Thursday, July 29, 2010

How Lucky Am I!

Yesterday Jackie Grandchamps (Jac to me) dropped by  for a visit, before returning to France today to continue leading French Escapade Tours in Europe.  
Over forty years her senior in age, I can't imagine what Jac appreciates in pokey octogenarian me.  But whatever it is, I have gratitude for it. I have been blessed to be on three European trips with her; twice to the Rhone Alps, and once to Belgium.   She never fails to wrap her arms and her spirits around me, to encourage my painting, and generally to add zest to my life.  This week she brought her house guests as well, two women working at the American school in Shanghai, who really live in New Zealand, but who Jac knows from Malaysia. They were delightful as well.  
I adore Jac's stories, her accent, her laughter, and her personality, but most of all I treasure her friendship.  How lucky am I.
In my lifetime I have not travelled much in Europe, so she is a great source of education for me.  
I did this painting a couple of years ago from a snapshot taken in the farm house in the Rhone Alps.  She is much cuter than this, but perhaps you can sense my caring.  

Thursday, July 22, 2010


What’s the point of this story? I’m not sure…  Back about ’64 when Lee and I bought this property it was a rare tropical garden, graced by over a thousand orchids, a giant rose garden and a large bromeiliad collection.  Most of the roses have survived but the orchids. fushcias and begonias hit the dust years ago during a gigantic freeze which left us without power for ten days. 

But back behind the green house, in the shadow of the trash burner now long gone, were four large rusty cans, each containing some kind of ugly prickly plant. It took several years of neglect, but eventually three of the four got tossed over the fence into the dead plant pile.  The plant label, as best I could make out, read puya raimondii. 

Giving some kind of respect to the lone survivor, I pulled it out of the rotting can and planted it on the northwest side of the property, in a bare spot near the kitchen sliding door.  It smiled thanks, and thrived.  It now has a circumference of six feet, and on certain years, as this one, it puts out gigantic stalks, some six feet high.  One year it put out six stalks, but other years it moodily chooses to display nary a one.  When it does bloom, the center blossoms are an incredible waxy blue, a color I have seen nowhere else in nature.  And the tiny white and pink flowers in the blue center attract bees to the extent that I sometimes have to wire cage it to prevent Kodi from getting his nose stung. 

In my limited botanical research I have learned that a puya is a member of the family of bromeliad, and that many of the species are monocarpic, with the plant dying after one flower and seed production cycle.  If the original label was right on my specimen, it is noted as the largest species of bromeliad known. 

All of this aside, what fascinates me is that I only today learned the name ‘Puya’ was derived from the Mapuche Indian (Chile) word meaning “point”.   Here’s where the synchronicity comes in.  Until six months ago I hardly knew of the Mapuche Indians, but since November and my last meeting with Alejondra in Maui, I have been reading extensively about Chile and the Mapuche, since it is part of her heritage. 

It’s a small world after all!  The single stalk appearing now grows about five inches a day.  I wake each morning to see if it has popped!  

Friday, July 16, 2010

Finding Peace With Differences

Will conflicts in the world never end?  For the last dozen years, I’ve employed Santos, a young Guatemalan man of Indian heritage, to help me with house and garden projects. Barely reaching my shoulders, Santos does not know how old he is, and considers it not important.  When he started working for me, he thought he was fourteen. To him what matters is having enough money for food and rent for his family, and singing and playing musical instruments. He is always smiling and of good nature. When I get exasperated because he does something “wrong” he just laughs and laughs. Once he cut down the wrong tree, and thought it was a big joke.  I was livid.  Clearly we come from different worlds, and share different values.  He is not fussy. When he needs a tool I don’t have, he makes it out of scrap.  He never cleans up his work area, feeling it is unimportant, which infuriates me.  I probably depend more on him than I’d like to admit.  He is a hard worker, honest, and always of good humor. He will tackle just about anything, from a stopped up drain, to a huge painting project. What is problematic about the relationship is that we are both strong minded, a nice way of saying pig-headed, and we do not speak the same language.  We share an adoration of his little daughter, Lilliani, now almost three.  She is often the subject of my paintings, and when, as often, she snuggles in my lap, it melts whatever cultural differences divide us. 

Last Sunday Santos glowed with pride as he added a small safety railing for me for the two steps down from my deck, a project to help my aging bones.  .  

Friday, July 9, 2010


When I announced to my friends in late spring that I was choosing to celebrate my 80th on August 14 instead of July 7, I REALLY meant it.  That is to say, I wanted NOT to celebrate it here, but at a gala party in La Conner, Washington with my two college freshman roommates also turning 80 this summer. I’ve been writing a funny skit we will perform.  It seems like time to lay down new rituals and new memories.  Still, as the 7th rolled around this week I was delighted to receive many cards and many phone calls, and not a few visitors.

In quiet times I tried hard to recall some of the more important celebrations over the years, and was amused at how few I could remember. Growing up in depression times I was used to receiving only one gift, yet it was so very important to me.  Daddy would bring it home with him from work, and I would meet him at the yellow rose trellis in the back yard, as he came panting from the bus, camel hanging from his lips.  He would give me a kiss, his graying moustache tickling my cheek, and I would rip off the wrappings. Most years it was a children’s art book, with reproductions of famous paintings.  I adored this. 

Finally a year came when tearing off the green paper I discovered a book on American cowboys.  I tried to mask my despair.  Daddy explained patiently that there were no more art books in the series.

I was crestfallen.  How could he fail me?  Now my father had grown up in Colorado, indeed been a cowboy, and a cavalry soldier, and horses were part of his heritage, not mine.  I can remember the paintings on the cover, but I doubt I ever opened the book.  Instead, I began to comprehend what it meant to lie, to deceive, to pretend, in order to protect the feelings of someone you loved, and the heavy weight on the heart to be caught up in that conflict. Perhaps I was nine or ten on this occasion, yet I remember today that painful moment.  I wish life would quit presenting these tug of wars, but it never does.  It seems unsolvable.  If there is one thing I have learned in 80 years it is that when I am authentic, it often hurts others; when I am not, it hurts me.  I’ve yet to find the answer, and don’t expect to.

Just now I am reading a book, How the Crows Flies, which illustrates this well, from a child’s eyes.  My first creative writing teacher, Izabella, visited unexpectedly for lunch last Monday and suggested it.  Izabella, a student at Mills last year, has returned to her native Poland to teach at a University in Gydnia. She shared stories about her life there. I can’t imagine what it was like to grow up in a communist country and come to terms with all the internal conflicts.  Even though I loathe many of our positions on war, I’m more thankful than ever that I was born an American.  Izabella is excited having just started a writer’s institute for Peace. How brave. Before I snapped the picture, I told her “Look like a writer!”

Friday, July 2, 2010

Bonnie's Personal Fire Storm?

Where  I live in the Oakland Hills I have a magnificent view of SF Bay and the cities around it.  The big deck has hosted many 4th of July parties to see the fireworks, sometimes ten or twelve cities at once.  Half the time the fog comes in and the fireworks are obscured, but by then the party goers might not even notice.  These days most cities cancel their firework displays because they are broke.  Kodi and I plan a quiet meditative day, reading and perhaps painting. That is, I HOPE.

 Oakland police are on riot and fire watch this weekend as the LA Johanes Mezherlie trial goes to the jury.  The air is tense.  Many store windows are boarded.

 Meanwhile  the annual special fire inspectors are making their way through the Oakland Hills inspecting personal land for fire hazards, a good thing, and a tax supported activity since the big big Oakland Fire. I usually pass but some times I have to invest more money in removing hazards.  For one thing, the branches of each tree may not touch the branches of another tree, and we all know how trees grow. It looks like the inspectors will arrive here tomorrow or the next day.  It always makes me anxious.

 Some time earlier this year I had an electrical fire in my kitchen, caused by a freak accident when a worker cleaning kitchen grout got chemicals in an outlet and caused an electrical fire and explosion.  It was mighty scary.

But the latest electrical hazard hit me out of the blue.  Three weeks ago I was about to surrender to anesthetic in the hospital for a routine cholonoscopy/endoscopy when the surgeon announced I was in atrial fibrillation.  I have never had a heart problem and didn’t even know what that was.  Eight hours in the ER followed, and many heart tests, the last of which was yesterday.  The conclusion is I have a good but aging heart, but I have a very faulty electrical system.  I keep shorting out and my heart keeps dancing the Swedish Polka and I am English. I have no symptoms I am aware of.  Next week I have a consult with an electro physiologist cardiologist for a plan of what to do. I guess there are many ways to squelch an electrical storm. 

Question: do you think Chunky Monkey can put out a firestorm?  I’ll have to write to Ben and Jerry.  Cross your fingers.