Thursday, June 23, 2011

Instant Aging

What kid doesn’t love sloshing in water. Playing in the lawn sprinklers was a childhood addiction of mine. Even in the short and sometimes pitifully cool Seattle summers I turned brown as a chipmunk by the 4th of July. I remember the date because that’s when the Telephone Pioneers of America had their annual picnic at Lake Wilderness and I got to dive into the sawdust pile for dimes. I was always six tones darker than the sawdust.

Except for my thin, straight, brown hair, which bleached to blonde in the summer, I could have been mistaken for Mexican or Hawaiian rather than English and cowboy. My first swimming lessons were from my mother who was drop dead beautiful in a two-piece jantzen and an excellent swimmer as well. Her favorite quip was “Who’s going to look at you with me around?” An accurate observation I might add. I was about age 17. It was a wide spot in the Icicle River near Leavenworth, Wash. Brr. Nevertheless I didn’t really learn to swim until I was 18 and a Campfire Girls counselor on Vashon Island: another bizarre place to learn to swim. The water temp in Puget Sound was around 36. Sometimes I was assigned to jelly fish watch, which meant balancing on the teetering soggy floating dock and scooping up the orange colored stinging creatures in a net so they didn’t float into the shivering limbs of the innocent Bluebirds. Often I joined in with the kids’ lessons. By that fall at the University of Washington I was getting my Lifesaving and Water Safety Instructor’s certificates, and for the next ten or fifteen years I joyfully supplemented my income by teaching swimming and lifeguarding. My specialty was teaching kids and adults to swim who were afraid of the water, an activity which continued to delight me once we bought this house in which I still live (though I gave it up teaching swimming fifteen years ago when the price of gas made it impossible to keep heating the enclosed pool). These days I seldom swim anywhere, though on roasting afternoons like Tuesday when the patio temp was 96 I dangle my feet off the pool stairs and wade in until just before the icy water hits my crotch.

Crunching up my eyes comes natural to me. Until my mid forties I never owned a pair of sunglasses. No wonder I scowl. Of course sunscreen had not been invented so for too many decades I lathered my face and bod with baby oil as did the rest of my contemporaries. My face seemed no worse for wear until my fifties. Overnight it seemed deep canyons appeared around my squinty eyes and my once peachy cheeks reminded me of my driveway in need of re-asphalting. So it is that I have come to invest in facials once or twice a year for the last twenty-five years. This has helped my gravelly face a lot. Unfortunately my rescue relief estheticians keep dying, moving, or just plain disappearing. Sometimes it takes a couple of years to find a replacement.

When I discovered Amy this spring, just down the hill, I was delighted. She seemed healthy, authentic, and besides that she kayaks and rock climbs. On my first appointment I explained I was a shriveled ancient specimen, allergic to a couple of dozen common cleansing ingredients and most cosmetics, weather beaten, and just interested in maintaining what clarity was left. I thought we made a good connection.

Thus returning from sun-drenched Provence two weeks ago, I called to make a second appointment. Her return call inquired what treatment I wanted? “Waxing” perhaps? I howled as I explained I had last shaved my legs at 16, being a person with very little hair anywhere on my outside layer, although once in my thirties I had one hair on my left boob. “How lucky you are” she responded. Was she referring to my left boob or my hairless torso? I mused that I had never thought of it that way.

As she lathered up my epidermis I quipped “I suppose I’ll eventually get hair on my upper lip and my chin…most old ladies do.”

Amy continued to lather, stroke, squeeze and palpate. Suddenly she shrieked “eek”. “What is it?” I inquired with alarm. “I just found a hair on your upper lip” she exclaimed.

After which she inquired if she had permission to remove it.

I convulsed. Instant old age had come!

Since I miss wearing any lipstick or gloss, on the way out of her lovely salon I sampled one of her mineral-only lipsticks to see if it would make my lips burn and welt as most products do, even chap stick and Burt’s Bees. Three days later, lips still intact, I returned to purchase the color most suited to my sagging mahogany dotted jowls.

Guess the name: Lust! How perfect for my 81st birthday coming in two weeks. You have my permission to convulse at the effect pictured above.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Once More With Love

Next Sunday marks the 4th year since my beloved partner of fifty-one years died. Like most folk in a loving relationship I wish I had a time machine so I could push the calendar back and relive those wonderful years. Alas, like learning to speak French that is one of the goals I will never achieve. Nevertheless I have travelled to France four times (three with French Escapade and painting teacher Sandy Delehanty) and I always come home passionately wanting to return. Perhaps it is the croissants? Every village in France no matter how petite boasts a bakery; a matter of consequence as St. Exupery would say in The Little Prince. Tiny as it was, Venasaque was no exception. Shortly after dawn I could smell the aroma from the gate of our inn. A magnet. One sunny afternoon I propped my folding camp chair facing the bakery door and painted the entry you see above. And of course every morning at breakfast I delighted in the buttery light delicacy you see in the photo. How come the French aren't fat? Now I think I have indulged my readers with enough Provence calories and memories so I promise to move on to other trivia in the weeks ahead.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Cherries and Smirks

The second night at our quaint inn in Venasque, France, I asked Jackie, our tour leader, to teach me how to say "Please may I take your picture?"in French. My mouth just couldn't get around even the first word, sending both of us into hysterics. So I wrote it on a piece of paper and carried it with me where ever I went with my camera. I wanted to be the gracious American tourist, as much as possible with only English and high school Spanish to my credit. Venasque was having a cherry festival (Festival de la cerise) and the mouth watering fresh cherries were something to celebrate, indeed. Rounding a corner on the narrow cobblestone streets I spotted these two boys perched on an ancient stone wall, empty basket of cherries between them. Pulling out my paper I read the script I'd practiced. They smirked and nodded "yes".
That night at the inn while the rest of the group were eating poached quail eggs (I love quail in my yard too much to consider this) I reported my success story. Then another member of our group shared that an hour later she had come upon the same scene and asked (I presume in English) the same question. "Three euros" they said! Either they are fast learners or my massacre of the French language brought me special favors.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

What's Wrong With My Paintings

Is it just old bods like mine that resist change? It’s a given that whenever I return from the European continent (ha, don’t I sound cool?) it takes me about four days to recover from jet lag, and then it is another week before I’m in synch with the western world. As delighted as he is to have me back Kodi stares one wolf blue eye at me as I carefully detour around his otherwise slumbering torso between 2 and 3 am each morning.

The first thing I did in the wee hours today was make a list of to-do’s: wash the rest of my travel clothes; prune the roses if it stops raining; do the pool chemicals; unpack my paints; clean up email on my computer; shop for vitamins; call friends; try out a new WW meeting; pay another installment to the tree company who removed my beetle infested pine; etc. The list took two pages. With luck I might get half of one page done. Then about 4pm I’m ready for shut-eye. I still haven’t looked at my paintings from the trip knowing they are not memorable. Everyone but me did sketches for their travel books but stubborn Bonnie sticks to quarter sheets. Another manifestation of resisting change. Above you see the only travel sketch I did---an olive tree at St. Remy---using the tombo pen Catherine gave me. I did this while eating lunch last Friday as I realized, with awe, that the stone bench on which we spread bread, cheese, and other goodies may have been hewn in the 11th century. I am stirred in my groin.

I can’t stop thinking about Van Gogh. I hadn’t known before that he was epileptic as well as bipolar. The absinth and bromides he took , while contributing to his insanity, were no doubt an effort at self medication. And if he had tinnitus, as is suggested, cutting off his ear would be a last ditch effort to find relief. Makes perfect sense. Perhaps every great artist, whatever their media, has to be a bit mad. Hey, maybe that’s what’s lacking in my art? I’m too sane.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Vive le France

Rather than publishing my blog last Friday from my usual nest in the computer corner in my spare bedroom, I found myself perched on a bench in the inner courtyard of the St. Paul Mausole hospital in San Remy de Provence France where Van Gogh took solace from his mental illness the last year of his life. In this magical setting its easy to transport oneself in time to imagine his tortured yet brilliant life. All around are reproductions of his famous works painted there. As I try to capture the essence of it all a tall man, maybe 70, stately with angular limbs, comes strolling down the wide cobblestones and plunks beside me to rest. His slightly younger sweet smiling wife goes on inside. He distracts my composure at first but I get over my annoyance by chatting about his life in Capetown and the reason for his visit. His voice is musical and his speech articulate. A sculptor by trade, he hails originally from England where his work was to restore the cloisters in an ancient cathedral in Gloucester, originally built in 681. He also sang tenor in the choir there. (Ah, his lilting voice.) It is easy to picture him hanging from ancient scaffolds. Unsolicited he gives me a lesson on how to determine which cloisters in the garden are originals and which are restored. I would not have noticed. He also gave me a lesson in love, referring to his attractive wife who married him ten years ago after her husband died. "Beautiful" he said, not referring to her looks but to their relationship.
When I inquire how things are in South Africa now, he nods his pert blue visor and states with pride "Just fine, just fine". Then he pauses and adds "not so in Johanesburg, where things are bad." The last word is slurred as if he feels ashamed.
I move on to the outside gardens where my fellow tour members are sketching and painting. Some are doing the olive grove so famous in Starry Night. As if by plan Jac is wearing new olive colored pants and shirt today, which complement the setting. Sandy shares that olive trees continue to live for centuries. The same olive trees which I run my fingers across may be the ones Van Gogh painted, and may have been alive before the French revolution. Unlike the Monterey pines in my driveway, they feed the residents and are not subject to pine bark beetle, and their life span seems to be 60. Mine just went out in wood chips.
Van Gogh was only 37 when he died. It seems clear to me that his mental illness was genetic. I must reread Lust for Life with my therapist's hat on. I think back to Vincent's anguish as well as to the kindness offered to him here and am grateful.