Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Universe of Berkeley And Other Gratitudes

Today being my 55th Thanksgiving in California I pause to count my blessings: 51 of them with the wake up smile of Lee and ten of them with the wake up wags of Kodi.
Dear friends and loved ones are on the list too.
Yesterday turned out to be full of surprises. My kitchen cabinet refinisher arrived to complete the cabinet hardware installation. Then my hairdresser Domenic treated me to a free style. Then I treated myself to my favorite extra crispy pot stickers. Arriving home with my treat in hand I went into shock as I saw the patio gate had been left open. Kodi was gone! Damn the contractor. I screamed at his helper to help me hunt, not knowing that the young man had severe ashma. He sprinted up the hill while I grabbed the car and hailed down every walker and horse back rider on busy Skyline Blvd. Eventually the helper found Kodi visiting a neighbor's dog. My big mutt was not at all interested in returning. Kodi lunged at his arm, not breaking the skin. Dexter had the insight to rip the belt off his pants, leash Kodi and steer him home safely. Then he collapsed with an ashma attack, pants at half mast. It was a lot of unwelcome trauma, though it ended with gratitude.

Nova last night focused on the theory of multiverses, that is the scientific evidence that there exist multiple universes like our own with multiple other earths with parallel existences. The evidence offered by the astrophysicists both pro and con is intriguing. I have a personal theory that there is no room in space for another existence just like Berkeley.
I think back to the spring of '50 when I first set eyes on California. Flying down from wintry Seattle I took the train which once rumbled across the bay bridge. Every mile brought me closer to Berkeley's sunshine and flowering trees. I quickly shed my long yellow wool coat (which I bought for the trip and thought was pretty snazzy) while marveling at the UC coeds in white tennis shorts and halters. It was an instant love affair with the friendly people and the environment. On that trip I saw my first tulip tree and tasted my first artichoke. It was seven years later before I made the big move from the grey-green northwest.
Lee had recently purchased for $3M a 1920's stucco cottage at 1418 Cornell, just above San Pablo near Gilman a few blocks from where REI is now. We lived there happily for two years with three cats, hand-me-down furniture and chests of drawers made from packing boxes.
Even then Berkeley was a city of diversity which welcomed all sorts of beings, especially of the liberal persuasion. It boasted more college graduates than any city in the country. I made friends with pizza, Mexican and Chinese food and learned it was ok to discard my pantyhose and girdle and go to a restaurant. I learned to make bouquets of the pink pelergoriums that sheltered the back porch. The last time it sold that little cottage brought $650M. Imagine!
Later in life when I hung out my shingle as a psychotherapist I was lured back to Berkeley, so for twenty years I observed from my office window the comings and goings of busy Telegraph Avenue just 7 blocks from campus. I rather cherished the street vendors, the book stores, the chanting Hare Krishna's and the chiming of the Campanile.
I seldom get to Berkeley any more but Tuesday I had lunch with a dear friend at Cafe Mediteranee on College after which I set out for Berkeley Bowl, the vegetable market of all vegetable markets. A mecca for all things Berkeley. My assignment for Thanksgiving potluck dinner was fruit salad with fresh coconut. Where else could one find fresh grated organic coconut except at Berkeley Bowl? To shop there one has to first incorporate a certain attitude: camaraderie, patience, appreciation, adventure. No one there is in a hurry. Long lines at checkout counters are welcomed as shoppers discuss their produce finds with strangers. Where else can one find fifteen varieties of apples, twelve colors of melons and just as many colors of human beings. I felt my tension drifting away; even my breathing softened. I remembered my love of affair with what my great niece Darcie calls Biz-erkley.
However many universes there are I don't think there will ever be another quite like it.
It too deserves a place on my gratitude list.

Friday, November 18, 2011


The traumatic event described in last week's blog is receding in memory, replaced by
a more joyful one. Yesterday I wheeled the Malibu to the Napa Valley to celebrate the 81st birthdays of my freshman college roommates Dolores and Shirley. Once in Yountville we treated our tummies to elegant French cuisine at the Michellin one star Bistro Jeanty. For casual French atmosphere, perfect service and yummy food it rates three stars in my book. Its good that we no longer have to wear panty hose and girdles as we were required to do in sorority pledge days when we first met. Dolores was most adventurous with moules au vin rouge (mussels) while Shirley settled on daube de boeuf (roast beef and mashed potatoes). I took a chance on butternut squash and pear soup. I adored it. We split a tarte au citron for desert. The meringue seemed to nudge the ceiling and it was all we could do to finish it.
After lunch we explored the grounds of a nearby winery. I have probably seen the fall color in the Napa Valley a hundred times in my lifetime but I've never seen it quite so intense in colors of red, yellow, orange and green. T'was a treat for the eyes and the soul as well. At least for a few hours occupy everything was forgotten, as was Penn state, Syria, and arthritis. After all, all is right with the world.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Eleven Eleven Eleven and Flash Bang

My sleepy pot-holed private lane is five miles from Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland where last night a man was murdered by gunfire adjacent to the Occupy Oakland encampment. On the lane nest seven older homes, mostly well maintained. Things are usually serene, if not boring. My '46 rancher fronts beautiful San Francisco bay and I have views of three bridges. Wildcats, great horned owls and turkey vultures hold claim to most of my 3.25 acres. My own home is cuddled at the foot of the curving driveway. The property snuggles a level plateau surrounded by canyons on three sides. A fairly narrow steep driveway is the only access or egress. The west side of the property abuts a creek and regional park. An aging but strong cyclone fence surrounds the immediate yard, orchard and mature rose garden. In my almost fifty years at this address I only began locking my doors and gates four years ago, an acknowledgement to the troubling times, my aging bones and my new aloneness.
The time was last Tuesday night about 9:15. An exceedingly brilliant full moon lit the patio as if by laser light. The reflection on the white plastic roof of the greenhouse was so intense I double checked to see if all the outside lights were accidently left on.
Only one gutteral bark coming from my dozing dog's throat alerted me that my tranquility was about to end. Throughout the ordeal Kodi never moved from his reclining posture on the modern Chinese rug a few feet from my recliner, that is except when trailing me as I walked to various windows trying to determine what in the hell was going on. His head and jaws seemed frozen in alert mode. To his sensitive ears the continued explosions coming from the house next door (about fifteen of them over a fifteen minute period) must have sounded like a herd of wild elephants. But of course the likelihood of wild elephants on sleepy Cathy Lane is ridiculous. But then so is a helicopter circling my home for forty minutes while a federal marshall swat team in full camouflage gear backed up by the Oakland police and highway patrol search the premises of the house next door for drugs, weapons and fugitives from justice. I was not to learn all these details till the next day for my call to 911 only confirmed a major police action was going on and I was advised I should use my best judgement as to what to do to guard my safety. What help is that? No explanation was given of the the booming sounds, nor of what actions I should take. My greatest fear was fire, for if ammunition were exploding it could cause an inferno in the dry shrubbery. Could the booming be guns? In my concentration to remain calm I completely forgot that I suffer from atrial fib and the one thing I am not supposed to do is get frightened. I was doing fairly well until the two gay men in the house up the hill called. The terror in their voices unsettled me. I called the president of the neighborhood watch who lives on the corner. No answer. I called other neighbors who were equally scared. I called my family in Washington state and I called surrogate daughter Catherine in San Francisco. They soothed me. It was an hour before quiet descended again and many hours before I slept.
Later the next day I learned the extent of the raid, for the house next door was suspected to be housing squatters, stolen vehicles, ammunition, illegal weapons and fugitives from justice. I had learned a few days earlier from a realtor that the house had been sold in a short sale and the insides were trashed. So sad. Just now I am learning more about the terrifying booms. They turned out to be what is called Flash Bangs and have the decibels of dynamite exploding. They were used to search the bushes around the property for fugitives in hiding. I will never forget that sound. I am clearly out of the loop in understanding weaponry. Last night when I attended the scheduled neighborhood watch meeting I was horrified to hear of close neighbors planning to purchase guns.
In this country we celebrate this day as Veteran's Day, though I grew up calling it Armistice Day. How unique that it comes on the triple calendar confluence of eleven-eleven-eleven. My maternal grandfather serving in France as a member of the Canadian Princess Pat regiment in the First World War survived mustard gas thrown by a grenade. He suffered all his life from the effects. Now I feel like I should get a ribbon for surviving the grenades next door! Doesn't armistice mean putting down your arms and negotiating a truce? Life goes on. Will it ever be tranquil again?

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Moment In Time

The newish Hayward City Hall is a beautiful venue and my Watercolor Connection group of ten is mobilizing for a group show there Dec.2-Feb. 11. When I suggested our theme be A Moment In Time it never occurred to me how hard it would be to pick which five paintings I should personally include. Since my drawers are overflowing with paintings, I began to look with a more critical eye as to which ones best depicted the theme. Hard! None of my florals fill the bill, that's for sure, even though some of them are dramatic. Likewise, nix on grapes and persimmons. Too static. What seems to be needed is some kind of drama, happening in the now.
I thought about this yesterday as four of us trekked to Pleasanton for lunch and to visit the National Watercolor Society Traveling Exhibit at the Harrington Gallery. It was desert for the eyes and I plan to send for the catalog today (too bad they don't sell it with the show).
Last night the rich seafood risotto and coldstone ice cream caught up with my 81 year old innards and I spent a lot of awake time regretting my over-indulgence and reflecting on what quality best depicts a moment in time. I decided it was some kind of drama, not just an emotional quality but something happening around that emotion. Moreover I decided I'm going to try to bring this to consciousness from now on as I choose subjects to write about, photograph, or paint. Meanwhile, friends Mollie, Jan, and Beth will help me go through stacks and choose the best five to enter in the show.
The painting above is one Mollie is drawn to, though I think I messed up on the face.
I may try to fix it. The reclining woman above was sleeping soundly on a high stone bench in the Zocolo in Guadalajara oblivious to the the market activities swirling below her.
Some time around five am this morning I moved my still queasy tummy to my recliner in the living room, big white comforter hanging over my knees. Since he has been sick Kodi makes a cave on the floor under my knees where he would sleep for hours if I didn't move.
I awoke with a jolt at six. In the nightmare I was looking out the window and saw Lee coming home for dinner, only to furtively jump in the back seat of a strange car. It looked like she was being kidnapped. I tried to call 911 but in typical nightmare script, had no voice. Soon she returned waving $40 and explaining she had lost it and these nice folk found it and returned it. The drama was ended. The therapist in my believes all dreams are a gift, even the nightmares. I've been missing Lee a lot the last week and it was a gift to see her in my dreams, drama or not.