
Here I found authenticity and I suppose, a sample of Portugal’s own 99%.
“My soul is a hidden orchestra; I know not what instruments, what fiddlestrings and harps, drums and tamboura I sound and clash inside myself. All I hear is the symphony.”
― Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
First came my birth….and my orchestra.
— When my parents brought me home from the hospital the day I was born, my siblings asked why they had brought home a “Chinese baby.” I only knew of my Italian, Irish and Eastern European roots while growing up. It’s what we all knew.
— Upon seeing photos of my two sons, most people ask if their father is Asian. He’s not – his heritage is German and Italian.
— I had a boyfriend once who would tease me, always joking that I must have Chinese in me because the way I held my face.
— A few years ago I had some body work done with a well-known physical therapist. To assess the alignment of my body he measured each of my bones that he could feel. When he came to my pelvis he said, “Hmm, that’s strange. You have an extra floating bone. It’s rare and I’ve only seen it in Asian women. Are you of Asian descent?” I told him no.
— I frequently dream of horses – riding horses, seeing horses in a barn, helping injured horses and watching wild horses.
— When my brother got married many years ago, his wife’s co-worker asked, in her thick southern accent, “Is that boy white? Or Asian?”
Throughout the years, we’d all shake our heads, shrug our shoulders and laugh at the comments; never thinking beyond the extra bones, slightly slanted eyes and wild horse dreams.
Then came a blood test.
A few months ago my parents decided to have a blood test done to chart their individual DNA, and as you can guess by my post, we found out an interesting piece of information about my ancestors. It seems a small percentage of my mother’s DNA is of Mongolian descent.
Then an old theory I read once.
Some scientist believe that within our DNA there also lives memories. Memories not formed by us, but our ancestors. Passed down from generation to generation the imprint is so strong, that it can even influence our decision-making. I suppose this cellular memory is also linked to quantum physics, as cells are energy matter.
Along with an idea.
While driving and considering my next article for The American Mag on…you guessed it… DNA and cellular memories, I decided that the next new continent I’ll visit will be Asia – Mongolia to be precise. Yes, Mongolia.
Europe is always near and dear to my heart and I’ll continue to split my time between Here and There, although my travel to Mongolia next year will take precedence within my wandering mind. And from what I can tell, much planning must be done (something I am generally loath to preemptively do so this should be interesting.)
I don’t know how long I’ll stay. I assume it will be a few weeks to a month maybe. I don’t what I’ll do either, though horses will surely be involved at some point or another, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll acquire another instrument for the symphony inside of my soul.
Below you will find a link to my column Lost in Translation and my latest article, Slutty Mecca; eavesdropping at its finest.
The clicking of a lighter turned my head, reminding me of a childhood time in which both my parents smoked. My father once had a silver Zippo-style flip top lighter that when flicked open made the faint but distinct sound of metal to metal. I’d catch myself staring.
I stared a lot as a child and I was constantly being told to stop. I remember once sitting in my father’s car — I must have been about 13 — as he pumped gas. But I wasn’t watching him. I focused instead on a couple talking and smoking outside the corner store. That’s when a knock came on the window. “Stop staring!” my father mouthed, looking annoyed.
But I liked studying people. I didn’t judge then and I don’t now. I’m interested in how they move, how they speak, and what they wear. It explains my love of figure drawing, which allows you to stare without being frowned upon. My interest in watching and listening hasn’t changed over the years. It’s just less blatant.
Back in San Jose, I was distracted by the smell of tobacco. Turning my head slightly, I saw two men, one blond, a second dark haired, each one lighting up a Lucky Strike. I was predictably enthralled. Neither smiled. Instead, they just sat there staring at nothing.
The blond had messy, disheveled hair, a retro grey sweatshirt, brown dirty cords and worn out vans. The brunette was more like Eddie Cochran with his pompadour hair. He wore a Mr. Rogers cardigan, tight cut-off denim shorts, black socks, black dress shoes and old-school Ray Ban glasses. They were the cool kids I never was.
I pretended to write while stealing glances as the men sat silently holding their cigarettes and drinking their coffees. When I say holding I mean it literally. Between the two I counted four drags. I was disappointed since I like the way cigarettes sit on lips of smokers, their throats moving when they inhale and exhale, some half-closing their eyes each time they breathe in. The men took great joy flicking the ashes on the pavement when the tips grew too long. I detest the taste of cigarettes but I found myself wanting one for no other reason that to coolly flick the ashes under the gaze of the painter on the veranda above.
After stabbing out the cigarettes out on the metal chair legs, the men began an exchange, with each subject getting a few random remarks. It went something like this:
Subject One: “Chase”
“Chase treats woman so shitty. Last night when I asked him if he were really into Lauren he said, ‘She’s okay.’ I told him that when he’s dating a girl, he should at least f***ing think she’s everything.”
“He has no respect for women. He really pisses me off. It’s my life dream that on his deathbed, I’m gonna go visit him, gently lean down to his ear and whisper, ‘I f***ed Jade when you were dating her.'”
“He won’t care.”
“He just has no respect for women”
Subject Two: “Nakedness”
“Is it illegal to be naked in your yard?”
“I don’t know man, I’m not a paralegal.”
“I wanna lounge naked in my yard.”
Subject Three: “Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches”
“This morning I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and got it all over my shirt. Look.” (silence).
Subject Four: “Slutty Meccas”
“So what’s the attraction to it?”
“It’s a slutty mecca man. It’s their pilgrimage. It’s a place they can go and not be looked down on for their choice in music and morality.”
“I gotta go, where you parked?”
“Over there. Wanna ride?”
I watched them walk away, Lucky Strikes in hand, both looking straight ahead until they turned the corner. Above, the painter had left her chair, though the door to the veranda remained open as if to invite me in to chat about painting, cigarettes, sandwiches, and maybe even slutty meccas.
If only I knew what a slutty mecca was. But maybe that, like knowing how and when to flick cigarette ashes, is reserved for the cool ones alone.
“Let us leave pretty women to men with no imagination.”
– Marcel Proust
Although not my typical photo style, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to snap it. The fake skin, the fake nails, the fake drink – the clock ticking in the background. Also considering I am a Proust fan, his words added just the right touch…and honesty.
“It seems, in fact, that the more advanced a society is, the greater will be its interest in ruined things, for it will see in them a redemptively sobering reminder of the fragility of its own achievements. Ruins pose a direct challenge to our concern with power and rank, with bustle and fame. They puncture the inflated folly of our exhaustive and frenetic pursuit of wealth.”
– Alain de Botton