Recently, I read a story on Facebook that I loved so much I could hardly stand it. I thought it was especially poignant this time of year, so I asked my friend if I could re-print her story here. Maybe you will love it, too. I’ll post it in three bite-sized morsels, nice and symmetrical during this season of our official, government-sanctioned day of Thanks.
Lili and I were friends way back when, during the era of unfulfilled romantic pursuits and pronounced unpopularity that defined my early high school experience. I was shy, freaky-haired and in possession of few talents save for playing classical piano, a respectable ability that bore no social currency whatsoever.
Lili, on the other hand, was confident, funny, smart, and theatrically gifted.
Perhaps it was the last of these attributes that initially drew me to Lili, as one of my latent adolescent dreams was to be a thespian, this dream having sprung from an earlier, more noble ambition to be a professional rodeo clown (reluctantly abandoned when we severed our rural roots and moved into town).
Acting would be no easy task for an awkward introvert like me, with no training except for a turn as a giant witch in a middle school play. And, okay, to be honest, even that consisted of me hiding under a 7-foot, black-robed puppet, cackling and speaking anonymously while the papier-mache head assumed all the risk of social rejection.
But back to Lili and the theater.
Freshman year, I convinced Lili to audition with me for a local production of The Wizard of OZ. Forget the high school stage, I thought, one is never too young to strive for community theater gold!
Unfortunately, my blind quest for fame and applause left me sadly ignorant of a few of the more subtle aspects of professional acting. The audition process, for example. What I failed to appreciate in advance, and came to understand only after our parents had dropped us off at the audition, was that if you are auditioning for a musical, you really should know at least one song and be able to sing it well. We did not.
But, what ho! I thought, here we are, young and inept, but driven… let’s improvise! A rose is a rose is a rose, I say, bring on the accompanist!
And with that, we auditioned in tandem, singing a perfectly horrible rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow choreographed with much waggling of eyebrows, shuffling of feet, and a great rippling of arms at key intervals. Guaranteed, it was the most cringe-worthy three minutes of the day for the various directors who sat before us, stifling laughter.
A small part of me died that day. The actress part. She resettled into the landscape of anonymity, the dark recesses of that witch puppet who should be blamed to this very day for anything cackling and snarky that comes out of my mouth. She is gone. But Lili, at least, made that otherwise humiliating audition experience fun. (Surprisingly, she has no memory of it at all.)
You know how some people leave their fingerprint on your life by saying or doing something relatively insignificant, but something that creates a shift — a moment so subtle that it would go unnoticed if not for the fact that you can still remember it 30 or 40 years later? Well, for me, above and beyond our Wizard of Oz debacle, one of those moments belongs to Lili. It went something like this: “Laura, you’re really funny. You shouldn’t let [best friend at the time] push you around.”
Lili and I lost touch after she moved to another high school, but reconnected a few years ago on Facebook. I’ll end my introduction to Lili by thanking her for encouraging the funny, ugly-awkward me to come out from hiding in another girl’s shadow (or at least consider why I was there). A girl who was athletic, extroverted, and more popular than me, and under whose dominant personality I couldn’t have begun to discover my own voice or vision. Thanks, Lili.[to be continued]
Okay, so this travel series is almost done. I’ll finish with some gorgeous pictures from the French/Swiss Alps and Mont Blanc in the next few weeks.
But first, a rant. This one about the Customs racket in Minnesota.
So there we were, freshly off the plane, exhausted and hungry (Air France had “run out of vegetarian meals,” so we were surviving on those little butter patches and chocolate). I was feeling nauseous and high on jet fuel fumes and lack of food–truly like the voms were right around the corner. A travel wreckage. I didn’t even recognize our own suitcase until it had gone around the carrier like, 35 times. That was our first delay. Then, it was off to the Customs line.
I had filled out the declaration form on the plane claiming the tea and chocolate we’d bought, remembering at the last minute the half-eaten apple and bread still in my backpack. As we waited our turn, I watched as about 14 bags of dried things were removed from luggage belonging to a couple who appeared to be from India or Pakistan. I could hear the head Customs agent — a sturdy, elfin man with a Fargo accent and a superior sense of himself — lecturing them, “Honesty is always the best policy…”
Glad it’s not me, I thought.
Our first bag went right through, but the second was pulled off the conveyor for what I thought was a routine inspection. Customs Nazi rooted through my underthings and toiletries, fishing around for what I assumed was the chocolate. But no.
I gasped in wide-eyed horror as he whipped out what you would’ve thought, judging from his triumphant “Wooooooeeeeey!”, was a live goat.
“Ah ha!” he exclaimed, hand raised high in the air, white-knuckled fingers curled around a bag of…
What?! Holy crap, I’d totally forgotten about the local, organic, herbed and peppered, specialty hand-sausaged sausages I’d bought for my mom. (I thought this would be a nice present since the last sausage she bought for herself in France was eaten by the dog before she got a single bite.)
Sausage. I had wrapped it in three plastic bags, stuck it in a zipper pocket so it wouldn’t touch the rest of our stuff (we’re vegetarian) and promptly erased it from my consciousness.
I did my best to explain the situation to Customs Nazi, starting with, “I might throw up on you, but….” and using every wild hand gesticulation I could to convey our tale of good-faith declaration, vegetarianism (“Then who’s the sausage for, huh???!!”), sleep deprivation, feeling like Air France was actually the Hunger Games, etc., etc. No sympathy whatsoever.
Rather, after some shuffling back and forth to his computer, and a grand waggling of his eyebrows, Customs Nazi informed me that I would be receiving a penalty that day. Of 300 — THREE HUN-DRID — dollars!!! For failing to declare the contraband, which he victory-slammed into the trash with a leap and a fist-pump. (Strangely, there was no sound when it landed in the big metal can, leading me to believe there’s a chute that connects directly to the cafeteria, or a black market in the basement.)
My weeping pleas for leniency were met with, “I can’t treat you differently than I did them [the Indian couple], just because you’re a US Citizen, now can I?”. Really? So, a few forgotten sausages in the bag of a tax-paying, law-abiding, sickly US citizen should receive the same penalty as suitcases full of lentils belonging to foreign nationals who were clearly lying on their form??
The guy informed me that I could either pay the $300 there and then, or appeal in Federal court, but that would cost at least $1,000. I stared at him blankly and started speaking my faux French, turning to lunacy as a last resort. He remained unsympathetic and asked if I needed medical assistance.
He asked again for the $300 and I said I had nothing but 20 Euros (true). When he asked for a credit card, I said it was over limit (lie). When he asked if there was someone I could call to “help me out”, I said no. So, he finally gave me a copy of my citation and a paper with the address to mail my $300 within 21 days — strange how this offer didn’t arrive until he’d tried to intimidate the money out of me in every other way.
“Soup-SON!” I grabbed the papers and off we ran to our flight home, where they were waiting for us.
I will use the next 21 days to find out how I might get the penalty waived, or at least reduced, on the grounds that while I am guilty of inadvertent sausage smuggling, 1) it was an honest mistake and 2) Customs Nazi was sneaky and obnoxious.
Here is the magnificent Opéra national de Paris (Palais Garnier), designed by Charles Garnier. It was the setting for Phantom of the Opera, which has added significantly to its tourism value.
We went on a paid tour (around 90 min.) and it was well worth it — for the history of the Opéra as well as Pairs. Here are a few interesting things:
Isabella practiced some of what she’d learned on the tour in front of the mirrors in the foyer.
From the Opéra, it was on to Montemarte, the artsy district of Paris where the famous Impressionist painters and other artists hung out.
We almost made it to the house where Van Gogh lived with his brother Theo for two years, but we got distracted by the cafe where Amélie was filmed (looks nothing like it did in the movie). We were hungry so we stopped there for a puff pastry with vegetables and an accidentally ordered (but delicious) salmon tartare.
Montemarte was a great place to wander, with lots of thrift stores and used clothing shops. We stopped at Lila Paris on rue des Martyrs, a shop of jewelry and hair accessories created exclusively by the owner, Lila.
Isabella’s one souvenir came from Lila, this beautiful headband.
When I asked Lila how she has time to make everything, she said she simply doesn’t have a life — when her family gets together on weekends, she is working. After being so accustomed to shops full of Chinese imports in the US, it was great to pay an artist directly for her work.
The next day we were off to Bons en Chablais, France (near the Swiss border) for some fun with old friends. See you there!
Welcome back to Paris! Fortunately for us, our friend James (we’re near Geneva now) had a card reader to get our photos to the computer, so continuing with this travel series will be much more fun.
The Hotel St. Pierre where we stayed in the Latin Quarter was a great location because everything is within walking distance: food, train, and interesting sights. On the day we arrived, I used my five-word French vocabulary to say hello and give my name to the front desk clerk. He found our reservation on the computer, pointed to my name on the screen to confirm who I was, handed me the key and that was it. No credit card swipe, no signing of papers or passports, no telling me about check-out or amenities. It was perfect.
After stashing our things in our tiny, tiny room (organizing a narrow path to the bathroom), we headed out in search of food. After passing approximately 250 patissieries, we ran into Restaurant Indonesia Paris, which looked promising. And it was! We welcomed ourselves to Paris with spicy coconut curry with vegetables, and a warm tofu salad with peanut sauce, both of which were entirely delicious.
The next few days were spent hoofing it all around Paris, on and off the Metro, in and out of museums, gardens, and restaurants. I’ll just include a few of my favorites here to avoid inducing a Someone Else’s Vacation Pictures stupor upon my gracious and indulgent readers.
Sainte-Chapelle (loooong wait to get in) and Notre Dame were pretty stunning. Sainte Chapelle is known for its 50′ stained glass windows, and for being built with steel supports instead of flying buttresses. The windows are undergoing a restoration whereby each panel is painstakingly removed, and each piece of damaged or broken glass within each panel is meticulously cleaned/replaced/repainted before being reassembled.
Notre Dame was huge and churchy and beautiful and you could watch other people confessing their sins to priests in glass cubicles. We tried not to stare.
I signed us up for a tour with Fat Tire Bike Tours after reading about it on Suzy Lindau’s Wild Ride. We stopped at ten different places over a course of 6.5 miles (around 3 hrs) and we had a great time, even with the light wind and rain.
On the day we went to the Louvre, we had only about an hour, so I told Isabella she should choose what to see. She picked Napoleon III’s residence, which is located in the north, Richelieu Wing.
As you can see, Napoleon III preferred a clean, modern style favoring function over form, with little embellishment.
Why did Napoleon need a “Ceremonial Bed?” When people say that French “got into bed with Russia,” is this where it happened? Did they sign papers or make eyes at each other here? Did he have ceremonial sex? If anyone has any ideas on this, let me know.
Here’s something else we saw all around train stations and museums, including at the Louvre. We finally figured out what that green running man means.
Bathroom signs!! (White figure = average usage, green figure = diarrhea.) Fortunately, we never needed to follow the running man (or “runs”), not even once!
The Musee d’Orsay was also really good and much less crowded than the Louvre (open late Thurs nights, an ideal time to go). The featured exhibit through July 6 is Van Gogh / Artaud, a beautiful collection of Van Gogh paintings and drawings, many of them lesser known. Unfortunately, no pictures.
I’ll continue with Part II of this post tomorrow with Opéra, which was spectacular, and the artsy district of Montmarte. Bonsoire soup-son `until then!
I know, I’m kind of surprised too! Although I shouldn’t be. This trip has been in the works for quite some time now.
When Isabella was 12, she decided that she wanted to go to Pairs when she was 16 for unknown reasons. I said okay, you’d better start saving up for your plane ticket (imagining this would be a passing fancy in the tradition of Tae Kwon Do and Bratz dolls). But no! The Girl Who Wants Nothing squirreled away more than $1600 which paid for her plane ticket back in November. So, here we are, propelled by the dreams of a 12-year-old to the City of Love for a few days. Then we’re off to a village near Geneva to visit a lovely friend whom I haven’t seen in… I forgot how many years, but lots.
Jackie and I bonded over margaritas many moons ago while working at a New Mexican restaurant in our 20s, my first waitressing job. This experience was notable for my inability to discern one cheese-covered entrée from another for the first two weeks of my employment, an unfortunate dilemma I resolved by simply loading up my cart and asking the customers to pick out what they thought they had ordered, or what looked good. Surprisingly, I was not fired. But back to Paris… you might be wondering what we have planned? Well, in keeping with my commitment to an intuitive, stress-free vacation, we have nothing at all planned. Except for three things, two of which were added today:
No English? How so, you might wonder? Well, as Isabella will testify,* I’ve become proficient at suddenly leaping from English to a foreign-ish diction composed basically of French vowels that I’ve picked up from Isabella’s music, and whatever signage is in front of me (not that I can read French), pronounced in convincingly soft, lilty phrases that always end on a high note. While walking down the street and not pointing at things.
“Jour oui, oui oui oui soup-son, les cloches et vouz parlevouz cafe. Poulet. O! fromage! Rue boulevard san Michel frites et les alters……” etc etc.
*Isabella actually seems mortified by this, I’m not sure why, and refuses to indulge my conversation starters except with a very un-fun, “Mom, you can’t camouflage stupid (incomprehensible).”
I hesitate to call myself brilliant, but really, I am. I employed this same language technique in Haiti, when I utilized a dazzling mixture of Creole and Spanglish to politely request that my personal moto-taxi driver in Jacmel not kill me on the way from the beach to our hotel.
So far, we’re blending right in! And I haven’t even broken out the three striped shirts I brought, which I intend to wear all at the same time.
But that’s fun for another day. Ouri vois for tonite, it’s late, I’m tired, and we have a whole day of nothing tomorrow. And by the way, I apologize for the lack of original photos — it seems that our camera USB cable disappeared from one of our suitcases (thanks, TSA). It’s doubtful we’ll be able to find another here, but hopefully, we can use Isabella’s phone for at least a few pictures in the next posts.
Thank you, everyone who took the time to make suggestions and give advice about the situation with kooky Neighbor! (And especially Theresa, Lili, Gabe, Jinxy, and mom.)
Between the comments here and on Facebook, I was able to craft a response that I think is pretty good — an appropriate reply to her ferocious late-night texting, that will hopefully neutralize the situation in its infancy. Before it grows legs and tries to swallow me. (And by the way, I searched the pond and found no foreign objects, so I think what Isabella heard was a toad “couple” jumping in cohaerentibus… big splash.) Because I can think of about 3,000 things I’d rather do than invest time and energy into a stressful situation with someone who lives 30 steps (64 hops) to the north, and will probably stay there forever.
I took action quickly, to thwart any chance meetings on the sidewalk with nothing but a lingering discord of sleep-deprived, toad-hating hysteria vs. wildlife affection between us. Awkward.
I decided a gift basket would be most effective. So I found an empty, plastic flower-pot in my yard and collected the following items:
1. A bottle of cheap wine
2. Sleepy Time Extra Herbal Tea
3. Hearos Ear Plugs (Xtreme Protection)
I put the items in the flower-pot (washed) along with this letter and left it on her front porch.
I noticed that the gift pot was gone by evening, but there has been no response so far. Thankfully, the toads were silent last night, so maybe it will seem like I’ve made an extra effort, above and beyond monetary expenditure (less than $15) to restore her sensibilities and serotonin levels.
This morning when I left to take Isabella to school, I found this in my mail box:
So, I guess it’s over, yay! The toad drama has climaxed and been resolved!
Well, for now, anyway, until next Spring when she may or may not remain in good humor during toad mating season.
But one thing I can say for sure: she will never again hear that sound and think of toads in the same way.
The entirely wonderful Orwell essay about toads, Spring, and our relationship to nature (referenced in the letter) can be read here.
I came across this on happyplace.com and thought it was hilarious. I took none of the pictures and wrote none of the captions, but I did lovingly choose my favorites for you. Happy Easter.
As hard as shopping malls try to make “going to see the Easter Bunny” a thing, it’s never quite caught on like visiting Santa Claus. Maybe that’s because Christmas is a magical celebration of materialistic greed and gluttony while the closest thing to “fun” about Easter is showing off your new pair of church slacks — or maybe it’s because every Easter Bunny costume is a walking nightmare of soul-scarring horror. Here are some examples of why the image of a bleeding, emaciated guy on a cross rising from the grave is somehow not the most traumatizing thing about this holiday.
This is Linus.
And these are his teeth.
Linus (aka “Anus”) is the most wretched creature you’ve ever met. He was an “impulse adoption” from Chihuahua Rescue. My sister’s first dog. She did not heed our warnings to research the dog and breed before adopting.
So now she’s got this diminutive beast with crooked hind legs and breath that could wake the dead, who loves to leave tootsie rolls all over the house because he won’t go outside in the cold. And he is always cold.
The other day, my sister took Linus for a dental cleaning to deal with his bad breath, and now he’s minus 14 teeth. I picked him up because my sister and her family were stuck on the Navajo Res in their mini-van with a flat tire (whole other story).
I deposited the gummy, vicious, crooked-legged creature who’s lucky to have someone love him at their house with a bag of extractions and supplies from the vet, including tiny straws that my sister has to teach Linus to use in order to sustain himself with blended food. The vet said his lips will eventually curl inward, like an old man without his dentures. Which will only add to his charm.
Behold, a shining achievement in
reckless inbreeding natural selection and modern dentistry. Lovable, perhaps even extra lovable, despite (or because of) his extra special needs.
[This is the last of a four-post road trip series that began here. I’ve actually been home for like, four months, but jumped right into a wood-fire (opening tomorrow, yay!) when we got home and didn’t have time to finish until now. Sorry to all of you who presumed us dead or otherwise incapacitated.]
We spent a good two-and-a-half days with Jessie and her friends at the assisted living. On Friday, Isabella sang with a “jam band” that appeared in the afternoon and consisted of three violins, a recorder, a banjo, and a bass cello. In the audience and occasionally contributing a note or two was the shining Lucretia: 99, white hair, fuchsia lipstick. Jessie told us that Lucretia had never married, had no family of her own, and had lived there for many years. Lucretia had been a singer and sometimes still played and sang at the piano, but not for Friday’s jam.
The other tenants, mostly women, were also full of stories about careers, roles, families, friends. The residence itself was an enormous haven of stories, lives that had been lived to varying degrees of fullness now gathered under one roof, shrinking in on themselves. Lives now shaped more by winking memories than ambition, the limitations of which were governed by deteriorating and painful bodies.
My Italian Nana described old age as humiliating. But then again, her ambitions included shooting cats on New Years Eve when the gunshots would sound like fireworks, and winning the thermostat wars with my Nono. She was awesome.
We left on Monday after breakfast with Jessie. She said she still thinks about flying down to see us but could make no promises; she will probably not be making pies with us anytime soon; and she won’t knit unless she feels like it. But she did offer, having grown up on a farm, to wring my chickens’ necks when the time came. So that was comforting.
From Scottsbluff we headed straight to Denver, where we stopped for lunch using our special technique of letting the gas light determine random highway exiting. And boy, did we get lucky! Thanks to Exit 206, we found Washington Park, a gas station, and The Best Middle Eastern Restaurant 2012, all on the same street (South Downing)!
At Mecca Grill, “Lebanese food made from scratch every day”, we had an amazing fava bean appetizer and vegetarian special. Mecca Grill is relatively new and it wasn’t crowded that day, but the food was completely delicious, the service great, and the chef personally thanked us for coming in. Highly recommend.
After lunch, we headed over to Washington Park for a walk/goose chase around the lake before getting back on the road.
This area of Denver, with its historic architecture and yuppie waft, reminded me of Lincoln Park in Chicago. The park, restaurant and gas station were only 10 minutes from the highway, so it makes a great stopping place.
The remaining eight hours home were fairly uneventful except for a stop in the old mining town of Trinidad, Colorado, where I was drawn like a Walking Dead to those magical letters, c-a-f-e.
Only to find it closed. Boo!
Just when I thought my desperate coffee hunt would end at the Starbucks in Albertson’s, someone pointed us in this direction.
A former miners’ bathhouse, now Gourmet Healthy Coffee. The coffee was infused with something healthy (available through a
pyramid scheme direct marketing opportunity) called… well I don’t remember because I entered a brief fugue state when the owner said that not only was the coffee infused and not fresh brewed, but there was no dairy on hand (talk about cruel jokes). This offended my purist latte senses to the point of running away, but that would’ve been awkward, so I got peppermint green tea instead. Also infused. And actually delicious.
We left healthier and more robust than when we’d arrived, finished our four-hour drive home, and were happy to be back in the land of enchantment, sunshine, and intact chickens by 8pm. Thanks for coming along!
[Start this road trip all over again here.]