April crow in the snow

April 2, 2018: it’s snowing outside, at least four inches’ accumulation by 9 a.m., no April Fool’s trick here. Yesterday a woodpecker caught me by surprise, a beautiful bird despite the damage it can do. Winter storms had blown away the strips of foil pinned to the column of wood that rat-tat-tatting bird has a taste for and which actually deter it, so I went looking for them in the yard—only to discover more miner bees than last year making nests in the soil. Otherwise known as ground nesting bees, you see them hovering near the little mounds of dirt that mark the entrances to their underground nests (no hives) and several females may nest in the same vicinity. They’re docile and they do lots of good pollinating and they don’t stay around for too long. But I can be forgiven for fearing an imaginary sting.

Today it’s the solitary crow in the snow demanding my attention.

A Yahrtzeit candle burns on my window sill. Lit at sundown last night, it’s a memorial candle marking my mother’s death according to the Jewish calendar, 17 Nissan, the second day of Passover.  A gorgeous full moon, a blue one this year, lit up the sky during Saturday night’s seder.

Well maybe not a full-scale seder since I opted to make it simpler this year.  I try, really I do, to keep the spirit of the Jewish holidays, not to mention my mother, alive, and I’m grateful for the friends and family who gather around the table each year.

 Even without a traditional seder, I need to mark what brings us together by reading from some Haggadah recalling the wonderful story of freedom from slavery in all its Cecil B. DeMille splendor.  This year’s choice was the New American Haggadah, translated by Nathan Englander and edited by Jonathan Safran Foer. It was a gift from friends who come every year. They know I’m a sucker for a beautiful book with a literary duo at the helm.  Here are some random passages that we read:

We live in a broken world . . . Exile—another name for brokenness—is not just the current condition of the Jewish people, according to the Kabbalah, it is the fundamental condition of the universe and of God.

Kafka once wrote in his journal: “You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world. That is something you are free to do and it accords with your nature. But perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could avoid.”

Passover is a journey, and like most journeys, it is taking much longer than it ought to take, no matter how many times we stop and ask for directions.

By no small coincidence, the fiction I’m caught up in right now is Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. The novel casts a spell mostly in its reimagining of the heroes at the heart of the Trojan War.   There are slaves here, too, women taken in raids by the Greeks as a prelude to the war and it’s hard not to be taken with the humanity of Achilles and Patroclus in doing what they can for the few in their charge. Then there’s the war itself, as epic and classic as it gets, with its reminder that there’s no escaping the appetites of men for glory and greed, not to mention revenge. We get our archetypes from myths. We get some understanding of human foibles and the way gods have played with them. There may never again be a war of a thousand ships waged in the name of a beautiful woman. But there will, alas, always be wars, more often than not in the name of nameless things.



Every bag has its day

bag and haggadah2At the very beginning of The Museum of Innocence, Orhan Pamuk’s novel of obsessive love, the narrator buys his fiancée a designer handbag she’d spotted when they passed by a boutique the night before. A simple, thoughtful gesture—to please the woman he’s engaged to—sets his life on an expected course the moment he lays eyes on the young woman working in the shop.  When the bag thought to be an authentic Jenny Colon design turns out to be fake, he has an excuse to return to the shop.  That Jenny Colon does not exist in the world of designer bags is beside the point, though she’s not a complete fiction: the real Jenny Colon was an eighteenth century actress who happened to be the muse of poet Gérard de Nerval.

Underscoring the story is the narrator’s fixation with collecting objects—anything associated with the object of his affection—and with it the reminder that sentiment, coupled with imbued meaning, is unquantifiable in the value equation.

Tucked inside a bag I don’t often use (a vintage faux snakeskin that belonged to my mother) is a small envelope, Cherry Lane Theatre, September 28, 1988. I kid you not. Did I forget it was there? Or is it something I left, deliberately or unconsciously, a way of surprising myself, bring a smile to my face at the recall of a celebratory night?  One of my dearest friend’s birthdays is September 29th, so it’s a no-brainer that I bought tickets to a show. In a flash I picture the small theatre, a Greenwich Village treasure, even if it takes a little detective work to remember what we saw. Thankfully, one of the torn ticket halves shows evidence of a few letters—‘Taffe’’—and Google solves the mystery for me: The Taffetas

Seeing Lady Gaga last week at Roseland with that very same friend was a gift in more ways than one. Another good friend had managed to snag some tickets for the very last show, April 7th.  A New York landmark went out in style with Gaga’s week-long run and being there was being part of history.  Maybe I should turn one of my snazzy Wendy Stevens bags into a time capsule, fill it with ticket stubs from some of the most memorable concerts I’ve been to: Wendy bagBruce Springsteen at the Bottom Line; George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, et al, The Concert for Bangladesh; Patti Smith at the Bowery Ballroom.  Let some future  civilization  piece together the puzzle:  CBGB—qu’est-ce que c’est? 

I’d seen the Fame Monster once before, March 2011, at the Staples Center in L.A., with my daughter, which prompted me to write about something we have in common, a highly coveted handbag.  Mine is orange, a present from a dear friend who wanted to give me something she knew I would never buy for myself (she got that right). It was one of the perks of doing business with a French company.  I’ve been accused of treating my Birkin more like a precious pet than a handbag; Lady Gaga has personalized hers, with scribbles on her white one and studs on her black one. Whether you call it defacement or art depends on which side of the fashion fence you sit.

Only one letter stands between persona and person, and Lady Gaga is brilliant when it comes to meshing the two. Her show is a fabrication, the makings of a fabulous persona with a great deal of talent, and she has made an art of connecting with her fans, boosting them with as much relish as they boost her.  She knows the feeling of being an outsider and she’s mastered the art of rising above.

Being a woman who appreciates style is not necessarily incompatible with being a woman of substance. Just read award-winning writer Chmamanda Ngozi Adichie’s thoughts on being smart and dressing fabulously.  Or look at all the comments a writer/friend of mine, Jayne Martin, got when she wrote, with her characteristic wry touch, about a bag she fell in love with. That her post appeared the same day my daughter wrote about her search for the perfect bag was pure serendipity. “Finding the perfect bag is harder than finding the perfect man,” Jayne quipped in response to Sara’s post.  More than one woman I know would agree.

There is no being true to oneself without taking time to examine how to make meaning of the things in life that sedermatter. Otherwise we just go through the motions.  The Yahrzeit memorial candle on my window sill is a reminder, not just of my mother’s dying during Passover but of all the good memories the holiday contains, not to mention the emotional baggage we do our best to let go of. It’s called conscious evolution–bring a new cast to old rituals.  In my family, traditional seders long ago gave way to a foodfest, but the spirit of Passover remained. My mother, more sentimental than devout in her Judaism, would have been mildly amused to see the Haggadah for Jews & Buddhists on this year’s seder table (God knows I try) but she would positively have beamed at the sight of me making chopped liver for the first time since she died. I did it with the very same friend who gave me a very beautiful orange handbag.